• Robert-Jan Wille

    Hi Floris! Great questions, great essay. I would be very much interested in learning more about the scholarly culture of late eighteenth centirury Göttingen. Instead of focusing on his legacy and on the history of history writing after Gatterer, shouldn’t we analyze Gatterer’s local contemporaries outside the field? Together with Gatterer and Schlözer, Arnold Heeren (1760-1842) taught at this university that studying mankind meant studying the world as a whole, in an anthropological perspective. They offered their students, in an atmosphere of ‘Heilsame Concurrenz’, courses in ‘world history’, which also had an effect on the natural sciences, especially on the physical anthropology of the ‘Naturphilosoph’ Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1824). Blumenbach sent his students all over the world to collect ethnological objects in order to construct a universal system of race, which fits in your Gatterer story. So there seems to be a development from natural history to political history and back again to the ethnology of humankind. At the same time Göttingen offered a home to scientists who toyed with precision and instruments, such as the physicist and geodetic scientist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), who taught here Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) how to exactly measure the world. So, where does this global outlook and this culture of precision come from? What was the political role of the British-Hannover kingdom in this global network of science? Do not forget that German lands did offer alternatives to universities: the Hannovers who had founded Göttingen in 1737 had decades before hosted Leibniz at their court in Herrenhausen.

    • Floris Solleveld

      Hi Robert-Jan,
      Thanks for the long reaction, and sorry for the late reply – I only saw it now. To begin with, I completely agree with you. It is quite a miracle how a rather dull city in the middle of a middle-sized German duchy could become the scholarly powerhouse of the late 18th century, and the case of Göttingen is grist on the mill for Rens Bod’s plea for a joint history of sciences and humanities. Also it’s quite a shame that there is not yet a proper monograph on Heeren, who was the leading German historian before Niebuhr and Ranke and who continued editing the Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen and the Heeren-Ukert series of Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten until his death in 1842. For an overview, there is Luigi Marino’s monograph ‘Praeceptores Germaniae: Göttingen 1770-1820’ – but that starts already with the second generation of Göttingen scholars, to whom Gatterer belonged (much of his work on the auxiliary sciences is indebted to his predecessor Johann David Köhler). McClelland, ‘State, Society, and University in Germany, 1700-1914’ to my best memory attributes the Göttingen miracle to academic freedom and British influence. I don’t think that’s improbable. Halle and Leipzig in the mid-18th century were still strongly under Pietist influence and the other German universities were neglible in size; and yet German universities already then were exceptional in Europe for their concentration of scholarship, mainly for lack of alternatives (scattered reading public, decentralized court culture). Add a bit more academic freedom and money to buy books, and a lot can happen – a lot also happened in Jena in the course of one decade around 1780-90. In 1770, Göttingen already had the biggest university library worldwide with 60,000 vols.; and Heyne expanded it to 200,000 during his fourty years as a librarian. But I agree it’s more a commonsensical than an empirical explanation.

      For that matter, at the Tradition and/or Modernity conference in Nijmegen next May I’ll be presenting a paper on the Geschichte der Künste und Wissenschaften seit der Wiederherstellung derselben bis an das Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts (1797-1820), the massive 100-vol compendium compiled by learned men of Göttingen that marks both the high point and the end point of historia literaria (and an important step in the historiography of science, literature, art, and history writing). Will do some more research on that while in Halle this Spring.

  • Floris Solleveld

    A small addendum about the methodology of the Chronometer: the principle that you should authenticate a charter by looking at all its characteristics rather than one or a few was already formulated by Mabillon in De Re Diplomatica (1681), according to Gabriele Bickendorf, Die Historisierung der Italienischen Kunstbetrachtung im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert (Berlin 1998), p. 161. Will check Mabillon for the exact formulation.