Germanists Discussion Group Minutes – 2007 Midwinter

ALA Midwinter Meeting, Seattle

Sunday, January 21, 2007


  • Tim Shipe, University of Iowa


I. Presentation

  • Axel Schmetzke (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point University Library) presented a talk entitled “From Monkey Business to Serious Research: Reflections on the Utility of the Web for Scholarly Inquiry,” which summarized the experience and results of his research into the origins and context of an unusual 19th-century bronze sculpture. Axel’s project began with his inheritance of the bronze, which depicts a chimpanzee sitting on a pile of books (Darwin, Goethe…) and contemplating a human skull. Curiosity about the piece, which had belonged to his father and which had been an object of fascinated anxiety for Axel in childhood, led to an extensive investigation of the life and work of the obscure German-Jewish artist who created it, Hugo Rheinhold (1853-1900).
  • The web has been pivotal for Axel’s “monkey business.” Early in his efforts, he put up a website devoted to the project, “Hugo Rheinhold… and his Philosophizing Monkey” (’s_Monkey/Rheinhold’s_Monkey_Page.htm), and through persistence and internet serendipity he has been able to track down many other castings of the piece on several continents, as well as numerous knock-offs and related art and kitsch objects, and he has come in contact with relatives of Rheinhold — one, as it happens, an English primatologist. Axel discussed how the web enables an expansion and intensification of informal networks of collaboration that have long constituted an “invisible college” for researchers. He also emphasized the continuing importance of traditional sources, both published and archival.
  • Axel’s work on the Rheinhold project has a strong genealogical dimension. His work also situates the piece in art historical terms (aligning it, for example with the medieval themes of vanitas and memento mori and a recurring Renaissance motif of the wise monkey) and in the context of 19th-century German cultural history (where it resonated in ambiguous ways with discourses surrounding Darwinian evolution). Axel’s article on Rheinhold’s bronze, written with historian of science and medicine Jochen Richter, is in press: Richter and Schmetzke, “Hugo Rheinhold’s philosophizing monkey – a modern Owl of Minerva,” NTM International Journal of History and Ethics of Natural Sciences, Technology and Medicine. Axel’s website (URL above) contains a further wealth of information.

II. Discussion Group Business

  • he group considered potential topics for the Germanists program at the 2007 ALA Annual meeting, to be held in Washington, DC. A program on resources for Pennsylvania German studies had been suggested by Tim Shipe prior to the Seattle meeting. The group expressed a good deal of interest in this topic, but decided it would make sense to hold off with this until Midwinter 2008, which will be held in Philadelphia, home to the German Society of Pennsylvania and its Horner Memorial Library. For the meeting in DC, it was suggested that the program draw on the resources of DC’s Goethe Institut or the German Historical Institute, either by inviting a representative to address the Germanists or holding the Discussion Group meeting at the Goethe Institut or GHI. Tim Shipe will look into the options.
  • Dick Hacken (Brigham Young) called the group’s attention to the GNARP – WESS Inventory of Digital Projects in German Studies or from German-Speaking Countries ( ), part of a WESS wiki on the BYU server. Dick suggested that selections could be pulled from the inventory to populate libraries’ local subject pages. Dale Askey (Kansas State) noted that an RSS feed could pull entries from the inventory into local pages; he intends to create a demo site using RSS in this way.

Minutes submitted by Kizer Walker, WESS Secretary, Cornell University.