Adding Stones to the Edifice: Patterns of German Biography

Roger Paulin

in Mapping Lives

Published by British Academy

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780197263181
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734595 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Centenary Monographs

Adding Stones to the Edifice: Patterns of German Biography

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Literary Theory and Cultural Studies


Show Summary Details


This chapter discusses the nature of German biographical tradition, which provides a glimpse into the erudition of biographies in German. German biographical tradition has always been seen as part of historiography, so that its development belongs rather to Wissenschaftsgeschicte than to belles-lettres. Furthermore, biographies within the German context function not just as a record of great names but as a hierarchy of cultural models, canonical literary figures, and representative individuals. As a determiner of national moral values, biography does more than merely memorialize. The biographical tradition of Germany tends to look at representative individuals and biographies as testaments and tangible representatives of the total forces – intellectual, moral, historical – of an age or culture. Seen in these terms, it is a product of national liberalism. The function of German biographical tradition is to annex the lives of the great for the overarching political and cultural ends, hence, biographies tended to be huge, philological, and supremely wissenschaftlich. This high significance of the function of biographies made such life-writing an endeavour inappropriate for the faint-hearted, thus limiting it to the aristocrats of the minds. This contributed to the end of German biographies, as narratives of lives were predominantly accounts of unapproachable geniuses.

Keywords: German biographical tradition; biographies in German; historiography; Wissenschaftsgeschicte; cultural models; representative individuals; biographical tradition; Germany; political ends

Chapter.  5130 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at British Academy »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.