Literary studies

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Literary studies is the scientific preoccupation with literature . According to current understanding, it includes sub-areas such as literary history , literary criticism , literary interpretation , literary theory and edition philology . Literary studies emerged historically

  • from university preoccupation with ( rhetoric and) poetry ,
  • the preoccupation with the novel as the subject of the belles lettres and,
  • according to name, from the preoccupation with "literature" - the field of scientific publications until the 19th century.

Theater studies and media studies are part of the literary tradition .

History from the 17th to the 19th century

Chairs for poetry and rhetoric

Sometimes one reads that Johann Christoph Gottsched held the first university chair for poetry. That is not correct, because chairs in the fields of poetry and rhetoric have long existed in the philosophical faculties of European universities.

The university's discussion of poetry remained focused on poetology until the 18th century and thus on a discussion of the rules that works of art in the various genres of poetry according to Aristotle and his successors had to comply with. Poetry in the national languages ​​was largely ignored in the universities compared to Latin poetry. The smallest room was occupied by poetry production, which was current in the 17th and 18th centuries and centered around opera.

Non-university: dealing with the novel

The novel was not belonging to poetry, especially in the field of novel production itself examinations: in prefaces to novels and chapters that were installed by their authors in novels, to discuss the history of the genre and their qualities there. As a milestone, Pierre Daniel Huet's treatise on the origin of the novels was published in 1670 as a preface to Marie-Madeleine de La Fayette's Zayde . The Bishop of Avranches, trained in the interpretation of texts, pioneered the idea of ​​interpreting novels and poetry in general as fictions against the background of the respective cultural conditions from which they arose. The existing specialist sciences could not win much from the proposal, until well into the 18th century a novel criticism that disqualified the entire genre as morally rejected seemed more profitable.

Literary studies in the literal sense of the 17th and 18th centuries

Literary studies, which applied to literature, by definition the field of science, developed as the science of the most important scientific publications and thus largely as a bibliographical project. Their work consisted essentially in the publication of large scientific bibliographies. In the course of the 18th century this project became increasingly questionable: in the 1770s, specialist bibliographies rose in respect of general overviews of the literature of all sciences. The general project of a literary history and literary study survived by opening up to the poetry discussion at the end of the 18th century, which had opened up to the discussion of novels itself in the middle of the 18th century and thus gained significantly in attractiveness.

The literary studies of the 19th century

When, in the 19th century, what was to be regarded as literature was groundbreakingly redefined in Germany - at the center of the definition of the term the area of ​​the linguistic works of art of a respective nation - literary studies turned into an eminently political project. The technical term " German Studies " contains the new line of tradition: experts from the field of law who were trained in reading medieval German legal sources were the first to have the expertise to secure the corpus of national literature and to edit it critically.

The newly defined literary studies set an example across Europe in a development in which German and French specialists in the middle of the 19th century set the decisive guidelines for the literary histories of other countries.

Current subdivisions

General and Comparative Literature

German Philology (German Studies)

Older German literary studies

The subject of Older German Literature Studies is a sub-area of ​​German Philology . Older German Literature Studies deals with German literature from its beginnings in the early Middle Ages to the transition to modern times in the 16th and 17th centuries. Century. It analyzes the Middle and Old High German texts systematically according to genre and form , material and motif , as well as historically according to authors and epochs.

No “typical” occupational fields can be identified for graduates in this subject. Quantitatively very limited professional activities in educational institutions, publishing houses, media, libraries, museums, cultural associations, in archives and documentation and in public relations are possible.

Modern German literary studies

In modern German literary studies, theoretical foundations and methods for the investigation and interpretation of literary and non-literary texts , including plays and films, are developed and applied in German from the 16th century onwards. Literary epochs and their historical change are researched and relationships between literary and other (intellectual or social-historical) structures and conditions for the production, distribution and absorption of literature are examined.

In addition to linguistics and medieval studies, modern German literary studies is the third discipline in German studies at German universities.

New: In the sense of modern, refers to literature and not to science. The first major work in modern German literature is the literary studies Das Narrenschiff (1494) by Sebastian Brant .

German: refers to the German language ; The object of study is therefore German-language literature .

Science: Draws attention to the fact that when reading texts scientifically, the focus is not on receiving, but rather on reflecting on and observing the modalities. Scientific reflection on literature must be methodologically sound.

Literary studies in the so-called foreign language philologies

Basic orientations, research directions, methods and theories

Various basic research orientations (male-oriented, women-oriented and, more recently, trans-person-oriented research), research directions, methods and theories have established themselves in literary studies:

Subdivision according to the subject of the investigation

Eminent literary scholars and literary theorists


  • Bibliography of German Linguistics and Literature Studies ("BDSL Online", known in the printed edition as Eppelsheimer-Köttelwesch) is the most important German bibliography. The reporting years 1985–2000 (as of 2019) are freely accessible. Most German university libraries have a license for full access from the respective university network.)
  • Romance Bibliography / Bibliography romane / Romance Bibliography. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1961ff. (previously Journal for Romance Philology (ZrP) Supplements , Halle / Saale, then Tübingen 1875 ff .; reporting period 1875–1913; 1924 ff.)


General introductions

  • Heinrich Bosse, Ursula Renner (ed.): Literary studies. Introduction to a language game. (= Rombach Basic Course Volume 3). 2nd, revised edition. Freiburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-7930-9603-0 .
  • Alo Allkemper, Norbert O. Eke: Literary Studies. An introduction. (UTB basics). 3rd, revised. u. exp. Edition. UTB, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-8252-2590-2 .
  • Heinz Ludwig Arnold , Heinrich Detering (Hrsg.): Fundamentals of literary studies. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-423-30171-6 .
  • Rainer Baasner , Maria Zens: Methods and Models of Literary Studies - An Introduction. 3rd revised and expanded edition. Erich Schmidt, Berlin 2005.
  • Rainer Grübel, Ralf Grüttemeier, Helmut Lethen (eds.): Orientation literary studies. (rororo encyclopedia). Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek 2001, ISBN 3-499-55606-5 .
  • Oliver Jahraus: Literary Theory: Theoretical and methodological foundations of literary studies. UTB, 2004, ISBN 3-8252-2587-9 .
  • Hans Krah: Introduction to literary studies. Text analysis. Verlag Ludwig, Kiel 2006, ISBN 3-937719-43-1 .
  • Ursula Kocher, Carolin Krehl: literary studies. Studies - Science - Profession (=  Academy Study Books ). Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-05-004413-2 .

History and criticism of literary studies

  • Robert Weimann : "New Criticism" and the development of bourgeois literature. History and criticism of new methods of interpretation. Niemeyer, Halle 1962; 2., through u. supplementary edition. CH Beck, Munich 1985.
  • KD Wolff (Ed.): The robber book. The role of literary studies in the ideology of the German bourgeoisie using the example of Schiller's “Die Räuber”. Roter Stern publishing house, Frankfurt am Main 1974; Parthas Verlag, Berlin 2005 (quotations, comments, historical-economic information and digressions).
  • Jürgen Fohrmann , Wilhelm Vosskamp (ed.): From the learned to the disciplinary community. Metzler, Stuttgart 1987.
  • Klaus Weimar : History of German literary studies up to the end of the 19th century. Fink, Munich 1989, 2nd edition 2003.
  • Wilfried Barner : Literary Studies - A History? (= Writings of the Historical College . Lectures. Vol. 18). Historisches Kolleg Foundation, Munich 1990 (digitized [1] ).
  • Wilfried Barner, Christoph König (Ed.): Changing times. German literature before and after 1945. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1996.
  • Gerhard Kaiser : confusion of borders: literary studies in National Socialism. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2008.
  • 1968 in German literary studies [2] . Edited by Sabine Koloch [3] ( archive / special editions) 2018–2020.


  • Horst Brunner, Rainer Moritz (Hrsg.): Literary Studies Lexicon - Basic Terms of German Studies. 2nd revised and expanded edition. Berlin 2006.
  • H. Ehling, P. Ripken: The literature of black Africa. A lexicon of the authors. CH Beck, Munich 1997.
  • Axel Ruckaberle (Ed.): Metzler Lexicon World Literature: 1000 authors from antiquity to the present. 3 volumes. Metzler, Stuttgart et al. 2006.
  • Ansgar Nünning (Hrsg.): Metzler Lexikon literary and cultural theory. Approaches, people, basic concepts. 4th update u. exp. Edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-476-02241-7 .
  • Dieter Lamping (Hrsg.): Handbook of literary genres . Kröner, Stuttgart 2009.

For more extensive reference works see: List of Special Encyclopedias # Literature

For more author lexicons see: Writers

Literary history

  • Hans-Dieter Gelfert: Small history of the English literature. 2nd Edition. CH Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52856-2 .
  • Jürgen Grimm (ed.): French literary history . 5th, revised and updated edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-476-02148-3 .
  • Reinhard Lauer : History of Russian Literature . Special edition. 2nd Edition. CH Beck, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-50267-5 .
  • Michael Rössner (ed.): Latin American literary history . 3rd, expanded edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-476-02224-0 .
  • Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer: History of Chinese literature. 2nd Edition. CH Beck, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-406-45337-6 .
  • Hubert Zapf (ed.): American literary history . 2nd updated edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-476-02036-3 .
  • Victor Zmegac (ed.): History of German literature . 3 volumes (1 / I and 1 / II, as well as 2 and 3). Athenäum Verlag, Königstein / Ts. 1978.

Subject reflection

  • Leonhard Forster: Literary studies as an escape from literature? Wolfenbüttel 1978.
  • Winfried Wehle : Describing - understanding: for the more recent discussion about the relationship between literary and linguistic knowledge. In: Romance Yearbook. 25 (1974), pp. 63-93 (PDF; 12.7 MB) .
  • Winfried Wehle: Why (still) literary studies? In: Romance journal for the history of literature. Volume 29, issue 3/4, 2005, pp. 411-426 (PDF; 123 kB) .

Web links

Wiktionary: Literary Studies  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Portal: Literary Studies  - Overview of Wikipedia content on literary studies