What’s in a Boeckh?

I have already mentioned August Boeckh several times in the past (here, here and here for instance),…

I have already mentioned August Boeckh several times in the past (here, here and here for instance), but never presented the importance of the Boeckh part in the big picture of my project. Since we will have a team meeting in a couple of days, this seems to be a good time for a recapitulation on the workflow and the objectives.

First, let me tell you how I came to working on August Boeckh! When I developed my project on Berlin intellectuals around 1800, I thought that there was nothing new to find on the “big” intellectuals in the archives, nothing unknown to edit and possibly not so many new, clever ways of working on printed material without repeating what had already been said. I would still argue that when it comes to Fichte, Hegel, Humboldt, which are personae I avoid working on frontally. But at some point, I had to re-ask myself what is a “big” and what is a “small” intellectual, since there are obviously some in-between categories, some “mediumly important” intellectuals whose life and work were not as much over-explored as I had first thought. August Boeckh and his papers happened to be an almost completely unexplored territory.

August Boeckh belongs to the generation of young scholars that built up the Berlin University. Wilhelm von Humboldt had by far not done all the work that was necessary for the University to be a stable academic environment when he left his ministry. It is in the years between 1811 and 1820, the so-called “Gründerjahre”, that the relations between the faculties were clarified (the first status had planned an explicit hierarchy that put the Philosophical Faculty in the last place), the way to react to structural aporias like a conflict between University Senate and University Rector was settled, a University Library was organized, etc., etc. August Boeckh came to Berlin in 1811 and stayed there until his death in the 1860s. He served the University and the Academy of Science, was in contact with all major Academies in Europe, started the first Academy Project (a project still running by the way) on Greek inscriptions. He was Professor of Philology, but his activities inside the University extended to being officially appointed at giving all official speeches (first in Latin, then in German) and to leading the Philological Seminary, which he founded and directed until his death. He was a central part of the intellectual puzzle I am trying to reconstruct, at the intersection of politics (see the contents of his speeches), science policy (see his relationships with Alexander von Humboldt), University structure (he was dean and rector several times) and training the elite that made 19th century Germany.

Needless to say, he was a major figure in Classical Philology, so his printed work is solidly known, it was printed and re-printed. But there remains much to learn about his work at the University and at the Academy of Sciences. This is the dissertation topic I suggested to Sabine Seifert when I hired her to work in the group and that she has been exploring for a year and half now. Before I had that funding, I had been working with three other persons from the Humboldt University trying to figure out where to begin, how to proceed: Thomas Poiss, a Hellenist who had already published on that topic, Colin King, a Philosopher working for the August-Boeckh Antikezentrum and Christiane Hackel, a Historian who had worked on Droysen’s reception of Boeckh in her Masters thesis.

We are now working in three directions:

1) August Boeckh papers: in cooperation with the Berlin archives who hold manuscripts by Boeckh, we are putting together an overview of what there is left. The decision to begin with the Berlin manuscripts is a pragmatical one; of course, it should extend to all manuscripts in a further step. As much as I think it will be doable on a national scale, I am afraid it will become more complicated when we include all lecture notes from his classes, since he gave a lot of them, with a lot of public, and this kind of manuscripts are mostly to be found in the USA. The core of the workflow on this part of the project is really the coordination with the institutions. The idea is to work in XML in order to make the data exportable to the kalliope database and likely to be enriched in both directions (us getting info from kalliope, kalliope getting info from us). We have a whole bunch of datasets now (thanks to the funding of the De Gruyter Stiftung that allowed us to hire Julia Doborosky to do most of that work – I paid another big part of it with my Caroline von Humboldt award money, it seemed only fair…).

2) August Boeckh book collection: I explained here how the University Library of the Berlin University was born and how long it took before it became part of the University overall concept. Boeckh knew very well how important the University Library is for the institution. He donated all his books to the University Library after his death. Those books (very few of them were kept by the family) were then added to the existing stock without being systematically recorded. Some have an ex-libris, some do not. Some were listed by Boeckh on the handwritten catalogue he also donated, half of them were not. Boeckh’s list contains about 6000 items. Until now, we moved on two fronts in parallel: one is an XML/TEI information on each entry of Boeckh’s catalogue (identifiying the book, the edition, the volume, and then trying to find the corresponding volume in the University Library). The other is a less exhaustive list of books that can be identified on the basis of the ex-libris catalogue. We will have to merge these two at some point. The cooperation with the University Library Laurent and I have been working out a couple of weeks ago consists like in point 1) in putting up a workflow that allows mutual data enrichment. The final aim is a digitization program that will allow to virtually reconstruct Boeckh’s library (with the big advantage that his own books contain his personal remarks and notes in the margins…). One of the inputs I am expecting from this part of the project is insight in the mechanisms of reception and genesis: Which works of Classical Literature did Boeckh use? How differently could he refer to a source depending on the output he was planning to reach?  Combined with the lecture notes I evoked in point 1), one question that fascinates me is to what extent he would use his sources differently in his lectures and in his published works, where the censorship mechanisms, the public are not the same.

Which takes us to:

3) the edition of Boeck’s Enzyklopädie oder Methodologie der Philologischen Wissenschaften: this is a class Boeckh gave 26 times within 56 years, always based on the same handwritten set of notes. The first draft dates back to 1809 and Boeckh kept enriching it afterwards. The only existing edition of it was realized in the late 19th century by a student of his who wanted to render the totality of Boeckh’s thought, so that there is no trace  of the genesis of the work to be found there. The original manuscript of that very set of notes is held by the Archive of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, and a first transcription reconstructing the different moments of the genesis of the work has been realized in the 1980s, without being finished or published. What we want to do is start from there to realize a hybrid edition (digital in XML/TEI + paper) offering the possibility to collate (is that the right word for “kollationieren”?) the different text versions. We are working on the funding application right now, which is why we will be meeting on tuesday…

And as for myself, one of the very interesting questions I am working on for this summer is in which form or how to include all this material in the exist-database and present it together with the digital edition.

If you want to read the most recent publications on this:

* Romy Werther published an edition of the correspondence between August Boeckh and Alexander von Humboldt.

* Thomas Poiss published a paper dealing among other things with Boeckh’s speeches in my volume Netzwerke des Wissens. Das intellektuelle Berlin um 1800

… and contact me if you want more!


Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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Auteur/autrice : Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.