The 2016 International Summer School

The Making of a National Author – Formation and Aspiration

International Summer School of the MWW Research Association 

1 – 12 August 2016

Klassik Stiftung Weimar



There is one in almost every European society, a so-called “national author”. Yet how do national authors develop and how greatly does their work influence the discourse on cultural identity in their respective societies? Why do we assume that national authors are entitled to represent the collective? And under what conditions can we equate his/her person as a guarantor of cultural identity despite diverse epochal upheavals and processes of social transformation? As a rule, there are complex processes of canonisation which determine who ultimately is raised to the rank of a national author. In turn, such processes of canonisation are closely interwoven with cultural-policy goals and media presentations of every kind. Whether it is Racine, Voltaire or Hugo in France, Shakespeare or Byron in Great Britain, Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky in Russia, Goethe or Schiller in Germany, despite their differences, they all have one aspect in common: their works supposedly represent the genuine and inimitable character of their own nation. Such identification with an author, work and national culture can only function when the respective oeuvre is reduced to a few, at best pithy, and thus generally stereotypical characteristics. In the early 20th century, this process of reduction resulted in a remarkably effective attempt to define the “Faustian” character in Goethe’s Faust and claim it as a national character trait of the Germans.

Even as posterity raises important authors to the rank of national authors through cultural- and historical-politically motivated processes of canonisation, we frequently find – especially in the context of classical modernity – that literary figures bestow the authority of a national author to themselves and justify it by associating themselves with writers who have already been canonised as national authors. This was particularly evident with Thomas Mann who wrote the Goethe novel Lotte in Weimar while exiled in the United States during World War II, where he confidently declared: “Wherever I am, so is Germany.”

When and where are classical national authors created? This question, which Goethe himself posed in his famous essay Literary Sansculottism, is the main focus of the 2016 International Summer School of the MWW Research Association. Using the collections in Weimar as a basis, the summer school will examine how Goethe and Schiller became Germany’s national authors. The discussion will focus on the presentation of both poets in contemporary portraits and how their Weimar residences were staged as secular pilgrimage sites. The discourse will also address writers like Thomas Mann and Gerhart Hauptmann who repeatedly drew direct comparisons to Goethe to underscore their claims of being modern national authors. By means of a comparative approach, the summer school will examine selected national authors in other European countries and conduct individual analyses of non-European writers as well. The summer school will conclude with a discussion on whether the “national author” was a specifically European phenomenon closely tied to 19th-century cultural history, or whether it continues to play a significant role as a collective figure of identification in 21st-century societies shaped by intercultural processes of exchange. The seminar sessions will be accompanied by numerous excursions into the collections and historic buildings of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, including the Rococo Hall at the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, and the Goethe und Schiller Residences.

The 2016 International Summer School is organised by the MWW Research Association, founded in 2013, and is made possible with funding provided by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). For an overview of the collections of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, visit

International partner universities: University of Tokyo, Japan; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA; University of Oxford, Great Britain.


Link to the programme (in German) 


Veronika Spinner

Coordinator for the MWW Research Association / Klassik Stiftung Weimar