Food for thought, forests and alien ideas – Germaine de Stael reloaded in Paris on April, 2nd

In her book On Germany, Germaine de Stael draws a picture of Germany as a counterbalance to France – a way of criticizing the Napoleon regime which had banned her from her home country. She announces at the beginning of the text that she will present “opinions alien to those that reign in France”, ideas that may deem right or wrong, but always provide food for thought. After the foreword, the first chapter begins: “The amount and extent of forests indicate a civilization yet novel”.

It is under these very auspices that Claudine Moulin and I have been invited to present “DH in Germany” (though item one of the talk contains an explanation of the politically correct “DH in German speaking countries”) at the DH @EHESS talk series – on April 2nd. Preparing the talk, I realized that we would have, indeed, to present opinions alien to those that reign in France, mainly with regard to research infrastructure. How are we going to make understand to what extent federalism affects the way research is being done, on the level of big infrastructures as well as on the level of every day’s research activity? How can we present the life-in-projects and ever shorter contracts of German junior researchers to people who are tenured (and often still unhappy with their career perspectives)?

It is not a question of right or wrong, indeed, but food for thought, as dear Germaine wrote. While thinking about the way I could present my everyday work in the bigger picture, I came to think about all that I don’t know about DH in France. How do the big political decisions move down to the bottom? Where is the room for innovation? How can smaller initiatives gain visibility and get up to the top?

For someone like me who tries to make both communities communicate more and get more done together, realizing my complete ignorance on these subjects was an interesting a-ha moment. It made me understand that I always live between both countries and both cultures, rather than in one of them (although if you consider how far my knowledge of the DH system amounts for each one respectively, my German foot stand steadier than the French one).

What about the forest then? It had better be big and wide indeed, in order to make the border between both look like it is just a walk in the trees…


Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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