Research under Dictatorship: The German Archaeological Institute 1929-1945

By Junker, Klaus | Antiquity, June 1998 | Go to article overview

Research under Dictatorship: The German Archaeological Institute 1929-1945


Junker, Klaus, Antiquity


The German Archaeological Institute (DAI: Deutsches Archaologisches Institut), founded in 1829, experienced the most critical phase of its history during the latter years of the Weimar Republic and the National Socialist era. The financial problems of the economic depression, and attempts to influence the Institute's fields of research during the Third Reich, posed a serious threat to its academic sovereignty, and indeed threatened its very existence. The following seeks to highlight the history of the Institute during this period of economic and political turmoil by looking at the policies adopted by the Zentraldirektion, the organization's ruling body, in order to maintain its status as an international research institute. The decision to begin with the year 1929 was partly dictated by earlier publications on the Institute's history (Rodenwaldt 1929; Bittel et al. 1979; Wickert 1979), but in particular by the events themselves, for decisions affecting the Institute's structure taken during the four years prior to the actual assumption of power by the National Socialists had far-reaching consequences for its future development.

Of the many aspects of the history of the German Archaeological Institute (the official name up to 1945 was Archaologisches Institut des deutschen Reiches) which merit attention, only the dispute surrounding the role of German prehistory after 1933 has been the subject of scholarly discussion (Bollmus 1970: 153-235; Unverzagt 1985; Arnold 1990). However, such studies have tended to focus on the more general question of how the Nazi regime sought to regulate academic interests rather than on specific archaeological aspects, The following seeks to re-address this imbalance - as far as possible in such a short text - by examining the situation from the Institute's point of view. My findings are based primarily on information found in the administrative files in the archive of the Zentraldirektion in Berlin, which also holds bequests donated by a number of important scholars.

The events discussed below can best be understood by first giving a short account of the structure of the Institute as it was in 1929 (cf. Rieche 1979: 183-95, document no. 59). In 1870 the status of the Archaeological Institute was changed from that of a private scholarly foundation to a state organization attached to the Foreign Office. Actual archaeological research was - and still is today - for the most carried out by the foreign branches in Rome (founded in 1829) and Athens (1874), and the Romisch-Germanische Kommission (RGK; founded in 1902) in Frankfurt am Main. For a number of reasons, but in particular because its activities are centred within Germany, the RGK enjoys a large degree of autonomy within the DAI, even to the extent of having its own statutes. Presiding over these research bodies is the Zentraldirektion, the central legislative authority made up of 20 - voluntary - members, mostly professors of Classical Archaeology and related disciplines, such as Classical Philology and Ancient History. The Zentraldirektion is headed by the president. The Zentraldirektion has to decide on all matters relating to archaeological research, in particular excavations and publications. This applies both to the projects supervised by the Mediterranean branches and to the not inconsiderable number controlled directly by the Zentraldirektion, such as the excavations in Olympia. The second most important area of responsibility is that of personnel - in particular the choice of the directors for the foreign branches as well as the candidates for the Reisestipendium. This annual travel grant was awarded to graduates in order that they may spend a year visiting classical sites; then, as now, the Reisestipendium represented for many the first step on the ladder to a successful career as an archaeologist.

The years 1929 to 1933

The years from 1929 to the beginning of the 'Third Reich' are characterized by very diverse developments within the Institute.

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