CFP: Literature in the world: material networks of books to and from Goethe’s Weimar, Oxford (15.05.2019)

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Call for Papers

Literature in the world: material networks of books to and from Goethe’s Weimar

St John’s College, Oxford 7-8 November 2019


Goethe‘s concept of Weltliteratur, developed in the 1820s, was sparked by an intense exchange with authors, publishers, and booksellers across Europe and North America. While the idea of World Literature has found renewed interest in the wake of globalization, there has been little research into the systemic nature underlying Goethe’s productive engagement with these foreign literatures in his own time. The Forschungsverbund Marbach-Weimar-Wolfenbüttel project “Autorenbibliotheken” has unearthed new material sources which enable us to reconstruct and better understand Goethe’s place within this transnational network of authors, publishers, translators, booksellers, and libraries. This enables us to view Weltliteratur not simply as an idealistic concept of cosmopolitan literary communication but rather also as a product of material practices in and with books. The books themselves are not simply ‘dumb’ artefacts: their procurement, paths of transmission and exchange, binding and typography, as well as the inscriptions, dedications, annotations, and marks of readings in them, all provide valuable sources of information about the conditions under which Goethe’s Weltliteratur was developed on the basis of literature’s existence in the world.

            Goethe developed his earliest articulations of the Weltliteratur based on international and intercultural transfer of materials and concepts, most notably with Britain, but also with other European and non-European locations. Following on from the productive reception of German literature in Edinburgh by Scott and Carlyle, Goethe in turn became a mediator who re-introduced the cultural artefacts developed at this initial stage back into German literary discourse. Just as Scott practiced in his criticism, Goethe suggested that in a Weltliteratur “die Nationen [nicht] überein denken [sollen], sondern sie sollen nur einander gewahr werden, sich begreifen, und [...] dulden lernen”. If the material dispersal of Goethe’s own books is considered alongside the dissemination and transformation of his concept of Weltliteratur/World Literature, both in his own time and thereafter, the importance of non-European locations and contexts becomes equally notable, with analytical methods developed within the framework of the Digital Humanities pointing towards locations as far afield as Jakarta and the Americas. In our proposed symposium, we aim to investigate these relations and practices both by traditional hermeneutic methods and by means of digital macroanalysis and visualization, bringing together traditional Goethe scholarship and the current DH projects currently underway in Weimar.

In the light of the historical and contemporary importance of the material networks of books in academic debates about Weltliteratur, we hope to address some the following issues:

  • Transformations and Translations: it is a commonplace of academics to quote Goethe as a point of origin for the conceptual framework of “World Literature”, but many accounts have tended to elide differences between Goethe’s conceptual framework and contemporary articulations of World Literature within the socio-economic frameworks of globalization and digitalization. This encourages consideration of the modifications to Goethe’s concept, on the one hand, but also of the translations and transformations of Goethe’s own literary works (e.g. West-östlicher Divan, Faust, the case of the Bildungsroman) that underlie these reconceptualizations and actualizations.
  • Material Genealogies: given the importance of Goethe’s exchange with literary partners and agents in Britain, an investigation of the material conditions and reasons for their mutual interest in each other is of importance for any attempt to trace the genealogy of Weltliteratur. While the focus on relations with Goethe’s British “trading partners” – authors, publishers, translators, and booksellers – in Britain is central to any account, it does not preclude reconstructions of links with other locations in France, Germany, and further afield. We are interested in detailed Fallbeispiele/case studies based around individual books, works, or networks that can help to underpin the conceptual and ideational dimensions of both historical and current discourses on World Literature.
  • Books in the World: methods developed within the Digital Humanities have assisted the “Autorenbibliothek”-Project to track (for example) the material dispersal and exchange of books between libraries in Weimar, the entry and dissemination of books into and out of Goethe’s own personal library, but also the dissemination of Goethe’s own publications across the globe. A consideration of how methods such as stylometrics or practices of distant reading may help both to reconstruct the genesis of Weltliteratur around 1800 or the position of Goethe within contemporary discourses of World Literature today is fundamental to understanding the material conditions of Goethe’s literature in the world.


This symposium is a cooperation of the English Goethe Society, the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford, the Forschungsverbund Marbach-Weimar-Wolfenbüttel, and St John’s College. The English Goethe Society has kindly sponsored bursaries for doctoral students worth a total of £500 and we welcome proposals/participation by such colleagues in particular. The papers will be published – subject to peer review – in a special edition of the Proceedings of the English Goethe Society (PEGS) for publication in early 2021. We welcome proposals of 350 words in length for papers lasting 30 minutes by 15 May 2019 to the email addresses listed below; please include a short biographical note (no longer than 150 words) with your proposal. We will notify potential speakers by late-May whether their applications have been successful or not.

PD Dr Stefan Höppner (Weimar) and Assoc. Prof. Dr Barry Murnane (Oxford);



Redaktion: Constanze Baum – Lukas Büsse – Mark-Georg Dehrmann – Nils Gelker – Markus Malo – Alexander Nebrig – Johannes Schmidt

Diese Ankündigung wurde von H-GERMANISTIK [Constanze Baum] betreut –