Skip to content

Roundtable 2: Collections

Alice Goff
The Media of Restitution: Reclaiming Rhenish Church Property for the Prussian State, 1814/15

In 1814 Prussian delegates in Paris began the process of identifying and reclaiming cultural property seized from German states by the French during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. While the political stakes of this endeavor were high as Prussia sought to rebuild itself as a cultural power within Europe, the reclamations were extraordinarily complex undertakings, requiring diplomatic finesse, deep historical knowledge, and vast logistical resources. Among the most challenging classes of objects to be reclaimed were those taken out of churches, many of which had been secularized during the Napoleonic period: such works were frequently uninventoried, known only to local clerical officials and parishioners, and difficult to describe with definitive authority. My pitch will focus on the array of media drawn up by local administrators in the new Prussian Rhineland in order to support the reclamation of their missing church property in France. These include lists, sketches, affidavits, seals, citations, and painstaking text descriptions intended to communicate the identity of altars, reliquaries, architectural elements, and miscellaneous Kirchengeräthe to the Prussian delegation in Paris. At the beginning of the post-Napoleonic era, during which Prussia would come to consider the cultural property of churches as part of a national patrimony, these media draw attention to the larger challenge of pinning words to objects, and enlisting works of art into the bureaucratic regime of the Prussian state.

Catriona MacLeod
Crafting Inventories

Unlike literary products of the nineteenth century, craft practices around paper situate themselves precariously around inventorying, as indeed might be expected given their ephemeral and marginal status as art objects.  I am currently working intensively on Scherenschnitte by figures such as Luise Duttenhofer (1776-1829), Adele Schopenhauer (1797-1849), and Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), whose diverse relationships with the inventory reveal much about the gendering of craft, attitudes towards creativity, the role of salons, and questions of literary canonicity.

Schopenhauer’s works for the most part vanished into the albums of female friends and were not published until 1920, when H.H. Houben and Hans Wahl (who had become director of the Goethe Museum in 1918) put out a facsimile edition of albums.  Duttenhofer, unlike Schopenhauer, retained copies of her paper cuts for her personal inventory, suggesting a different conception of her oeuvre as comprehensive archive (this may be related to her marriage to a Stuttgart printmaker).  The story of how this extensive collection of Scherenschnitte entered the collections of the Marbach Literary Archive is one that I intend to pursue over the next months.  What concerns me is how the collection remains at the margins of the DLA, of interest to the Archive when the works represent literary personalities, another form of cultural inventory.  Finally, we have the paradox of Andersen’s prolific output of papercuts.  Hundreds of these works by Denmark’s most famous writer survive and have been carefully archived, catalogued, and made digitally available by the Royal Copenhagen Museum – yet after a night of telling fairy tales and making papercuts for children and old people, many of the resulting Scherenschnitte would be swept up from the floor and discarded.  Another aspect of Andersen’s work in paper that relates critically to media inventories is his disruption of the print culture of his day, which makes its way into his collage albums, alongside his papercuts, in an utterly decontextualized manner: Andersen integrated his hundreds of paper cuts into the many collage albums he created for children, which dispose of paper scraps in an eclectic, uncaptioned, decomposed fashion juxtaposing the mass produced with the most intimate personal creations, and the most precious types of paper: paper cuts, handwritten verse, newspaper and magazine cuttings, labels, cartoons, lottery tickets, theatre tickets, ribbons, bits of luxury paper.

Thus, I am interested both in how the three figures at the center of my investigation create private inventories that, certainly in the case of Andersen, refuse and undermine the usable inventory of periodical, library, or reading room.

Paul Babinski
Orientalism’s Inventory: The Manuscript Collection of Vienna’s Oriental Academy

Founded in 1754 on the model of the French École des jeunes de langues, Vienna’s Orientalische Akademie became over the course of the following century a center of orientalist knowledge production in Europe. One way to decipher the meaning of this institution would be to give an account of the important names that trained or taught there. This would then be the story of Franz Maria von Thugut, Bernhard von Jenisch, and, above all, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, the leading Ottomanist of the early nineteenth century. My project takes a different route, working from the materials preserved in the school’s manuscript collection to reconstruct its history of scholarly practices.

In this collection we find Ottoman, Persian, and Arabic manuscripts alongside student exercises, translations, Ottoman-language plays written at the school, and the script for a physics presentation delivered in Turkish to the Ottoman ambassador. Considering the school’s manuscript collection alongside the documents found in its archives—its internal pedagogical recommendations, report cards and course lists—as well as the published works of former students, my project situates the material inventory of Vienna orientalism at a critical moment in the history of Europe’s relationship to the Ottoman Empire, when European states, hoping to train young men to replace the Levantine dragomans that mediated diplomatic communication in multilingual Istanbul, were confronted with the challenge of teaching the languages of the Near East in the heart of Europe.

Both the Orientalische Akademie and the École des jeunes de langues worked out a solution to this problem only gradually, and in doing so they experimented with new forms of writing and engagement with both the real and imaginary “Orient.” As students took over work once performed by Ottoman contacts, and generations of diplomat-scholars from the school built careers as orientalists on the basis of their engagement with Ottoman philological and literary traditions, the transcultural character of orientalist collaboration—once built into the scholarly division of labor itself—became progressively more textual and imaginary.