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Mapping LivesThe Uses of Biography$
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Peter France and William St Clair

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780197263181

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197263181.001.0001

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Adding Stones to the Edifice: Patterns of German Biography

Adding Stones to the Edifice: Patterns of German Biography

(p.102) (p.103) 6 Adding Stones to the Edifice: Patterns of German Biography
Mapping Lives

Roger Paulin

British Academy

This chapter discusses the nature of German biographical tradition, which provides a glimpse into the erudition of biographies in German. German biographical tradition has always been seen as part of historiography, so that its development belongs rather to Wissenschaftsgeschicte than to belles-lettres. Furthermore, biographies within the German context function not just as a record of great names but as a hierarchy of cultural models, canonical literary figures, and representative individuals. As a determiner of national moral values, biography does more than merely memorialize. The biographical tradition of Germany tends to look at representative individuals and biographies as testaments and tangible representatives of the total forces – intellectual, moral, historical – of an age or culture. Seen in these terms, it is a product of national liberalism. The function of German biographical tradition is to annex the lives of the great for the overarching political and cultural ends, hence, biographies tended to be huge, philological, and supremely wissenschaftlich. This high significance of the function of biographies made such life-writing an endeavour inappropriate for the faint-hearted, thus limiting it to the aristocrats of the minds. This contributed to the end of German biographies, as narratives of lives were predominantly accounts of unapproachable geniuses.

Keywords:   German biographical tradition, biographies in German, historiography, Wissenschaftsgeschicte, cultural models, representative individuals, biographical tradition, Germany, political ends

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