Press Releases

Press Release, 11/14/2018

Deep-sea worlds and cultural preservation
The Gerda Henkel Foundation approves 50 new projects worldwide and provides 4.2 million euros in funding

The Gerda Henkel Foundation is supporting some 50 new projects worldwide, for which its committees approved almost 4.2 million euros of funding at its autumn meeting. Two such initiatives are dedicated to research into the underwater world in art and environmental history, and two more to the cultural heritage of Mesoamerica.

Example projects I: Deep Blue
The underwater world, traditionally interpreted as a place of wonder and strangeness, of hidden horrors and unfathomable depths, is the focus of a research project by Dr. Franziska Brons (Leuphana University of Lüneburg). The art historian is investigating submarine images from the period 1870 to 1930 and addressing the question of how naturalists and artists worked in the difficult conditions of darkness and saltwater. What photographic processes and cinematographic methods were used? How were the necessary technical instruments made waterproof? She also recalls how painters occasionally even managed to gain views of the underwater world by diving in diving bells or with lead-weighted easels.

Dr. Ole Sparenberg (Saarland University), on the other hand, will be carrying out research into one particular chapter of the environmental history of the ocean: deep-sea mining. This refers to the harvesting of so-called manganese nodules at great depths, primarily to extract the high quantities of nickel, copper and cobalt they contain. Deep-sea mining would have represented the first major intervention in the ecosystem of the deep-sea floor, and its planning reached a peak between 1972 and 1982. Yet all work was put on hold during the first half of the 1980s, without any commercial mining of manganese nodules having taken place to this day. Ole Sparenberg is investigating the rise and fall of deep-sea mining between approximately 1965 and 1985 and also looking at the changing evaluations among companies, governments and society.

Example projects II: Ethnological research and native history in Mesoamerica
The audio and video material from 40 years of research into indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica is at the heart of a Mexican-German project at the Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS) in Berlin. It constitutes recordings of various Mesoamerican languages from the archives kept by German linguists and ethnologists. Their tapes and cassettes are increasingly at risk as time goes on, thus the aim is for them to be digitised and archived at the Hamburg Center for Language Corpora and returned to the societies of their origins in Mexico in the form of digitised language recordings.

The Kekchí (or Q’eqchi’) Maya communities in the lowlands of Guatemala are among the most populous Maya language groups in the country. Despite their clear proximity to the Mayan societies of their ancestors, the historical perspective conveyed to them in school is strongly Eurocentric. Only a few members of their communities have access to the research into their own, often oral sources. As part of a two-year programme by the Guatemalan “Sacred Earth” organisation, teachers and local leaders can consolidate their knowledge using archival and ethnohistorical material and thus engage with their own history. Local knowledge and oral tradition is to be protected and thus the identity of the Kekchí Maya reinforced.

The Gerda Henkel Foundation was established in June 1976 by Lisa Maskell in memory of her mother Gerda Henkel as an incorporated foundation under civil law, headquartered in Düsseldorf. The Gerda Henkel Foundation concentrates its support on the historical humanities. In several programmes the Foundation furthermore addresses issues of great relevance to contemporary life and the future, above all as part of its special programmes “Islam, the Modern Nation State and Transnational Movements” and “Security, Society and the State”. As part of the Lisa Maskell Fellowship programme, the Foundation supports young scholars in the humanities in both Africa and Southeast Asia. With its “Patrimonies” funding initiative it promotes the preservation of cultural heritage, specifically in regions experiencing crisis. In connection with funded projects, the Foundation also supports social and humanitarian measures as part of complementary projects. The Gerda Henkel Foundation is able to fulfill its purposes in and outside Germany.

Gerda Henkel Foundation press office
Dr Sybille Wüstemann
Telephone +49 211 93 65 24 - 19
Telefax +49 211 93 65 24 44