Conference report: Crossing Borders – Books as Bridges, IBG Young Scholars Meeting, Göttingen, April 2017

Guest post by Lena Hinrichsen and Mareike-Beatrice Stanke

The fifth annual meeting of the IBG Young Scholars Network was hosted by the DFG Research Training Group “Literature and Dissemination of Literature in the Digital Age” in Göttingen (Germany) under the direction of Dr. Anke Vogel (Mainz) and Elisabeth Böker (Göttingen). The 1.5-day conference dealt with the content- and media-related, conceptual, geographic, political and legal dimensions of crossing boundaries in books and in the book industry in 13 presentations and during discussions (complete program here as PDF).

Our network member Jan Hillgärtner (St. Andrews) gave the first paper about Transnational networks: Early newspapers in historical perspective. Here the emphasis was on the production of German-language prints outside of the Holy Roman Empire in the 17th century in cities such as Wroclaw, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Gdansk, as well as on the compilation of news. Following Hillgärtner, Hannes Fischer (Berlin) spoke about Media saddle periods. Media networks between books, periodicals, and letters in the late 18th century with a case study of the debate on illegal book reprinting. Fischer showed how journals as a forum for debates could spread the discussion about illegal book reprinting.

Beginning the second panel, Julia Bangert (Mainz) discussed the impact and the role of the book in defined knowledge areas and across the boundaries in her talk Crossing borders – The book as an actor in the knowledge areas Bookselling and the res publica literaria. Silke Körber (Berlin) then spoke about International book-packaging and the democratization of knowledge in the non-fiction book, dealing with the influence of immigrated publishers in English-speaking countries. She focused on Otto Neurath and Wolfgang Foges, who contributed to the dissemination of knowledge through their work as book-packagers. Laura M. Reiling (Münster) completed the panel, speaking about Text borders, area borders – figurations of reading matters in the campus novel. Her assumption was that the university serves as a knowledge area, which is defined by practice theory. The figures in this area can be philosophers or scholars dealing with books, which initiates further action.

The official part of the first day ended with a keynote by Prof. Dr. Marco Thomas Bosshard (Flensburg) about Book fairs as spaces of cultural and economic negotiations. Bosshard presented his research of host country performances at various book fairs. He pursues three lines of inquiry: He explores the cultural policy and sociology of literature, the media aesthetics, and the marketing strategies of the respective countries. Using field studies, he is about to reflect on the self-presentation of the host countries. His working hypotheses are, inter alia, that host country performances are the highlight of the media coverage, but less weight is attached to them by the audience and by the booksellers. Also, existing stereotypes both by perception of self and others are spread through the metamedia discourse in general.

The next day, Stefanie Martin (Mainz) gave a presentation on the topic The book as an instrument of the union with other cultures – foreign book policy in the Federal Republic of Germany (1951–1990). In her talk Martin addressed the Martin-Behaim-Gesellschaft. Through the establishment of a lending culture by touring exhibitions, but also by supporting foreign libraries, the Department of Culture of the Federal Republic of Germany wanted to establish the image of Germany as a democratic state. From the 1970s onwards, the focus rather lay on intensifying foreign relations.

The second paper in the third panel was held by Daniela Reimann (Tübingen), who linked her perspective to Martin’s talk seamlessly with her theme The book within the foreign cultural policy of Germany. Her focus was on the period after the German reunification and it turned out that the metaphor of the book as a bridge can hardly resolve the distance between cultures and, by the definition of literature as German, the national concept is fortified. In addition, Reimann recognizes that due to promoting authors’ tours, border-crossings become the basis of literary texts.

The third panel continued with Helmi-Nelli Körkkö (Vaasa), who reflected on Literature export in the context of the Finnish appearance as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014. She underlined the gatekeeper function of Germany for Finnish license trading. For the media reception, Körkkö recognizes that the image of the country often is used as a starting point to the literary content. Also, the guest appearance at the Frankfurt Book Fair has pushed the Finnish interest for export.

Changes of paratexts in the translation of Herta Müller’s The Hunger Angel were the topic of the final paper in the panel, Karin Houscheid’s (Liège) presentation Are we reading the same book? The transfer of German contemporary literature into the French-speaking area: Forms of adaptation and reception. She gave special attention to the different covers and blurbs, which affect the reception due to their heterogeneity. Houscheid proved this by reviews, which in her examples often highlight the emotional and fabulous, the linguistic design of the novel in France, while in Germany the horror of the Nazi concentration camp is in the foreground.

With the presentation “Good against boredom?”: the Internet as form or medialization and gamification in the German contemporary novel by Bruno Dupont (Liège) the last panel on the topic of media-related border-crossing began. Based on the novels Love Virtually by Martin Glattauer and Andreas Neumeister’s Angela Davis löscht ihre Website Dupont investigated aspects of medialization, the classification of genres, as well as moments of gamification in the novels. The latter fails in the novel Angela Davis löscht ihre Website: the limitations of the physical book become obvious to the reader due to the lack of constitutive elements of digital media.

In her lecture Looking beyond the margin: Experimental formats and the book concept in the 21st century, Lena Böse (Münster) argued for a broader definition of the term ‘book’, which should exclude neither enhanced e-books nor picture books. Based on the books Composition No. 1 by Marc Saporta and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes, she introduced experimental book formats by the publisher Visual Editions, which allow for an individual reading process.

Finally, Julia Nantke (Wuppertal) spoke about Exceeding the limits of the book. Digital editions between advanced features and new challenges. She weighed the pros and cons of digital editions, which on the one hand let the text appear dynamic, but on the other hand bring the problem of durability in the elusive World Wide Web. In addition, the lack of consistency of programs complicates scientific use.


The thematic range of the presentations showed that the book as a medium can cross borders of various kinds and that it often does so. Although the papers’ topics and the speakers’ areas of interest spanned several centuries, some parallels could be drawn. Once again, the continuing importance of the book as a cultural object and commodity in the past and present was discussed. This conference proved that the book will not forfeit its central role anytime soon.



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