You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory:

The Multiple Versions of Humboldt’s ›Kosmos-Lectures‹

Christian Thomas, Humboldt-University Berlin

[...] die wichtigste litterarische Arbeit meines Lebens, die Erscheinung einer physischen Weltbeschreibung als
Erinnerung an meine Vorlesungen.

Humboldt-Cotta, Berlin, 28.3.1833

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory

Prussian National Convent at the
Sing-Academy Building, wood engraving, Illustrierte Zeitung, Berlin, 1848

Humboldt at the lectern, Artist: ??, creation: 18??

Humboldt’s ›Kosmos-Lectures‹

  • held 1827/28, shortly after Humboldt's return to Berlin
  • two seperate courses, held parallel in same timespan:
    Berlin University and nearby Sing-Academy building
  • 62 lessons at University vs. 16 lessons at Sing-Academy
  • most witnesses pratically unknown until recently

cf. Paper "You can't put your arms around a memory" >> online

Central Assumptions

Kosmos-Lectures = singular event, oral presentation,
not recorded, no 'authentified' publication, therefore:

  • each witness, even lecturer's original mss. (if existent)
    = merely one equally 'true' version among many others

  • apparently trivial observation, suitable for many other lecture series: Burckhardt's, Hegel's, Kant's, Saussure's, ...

  • ignored in editorial practise to construct an 'ideal' text

Instead, an edition (digital or print) has to represent
and appreciate each version in its own right.

  • editor's job: make accessible, visible and comprehensible
    this non-hierarchical parallelism of different versions 

cf. Paper "You can't put your arms around a memory" >> online

Background/Material

1. Humboldt's own manuscripts

2. Humboldt's dictations (?)

3. Attendee's notebooks of Humboldt's lectures

4. Pre- and Re-publications of the lectures' contents/text

cf. Paper "You can't put your arms around a memory" >> online

Background/Material

1. Humboldt's own manuscripts

  • part of Humboldt's working papers (Berlin, Krakow)
  • ca. 26.000 pages in total (mostly mss. & fragments)
  • maybe 6-800 of these connected to Kosmos-Lectures
  • completely digitized (by 12/2016), high-res scans, no text
  • metadata: medium granularity, cf. Kalliope/NL A. v. H.
  • lecture mss.: mostly keywords, preserved rudimentary
  • heavily re-edited and annotated in years after lectures
  • re-organized in new, thematically oriented order

>> no basis to 'reconstruct' the Kosmos-Lectures

cf. Paper "You can't put your arms around a memory" >> online

Background/Material

1. Humboldt's own manuscripts

2. Humboldt's dictations (?)

  • According to own testimony, Humboldt dictated certain well-received passages after each lesson in 1827/28:

ob ich gleich frei rede und meine Hefte nur das factische enthalten, so habe ich doch bei meinem noch sehr starken Gedächtniß nach jeder Stunde alles dictirt was durch Lebendigkeit der Sprache mir schien einigen Effect auf das Publicum hervorgebracht zu haben.

Humboldt-Cotta, Berlin, 1./4.3.1828

Background/Material

1. Humboldt's own manuscripts

2. Humboldt's dictations (?)

Background/Material

1. Humboldt's own manuscripts

2. Humboldt's dictations (?)

  • also preserved in Humboldt's legacy collection?
  • If so, remember: dictated from memory after lessons
    (not based on shorthand transcript or similar record)
  • altered significantly during years after lectures
  • incomplete, unknown writer, time of writing not certain
  • status unclear, maybe even for a different publ. project

>> no basis to 'reconstruct' the Kosmos-Lectures

Background/Material

1. Humboldt's own manuscripts

2. Humboldt's dictations (?)

3. Attendee's notebooks of Humboldt's lectures

  • 10 witnesses so far, more may exist (400/1200 listeners)
  • published in 2016: TEI-XML full-text transcriptions,
    cf. www.deutschestextarchiv.de/search/metadata?corpus=avhkv 
  • chronologically and thematically aligned,
    similar wording for few 'iconic' passages
  • but highly individual in every other respect:
    extent, wealth of detail, wording, illustrations, ...

Background/Material

1. Humboldt's own manuscripts

2. Humboldt's dictations (?)

3. Attendee's notebooks of Humboldt's lectures

  • highly individual; except one notebook=copy of another,
    + certain lessons were copied between other notebooks
  • but generally: no master text, no 'best' witness
  • equally true, equally flawed, equally authentic versions

>> An overwhelming wealth of witnesses ...

Digesting a wealth of witnesses

Digesting a wealth of witnesses

Digesting a wealth of witnesses

Digesting a wealth of witnesses

editor's job:
provide document-spanning overviews,
e.g. http://www.deutschestextarchiv.de/kosmos/person

Background/Material

1. Humboldt's own manuscripts

2. Humboldt's dictations (?)

3. Attendee's notebooks of Humboldt's lectures

  • highly individual; except one notebook=copy of another,
    + certain lessons copied between other notebooks

>> (Semi-)automated collation (juXta, collateX)

>> Q: What to collate???

What to collate?

*comparing single lessons (not whole docs), orthographically normalized spelling
(using Deutsches Textarchiv CAB webservice)

What to collate?

What to collate?

What to collate?

Digesting a wealth of witnesses

juXta Collation, Side-by-Side View

  • certain 'iconic' passages are similar enough,
    e.g. [DTA-Search Example] or CollateX results:
+---+-----+-------+--------+-----+------------------------------+---------+--------+----------+---+--------------------------------------+---------+---------+-------------+-----------+---+
| 1 | Die | Natur | -      | ist | nur                          | Einheit | in der | Vielheit | , | Mannigfaltigkeit                     | in Form | u       | .           | Mischung. | - |
| 2 | Die | Natur | selbst | ist | -                            | Einheit | in der | Vielheit | ; | sie ist der Inbegriff der Naturdinge | -       | und der | …           | -         | - |
| 3 | -   | Natur | -      | ist | -                            | Einheit | und    | Vielheit | - | -                                    | -       | -       | .           | -         | - |
| 4 | Die | Natur | -      | ist | -                            | Einheit | und    | Vielheit | , | sie ist der Inbegriff der Naturdinge | -       | und der | Naturkräfte | ; …       | - |
| 5 | Die | Natur | -      | ist | -                            | Einheit | und    | Vielheit | , | sie ist der Inbegriff der Naturdinge | und     | -       | Naturkräfte | – die     | … |
| 6 | Die | Natur | -      | ist | -                            | Einheit | und    | Vielheit | ; | sie ist der Inbegriff der Naturdinge | ,       | und der | Naturkräfte | -         | … |
| 7 | -   | Natur | -      | ist | für die denkende Betrachtung | Einheit | in der | Vielheit | - | -                                    | -       | -       | .           | -         | - |
| 8 | Die | Natur | -      | ist | für die denkende Betrachtung | Einheit | in der | Vielheit | , | Verbindung des Mannigfaltigen        | in Form | -       | …           | -         | - |
+---+-----+-------+--------+-----+------------------------------+---------+--------+----------+---+--------------------------------------+---------+---------+-------------+-----------+---+

Digesting a wealth of witnesses

<!-- What witness "6" 'really' looks like: -->

<p>Die Natur ist Einheit <choice><abbr>u</abbr><expan resp="#BF">und</expan></choice> Vielheit,
sie ist der Inbegriff der Naturdinge <choice><abbr>u</abbr><expan resp="#BF">und</expan></choice><lb/>
Naturkräfte – die <choice><orig>Naturkeñtniß</orig><reg resp="#cab">Naturkenntnis</reg></choice> mithin die
<choice><orig>Keñtniß</orig><reg resp="#cab">Kenntnis</reg></choice> der Dinge
<choice><orig>neben</orig><reg resp="#TK">neben-</reg></choice><lb/>
<choice><abbr>u</abbr><expan resp="#BF">und</expan></choice> nacheinander.</p><lb/>
  • certain 'iconic' passages are similar enough,
    e.g. [DTA-Search Example] or CollateX results:

Digesting a wealth of witnesses

Prepare your TEI-XML documents for best collation results:

Digesting a wealth of witnesses

<!-- What witness "6" 'really' looks like: -->

<p>Die Natur ist Einheit <choice><abbr>u</abbr><expan resp="#BF">und</expan></choice> Vielheit,
sie ist der Inbegriff der Naturdinge <choice><abbr>u</abbr><expan resp="#BF">und</expan></choice><lb/>
Naturkräfte – die <choice><orig>Naturkeñtniß</orig><reg resp="#cab">Naturkenntnis</reg></choice> mithin die
<choice><orig>Keñtniß</orig><reg resp="#cab">Kenntnis</reg></choice> der Dinge
<choice><orig>neben</orig><reg resp="#TK">neben-</reg></choice><lb/>
<choice><abbr>u</abbr><expan resp="#BF">und</expan></choice> nacheinander.</p><lb/>

Prepare your TEI-XML documents for best collation results:

Digesting a wealth of witnesses

<!-- What witness "6" 'really' looks like: -->

<p>Die Natur ist Einheit <choice><abbr>u</abbr><expan resp="#BF">und</expan></choice> Vielheit,
sie ist der Inbegriff der Naturdinge <choice><abbr>u</abbr><expan resp="#BF">und</expan></choice><lb/>
Naturkräfte – die <choice><orig>Naturkeñtniß</orig><reg resp="#cab">Naturkenntnis</reg></choice> mithin die
<choice><orig>Keñtniß</orig><reg resp="#cab">Kenntnis</reg></choice> der Dinge
<choice><orig>neben</orig><reg resp="#TK">neben-</reg></choice><lb/>
<choice><abbr>u</abbr><expan resp="#BF">und</expan></choice> nacheinander.</p><lb/>

Background/Material

1. Humboldt's own manuscripts

2. Humboldt's dictations (?)

3. Attendee's notebooks of Humboldt's lectures

4. Pre- and Re-publications of the lectures' contents/text

>> Humboldt as a DJ:

  • Re-Using existing material
  • Composing Kosmos-Lectures‹
  • Re-Mixing the ›Kosmos-Lectures‹

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory. The Multiple Versions of Alexander von Humboldt’s ›Kosmos-Lectures‹

By Christian Thomas

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory. The Multiple Versions of Alexander von Humboldt’s ›Kosmos-Lectures‹

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