[Humanist] 27.531 being romantic

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Nov 14 05:46:10 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 531.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 13 Nov 2013 18:55:06 +0100
        From: "Dr. Hartmut Krech" <kr538 at zfn.uni-bremen.de>
        Subject: Re:  27.508 being romantic
        In-Reply-To: <20131105064424.52ED676D0 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard and members of this "invisible college",

This interesting discussion has surfaced a very special 
understanding of "romantic" or "romantic scholar" that seems 
to be peculiar to the English-language tradition. It is 
embraced in Pres. Eisenhowers 1961 statement quoted by 
Willard: "Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his 
shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in 
laboratories and testing fields."

Within the German tradition, we also have the image of the 
idiosyncratic individual scholar as exemplified in 
Spitzweg's painting 'The Poor Poet' (1839), the most popular 
painting in Germany right after Leonardo's Mona Lisa 
(http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_arme_Poet), yet he was 
never described as a "Romantic" as such.

The identification of individual one-person enterprises in 
science with Romanticism makes sense when we remember that 
the very word 'scientist' was added to the English language 
in the 1830s (Whewell among others). The German 
'Naturwissenschaftler' and 'Naturforscher' make their debut 
already around 1690. 1845, the founding of the Physikalische 
Gesellschaft zu Berlin with its emphasis on the concept of 
force, is an appropriate final date for Romanticism in science.

If, in the English-language world, 'scientists' as 
individuals originated in the Romantic period, it is quite 
understandable that, in the public mind, scientific 
individuality may still share some connotations attached to 
the Romantic Movement. In a way, it is experienced as the 
empty shell of the humanistic scholar.

In Germany, mention was always made of the 'Romantic School' 
to emphasize its subjective and particular outlook, until 
Wilhelm Scherer (1841-1886) first used the collective term 
'Romantische Wissenschaft' in 1883. The 'romantic' as a 
certain 'orientation' in philosophy had already been set 
apart from the the 'classical' in 1877. It is this 
distinction that is kept alive in Eisenhower's 1961 address.

To cut a long story short, the meaning of 'romantic' in 
science is not necessarily confined to individualism or 
subjectivism. As a matter of fact, quite a number of 
scientific organizations of a new kind were founded between 
1798 and 1845 that relied on the co-operation of interested 
laymen in the acquisition of their data. The Annual Reports 
of the U.S. National Museum and other institutions of the 
times abound with stories of school kids who sent in 
fossilized bones, bird eggs, feathers, and the like.

Remarkable influences have issued from this 'Romantic 
Science' as a "progressive universal poetry" (Schlegel 
1798). Nevertheless, it definitely leaves the realm of 
science when it uses "symbolic representation" where 
knowledge is said to be unknowable and belief is substituted 
for inquiry. It is more concerned with personal expression 
than with a modest acknowledgement of what is. Science 
becomes feuilleton.

In no way must individualism in science be identified with 
romanticism and there are good uses for fiction even within 
the most exact sciences, but the substitution of insight 
with convenient formulations will lead nowhere.

There are research questions that only an individual can 
pursue over several decades. This statement is just as true 
as to say that without focussing there is no photographic 
image. On the other hand, large-scale research is not to be 
condemned as such. The problem that Eisenhower seems to have 
addressed 52 years ago is the substitution of genuine 
curiosity and innovative sipirit with scene shifting for the 
only purpose to acquire grants for institutions.

Best regards,

Am 05.11.2013 07:44, schrieb Humanist Discussion Group:
> In other words, I think the
> difference is between a deep-rooted idealism and a feet-on-the-ground
> realism. I'm*very*  glad my friends are realists, but I cannot help myself
> when it comes to research -- I'm a romantic.

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