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uni'wissen 01-2015

Awhite map of Europe hangs on the wall of Prof. Dr. Joachim Grage’s office at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS). The map is speckled with red dots – concentrated mostly in Germany, the French border regions, and the Scandinavian countries. The dots repre- sent European universities at which it is possible to make out a growing interest in Nordic languages and literatures starting in the mid nineteenth century. What Grage is interested in is the geo- graphical aspect, because the images of the North constructed by scholars are not the same everywhere. “Knowledge production is linked to concrete places,” says the professor of North Germanic philology at the University of Freiburg. “Images of the North are modified to fit in with specific contexts.” They are motivated by aca- demic networks, traditions, the spirit of the times, nationality, and political interests. The University of Freiburg has the goal of es- tablishing a European Campus on the Upper Rhine in order to use its geographical location for the joint production of knowledge. For Grage, this campus has long since become a reality: Together with Dr. Thomas Mohnike, head of the Institute of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Strasbourg, he is conducting the joint research project “Building the North with Words: Geogra- phies of Scientific Knowledge in European Phi- lologies 1850–1950.” The space for the project is provided by FRIAS and the Strasbourg Institute of Advanced Studies (USIAS), which was estab- lished on the model of the former institution. Grage and Mohnike are fellows of both excellence institutes. However, they have been collaborating – and passing valuable snippets of knowledge on to each other – for much longer. Propagandistic Motives There were times when practices like this would have been unthinkable in their fields of research. Strasbourg in particular, with its changing national and ideological affiliations over the centuries, illustrates clearly what the two researchers are driving at with their project: “The professors appointed by the university changed depending on whether it belonged to France or Germany, and so did the image of the North they taught,” says Mohnike and presents an illustrated broad- sheet printed in the Lorrainian town of Épinal in 1915: It shows the Germanic god Thor in a milita- ristic pose, laden with a sword and lance and brandishing a giant hammer over the demolished Gothic cathedral at his feet. He is introduced as “the most barbaric of the old Germanic deities.” The propagandistic motive is clear: In the clash between France and Germany in the First World War, the civilized South – or France, represented by the Gothic cathedral – is pitted against the destructive, hammer-swinging Thor, a represent- ative of the North associated with the uncivilized Germany. The medieval Icelandic manuscripts of the two “Eddas,” which recount tales of gods and heroes and are among the best-preserved sources of so-called Germanic mythology, served as the basis for explaining what actually constituted Germanic – as opposed to Gallic or Celtic – identity. The broadsheet of Épinal makes use of these sources and ideas to shape a French national identity among the Alsatian people and firmly establish a sense of belonging in the public con- sciousness. “The generally accepted knowledge of ancient Germanic civilization is adjusted to fit local needs,” explains Mohnike. He is astounded “Knowledge production is linked to concrete places.” Henrik Ibsen, the Nordic Sphinx: The Norwegian dramatist was revered by literary scholars as a mythic figure. Source: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Munich, call number: L.eleg.g. 100 u 9uni wissen 01 2015 9uni wissen 012015