Course Description


This course examined the establishment of aesthetics as discipline in Germany at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, with a view toward contemporary questions regarding the “digital humanities.” Topics that were discussed included: the foundations of idealist aesthetics; the autonomy of art; the role of semiotics in the definition and classification of literature and the arts; the sociology of authorship; theories of “genius”; the dichotomization of “high” and “low” literature; aesthetic theory as ideology. The seminar was structured around readings of “classical” works in aesthetic theory: selections from A. G. Baumgarten’s Aesthetica, Lessing’s Laokoon, Kant’s Kritik der Urteilskraft, Schiller’s Ästhetische Erziehung, excerpts from Schelling’s theory of art, and Hegel’s “Introduction” to his Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik. These were supplemented by shorter readings of essays by figures such as Moses Mendelssohn, Bodmer and Breitinger, and K. Ph. Moritz.


The seminar was organized as a “workshop” in which we supplemented the primary course materials by pursuing independent research projects focused on a theme, problem, or author. We cooperated in developing a shared intellectual project: the completion of a scholarly website on aesthetic theory. We tried to exploit the multimedia potentials of the digital medium as a vehicle for illuminating the history and theory of German contributions to the foundations of aesthetics. This project constitutes a kind of pedagogical experiment.