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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Edition Practices

Edition Practices in Comparative and Historical Perspective

Why Berlin?

Since at least the early 19th century Berlin has been a city filled with scholars editing texts, and today as well there are scores of individuals and groups involved in editing all kinds of texts, not only literary but also documentary and musical (to name only these), in languages ranging from Assyrian, Greek, and Coptic to Classical and Modern Arabic and Chinese, drawn from cultures all over the world and from all historical periods from earliest antiquity to the present day. In the 19th century, Berlin was the center of the development of modern methods of textual edition in Classics: Boeckh, Lachmann, and Wilamowitz – scholars who made fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of text editing – all taught there. But Berlin also was (and remains) a center for the study of the Christian tradition of textual editions, which made fundamental contributions to the practice of textual edition, starting with Origen and Eusebius and continuing well beyond modern students and editors of this tradition like Mommsen and Harnack (who were professors there). Moreover, already in the 19th century Berlin scholars were moving beyond Greek and Latin to develop authentically intercultural editions: August Dillmann founded Ethiopian Studies, and today as well one of the specialties of Berlin Classics and Theology is the edition of Christian and Gnostic texts in Oriental languages like Coptic, Ethiopian, and Mandaean. For the historian of such practices, the many Nachlässe of such scholars present in Berlin offer exciting possibilities for inspecting their techniques of text editing in action by examining their research materials and manuscript drafts.

Today, Berlin remains a place in which monumental text editions are embedded in a variety of institutions – and not only within the traditional linguistic and chronological limits of Classical Greek and Latin: one thinks for example of the Aristotle center and of the new Byzantine extension of the Corpus of commentaries to Aristotle, of the publication of Arabic translations within the Corpus of Greek medical writers, of the edition of the Corpus Qoranicum in relation to Jewish Studies. But nowadays, even though specialists in the different philologies share many of the same practices, with interesting variations, the barriers of language, disciplinary specialization, institution, and tradition do not always make it easy for them to exchange their experiences with one another and to see their own work in a wider theoretical and comparative context. Recent years, to be sure, have seen some very promising first steps, for example the project on “Zukunftsphilologie,” created recently at the Wissenschaftskolleg; I would hope to build upon such beginnings and develop them further. At the end of this project, I would hope that there would not only be a clearer sense among both practicing editors and theoreticians of editing of the many dimensions of the practices involved, but also that the many people who are editing texts in Berlin would know one another better and feel themselves part of a rich and substantial network of like-minded experts.