Origin and Antitype: Medievalism in Nineteenth-Century Germany, 1806-1914

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Origin and Antitype: Medievalism in Nineteenth-Century Germany, 1806-1914

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Title: Origin and Antitype: Medievalism in Nineteenth-Century Germany, 1806-1914
Author: Heelan, Carla Melanie
Citation: Heelan, Carla Melanie. 2016. Origin and Antitype: Medievalism in Nineteenth-Century Germany, 1806-1914. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: This dissertation examines how the nineteenth-century engagement with medieval Europe changed modern Germany. Drawing from archival and printed primary material, I reconstruct how the Middle Ages gained new explanatory relevance as the origins of nineteenth-century German institutions and phenomena. I consider the historical interpretation of the medieval world at its broadest, not limited to scholarly debate, but also as it encompassed fiction, art, architecture, music, social science, law, and politics. Each chapter examines a figure drawn from these fields and each also moves chronologically through the century. I begin with the historian and statesman Barthold Niebuhr, who invoked the German Middle Ages as a source of patriotism and as an alternative to the Roman legal tradition. I next discuss the politician and architectural theorist August Reichensperger, who used the perceived regionalism of the medieval past as a means to resist Prussian centralization. My third chapter focuses on the intersection of historical research and fiction in the work of Victor von Scheffel, before I then turn to the role of the Medieval in Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. The final chapter of my dissertation treats how assumptions about the medieval world affected the frameworks that early sociologists used.

I argue that nineteenth-century conceptions and uses of the Middle Ages retained mythical or profoundly transhistorical elements, even as historians and philologists made the period more historically legible. Furthermore, the protagonists of my dissertation read nineteenth-century categories and concerns onto the Middle Ages. Their agendas shaped perceptions of the past, and, more importantly, influenced the structures and norms of the nineteenth century. These five figures fundamentally believed, however, that their distortions accurately depicted the historical record. I attend to this belief, that their portrayals of the past were true, rather than purely opportunistic bids to shape the present. I conclude by exploring how only in the mid twentieth century did medieval historians – specifically, Ernst Kantorowicz – begin to examine the influence of nineteenth-century vocabularies and frameworks on the formation of their field.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33493307
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