History of Thai Studies in Hamburg

The Asia-Africa-Institute of the University of Hamburg includes a Department for Thai Studies. The beginnings of Thai Studies in Hamburg go back to the year 1921, when Oskar Frankfurter taught „Siamesisch für Anfänger“ and „Siamesisch für Fortgeschrittene“ (Siamese for beginners and intermediates). Unfortunately, his death in 1922 caused the sudden end of these early beginnings.

On the initiative of the Japanologist Oscar Benl a lectureship for the Thai language was founded at the Chinese Department in 1958. During the early years of the Department of Thai Studies, the lecturer Luang Kee Kirati, who had already taught in the 1930s under Walter Trittel in Berlin, played a prominent role. At his side stood the doctor of law Klaus Wenk who devoted himself above all to the study of classical literature and Thai art. In 1970, Wenk was appointed as Professor of Languages and Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia in the newly established Department for Thailand, Burma and Indochina, which he led during the next 22 years.

Also from 1970, until his untimely death in 1988, Klaus Rosenberg, whose main focus was in the field of Thai Philology, worked as a professor in the department.

When Rosenberg’s mother died in August 1997, her last will stipulated that her assets be used for the establishment of a Klaus Rosenberg Foundation. The sole purpose of the foundation is to send students of the Department to Thailand for study purposes or to allow Thai students to come to Hamburg.

The internationally renowned anthropologist and historian Jan Barend Terwiel became Klaus Wenk’s successor in 1992, having previously taught in Canberra and Munich. Terwiel enriched the field of Thai Studies considerably by incorporating the cultures of Tai peoples living outside of Thailand (Shan and Ahom, among others).

After Luang Kee Kirati’s death in 1967, Prof. Ampha Otrakul held the post of lecturer for Thai until 1978. She was succeeded by Mrs. Patcharee Kaspar-Sickermann who shaped the lectureship until her retirement in 2009. At present, the post is held by Mrs. Pannarai Büchmann.

As part of the Southeast Asia Department, founded in 2005, the Department of Thai Studies, together with the Departments of Austronesian and Vietnamese Studies, offers BA and MA courses on the languages and cultures of Southeast Asia. The collaboration with neighboring departments at the Asia-Africa-Institute offers a multitude of possibilities for cooperation and the development of Thai Studies.

In the field of teaching, the entire range of the subject concerning language, literature, history and society is covered. The current research interests are the history of Thailand and Laos, as well as the manuscript cultures of the Tai. Currently, ten Ph.D. candidates are writing their dissertations in the areas of history, culture and linguistics.

If you want to learn more about studying Thai Studies, whether as BA, MA or PhD student please check out the information listed here and feel free to contact us. You can also visit the website of the AAI/the Southeast Asia Department.