What Happened to the Renaissance in the German Academy? A Report on German "Renaissance" Institutes

By Bernstein, Eckhard | Renaissance Quarterly, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

What Happened to the Renaissance in the German Academy? A Report on German "Renaissance" Institutes


Bernstein, Eckhard, Renaissance Quarterly


Where is the research on the Renaissance being done in Germany? Is it true that "European history is still firmly divided among antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the modern era," and that therefore "the Renaissance occupies no space of its own in the history curriculum [of German universities]" as Professor Karant-Nunn has argued? [1] The problem, it seems, is that German historians have largely abandoned the term "Renaissance" to denote the period between the Middle Ages and the modern era, using instead the term "early modern period" (Fruhe Neuzeit), a term whose perimeters are variously defined as extending from the close of the Middle Ages to the end of the seventeenth century, or to the French Revolution, or even to the end of the old Reich in 1806. The justification for arguing for a macro-epoch, one distinct from the Middle Ages and the modern period, in favor of the traditional terms such as Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, and Enlightenment, is seen in the unity of the period. Klaus Garber, the direct or of Interdisziplinares Institut fur Kulturgeschichte der Fruhen Neuzeit, argues that during the early modern period the ancient and medieval traditions were productively appropriated and transformed. [2] Such unity is also found in the continuous reception of antiquity from humanism to classicism; in the development of the various Christian confessions and their system of norms; in the rise of the modern state with its reception of Roman law; in the development of a system of world economy; in the advancement of the natural sciences; in the creation of national linguistic and writing systems; and in the establishment of a canon of topics, motifs, themes, and images based on antiquity. Renaissance studies have thus been placed into a larger context but they have not disappeared in that context. While there are no chairs at German universities for Renaissance history; there are numerous professorships for early modern history. And the fact that the early modern period enjoys substantial scholarly attention is clearly apparent when looking at one of the indispensable tools of the early modern scholar, the annual directory called Scholars of Early Modern Studies, published by the Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers and the Center for Reformation Research. Aside from the American scholars, those from German-speaking countries represent by far the largest contingent.

In this essay, however, I would like to review the work of institutes outside the German university structures that foster "Renaissance" scholarship. Are there German equivalents to the Warburg Institute in London, to the Centre d'Etudes Superieures de la Renaissance in Tours, or to the Institut d'Etudes de la Renaissance l'Age Classique in Saint-Etienne, to the Folger Institute for Renaissance and Eighteenth Century Studies in Washington, and to the Newberry Library Center for Renaissance Studies in Chicago, to mention only a few of such institutes in England, France and United States. During the last decade a number of institutes have been founded in Germany and Austria that vigorously support research in the early modern period, promising to enrich the academic landscape in the German-speaking countries. In order to gain a better understanding of their methods, approaches, research strengths, organizational structures, and publication programs, I visited several of these institutes during the month of May of 1998. [3]

OSNABRUCK

The University of Osnabruck, home of the Interdisziplinares Institut fur Kulturgeschichte der Fruhen Neuzeit, is not part of the venerable German centers of learning such as Heidelberg, Tubingen, or Gottingen that established the fame of the German universities in the nineteenth century. Founded in the 1970s to accommodate the growing number of students demanding and receiving access to the universities, Osnabruck is a young university. This might very well explain the fact that the institute has been flourishing here since its official founding in 1992. …

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