BMBF Collaborative Research Project

Gesamtlogo aus Teillogos der Teilnehmenden des MIKROBIB-Projektes

Contamination and Legibility of the World: Articulating Microbes in Collections (MIKROBIB)


Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) Framework Programme: “The Language of Objects. Conservation, research and knowledge transfer in cultural heritage”

Project duration: 09/2018–08/2021

Selected Events:

  • September 2023: Open access English catalogue "The contaminated Library. Microbes in book culture" (Leipzig 2023), Download-link.
  • September 2021: Collaborative Project Exhibition "The contaminated Library" (hosted by University Library Leipzig) at Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, incl. Catalogue in German
  • Workshop 23./24. Oct. 2019 at Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH in Braunschweig
  • Kick-off Workshop on January 24/25th, 2019 with lectures by Prof. Dr. Martin K. Jones (University of Cambridge, Archaeobotany): "Before the Silk Road: tracing early Trans-Eurasian contact through remains of food plants" and Prof. Dr. Andreas Hetzel (Stiftung Universität Hildesheim, Institute of Philosophy): "Ethik der Biodiversität"

» Collaborative Partners

Subproject A: ORDO (Philosophy): "The contaminated ‘World as Book’. On knowledge orders and modes of reference concerning dead and living collections. The example of library and microbial resource center"
Prof. Dr. Nicole C. Karafyllis (Project Coordinator), Dr. des. Alexander Waszynski: a.waszynski(at)
Institute of Philosophy, TU Braunschweig

Subproject B: LIBER (Cultural Studies): "Microbes as probes of the book biography: Studies of late medieval codices held at Leipzig University Library as cultural objects"
Prof. Dr. Ulrich Johannes Schneider (Director General), Dr. Regina Jucknies
Leipzig University Library / Institute for the Study of Culture, Leipzig University

Subproject C: BIOM (Microbiology): "The Book's Microbiome. Archaeo-microbial analyses"
Prof. Dr. Jörg Overmann (Scientific Director), Dr. Cecilia G. Flocco
Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures, Braunschweig, Department of Microbial Ecology and Diversity Research

» Tasks and Goals

In focus of the interdisciplinary collaborative research project MIKROBIB is the contaminated book as a cultural good and cultural property. Philosophy (subproject A), Microbiology (subproject C) and Cultural Studies (subproject B) together work on a “theory of things”. The network rethinks the hygienic-conservatory prejudice, which regards the microbe as enemy of collections, particularly of the library. In so doing, it opposes a “dead collection” to a “living collection”, here: the University Library Leipzig (UBL) to the German microbial collection DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen. The research network aims at understanding the book as a habitat, how we can read in it, and how we can articulate the language of microbes. By experimental analysis of the book’s microbiome the microbe transforms into a bookbiographical sign; microbiology itself adjusts to archaelogy, seen from a philosophy of science perspective. Microbes in books bear witnesses of e.g. evacuations and historical epidemiologies. The networks’s investigations are based on selected medieval books collected at the UBL. By means of microbiological and cultural studies (book biography), they are comparatively analyzed, whereby the dead collection functions as reference for the living collection, and vice versa. The modes of referenciality are thoroughly investigated by philosophical means. The project was completed by a (thanks to COVID-19) digital exhibition of books showing signs of contamination in August 2021, accompanied by a catalogue (in German) and an extended open acess version in English as "The contaminated library. Microbes in book culture" in 2023. - Switch to the German website for more publications.

» Scientific Advisory Board

  • Prof. Dr. Karin Zachmann (TU München)
  • Prof. Dr. Martin K. Jones (University of Cambridge)
  • Dr. Frank Steinheimer (Naturkundliche Sammlungen Halle)
  • Prof. Dr. Robert Fuchs (TH Köln)