Telling Cases: Epistemological and Aesthetic Aspects of Case Narratives in 18th and 19th Century Science and Literature



Nicolas Pethes,

Date and Time

April 28, 2010 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM



Open to the public.

RSVP required by 5PM April 27.


Encina Ground Floor Conference Room

Case studies have a long history in both medicine and law. They contributed to the development of the new sciences humaines in the 18th century as well as of Freud's psychoanalysis, and they are still used in current social sciences as well as popular media formats. As a genuinely interdisciplinary genre, case studies are also influenced by the narrative structure of literature. At they same time, they served as a reference for the new striving for realism and individuality in enlightenment aesthetics. Therefore, in late 18th and early 19th century literature, the logic of induction that structures case studies is transferred into fictional narratives that not only claim to provide knowledge on the biological genre of humans, but also contribute to a new definition of the concept of literary genre. Exemplary readings of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Carl Philipp Moritz, Georg Buechner, and E.A. Poe will suggest a reading of case studies as a narrative form bridging the divide between the 'two cultures' of literature and science.

Nico Pethes received a Ph.D. in German Literature from University Cologne in 1998, and was a postdoc at University Siegen, 1998-2001. He was a Visiting Scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor at the Department of Comparative Literature and German at Stanford from 2001-2003; Director of a Research Group on the "Cultural History of Human Experimentation" at University Bonn 2003-2005, Habilitation in 2005; Professor of European Literarure and Media History at University Hagen 2005-2009; and, since 2009, professor of Modern German Literature at University Bochum. His publications include "Zuglinge der Natur. Der literarische Menschenversuch des 18. Jahrhunderts" (Goettingen: Wallstein 2007), "Das Beispiel. Epistemologie des Exemplarischen" (coeditor; Berlin: Kadmos 2007); "'Victor, l'enfant de la foret': Experiments on Heredity in Savage Children" (in: Heredity Produced: At the Crossroads of Biology, Politics, and Culture, 1500-1870, eds. Staffan Mueller-Wille/Hans-Jorg Rheinberger, Cambridge MA/London: The MIT Press 2007, pp. 399-418); "Terminal Men. Biotechnical Experimentation and the Reshaping of 'the Human' in Medical Thrillers" (in: /New Literary History/ 36, 2005, pp. 161-185)