Thursday, February 10, 2005

The week before last, Professor Anthony Grafton, the famous early modern historian of ideas from Princeton, came and had a chat with us. He talked about how he ended up studying the sixteenth century instead of classics as he had originally planned. The problem was one of languages. He was told that while Latin and Greek were certainly useful for classics, the language he really needed to learn was German which he didn't know. The same is true for theology where universities put on special German courses in their theology departments for graduate students. In fact, this is how GA Wells ended up as an 'expert' on the historical Jesus. As a professor of German he was better able to read much of the secondary literature than historians were.

I have come to the conclusion that the best way to look really clever is to make reference to lots of German works with long titles in your footnotes. Certainly, it finishes most debates on the internet with remarkable alacrity if you start referring people to German sources. As I can't read German, this isn't advice I can take myself but I predict that atheists will be dropping names like Hermann Detering and Karlheinz Deschner. These guys are the German equivalent of Freke and Gandy, but being German they sound so much more impressive! Be warned.

Ironically, back in the real world of scholarship, German and other European languages are being increasingly marginalised. More and more work in the humanities is being published in English and many continental journals are also featuring a majority of their content in English. The reason for this is not just American cultural imperialism, but has rather more to do with the fact that outside the UK, there are few world class universities left in Europe. They have all turned into government run degree machines where original scholarship is increasingly marginalised. And as all the top universities are now anglophone, it is hardly surprising that English is rapidly becoming the language of all scholarship and not just science.

5 comments:

Layman said...

Bede,

Very interesting. I had no idea that the state of Europe's universities had deteriorated. Is there an online article about this I could check out?

Chris

Anonymous said...

Sie haben vollkommen Recht, das Deutsch buetzlich ist, aber Englisch muss man lernen, um die heutige Welt anfassen zu koennen.

jon said...

Interessieren, aber würde nicht es besser gewesen sein, zu sagen, daß letzt auf englisch kommentieren Sie, damit jeder verstehen konnte?

Anonymous said...

http://www.cynicalbastards.com/ubs/index.html

Anonymous said...

Alle haben verstanden, die verstanden wollten. Die anderen haben nun hoffentlich die Motivation, Deutsch zu meistern, um sich hier zuhause zu fuehlen.