Posts Tagged ‘Seminar’

This winter semester, I will again be teaching two courses.

The Salon: a Form of Enlightened Sociability
The social life of the Ancien RĂ©gime has never lost its fascination. In many books and movies, a world is evoked in which beautifully dressed gentlemen and ladies cultivate a witty and light-footed conversation. The central and most famous form of this type of elitist sociability was, without a doubt, the salon. In this setting, an exquisite circle of guests of all sorts met under the gentle guidance of an elegant hostess. Drawing upon French and ‘German’ cases from the 18th and 19th centuries, this seminar studies the social, cultural and gender dimensions of this social form in their historical development. Its focus will lie on several questions which have been the subject of heated historiographical debate. Were these salons hatcheries of Enlightenment thought, of emerging civil society or of women’s emancipation, or did they rather represent a late – and ultimately dying – branch of aristocratic (court) culture? In the conversations that built the central element of any salon, what was the relationship between serious discussion and lighthearted amusement? Were the salons able to adjust to the new political environment after the French Revolution, or did the rise of bourgeois society spell their end?

Enlightenment and Revolution: Reading Course on French Sources
The French Revolution is often thought of as the birthplace of European modernity. Contemporaries were already very aware of its significance and debated about its various causes. Central among these was a diffuse set of phenomena that would gradually come to be subsumed under the title of ‘Enlightenment’. In this context, a controversial debate about the relationship between ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Revolution’ emerged that has not quieted down since. Reading French primary sources (pamphlets, theatre, speeches, lexicon articles, etc.), this course will trace the political dimension of the Enlightenment as it was understood before, during and after the French Revolution.

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Next semester, I will have te opportunity to teach a seminar on the concept of Enlightenment to students of the University of Bielefeld. This is a translation of the text published in the syllabus.

Dimensions of Enlightenment: Self-Understanding, Descriptions, Historiography

The most famous characterization of the essence of Enlightenment stems from the philosopher Immanuel Kant. He defined the concept as the “departure of man from his self-inflicted minority” and tied this to the motto “Sapere aude!”: “Have the courage, to use your own understanding!”

The question ‘What is Enlightenment?’ is not only at the centre of the historical study of Enlightenment. The age that we now know under that name asked herself the same question. Furthermore, it has up until the present played a major part in debates about the self-understanding of modern culture.

The aim of this seminar is to consider the concept of Enlightenment in all its many dimensions. Accordingly, the question mentioned is examined from three perspectives:

1. What is Enlightenment in Historiography?

With reference to the example of Enlightenment historiography general questions are posed about problems of historical periodization (when was Enlightenment?), terminology (what does Enlightenment mean?) theory and method (how does one study Enlightenment?). Several ways in which this field has been studied will be compared with regard to their particular understanding of the subject.

2. What was Enlightenment in the Enlightenment?

In the course of the Eighteenth Century a group of authors emerged that closely tied their self-understanding to the historical mission of ”enlightening’ the world. On the other hand, others viewed this group as ridiculous posers in the best case, a world-wide conspiracy against throne and altar in the worst. What Enlightenment meant was highly controversial. It was negotiated in a long discursive process. On the basis of selected sources, such debates will be analyzed. The focus will be both on strategies of (linguistic and visual) self-presentation as well as on the hostile depictions by enemies of the Enlightenment.

3. What is Enlightenment now?

Most strongly in France and in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but also in Germany, Enlightenment plays a significant role in debates about the cultural self-understanding of modernity. The question is posed, if we live in enlightened times – or at least in an ‘Age of Enlightenment’ today. Is Enlightenment obsolete? Has she in the course of the Twentieth Century, as Horkheimer and Adorno thought, proven to be dialectical? Or does she still shape the present? What does this mean in the confrontation with non-Western, ‘unenlightened’ cultures?

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