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Female Writers in the Varnhagen Collection - Letters, Works, Relations

The research project funded by the Polish research organisation Narodowe Centrum Nauki (NCN) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) is dedicated to the quantitative and qualitative indexing, representation and analysis of extensive, largely unpublished documents from the Varnhagen Collection, which is kept in the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków.

Established by the diplomat and publicist Karl August Varnhagen von Ense (1785-1858), the husband of the famous Berlin writer and salonnière Rahel Varnhagen (1771-1833), and continued by his niece Ludmilla Assing (1821-1880), the collection developed into one of the largest and most important autograph collections of the 19th century.

The Varnhagen Collection impressively reflects the literary, cultural and political life of Europe from the end of the 18th to the middle of the 19th century in the form of letters, work manuscripts, diaries and notebooks. The special significance of women writers in the collection can hardly be overestimated and may also be understood as a kind of corrective to the presentation of cultural and literary history, which for a long time was oriented towards male intellectual giants. In addition to well-known names such as Bettine von Arnim, Sophie Mereau-Brentano or Rahel Varnhagen, the collection also includes lesser-known or forgotten female writers who are not usually counted as part of the literary canon, but who were highly respected among their contemporaries and played an important role in the literary life of the time. Their letters, works and relations are the subject of the project.

For the project, letters and works by the following women writers in the Varnhagen Collection are selected: Charlotte von Ahlefeldt (1777-1849), Helmina von Chézy (1783-1856), Caroline de la Motte Fouqué (1773-1831), Amalia von Helvig (1776-1831), Amalia Schoppe (1791-1858), Fanny Tarnow (1779-1862), Karoline von Woltmann (1782-1847) and Amalie von Voigt (1778-1840). Their lives were interconnected through correspondence and diverse relationships in the literary field. Their sometimes unconventional lives also make it possible to view these women as cultural mediators between countries and cultures, in particular between Germany, France and Poland.

The aims of the project are to prepare a catalogue with the documents, to create a digital platform on which digital copies of the letters and work manuscripts, transcriptions and contextual materials will be available worldwide free of charge, and to explore the network of women writers through editing and contextualisation (digital critical edition as well as a selection edition in print). Such approach has not yet been undertaken with regard to the Varnhagen Collection, which opens up new perspectives for research, both in terms of social history and in poetological and edition-theoretical perspectives. Methodologically, the project draws on current technical and institutional networks: with the help of the Digital Humanities, cross-border infrastructures of science are used. Overall, the study of this specific part of the Varnhagen Collection can be seen as a pilot project for the further, even more comprehensive scholarly exploration of the collection, especially in further German-Polish cooperation.

The project is conducted in cooperation with the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków, the University Library in Weimar (Universitätsbibliothek der Bauhaus-Universität), Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek in Jena (ThULB), Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv in Weimar.