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Towards an Alternative History of the Age of Goethe

Project description

Re-examining German writers and philosophers, 1770-1830

The EU-funded AltHistory project will investigate the construction of German literature and thought between 1770 and 1830. Specifically, it addresses the issue of how literature developed at the time and why canonisation marginalised some writers and privileged others. The social and material contexts of three literary and philosophical case studies and their impact on later canonisation will be studied. Moreover, a range of sociological and historical methodologies will be applied to determine the role played by intermediaries. The project is expected to highlight the need for a more refined view of this important period in the history of German literature and philosophy.


This project challenges our understanding of the core canonical period of German literary and philosophical historiography (1770-1830) by asking: what concept of literature emerged in the period, and why were some authors and philosophically engaged figures marginalised through processes of canonisation, whilst others were not? This was a transformational period in German literary and philosophy culture, featuring major figures such as Goethe, Schiller, Kant, and Fichte, and these names continue to determine the narratives of the period in both fields. Through a series of three case studies, the first on social cultures of emotion, the second on gendered networks of philosophy, and the third on local canons, this project will examine the social and material contexts of literature and philosophy and ask how they influenced later processes of canonisation. I will integrate a wide variety of methodological approaches, including sociological concepts of networks imported into literary studies, and methods from book history and intellectual history. These will be used to interrogate the agency of individual mediators – readers and publishers, among others – in the development of literature and philosophy.
The project will argue for a more nuanced understanding of what is understood by literature and philosophy in the period. I will specifically argue that examining literary sociability opens up other overlooked contexts that are obscured by canonisation and the master narratives that develop subsequent to the period.
The fellowship will provide me with expertise in a variety of fields to expand on my background in literary studies: I will develop specialisms in the history of philosophy and in gender studies, and so will gain an interdisciplinary perspective on German studies. It will furnish me with the publication record that will allow me to apply for permanent positions (associate professorships) in academia in the UK.


Net EU contribution
€ 172 750,08
37129 Verona

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Nord-Est Veneto Verona
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
No data