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At the next Vossius Seminar Angus Nicholls and Daan Wegener will present their research. Angus Nicholls will give the talk “Aesthetics and Anthropology in the Early Years of Comparative Literature: The Acta Comparationis Litterarum Universarum” and Daan Wegener "Ernst Mach on Energy Conservation".

Event details of Vossius Seminar
Date 30 November 2021
Time 16:00 -18:00

Angus Nicholls, Queen Mary University of London


Aesthetics and Anthropology in the Early Years of Comparative Literature: The Acta Comparationis Litterarum Universarum

Founded in 1877 in Cluj by the German-speaking scholar Hugo von Meltzl (1846-1908), Acta Comparationis Litterarum Universarum (ACLU, 1877-1888) was the first journal in the world devoted to comparative literature. The journal’s uniqueness lies not only in the role that it played in a new academic discipline, but also in its initially radical policy of polyglottism: the aim to publish articles in all world languages, with the intention of supplying interlinear translations where needed. Yet already by 1878, this quixotic goal was scaled down to decaglottism (Dekaglottismus) a focus on ten national literatures: Hungarian, German, French, English, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch, and Icelandic. Notably, a key local language (Romanian) and an important neighbouring language (Russian) were excluded from this list, along with many other European languages, not to mention the entire non-European world.

In this respect, the early years of ACLU highlight questions that remain central not only to the disciplines of comparative and ‘world’ literature, but also to the history of the humanities generally. The central problem faced by the ACLU was the ideological task of canon-formation, since for practical reasons, its editors soon had to decide which national literatures should be included within its pages. This selective requirement of the ACLU has largely been overlooked in the research literature on this journal. The ACLU used both aesthetic and anthropological criteria according to which national literatures should be admitted to the journal’s canon of ‘world’ literatures. A typically German criterion was the question as to whether a national literature had ‘progressed’ beyond romanticism into classicism, while a second criterion involved a distinction between oral or ‘folk-song’ literatures (Volksliederlitteraturen) on the one hand, and ‘artistic’ literature created by individual authors (Kunstlitteraturen) on the other. My paper will explore the early years of the ACLU, with a particular focus on how the journal developed and applied its criteria for canon-formation.

Daan Wegener, Utrecht University


Ernst Mach on Energy Conservation

Ernst Mach’s Die Geschichte und die Wurzel des Satzes von der Erhaltung der Arbeit is now widely regarded as occupying a pivotal position in his oeuvre. More generally, it is safe to say that the law of energy conservation played a central role in Mach’s thought. He frequently referred to it in his publications to illustrate how science works. This lecture has a two-fold aim. Firstly, it sets his reflections on energy conservation against the background of its nineteenth-century history. Mach appears as a particularly astute observer of his own time. Secondly, it relates Mach’s comments on the law to his overall philosophy. Although in the second half of the nineteenth century, the importance of the law of energy conservation was generally acknowledged, there was no consensus on what the law actually meant. Its name, discoverer, formulation, justification, and implications were all subject to debate. Mach was at the same time a participant in this debate (interpreting the law of energy conservation) and a commentator on it (interpreting debates on the law energy conservation). In the process, he developed a new understanding of scientific meaning as grounded in communication, practice, and history.


The seminar will be hosted online and not -as previously advertised- on location in the University Library.


If you want to join this seminar please send an email message to with „join seminar“ in the subject header. You will then receive the link for the online meeting.