German as the Language for the Humanities around 1800

This project investigated the language used in the academic disciplines that were established in the late 19th century as the »humanities« in Germany. The linguistic and stylistic qualities, as well as the representational techniques and media specificities of these disciplines, were results of the debates over the philosophy of language, theories of knowledge, and university politics being waged around 1800. A central focus of the project was the interconnectedness of the actual use of language and critical reflections on language. To this day, the shape as well as the social and political self-perception of the German humanities still hinges upon this interconnectedness. Even in current discussions about the translatability of German as a language of knowledge production and dissemination in the sciences and humanities, these complex relations can still be perceived.
Around 1800 numerous authors became convinced in Germany that language was not only a tool of transmission, but also a »constitutive organ of thought« (Wilhelm v. Humboldt). This engendered a concern for adequate representational forms of academic writing in the sciences and humanities. Within the German tradition, this intimate relationship between statement and expression almost ineluctably led to the widespread identification of scholarly writing as literature. As a result, numerous texts manifest interesting paradoxes, for instance regarding the questions of audience and address. On the one hand, the specific language used in scholarly texts is meant to attest to the authority of a particular academic project, as well as to legitimize its specific type of discourse. On the other hand, the addressee of such academic texts  was thought to ideally exceed the limits of any specific discourse. Taking its cue from these apparent contradictions,
this project, therefore, systematically investigated attempts in the German humanities to permanently overburden and simultaneously undermine the expectations and deployment of language. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, for example, countered the accusation that his »Wissenschaftslehre« (his system of transcendental philosophy) was incomprehensible by blaming the reader for what he termed an implicit desire for »shallowness« and »amateurism.« At the same time, however, Fichte assigned academics the task of contributing to the »progress of mankind.«
The research project sought to consider how the political implications and social models that underlined German academic language in the emerging humanities were linked to certain normative socio-political impulses. The leading question in this respect was whether the humanities were assigned the task of either compensating, or substituting their work and discourse for the emphatic political and social emancipatory currents that the French Revolution had germinated. Particular attention was paid to the potential longue durée of this constellation because the political and social substrates of German academic language in its formative period continued to be operative well into the 20th century.

Fig. above: Friedrich Hegel with Students, lithograph, from »Das Wissen des 20. Jahrhunderts« (Knowledge of the 20th century), Bildungslexikon, Rheda 1931, Source: Wikimedia

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2014–2016
Head researcher(s): Daniel Weidner
Associate Researcher(s): Claude Haas


Claude Haas, Daniel Weidner (ed./eds.)

Über Wissenschaft reden
Studien zu Sprachgebrauch, Darstellung und Adressierung in der deutschsprachigen Wissenschaftsprosa um 1800

Lingua Academica 4
de Gruyter, Berlin 2020, 263 pages
ISBN: 978-3-11-067662-4 (Print), 978-3-11-067663-1 (E-Book PDF, Open Access), 978-3-11-067665-5 (E-Book EPUB, Open Access)
Claude Haas, Johannes Steizinger, Daniel Weidner (ed./eds.)

Goethe um 1900

LiteraturForschung Vol. 32
Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 2017, 291 pages
ISBN: 978-3-86599-349-6
Stephan Braese, Daniel Weidner (ed./eds.)

Meine Sprache ist Deutsch
Deutsche Sprachkultur von Juden und die Geisteswissenschaften 1870–1970

LiteraturForschung Vol. 25
Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 2015, 290 pages
ISBN: 978-3-86599-286-4

Claude Haas/ Daniel Weidner

Sigrid Weigel

  • »Erkenntnispotenzial und ideologische Erbschaften – zur deutschen Wissenschaftssprache in den Geisteswissenschaften und ihrer Geschichte«, in: Deutsch in den Wissenschaften. Beiträge zu Status und Perspektiven der Wissenschaftssprache Deutsch, München: Klett-Langenscheidt 2013, S. 57–67

Daniel Weidner

Claude Haas

  • »Auflösung des Judentums. Zu einem literaturwissenschaftlichen Großprojekt Friedrich Gundolfs«, in: Daniel Weidner, Stephan Braese (Hg.): Meine Sprachte ist Deutsch. Deutsche Sprachkultur von Juden und die Geisteswissenschaften 1870-1970, Berlin: Kadmos Kulturverlag 2015
  • »Heiland oder Führer? Der Dichter als Kulturheros in der Literaturwissenschaft des George-Kreises«, in: Zaal Andronikashvili, Matthias Schwartz, Franziska Thun-Hohenstein (Hg.): Der Kulturheros. Genealogien – Konstellationen – Praktiken, Berlin: Kadmos Kulturverlag (erscheint 2016)
  • »Hölderlin contra Goethe. Gemeinschaft und Geschichte in Max Kommerells Der Dichter als Führer in der deutschen Klassik«, in: Zeitschrift für Germanistik. Neue Folge XXVII (2017), H. 1, S. 149-162.


30 Jun 2016 – 02 Jul 2016

Über Wissenschaft reden. Sprachgebrauch, Darstellungsform und Adressierungsstruktur der deutschen Wissenschaftsprosa um 1800

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et.

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11 Dec 2014 – 12 Dec 2014

Goethe um 1900

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et.

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Public evening event under the initiative GERMAN 3.0
28 May 2014 · 7.00 pm

Deutsch als Sprache der Geisteswissenschaften II: Historische Perspektiven auf ein aktuelles Problem

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum 308

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Workshop under the initiative GERMAN 3.0
28 May 2014 · 10.00 am

Deutsch als Sprache der Geisteswissenschaften I: Ursprünge um 1800

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum 308

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International Conference
17 Jan 2013 – 19 Jan 2013

»Meine Sprache ist Deutsch«. Deutsche Sprachkultur von Juden und die Geisteswissenschaften 1870-1970

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum

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International annual conference of the ZfL
01 Dec 2011 – 03 Dec 2011 · 3.00 pm

nachDenken. Internationale Wirkungsgeschichte der deutschsprachigen Geisteswissenschaften und ihrer Sprache

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum 308

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