Since its founding, Universität Hamburg has had a unique international profile. Its origins can be found in Hamburg’s standing as a large, German colonial city that profited enormously from colonial expansion. Increasing overseas trade also increased the need for information about other continents. Thus, starting in the 1880s, academic institutions such as the ethnography museum or the botanical museum gathered and imparted information about foreign cultures or raw plant materials from the colonies.
From 1908, professors for geography, oriental studies, Indology, and African and East Asian languages and cultures were appointed to the newly founded Colonial Institute. Not only did they teach upcoming colonial civil servants; they taught Hamburg’s citizens, who could learn more about these subjects in the General Lecture Series. In 1919, seminars and professorships were transferred to the new University.
From Knowledge of the Colonies to Knowledge of the World
University legislation in 1921 stipulated that the expertise from the former Colonial Institute was to foster “foreign and colonial studies.” Today, the Asien-Afrika-Institut at Universität Hamburg represents the largest association of Asian and African disciplines in Germany, without colonial ambitions.
These include Japanese studies, Korean studies, Sinology, Vietnamese studies, Thai studies, Austronesian studies, Tibetan studies, Buddhist studies, Indology, Ethiopian studies, and African studies. The AAI was founded in 2000 to strengthen disciplinary cooperation at the University.