In 2018 the Goethe Society published the 25th volume of its Yearbook, demonstrating thereby the robust vitality of North American scholarship on the poet and his age. Copies of the first volume, printed in 1982, are hard to find nowadays, but thanks to Project Muse, scholars can read their way through the entire run. Such a perusal offers a diachronic sample that reveals how Germanistik on this side of the Atlantic has developed, as the seasons of scholarship are preserved in the Yearbook. The first essay in the first volume was written by David Wellbery; Jane Brown’s essay on Act II of Faust II appeared in the second volume—both scholars continue their leading role in the Society. In a remarkable demonstration of continuity, Ehrhard Bahr has published research in both the first and the most recent volume. Some of us were adolescents just glancing up from our copies of Werther when the Society was founded. The most recent volumes show that in the twenty-first century we often contemplate the famous names from 1800 with different eyes than before, so that today’s pressing issues lead readers into books and questions long forgotten. If physics had once dispelled Naturphilosophie as mere idealistic speculation, recent investigations make clear that the history of science is quite interlaced with poetic visions, not so different from Faust’s. Twenty-first century demands to preserve and protect the environment also compel us to reconsider the eighteenth-century portrayal of “Nature,” along with Goethe’s organic depictions of weather, atmospheres, and clouds. This rotation of scholarly approaches to German literature will become obvious as members vote for new officers.
Assuming an office in the Goethe Society also enjoins one to absorb the full spectrum of members’ scholarship. In our Society, stepping into an office automatically compels a person to take account of the legacy that precedes. When I was allowed to become the Yearbook editor, the task of charting the many approaches into the eighteenth century obligated me to read through the back issues, thereby renewing my relationship to German culture by looking farther than my own strait track. This insight was guided, of course, by Tom Saine and Simon Richter, the founding and succeeding editors, who gently reminded me of my responsibility to all members of the Goethe Society. The advice to look beyond myself also included the task of fostering the next generation of scholars. Just as you feel that you have grasped the nuances of literary scholarship, the Society calls on you to consider your replacement—to make sure that beginning scholars also find their voice in the dialogue, so that they too can feel empowered and so that the study of German literature never becomes an ossified erudition. To that end, we have stepped up our financial support of younger scholars attending our tri-annual conference and we have expanded the prizes we offer for scholarly essays written in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century literature, philosophy, and science.
As I finish my term, I welcome Catriona MacLeod as the next President. I urge you all to vote for the next officers, all of whom have shown a sincere scholarly dedication to the Society. My fellow out-going officers I wish to thank for their hard work, their friendly counsel and aid, their critical acumen, and their commitment to preserving scholarly excellence. John Smith and Heidi Schlipphacke have assiduously fulfilled many crucial functions in planning the conference and selecting the essay prizes. Christian Weber was the steady hand as Secretary-Treasurer, keeping our finances in order and offering sound expertise. Burkhard Henke has been our indispensable webmaster, who keeps us all connected and communicating. As Executive Secretary, Birgit Tautz, followed by Elliott Schreiber, has planned the many panels and meetings we hold at other conferences—exhorting, cajoling, collecting proposals for submission elsewhere. In addition, to guiding the Book Series with Bucknell University Press, Karin Schutjer has provided the institutional memory every organization needs to preserve continuity and fairness. Our new Yearbook editors, Patricia Simpson and Birgit Tautz, are well on their way to compiling the next volume of the Goethe Yearbook, allowing us to look forward to volume 50. Sean Franzel keeps all us book reviewers honest with his overview. To Catriona MacLeod I am most grateful, not only for running the book prizes and the dissertation workshop, but even more so for her wise counsel over the last three years. I wish her great success.
Pennsylvania State University