Carsten Niebuhr Workshop

International Workshop at Kiel University, 26th-27th January 2023

In January 2023, the Chair of Northern European History at the University Kiel hosted a workshop on the North German traveller Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815). Niebuhr joined the Royal Danish Expedition to Arabia in 1761-67 and was its only participant to return home alive. His work has an immense value today for the research of scientific travel in a European enlightened context. As mathematician and cartographer of the expedition he not only drew maps of latest geographical accuracy but also brought home the accomplishments of his fellow travel companions such as Peter Forsskåls herbarium and Friedrich Christian von Haven’s notes and collections of valuable manuscripts.

The workshop took place at the International Begegnungszentrum of Kiel University (IBZ). Florian Jungmann and Vivien Specht (both Kiel) gave an introductory talk and moderated the discussion on both days. The subsequent papers discussed Niebuhr with a broader interdisciplinary and multinational approach. Stefan Conermann (Bonn) highlighted the relevance of postcolonial studies and their relevance for a future Niebuhr-project. Anne Haslund Hansen of the Danish National Museum (Copenhagen) presented her own search for objects from the expedition which found their way to Denmark or travelled with Niebuhr’s descendants to all parts of the world. Sebastian Schmidt and Ann-Catrien Federhaff, research students at Kiel, introduced the audience to their preliminary work with the Niebuhr-papers at Kiel and discussed problems which arose from the work with the digitalised records. Julia Böttcher (Erlangen) gave a talk on Carsten Niebuhr in the context of knowledge and scientific travel in Early Modern times, while Tobias Delfs’ (Berlin) paper focused on human behaviour and misbehaviour in India during the latter half of the eighteenth century. Thomas Ruhland’s (Halle) contribution on the the Danish Protestant Mission in South India delivered insights into the broader cultural and social context of Niebuhr’s times. Niels Brimnes (Aarhus) ended the round of papers with an introduction on caste and its relevance to the European view on eighteenth-century South India.

On the second day, the participants met at the University Library to have a close look at the original Niebuhr records preserved at Kiel, thanks to Jessica Bruns, who is responsible for historical collections and restoration at the library. On display were the journals, maps, drawings and travel passes by Niebuhr and Forsskål. Finally, Martin Krieger (Kiel) presented funding possibilities for a future Niebuhr-project, which led to a broad discussion on the shape of such a project. With many ideas and supported by outstanding international scholars, it is now intended to finalise the project idea.


Ann-Catrien Federhaff