Collecting and Historical Consciousness in Early Nineteenth-Century Germany

Collecting and Historical Consciousness in Early Nineteenth-Century Germany

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This provocative book challenges long-held assumptions about the nature of historical consciousness in Germany. Susan A. Crane argues that the ever-more-elaborate preservation of the historical may actually reduce the likelihood that history can be experienced with the freshness and individuality characteristic of the early collectors and preservationists. Her book is both a study of the emergence in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Germany of a distinctively modern conception of historical consciousness, and a meditation on what was lost as historical thought became institutionalized and professionalized. Public forms of remembering the past which are familiar today, such as historical museums and historical preservation, have surprisingly recent origins. In Germany, caring about the past took on these distinctively new forms after the Napoleonic wars. The Brothers Grimm gathered fairy tales and documented the origins of the German language. Historical preservationists collected documents and artifacts and organized the conservation of cathedrals and other historic buildings. Collectors formed historical societies and created Germany's historical museums. No single national consciousness emerged; instead, many groups used similar means to make different claims about what it meant to have a German past.Although individuals were responsible for stimulating new interest in the past, they chose to band together in voluntary associations to promote collective awareness of German history. In doing so, however, they clashed with academic and political interests and lost control over the very artifacts, collections, and buildings they had saved from ruin. Examining the letters and publications of the amateur collectors, Crane shows how historical consciousness came to be represented in collective terms-whether regional or national-and in effect robbed everyone of the capacity to experience history individually and spontaneously.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 224 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 22mm | 482g
  • Ithaca, United States
  • English
  • 0801437520
  • 9780801437526

Review quote

"This is a knowing, intelligent book." -- Christopher Clark * Times Literary Supplement * "Susan A. Crane's study of historical artifact collecting in nineteenth-century Germany offers valuable insights for at least three widely diverse academic audiences... Thought-provoking.... Crane... has written a book of significant merit." -- David McKibbin, University of Northern Iowa * History * "Susan A. Crane's book takes to an exciting new level the discussions of the collection and preservation of historical objects, and of the production of historical consciousness itself. Nobody has explored more lucidly than Crane the fascinating interplay between personal and public history, between telling the truth and living it." -- James E. Young, University of Massachusetts at Amherst "Susan A. Crane thoughtfully addresses a large theme in the intellectual and cultural history of Germany during the decades after the Napoleonic Wars: the growth of a new interest in the past and its relationship to the rise of nationalism." -- Andrew Lees, Rutgers University * American Historical Review * "Sensitive to the malleability of historical memory, Crane charts the evolution and impact of amateur historical consciousness in Germanic regions after Napoleon.... This is a difficult, but rewarding, deftly nuanced interpretation of the paths taken toward the creation of Germany's 'pasts.'" * Choice * "In her excellent book, Susan A. Crane traces the rise of historical consciousness in the first decades of the nineteenth-century Germany and shows how closely it was linked to the collecting activities of individuals and groups.... Crane's theoretical discussions will stimulate the philosophical debate about collecting." -- Andreas Urs Sommer, University of Greifswald * German History * "Collecting and Historical Consciousness is a book of great merit. Through mediating between groups-'collective collecting'-and institutions, Susan Crane earns the right to explore the subjective investment of the individual collector. This is likely to become a central reference point for future development of museology and the history of collecting." -- Stephen Bann, University of Kent at Canterbury "Susan Crane's new study should be received with pleasure for a number of reasons. First, she addresses a period of literary-cultural history that is.... distinctly and undeservedly unfashionable. Second, she tackles it with admirable thoroughness and a good deal of subtlety, always remaining clearly focussed on her argument.... In short, it is a clear and intelligent attempt to demonstrate that, the more collectors (both as individuals and as groups) try to preserve the historical, the less likely people are to experience it with the freshness and spontaneity characteristic of the early collectors." -- Helena Ragg-Kirkby, University of Leeds * Journal of Germanic Studies *
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About Susan Crane

Susan A. Crane is Associate Professor of Modern European History at the University of Arizona.
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