In the widest definition of the term, “Sachbuch” can be translated as “non-fiction book”. Despite the indisputable popularity of the “Sachbuch” with readers and its success on the German book market for several decades, the non-fiction book has not yet received adequate academic attention. For instance, this lack of research is evident in the fact that there is no established or fully recognized definition of the term “Sachbuch” (cf. David Oels: …was ein Sachbuch eigentlich ist). Therefore, the exploration of the “Sachbuch” and its cultural value is the aim of the research project “Das populäre deutschsprachige Sachbuch im 20. Jahrhundert” (transl. The popular German-language non-fiction book in the twentieth century), its journal Non Fiktion and its open access series Arbeitsblätter der Sachbuchforschung (see below).
“Das populäre deutschsprachige Sachbuch im 20. Jahrhundert” is a multi-university, interdisciplinary research project. From 2005 to 2008, the project was located at Humboldt-University Berlin and the University of Hildesheim; it is now mainly supervised by the Institute for Book Studies at Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz. Scholars from book studies (JGU Mainz) and literary studies (FWU Bonn, HU Berlin) are involved in the project. The project’s aim is to link recent and previous research conducted in different fields such as history, literary studies, book studies, sociology etc. on the non-fiction book and to establish empirical research of the history, theory and reading habits of the non-fiction book.
As part of the project, the journal Non Fiktion. Arsenal der anderen Gattungen (Non fiction. An arsenal for the other genres, published by Wehrhahn Verlag) appears once or twice a year, edited by David Oels, Michael Schikowski, Ute Schneider, and Erhard Schütz. In Non Fiktion, scholars as well as book critics, journalists, authors, publishers, and editors deal with non-fiction books and writing. Furthermore, the project’s website offers an annotated project bibliography from 2004 to 2008, reviews of non-fiction books, a database for the history of the popular German-speaking non-fiction book, and a brief history of the “Sachbuch” (Kleine Geschichte des Sachbuchs).
Since the project’s foundation in 2005, the open access series Arbeitsblätter der Sachbuchforschung (Papers for the research of the non-fiction book, editor-in-chief: David Oels) has become a core platform for the project’s aim to distribute and bring forward research on non-fiction books. Its 20 issues to date are available as open access pdf files. The series publishes texts that originate in the project’s context, essays by scholars from various fields, previously published texts, and sources concerning the non-fiction book and its history. Several issues deal with the definition of the term “Sachbuch” and the origin of the (modern) non-fictional book. Stephan Porombka, for instance, investigates the ironic question of “How to write (a damn good) non-fiction book”. In another issue, Werner Graf analyzes the reception of non-fiction books and their characteristics. The series also discusses approaches to the research of non-fictional books: David Oels and Stephan Porombka for instance both deal with the question of why literary studies have neglected non-fictional books and how their analysis could be better integrated within existing research. In addition, there is a sub-series with a particular historical focus (“Historische Reihe”). The first issue of the “Historische Reihe” discusses Erwin Barth von Wehrenalp (founder of the influential German non-fiction publishing house ECON Verlag) and his understanding of the non-fictional book and its authors.
The series thus combines historical and contemporary German-language texts on the research of non-fiction books. Though the series is directed primarily at scholars with a research interest in non-fiction books, the Arbeitsblätter’s length of 20 to 40 pages, their availability online, and their wide range of topics also makes them suitable for discussion in class. In 2012, the project website was re-launched and in 2013, both the cover and layout of Arbeitsblätter für die Sachbuchforschung were re-designed to offer readers a better overall experience using the resources. The project organizers have put together a very useful platform for those interested in the (German) non-fiction book. The project will be of interest to a variety of scholars from literary studies, book studies/book history, culture studies, and more.