“Nomadism Is Understood as an Anachronistic and Primitive Lifestyle” – 5in10 with Sina Steglich

Sina Steglich received her PhD from the University of Mannheim with a project on the history of temporalities in the nineteenth century and holds an MA in History, German Literature and Philosophy. She joined the German Historical Institute London in April 2020 as a research fellow and is currently working on a project on nomadism as a discursive figure of modernity in Britain and Western Europe.

How do you explain your current research projects to your students?

I am interested in the way people define societal life as adequate and how and why they referred to the idea of ‘modernity’ to describe their lifestyle. As a historian I aim to analyze the connection between modernity and its ideal as well as stigmatized forms of human lifestyle in a diachronic perspective from the nineteenth century to the present. Following my argument, these discourses were essential for the self-conception of ‘modern’ and ‘postmodern’ societies.

What were academic or personal inspirations that led to your current research?

That is really difficult to answer. There was no moment of sudden realization followed by a new idea. In general, the conceptualization of a new research project is a long journey and when you embark on it you cannot know or foresee where it will lead you. My starting point was a specific idea of modernity and its ideal of societal life which is usually described as rational, territorially coded, settled, and progressive. That is why I find it quite intuitive to contrast this idea of modernity with one of its opposites: nomadism is understood as an anachronistic and primitive lifestyle that has always been ambivalent. It could be seen as a threat, but also as a promise for modern societies.

How are you ‘doing’ research? What are your most important research methods (interviews, archives, excavations…?)

As a historian, archival research is a common and distinctive practice. I am and always have been interested in the historical roots of understanding archives as original sites of storing ‘authentic’ relics of the past. In my opinion this is first and foremost a special disciplinary imaginary that remains quite powerful. However, it is widely discussed and acknowledged that archives primarily represent power structures, as they are perpetuating a specific European understanding of history as something based on written sources, and that you cannot find the ‘past’ in the archives – at best, you encounter arbitrary traces of past times. It is exactly this, somehow paradoxical, condition of historiographical practice that fascinates me and that I want to reflect during my own archival research.  

Which publications or academic events (workshops, conferences, lecture series…) did inspire you recently? 

It is not a singular event, but the overwhelming creativity and flexibility with which everyone is trying to cope with the Corona situation and to adjust already planned workshops and conferences. Hopefully, this will enrich academic life once we have the chance to meet each other in person again.

Do you think that academic mobility changes the way in which research projects are conceptualized? What are your personal experiences in this regard?

Right now, national and international mobility is reduced to a minimum due to the Corona situation – and it remains to be seen when and how we will get back to ‘normal’ circumstances. This affects me and my project in particular as I joined the team of the German Historical Institute London to carry out my necessary research in British archives and libraries. At the moment this is not possible and we need to adapt to a new reality of academic life structured by video conferences, online events, and home office. We are far from getting, quite literally, in touch with our required source documents and colleagues. So, yes: I think that mobility changes the way in which research projects are conceptualized as it continuously offers new insights, enables you to ask diverse questions, to work with a broader scope of sources and to meet international colleagues. But now the world seems to have turned upside down and under these new conditions we have to re-define our daily research practice and, as in my case, also the concept of our projects to be able to realize them in Corona times.


Citation: “Nomadism Is Understood as an Anachronistic
and Primitive Lifestyle” – 5in10 with Sina Steglich, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 07.08.2020, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/24724.


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