The Oriental Institute celebrates its 100th anniversary and presents its work to the public
Although it became part of what was then the new Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1953, the Oriental Institute traces its beginnings to 1922, when it was officially approved by the National Assembly of the First Czechoslovak Republic. .
Dr. Táňa Dluhošová, director of the institute, explains.
“Professor Robert Musil arrived from Vienna in Prague in 1916 and he had the idea of creating an institute which would have two branches.
“One of them would be economic and aimed at helping the new Czechoslovak state to get its foot in the door when it comes to the so-called “eastern” lands.
“It was supposed to serve as an infrastructural base for public and private companies that wanted to do business and start some kind of economic collaboration with countries mainly located in the Middle East.”
This economic department generated money to support the other branch of the institute which was made up of academics.
“People from this academic branch were sent to eastern countries of interest to them to learn more and to provide information to the commercial department and the general public.”
Unlike Czech universities which were forcibly closed, the institute managed to continue its educational work also during the period of Nazi occupation. This is largely thanks to the fact that the professor of the German part of Charles University in Prague, Arabist and member of the Nazi party Adolf Grohmann, was appointed director of the institute.
“This meant that at the end of the Second World War there was a new generation of Orientalists ready to start their careers, which was not the case for many other disciplines.
“That is why the Institute of Oriental Studies had a very steep trajectory and grew very rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s.
Now part of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, the Oriental Institute lost its economic branch and focused exclusively on academic work. It probably had its greatest period in the 1960s, explains Dr Dluhošová.
“At its peak, it had about 90 employees. Many of them traveled abroad as visiting professors, gave lectures, etc. There were several research subjects, or groups of researchers who studied certain phenomena that were present in different regions.
“It was a kind of comparative research on modernity and how states, especially in East and South Asia, developed vis-à-vis their encounters with the West and on this what modernity really meant to them.”
The other important group related to lexicology – the study of the form, meaning and behavior of words. The researchers of the institute managed to develop a new lexicological methodology which was also adopted abroad.
Like many other Czechoslovak institutions, the institute experienced major personnel changes after the invasion of the country in 1968 and the implementation of standardization. Many of the institute’s leading researchers would emigrate, pursuing successful careers abroad at Western universities. During this time, the institute’s leadership and research became much more politicized.
After the Velvet Revolution, the Oriental Institute saw a gradual exodus of communist-era personnel as well as the introduction of more multidisciplinary research. The institute’s cohort of researchers has also become much more diverse in recent years, says Dr Dluhošová.
“I think it really helped us open up and internationalize. Today, nearly half of our staff are foreigners.
While the institute has no longer set up research clusters, the director of the institute affirms that its strengths now lie above all in research linked to East Asia, in particular Taiwan, and the Middle -East. For example, one of the institute’s current programs, Monuments of Mosul in Danger, focuses on analyzing the damage caused to the cultural heritage of this city when it was occupied by the so-called Islamic State and recreating them. using a 3D model.
This project of the institute, as well as many others, are currently presented to the public within the framework of the Week of the Czech Academy of Sciences, which runs until Sunday, November 6.
Information about institute events, which range from lectures to interactive workshops on Chinese dance and writing, can be found here: https://www.tydenavcr.cz/program/#c=0&a02=22