Angus Nicholls joins the Vossius Center for three months in October 2021 as a Research Fellow with the project 'Hugo von Meltzl’s Journal Acta Comparationis Litterarum Universarum: A Case-Study in the Early History of Comparative Literature'.
Founded in 1877 in Cluj by the German-speaking scholar Hugo von Meltzl (1846-1908), Acta Comparationis Litterarum Universarum (ACLU, 1877-1888) was the first journal devoted to comparative literature. The journal’s uniqueness lies not only in the role that it played in a new discipline, but also in its initial policy of polyglottism: the aim to publish articles in all world languages, with the intention of supplying interlinear translations where needed (see Fassel 2005; Szabó 2015). Yet already by 1878, this goal was scaled down to decaglottism, a focus on ten national literatures: Hungarian, German, French, English, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch, and Icelandic. Notably, a key local language (Romanian) and an important neighbouring language (Russian) were excluded from this list, along with many other European languages, not to mention the entire non-European world.
In this respect, the early years of ACLU highlight questions that remain central not only to the discipline of comparative literature, but also to the history of the humanities generally. The central problem faced by the ACLU was the ideological task of canon-formation, since its editors soon had to decide which national literatures should be included. This selective requirement of the ACLU has largely been overlooked in the research literature.
I am Professor of Comparative Literature and German at Queen Mary University of London. I am interested in the intersections between literary studies, philosophy and other humanities disciplines such as critical theory, anthropology and psychoanalysis, and my work is mostly concerned with the German and Anglophone traditions from the late eighteenth century through to the twentieth century. Alongside my strictly academic publications, I have written for outlets such as the TLS, The Conversation, The Monthly, and Texte zur Kunst, and I have done interview and consulting work for the ABC (Australia), the BBC, the British Museum and Deutschlandfunk.
My current book project, entitled Literature and the Science of Comparison in Nineteenth-Century Germany and Britain, explores the relations between academic literary studies and the natural sciences during the nineteenth century, with a particular focus on the ‘comparative method’ developed in disciplines such as biology, anthropology and philology during that century. You can read more about that project here.