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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deficiencies of existing translation theories are exposed, so that in the concluding chapters 13 and 14 (with an unpublished memorandum by Alexander von Humboldt) a cohesive view of the entire process emerges.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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14. 1855 A Window in Time: German Philosophy in the New World at Mid-Century: with an Unpublished Memorandum by Alexander von Humboldt and the Facsimile of the Original Document


It was Heinrich Heine who once said that German philosophy was an important matter that concerned all of humanity but about which only the very last of our grandchildren would be able to decide whether we should be blamed or praised for it.1 In 1854/55 the American theologian and philosopher Edward James Young (1829–1906), who was enrolled between 1852 and 1856 as a student at the Universities of Göttingen and Halle, solicited the opinions of eminent philosophers, scientists and theologians in Europe precisely on the question of the importance of German philosophy for the modern English-speaking world, notably the United States, as he sought support for his project of promoting the publication in North America of his translation of Johann Eduard Erdmann’s monumental History of Modern Philosophy (Versuch einer Wissenschaftlichen Darstellung der Geschichte der neuern Philosophie).2 Erdmann had been a personal student of Hegel’s in Berlin and his History of Modern Philosophy has remained a standard work on the topic beyond the middle of the 20th century and was frequently reprinted; the last edition I could find is from 1977.3 The responses he received from prominent Europeans, while often revealing the personal biases of the writers, provide a unique window on how German philosophy was perceived internationally at the time.

The investigation of this notable episode in German-American cultural transfer is based on the close study of a set of unpublished manuscripts and documents ← 347 | 348 → which this writer has been able to...

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