German Medieval Studies

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Tradition of the Nibelungenlied with an artistic initial (handwriting D, Prunner Codex)

German Medieval Studies is a sub-discipline of German and Medieval Studies , which deals with the German language and literature from the first records in the 8th to the early modern period in the 16th century. Other common names for the subject include older German literature and linguistics , medieval German studies , old German studies , older German studies , (Germanistic) medieval philology and German philology of the Middle Ages and the early modern period .

History of German Medieval Studies

Before the 19th century

Reflecting on texts was already part of the writing culture in the Middle Ages. At first it was mainly poets who spoke about other poets. From the 16th century onwards, “outsiders” also increasingly concerned themselves with the traditional poetry, “[...] above all lawyers who, as legal historians, bear the name of 'Germanists' and who [t] themselves care for the past domestic textual culture. . "

Despite this development, the Latin-dominated scholars of the 16th and 17th centuries often dismissed the Middle Ages as a dark age that had to be overcome. This led to the fact that for a long time hardly anyone dealt with medieval traditions and texts. One of the few exceptions was Martin Opitz , who in his “Buch von der Deutschen Poeterey” (1624) also treated and praised Middle High German poets such as Walther von der Vogelweide .

The Enlightenment saw the Middle Ages as a cultural vacuum , marked by superstition and irrationality . It was not until the early Romantic period towards the end of the 18th century that people cautiously turned to their own past, initially not particularly scientifically , but primarily in order to strengthen national awareness, quasi a “self-assurance of one's own literary work […] still not actually literary studies ”. Well-known personalities such as Ludwig Uhland , August Wilhelm von Schlegel or Johann Gottfried Herder have already pleaded for a more orderly and comprehensive approach to dealing with the literary past.

19th century

Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen , holder of the first chair for German studies
Brothers Grimm , double portrait from 1843

The beginnings of German Medieval Studies as a science finally date back to the early 19th century and were also related to the political efforts to strengthen German identity against the background of the Napoleonic wars . By placing the older German language and literature in a scientific context, texts that were previously regarded as amateurish and awkward were noticeably upgraded. In 1810 the first extraordinary professorship for German language and literature was established in the person of Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen at the newly founded Berlin University . In its beginnings, the new subject, in the wake of the positivism adopted from the natural sciences , dealt almost exclusively with the analytical survey of the language stock (Grimm) and the language and literature of the Middle Ages . It was not until the middle of the 19th century that German studies began to turn to contemporary texts . In addition to Jacob Grimm , who is still referred to as the "father of German studies", and his brother Wilhelm, among others, Karl Lachmann , the founder of the text-critical edition , August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben , Hermann Paul , Friedrich Kluge and Matthias were among the pioneers of ancient German studies Lexer , whose Middle High German Dictionary (1872/78) is still in use today.

First half of the 20th century

Under the influence of the epistemological volume “Introduction to the Humanities” by Wilhelm Dilthey , published in 1883, German studies turned to historical hermeneutics . There follows "[...] the transition from the positivistic - biographical factual research to the so-called history of the mind and ideas ". The instrumentalization of the literary business and the subject during the Nazi era , however, meant that modern German studies found itself in a state of shock after the end of the Second World War . The old German studies, however, had survived the time largely unscathed. It is true that the medieval texts had also been reinterpreted and misused for propaganda purposes, above all the “ Nibelungenlied ”, but the material itself had not changed and could be further researched from new approaches.

Second half of the 20th century

Characteristic changes in the post-war years were the distance from Nordic studies to Romance studies , Middle Latin philology and theology, as well as the increasingly synchronous consideration of the traditional texts in their time. Key figures in these developments were Hugo Kuhn , Friedrich Ohly , Hans Robert Jauß , Kurt Ruh , Max Wehrli and Hans Fromm , to name just a few. Her research led, among other things, to new approaches in hermeneutics and edition studies and to a further opening up of the subject towards neighboring medieval disciplines such as history , anthropology , sociology , psychology or art history , which is proven by numerous interdisciplinary special projects. The interdisciplinary medieval studies was based on the provided by the Germanic medieval studies available text editions and insights draw as an indicator of living and thinking of the medieval population, while sociology, anthropology etc. of Germanic medieval studies new interpretation of rooms offered.

Parallel to this diversification , there was also a separation of linguistics from ancient German studies. Although grammar and the development of the preliminary stages of New High German are still taught in German Medieval Studies, the systematic examination of the language itself is more the responsibility of linguistics . "For the main course in the field of older German literature, the following are expected:

  1. Familiarity with literary methods ;
  2. Ability to analyze Old and Middle High German texts;
  3. Knowledge of older German texts due to extensive reading and overview of the history of older German literature ;
  4. Insight into the relationships between German-speaking and non-German-speaking medieval literature;
  5. Insight into the history of the department. "

Research subject

Medieval texts and their traditions are at the center of interest in German Medieval Studies . The following are examined:

and much more.


Research into medieval texts poses particular challenges for scientists in the following areas:


In the Middle Ages , written records were more the exception than the rule, because the carrier material ( parchment ) for permanent recording was expensive. Because of this, and in the absence of a generally accessible education system , only a small part of the population was able to read and write. The literate text production concentrated for a long time on monasteries , later also on scholars within urban associations (e.g. courtyards ). Only with the invention of printing did this exclusive situation change.

Particularly popular texts were repeatedly copied or retyped from memory and so further distributed. Even so, only a relatively small number of manuscripts have survived to this day. German Medieval Studies is often dependent on fragments or even reports on texts that no longer exist in other texts.

Term of literature

The concept of literature in the Middle Ages cannot be compared with today's. Literature was earmarked and seen primarily as a craft, not an art form as it is today. The concept of the original genius and thus the importance of the author as the originator of his idea was only a development in the Enlightenment and hardly played a role in the Middle Ages . The quality of a text was measured by its language skills and its credibility - even with fictitious texts. Due to the elaborate production, authors and writers were often directly dependent on their clients , whose demands they had to comply with.

Another important difference to contemporary literature lies in the medieval reception behavior . In the Middle Ages, texts were often presented orally or at least read aloud. This reception behavior had a direct influence on the conception of the texts.

Author term

Unlike today, the author, i.e. the creative originator of a text, was not yet considered important in medieval literature production. The name of the author is only passed down in a few texts. The connection between writer and author is also rarely clearly documented. Very often texts were dictated (hence the term " poetry ") or copied several times from copies, so that their origin cannot be clearly traced.


The examined texts are written in different dialects of Old, Middle or Early New High German. A supraregional language standard only developed on the basis of Luther's Bible of 1522. Before that there were writing schools and office languages that set standards , but apart from that, it was mostly written as it was spoken. On the one hand , this makes the translation of older texts more difficult today , but on the other hand, it enables their localization due to the distinctive linguistic characteristics of their authors or writers.

Methods of German Medieval Studies

About the different methods was the subject and is much discussed, the traceability of the method but one of the main features of scientific work at all. In order to shed light on the many different aspects and problems of their research subject comprehensively, uses the Germanic medieval studies of different methods that are partly developed directly from (Latin) philology , such as:

Other methods were in turn developed together with modern German literary studies and / or are based on other scientific disciplines, such as:

See also


Web links

reference books



Individual evidence

  1. Thomas Bein: German Medieval Studies. An introduction. 2nd edition Schmidt, Berlin 2005, p. 90. ISBN 3-503-07960-2
  2. ^ Hilkert Weddige: Introduction to German Medieval Studies. Beck, Munich 2001, p. 14. ISBN 3-406-36749-6
  3. Weddige, p. 18.
  4. Weddige, p. 20 (based on a conference of the ministers of education in 1970).