Muse im Frommannschen Garten

Cultural History

Muse im Frommannschen Garten
Image: JF

What is Cultural History?

Cultural History follows a holistic approach: it wants to understand man historically: "I am what I have become." (Johann Gottfried Herder). In contrast to philosophy, which demands universality in thinking, Cultural History takes the practice of life as its starting point. Unlike (conventional) historical scholarship, its subject is not based on the state or society, but on culture, that is on the universality of our ways of life and thinking. While the concept of culture in everyday German language sounds ambitious (what Peter Burke calls "opera house culture"), the concept of culture in modern scientific language is orientated towards the structural correlations of the "self-spun fabric" (Clifford Geertz, Max Weber, Wilhelm von Humboldt) of our symbolic worlds. It is therefore essential to find concepts and categories that can shed light on the inscrutable contexts of everyday life.

Alte Schriften Alte Schriften Image: FSR VKKG

For this, cultural history has a flexible set of instruments at its disposal. The conceptual nuclei of Jena Cultural History are ‘medium’ and ‘institution’. Cultural correlations can be revealed in an anthropological way by taking human senses as a starting point and focusing on the historical development of the media of the eye and the ear (radio, film, television, internet, etc.). Insight into the cultural power of today’s media can be used to tap into the world of media of the past (diaries, letters, books, magazines, etc.).

Institutional manifestations of culture lead, among others, to the study of the university, the court and the church. And with this, social forms of cultural socialization are already on the agenda: the nobility, middle class, peasants and workers each realized their own forms of human culture in the past. The relationship between man and woman is also categorically emphasized (cultural history of sexuality). Traditional cultural developments, such as that of nationhood, which has become so important in modern times, also come into play, and their consideration immediately leads to questions such as cultural exchange, cultural transfer, change of culture - and to the significance of national culture in competition with regional and transnational cultures. Practice here means taking into account travel and writing about travel as a way of life, and perceptions of the forms of cultural exchange in symbolic worlds (feasts and celebrations, rites, symbolic forms of action).

Kulturgeschichte Kulturgeschichte Image: FSR VKKG

Cultural history is therefore history in the sense of an accentuation of the historical development of humanity; however, it shares with other cultural sciences an interest in theoretical context and correlations. In this respect, classic authors and their theories are taken into account - especially the historically minded ones, such as Norbert Elias or Aby Warburg. Still, the central subject remains the "acting, striving and enduring man" (Jacob Burckhardt).