Romantic Anthropology

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Our Research Project

Like the - far better researched - anthropology of the Enlightenment, Romantic Anthropology is focused on the "whole man " as a unity of body and soul. The anthropological literature - mostly written by authors with a medical background and a leaning towards natural philosophy - deals with basic questions of physiology and psychology, the history of the individual, of nature and of the cosmos; as well as with special problems such as somnambulism, magnetism, the subconscious, dreams, love, insanity, the doppelgänger-syndrome, gender, etc. The heyday of Romantic Anthropology was, roughly speaking, the years between 1810 and1840; although in psychology Romantic Anthropology exerted its influence well into the '70s. Its traces can still be detected in the works of Freud and the philosophy of life ("Lebensphilosophie") of the early 20th century.

The aim of our research project is to rediscover and to map this "lost continent". The authors, institutions, periodicals, and books, and the major works of secondary literature are to be found and made accessible.

As part of the project, a research archive is to be set up at the "Institut für neuere deutsche und europäische Literatur" (Institute for modern German and European literature) of the FernUniversität Hagen (university for distance education). The most important Romantic Anthropology articles and books as well as the most important secondary works are to be collected (in the original or as copies). All these texts will be accessible in print and via a database; a workstation with computer, printer, scanner and a copy-machine will be at the disposal of all interested researchers who come to Hagen. The completion of the archive is scheduled for the beginning of 1999, but many essays and monographs are already in place, among them works by the following authors:

Johann Heinrich Ferdinand von Autenrieth; Franz von Baader; Karl Ernst von Baer; Christoph Heinrich Ernst Bischoff; Joachim Dietrich Brandis; Karl Friedrich Burdach; Carl Gustav Carus; Ernst Friedrich Eberhard; Joseph Ennemoser; Johann Eduard Erdmann; Immanuel Hermann von Fichte; Johann Christoph Fleck; Jakob Friedrich Fries; Christian Ludwig Funk; Georg Friedrich Christian Greiner; Franz von Paula Gruithuisen, Friedrich Wilhelm Hagen; Eduard von Hartmann; Johann Christian August Heinroth; Karl Wilhelm Ideler; Johann Samuel Ith; Ludwig Heinrich von Jakob; Dietrich Georg von Kieser; Johann Michael Leupoldt; Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck; Jakob Salat; Karl Albert Scherner; Gotthilf Heinrich Schubert; Henrich Steffens; Paul Ignaz Vitalis Troxler; Heinrich Benedikt von Weber.

This collection should be of equal interest to workers in the fields of literature, philosophy, pedagogics, medicine, psychology and the history of science.

Why are literary historians interested in this subject?

The answer seems fairly obvious: almost all authors of High and Late Romanticism (e.g. Hoffmann, von Arnim, Brentano, Eichendorf) and several of their contemporaries (such as Goethe, Jean Paul and Kleist) addressed anthropological themes, problems and questions in their writings – and these passages show obvious affinities to the opinions and conclusions of Romantic Anthropology. After all, the professional anthropologists dealt with the main theme of literature: i.e. man. A comprehensive reconstruction of Romantic Anthropology – still unachieved –would enable us to consider Romantic literature in its context, and thus greatly contribute to a better understanding of the literary texts of this period.

Alexander von Humboldt`s dedication page to Goethe, 1807: the genius of Poetry (Apollo) is removing the veils which cover a statue of Nature, shown as the goddess Artemis of Ephesus. Etching after a picture by Bertel Thorwaldsen.


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We would like to thank those named here for their generosity and the confidence which they have placed in us.

This page was designed by Uli Wunderlich and translated by Adam Lawrence. Please contact if you have any questions. Last update: 08. Oktober 1999.