News by the Einstein Foundation


World Literature and Periodical Formats: Circulation, Translation, Elisions

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The ‘Boundaries of Cosmopolis’ project, led by Einstein BUA/Oxford Visiting Fellow Prof. Stefano Evangelista (Trinity College, Oxford), held its first workshop at the Centre for British Studies on 15 March 2024. The event brought the project team together with researchers from Berlin, Oxford and Brussels’ Université Libre and Vrije Universiteit. The aim was to discuss the role played by magazines and newspapers in the international circulation of literary culture and their specific contribution to the formation of the idea of world literature. At the turn of the twentieth century, the increased international traffic of literature and literary news in the periodical press posed fresh challenges to traditional ways of canonising authors, as well as traditional ways of thinking about language and national identities. Magazines and newspapers therefore constitute particularly important historical sources for examining the relationship between literature and the ideas of ‘world citizenship’ and the ‘world city’ that the ‘Boundaries of Cosmopolis’ project seeks to explore.


The workshop started with a seminar discussion of critical texts from the fields of world literature, periodical studies and the sociology of translation. It then moved to specific case studies including the Berlin-based magazines Der Querschnitt and Die literarische Welt. A nuanced picture came to light in the course of the day: even when outwardly fostering internationally oriented practices of reading, for instance by promoting translation, periodicals simultaneously engage in practices of domestication, which anchor foreign authors to the national literary field. This complicates our understanding of magazines and newspapers as vehicles of free circulation. It also prompts us to pay closer attention to the often invisible yet critical interventions of intermediaries such as translators and editors. The discussion also focused on the need to understand the ‘worlding’ power of the periodical press – that is to say, its ability to shape the way we envisage the world through literature – in close relation to the social spaces where periodical literature is distributed and consumed. By foregrounding the embodied, actual experience of the readers of periodicals, we can gain a more nuanced picture of how literature’s global dimensions are figured and received in different contexts.  


Drawing on a range of critical approaches from comparative literature, periodical studies and translation studies throughout the day, the workshop generated a lively debate around the viability and effectiveness of different research methods. In particular, participants discussed different ways of combining quantitative approaches to periodicals enabled by digital tools capable of mapping large amounts of data, with qualitative analysis based on content. 


The ’Boundaries of Cosmopolis’ project team look back on a successful first workshop which focused our attention on the challenges posed by periodical publications as material sources for the critical investigation of world literature. The day generated a new impetus for interdisciplinary conversations about the international circulation of literature at the turn of the twentieth century. A second event, focussing on the intersections between world literature, migration and urban spaces is planned for March 2025. This will continue the dialogue between researchers from Berlin and Oxford, extending it also to invited participants from the US.

Article written by Stefano Evangelista and Evi Heinz

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