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  • Symphilologie. Formen der Kooperation in den Geisteswissenschaften eds. by Stefani Stockhorst, Marcel Lepper, and Vinzenz Hoppe
  • Jakob Norberg
Symphilologie. Formen der Kooperation in den Geisteswissenschaften. Edited by Stefani Stockhorst, Marcel Lepper, and Vinzenz Hoppe. Göttingen: V & R, 2016. Pp. 325. Cloth €45.00. ISBN 978-3847105671.

As Marcel Lepper points out in his contribution to this timely and helpful anthology about cooperation in the humanities and specifically in literary studies, we tend to imagine the student of literature as a solitary figure. The learned reader sits alone among books and studies the pages silently, with a pen in hand. Monks, Lepper adds, used to work in carrels at the monasteries, so that they could concentrate deeply on the texts before them. Another contributor, Constanze Güthenke, states that the humanities have never really been able to integrate cooperative work into its disciplinary identities: the norm has been the individual scholar who writes monographs and articles—and reviews of other monographs. In recent years, however, humanists have begun to cluster. There are interdisciplinary workshops, research networks, humanities labs, Graduiertenkollege, GSA seminars, and a host of other formats meant to facilitate and capitalize on cooperation. Mimicking the collaborative conventions of the social and natural sciences, as well as the teamwork habits of corporate culture, people in the humanities have wanted to assemble more and take on projects that demand manifold perspectives and skills and a division of labor.

Symphilologie. Formen der Kooperation in den Geisteswissenschaften does what good humanistic work so often does: it reconstructs a rich context for current trends by reconstructing a long but partially neglected history of cooperation in philology and the human sciences. The overall conclusion one can glean from the fifteen or so contributions is quite revealing of the culture of the research-oriented humanities. As Hans-Harald Müller shows in his contribution on "Großforschung," large-scale projects involving many researchers are not a novelty within the humanities. At the head of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, the classical historian Theodor Mommsen announced that the institution, the academy, must, above all, organize and promote ambitious research projects that cannot be completed by one scholar alone, although such projects must still be conceived and led by an outstanding researcher and science manager. Steffen Martus's article on cooperative practices in literary studies reminds us that the humanities are in fact always communal enterprises, despite the dominant image of the isolated reader. Leaning on the work of another contributor, Ralf Klausnitzer, he discusses how students of literature are typically socialized in particular research communities, where they can observe what counts as an [End Page 665] interesting comment, a relevant problem, a valid argument, and learn how to avoid both overly simplistic and overly complicated interpretations. Such enculturation of novices ensures the continued existence of widely shared tacit disciplinary knowledge. Even when the lonely scholar writes a paper in the carrel, he or she remains in an imagined dialogue with disciplinary peers who share a similar sense of what counts as a legitimate undertaking in the field.

Yet the anthology's title and central concept, "Symphilologie," refers neither to nineteenth-century industrial-scale projects nor to the socialization of future academics within a research paradigm, but to the transient romanticist marriage of philosophy and sociability, Friedrich Schlegel's "Symphilosophie." As the editors Stockhorst, Lepper, and Hoppe write, Schlegel envisaged the collaborative, fully social creation of philosophy by diverse souls so finely and intimately connected to one another that they might have been torn halves at last reunited. The anthology makes clear, perhaps against its own initial intention, that no such vision was ever carried over into philology. Güthenke formulates the tension explicitly in her paper on the classicist August Boekh, who became a professor in Berlin 1811 and founded an influential seminar, a sort of graduate program. The cooperative practices in the knowledge communities of increasingly institutionalized and specialized philological disciplines—mentoring, networking, information exchange, peer review and so on—do not instantiate the romantic ideal of complementary creative being. According to an article by Vinzenz Hoppe and Kaspar Renner that Güthenke cites, one can even discern a break between the vocabulary of...


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