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Transatlantic Crossings and Transformations

German-American Cultural Transfer from the 18th to the End of the 19th Century


Kurt Mueller-Vollmer

This volume attempts for the first time a comprehensive view of the momentous process of German-American cultural transfer during the 18 th and 19 th centuries, which played an important part in the formation of an American national and cultural identity, a process to which the New England Transcendentalists contributed some of the decisive ingredients, but which has largely escaped the attention of German and American scholarship. In each chapter a specific problem is treated systematically from a clearly defined perspective, deficiencies of existing translation theories are exposed, so that in the concluding chapters 13 and 14 (with an unpublished memorandum by Alexander von Humboldt) a cohesive view of the entire process emerges. A comprehensive bibliography will facilitate further scholarly pursuits.
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2. Anglo-American Literature and the Challenge of Germany: Transcendentalism as a Problem in Literary History


2.1 Some Methodological Considerations

If German literature and thought have been of importance for the American Transcendentalists, as by all indications they were, and if there occurred a significant process of cultural transfer from the Old World to the New One during the decades from the 1820s through the 1840s, we may very well wonder why literary historians up to now have not done more to elucidate this particular phenomenon. Anyone attempting to answer this question will inevitably be led into a quandary. This, because the challenge Germany presented to American culture during the period in question was of a twofold nature. For it was a challenge not merely to the incipient American literary and cultural life of the period, but one to its literary historiography as well. However, of the two, it was literary history that has too frequently failed to live up to this challenge. Until recently historians of American literature were in the habit of labeling everything that entered Anglo-Saxon culture from abroad as ‘foreign influences,’ and these in turn were characterized as either strengthening native dispositions or else were perceived as alien forces to be victoriously overcome by the American protagonist.1 What such a nativist attitude among literary historians has meant for the understanding of Transcendentalism we shall see shortly.

If, after the demise of the grand Western narrative of the unfolding national spirit, one attempts to reiterate under changed disciplinary conditions the question of European cultural transfer, one...

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