Knowledge in Motion: Constructing Transcultural Experience in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods (1200–1750)

Knowledge in Motion: Constructing Transcultural Experience in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods (1200–1750)

Gerhild Scholz Williams and Christian Schneider, Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures / Arts & Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis
Washington University in St. Louis
St. Louis
United States
Vom - Bis
31.03.2016 - 02.04.2016
Schneider, Christian

Every other year, the German Department hosts an International Symposium on German Literature and Culture. In keeping with national and international scholars in the construction and transfer of knowledge across national and continental borders, we have chosen as our topic: “Knowledge in Motion: Constructing Transcultural Experience in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods (1200–1750).”


Places of reading, writing, and information sharing change over the centuries. How we experience such space(s) and time determines how we read, write, and, in this process, translate. We perceive borders and border crossings differently depending on how we approach or traverse them, be that voluntarily when traveling and exploring, or involuntarily when forced to migrate or brought as captives into another culture. As we move across boundaries, we transport knowledge, our own and what we absorb from others; we mediate culture as it is mediated through us. The knowledge we carry along may conflict or merge with the new we acquire.

Changes in our movements lead to changes in our knowledge and thus also to changes in genres which communicate this knowledge (literature, art, music, law, etc.). In this process, what lodged at the periphery of a given culture might move to, and eventually even become, the center. Examples of such movements might be the courtly epic or romance, the early modern novel, or the art and music of the Romantic era. Such new forms do not only assume new organizational models but also new forms of knowledge circulation. Knowledge in motion becomes knowledge about motion that leads to transfer and translation.

Knowledge in motion varies. It may be “book knowledge” (Buchwissen), including religious knowledge, as well as “experiential knowledge” (Erfahrungswissen). In some instances, it is precisely the relationship between these two kinds of knowledge that is the object of literary discourse. Subsequently, we may ask which concept(s) of knowledge are most appropriately employed to describe various interchanges (cultural, political, social, economic, etc.) in the medieval and early modern periods and how different forms of knowledge interact in changing cultural, political, and social contexts.

We set knowledge in motion either physically or mentally, and sometimes both: physically by traveling, mentally by translating or communicating to and with unfamiliar cultures. Textual artifacts, and literature in particular, play a major role in the transfer across boundaries of knowledge. Merging storytelling with the distribution of knowledge acquired and presented by fictional characters “on the move,” literary texts become the venue of imaginary movements of knowledge and serve as a medium for experimenting with motions of knowledge. From the perspective of literary aesthetics, this raises questions about their epistemological status between the two poles of fictional and factual writing. Moreover, intercultural exchanges of knowledge are not limited to written texts but may also be initiated by physical objects such as art, architecture, fashion, etc. Joining narrative representation with the distribution of knowledge creates a poetics of knowledge that crosses boundaries of knowledge and textual form and that affects our way(s) of constructing literary as well as non-literary experience. This also includes changing attitudes toward gender, class, race, economic, and social status. As our topic suggests, we envision this meeting to be interdisciplinary in the media explored and the methods employed.


Thursday, March 31, 2016, 4:00 pm – The Chancellors’ Room, Brookings Hall 300
Ottmar Ette (Potsdam)
Knowledge in Motion–Knowledge through Motion: Nomadic Patterns of Life Writing Followed by a Reception

Friday, April 1, 2016 – Danforth University Center, Room 276
8:45-9:00 am
Welcome, Barbara Schaal, Dean of Arts & Sciences

9:00-10:30 am
SESSION 1: Early Movements
Moderator: Jessica Rosenfeld (St. Louis)

9:00-9:30 am
Markus Stock (Toronto): Knowledge, Hybridity, and the King of the Crane-Men
9:30-9:45 am

9:45-10:15 am
Ann-Marie Rasmussen (Waterloo): Shaping the Community: Badges as Media of Knowledge in Medieval Cities
10:15-10:30 am

10:30-11:00 am
Coffee Break

11:00-12:30 am
SESSION 2: Moving North
Moderator: Patrick Brugh (Baltimore)

11:00-11:30 am
Jan-Dirk Müller (München): Wandering Scholars: Importing Renaissance Humanism North of the Alps
11:30-11:45 am

11:45-12:15 am
Elisabeth Wåghäll Nivre (Stockholm): Northern Encounters: Early Modern German Travelers in Sweden
12:15-12:30 pm

12:30-2:00 pm
Lunch Break

2:00-3:30 pm
SESSION 3: Moving Memories
Moderator: Christine Johnson (St. Louis)

2:00-2:30 pm
Sigrun Haude (Cincinnati): The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648): Moving Bodies – Transforming Lives – Shifting Knowledge
2:30-2:45 pm

2:45-3:15 pm
Mara M. Wade (Urbana-Champaign): Women’s Networks of Knowledge: The Emblem Book as Stammbuch
3:14-3:30 pm

3:30-4:00 pm
Coffee Break

4:00-5:30 pm
SESSION 4: Networks of Knowledge
Moderator: Anna Leeper (Rockfort)

4:00-4:30 pm
Merry Wiesner-Hanks (Milwaukee): Women’s Experience of Protestant Ideas and Practices in the Early Modern World
4:30-4:45 pm

4:45-5:15 pm
Tobias Bulang (Heidelberg): The Physicians Universal Experience: Foreign Languages and Countries in the Writings of Leonhard Thurneysser zum Thurn
5:15-5:30 pm

6:30 pm
Reception – Umrath Hall

7:15 pm
Buffet Dinner – Umrath Hall

Saturday, April 2, 2016 – Danforth University Center, Room 276
10:00-12:30 am
SESSION 5: Moving Genres
Moderator: Julie Singer (St. Louis)

10:00-10:30 am
Christian Schneider (St. Louis): Cosmic Dreams: Fiction and Non-Fiction in Early-Modern Lunar Travel Narratives (Johannes Kepler, Cyrano de Bergerac, Athanasius Kircher)
10:30-10:45 am

10:45-11:15 am
Dirk Werle (Heidelberg): Knowledge in Motion between Fiction and Non-Fiction: Epic Poems and Didactic Poetry in the 17th Century
11:15-11:30 am

11:30-12:00 pm
Lynne Tatlock (St. Louis): Conversation, Translation, Adaptation: The Traffic in Knowledge in the Winter Nights of Antonio Eslava, Matthias Drummer, and Johann Beer
12:00-12:15 pm

12:15-2:00 pm
Lunch Break

2:00-3:30 pm
SESSION 6: Traveling Networks
Moderator: Benjamin Davis (Greensboro)

2:00-2:30 pm
Matthias Meyer (Wien): From the Harz Mountains into the Atlantic or: The Familiar and the Exotic in Johann Gottfried Schnabel’s Wunderliche Fata einiger Seefahrer (Insel Felsenburg) and his Journalistic Efforts
2:30-2:45 pm

2:45-3:15 pm
Gerhild Williams (St. Louis): Going Far: Movement and Knowledge in Early Modern Narratives (Busbecq, Speer, Happel, Francisci)
3:15-3:30 pm

3:30-4:00 pm
Coffee Break

4:00-5:30 pm
SESSION 7: Traveling East
Moderator: Nancy Berg (St. Louis)

4:00-4:30 pm
Martin Jacobs (St. Louis): Sephardic Migration, Cinquecento Book Circulation, and Cultural Translation: The Hebrew Chronicles of a Genoese Jew
4:30-4:45 pm

4:45-5:15 pm
Elio Brancaforte (New Orleans): Truth, Invention, and the Eyewitness Account: Representing Reality in European Travel Narratives of the Safavid Empire
5:15-5:30 pm
Discussion/Closing Remarks

7:00-10:00 pm
Reception/Buffet – The Roloff Residence, 7350 Maryland, University City


The symposium is free and open to the public, but we ask that you register online by March 24, 2016, if you are planning to attend. To register, please visit our website ( or call Sweta Khanal at 314-935-5106.


Christian Schneider

Washington University in St. Louis, Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures
One Brookings Drive, CB 1104, St. Louis, MO 63130, United States

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