S·P·I·N - Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms

Germanisten and their Proceedings (Frankfurt 1846, Lübeck 1847)

Katinka Netzer

Some 200 men assembled in Frankfurt in September 1846 to discuss German law, German language and German history. Among them were famous personalities (such as the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Ludwig Uhland), renowned scholars, librarians and teachers. They all shared a common self-understanding as Germanisten: scholars of German culture and traditions. The congress in Frankfurt, with its follow-up in Lübeck the following year, were both the start and the culmination of this new academic discipline: Neither before nor afterwards would Germanistik have such a broad scholarly appeal and political importance as in those years leading up to the 1848 revolution.

The notion of Germanist had in the preceding years undergone a semantic shift. It had been initially used in jurisprudence to denote a preoccupation with native (rather than Roman) law. The first to use it in this sense had been Hermann Conring, founder of German legal history, in his De origine juris germanici (1643); usage became sporadic after that, but from the 1830s onwards came to be applied in the modern sense, and included representatives of German philology.

A much more inclusive notion of a Germanist field of scholarship was heralded in 1846 when Ludwig Reyscher, legal scholar from Tübingen, first issued a call for a Congress of Germanists. The invitation was addressed to "Men dedicated to the cultivation of German law, German history and language". This broad definition of the discipline as comprising historians, linguists and legal scholars, i.e.  three specialisms, met with some response in the late 1840s but proved untenable, and fissioned back into its constituent components. In later years, Germanistik came to apply exclusively to German philology, the study of language and literature; and the academic consolidation even of this more narrowly-defined discipline was slow and hesitant.

>next page (2 of 6) || >>final page (6) || Verhandlungen: full text on-line