Lionel Gossman
Lionel Gossman is a Scottish-American scholar of French literature. He taught Romance Languages at Johns Hopkins University and Princeton University, and has written extensively on the history, theory and practice of historiography
Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic...

, and more recently, on aspects of German cultural history.


Gossman was born in Glasgow, Scotland and educated in public schools in the city, and during World War II, the surrounding countryside. In 1951, he graduated with an M.A. (Hons.) degree in French and German literature from the University of Glasgow
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...

. In 1952, he obtained the Diplôme d'Études Supérieures at the Sorbonne
The Sorbonne is an edifice of the Latin Quarter, in Paris, France, which has been the historical house of the former University of Paris...

 in Paris, France, and wrote his thesis "The Idea of the Golden Age in Le Roman de la Rose."

From 1952-1954, Gossman served in the Royal Navy where he was trained to be a simultaneous English-Russian translator. Upon completion of national service in 1954, he entered the then newly-founded St. Antony's College, the first exclusively graduate college of Oxford University. In 1958 he completed a doctoral dissertation on scholarly research and writing on the Middle Ages during the French Enlightenment ("The World and Work of La Curne de Sainte-Palaye").

After a brief stint as Assistant Lecturer at the University of Glasgow (1957–1958), Gossman accepted a teaching position in the Department of Romance Languages at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He rose through the ranks, becoming professor in 1966, head of the French section of the Department in 1968, and chair in 1975. Gossman says he was fortunate to have as colleagues and friends in those years René Girard
René Girard
René Girard is a French historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science. His work belongs to the tradition of anthropological philosophy...

, Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes
Roland Gérard Barthes was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, anthropology and...

, Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction and his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy...

, Lucien Goldmann
Lucien Goldmann
Lucien Goldmann was a French philosopher and sociologist of Jewish-Romanian origin...

, Jean-François Lyotard
Jean-François Lyotard
Jean-François Lyotard was a French philosopher and literary theorist. He is well known for his articulation of postmodernism after the late 1970s and the analysis of the impact of postmodernity on the human condition...

, Michel Serres
Michel Serres
Michel Serres is a French philosopher and author, celebrated for his unusual career.-Life and career:...

 and Louis Marin
Louis Marin
Louis Marin was a French philosopher, historian, semiotician and art critic of the 20th century.He was born in La Tronche, He is usually referred to as a French Post-Structuralism thinker. He attended the University of Paris, Sorbonne and graduated with a Licence in Philosophy in 1952...

. Gossman recalls in his autobiography:
In 1976, Gossman moved to Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

, where he spent 23 "calm, happy, productive and personally and intellectually fulfilling years." He served on key university committees, and from 1991-1996 chaired the Romance Languages Department. In 1990 he received Princeton's Howard T. Berhman Award for distinguished service in the humanities.

In 1991 he was made an Officer in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques; in 1996, he was elected a Member of the American Philosophical Society
American Philosophical Society
The American Philosophical Society, founded in 1743, and located in Philadelphia, Pa., is an eminent scholarly organization of international reputation, that promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications,...

; and in 2005 he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities from Princeton University. Gossman has also served on the editorial boards of The Johns Hopkins University Press, the Princeton University Press and the American Philosophical Society.

Since retiring in 1999, Gossman has resumed his undergraduate studies of German culture. He has written a number of articles on aspects of 19th century German art and cultural politics, including several studies of the Nazarene movement
Nazarene movement
The name Nazarene was adopted by a group of early 19th century German Romantic painters who aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art...

. On the Nazarenes, he has authored the study "Unwilling Moderns: The Nazarene Painters of the Nineteenth Century" and the book "The Making of a Romantic Icon: The Religious Context of Friedrich Overbeck's 'Italia und Germania.'"

Selected bibliography

Along with articles on a wide range of topics, as of April 2010 Gossman has published 14 books. Here are summaries and reviews of some of his best-known books:
  • Orpheus Philologus: Bachofen versus Mommsen on the Study of Antiquity (1983) (ISBN 9781422374672)

Though the great German classical scholar Theodor Mommsen
Theodor Mommsen
Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen was a German classical scholar, historian, jurist, journalist, politician, archaeologist, and writer generally regarded as the greatest classicist of the 19th century. His work regarding Roman history is still of fundamental importance for contemporary research...

 was probably unaware of it, he was the object of the passionate and enduring hatred of J. J. Bachofen, an obscure Swiss philologist in the provincial city of Basle. Bachofen, not well known in the English-speaking world, is mentioned by anthropologists for his contribution to the popular 19th-century theory of "matriarchy
A matriarchy is a society in which females, especially mothers, have the central roles of political leadership and moral authority. It is also sometimes called a gynocratic or gynocentric society....

", and by classicists such as George Derwent Thomson
George Derwent Thomson
George Derwent Thomson was an English classical scholar, Marxist philosopher, and scholar of the Irish language.-Classical scholar:...

 for his contributions to the study of Greek myth and tragedy. Arnaldo Momigliano writes in The Journal of Modern History:
  • Towards a Rational Historiography (1989) (ISBN 9780871690005)

Gossman maintains that underlying the argument that historiography
Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic...

 cannot be subsumed under a poetics or a rhetoric is a larger claim, namely that a wide range of activities, from literary criticism, through legal debate, theology, ethics, politics, psychology, and medicine to the natural sciences, all constitute rational practices, even if there is considerable variation in the degree of formalism and rigor and in the type of argument most commonly employed in each of these different fields of inquiry.

Hence Gossman emphasizes the practice or process of doing history rather than the product. What appeals to him in the idea of reason as a practice is its open, liberal, and democratic character. Historiography as a rational practice supposes a community of participants rather than the "anomie" of a world in which every man is his own historian that appears to be implied by privileging the historical "text." Edward Berenson writes in his book "The Trial of Madame Caillaux:"
  • Between History and Literature (1990) (ISBN 9780674068155)

Drawing on English, German and French scholarship, the essays in this volume illuminate the many facets of the problematic relationship between history and literature, and show how each discipline both challenges and undermines the other's absolutist pretensions. Includes Gossman's seminal study on French historian Augustin Thierry ("Augustin Thierry and Liberal Historiography") and two important essays on French historian Jules Michelet
Jules Michelet
Jules Michelet was a French historian. He was born in Paris to a family with Huguenot traditions.-Early life:His father was a master printer, not very prosperous, and Jules assisted him in the actual work of the press...

. Ceri Crossley writes in the journal French History:
  • Basel in the Age of Burckhardt: A Study in Unseasonable Ideas (2000) (ISBN 9780226305004)

After co-teaching with Carl Schorske an undergraduate seminar on the civic culture of 19th century Basel
Basel or Basle In the national languages of Switzerland the city is also known as Bâle , Basilea and Basilea is Switzerland's third most populous city with about 166,000 inhabitants. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany...

, Switzerland, Gossman worked on this book for 20 years. Gossman argues that the peculiar, somewhat anachronistic political and social structure of Basel made it a favorable haven for "untimely" ideas that challenged the positivism and optimistic progressivism of the time: the philosophy of Nietzsche, the historiography of Bachofen and Burckhardt
Jacob Burckhardt
Carl Jacob Christoph Burckhardt was a historian of art and culture, and an influential figure in the historiography of each field. He is known as one of the major progenitors of cultural history, albeit in a form very different from how cultural history is conceived and studied in academia today...

, and the theology of Franz Overbeck
Franz Overbeck
Franz Camille Overbeck was a German Protestant theologian. In Anglo-American discourse, he is perhaps best known in regard to his friendship with Friedrich Nietzsche; while in German theological circles, Overbeck remains discussed for his own contributions.- Youth :Franz Overbeck was born in Saint...

. Awarded the American Historical Association's 2001 George L. Mosse Prize for an outstanding work on the intellectual and cultural history of Europe since the Renaissance. John R. Hinde writes in the American Historical Review:
  • The Making of a Romantic Icon: The Religious Context of Friedrich Overbeck's 'Italia und Germania' (2007) (ISBN 9780871699756)

Gossman focuses on Johann Friedrich Overbeck
Johann Friedrich Overbeck
Johann Friedrich Overbeck , was a German painter and member of the Nazarene movement. He also made four etchings.-Biography:...

's painting "Italia and Germania" to discuss the importance of religious conversion in Romantic thought
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

. This book serves as a thoughtful introduction to the way of thinking of one of the most important of the Nazarene movement
Nazarene movement
The name Nazarene was adopted by a group of early 19th century German Romantic painters who aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art...

 painters. It treats the evolution of the Nazarene artists’ preoccupation with religious issues in an engaging manner and offers a social-historical and theological context to Overbeck's painting. Won the American Philosophical Society's 2007 John Frederick Lewis Award for best book or monograph.
  • Brownshirt Princess: A Study of the 'Nazi Conscience' (2009) (ISBN 9781906924065)

Marie Adelheid, Prinzessin Reuß-zur Lippe, was a rebellious young woman and aspiring writer from an ancient princely family who became a fervent Nazi. Heinrich Vogeler
Heinrich Vogeler
Heinrich Vogeler was a German painter, designer, and architect.- Biography :He was born in Bremen, and studied at the academy of arts in Düsseldorf from 1890–95...

 was a well-regarded Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) artist who joined the German Communist Party
German Communist Party
The German Communist Party is a Marxist-Leninist party in Germany.-History:The DKP was formed in West Germany in 1968, in order to fill the place of the Communist Party of Germany , which had been banned by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1956...

 and later emigrated to the Soviet Union. Ludwig Roselius
Ludwig Roselius
Ludwig Roselius was a German coffee merchant and founder of the company KAFFEE HAG. He was born in Bremen and is credited with the development of commercial decaffeination of coffee...

 was a successful Bremen businessman who had made a fortune from his invention of decaffeinated coffee.

What was it about the revolutionary climate following Germany's defeat in World War I that induced three such different personalities to collaborate in the production of a slim volume of poetry - entitled Gott in mir (God In Me) - about the indwelling of the divine within the human? Gossman's study provides insight into the sources and character of the "Nazi Conscience."
  • Future Books (2010 and Beyond)

Expanding on his paper "Liebe Genossin: Hermynia Zur Mühlen: A Writer of Courage and Conviction" and his journal article "The Red Countess: Four Stories," Gossman has prepared a new English translation, with abundant notes and introduction, of a 1929 autobiographical memoir by Austrian countess Hermynia Zur Mühlen
Hermynia Zur Mühlen
Hermynia zur Mühlen, aka Hermynia Zur Mühlen, born as Hermine Isabelle Maria Gräfin Folliot de Crenneville, also Folliot de Crenneville-Poutet was an Austrian writer and translator.- Works :* Schupomann Karl Müller * Chicago, Ill., Daily Worker Pub. Co...

, who placed her literary talent in the service of socialism and the struggle against Nazism and anti-Semitism. "The End and the Beginning: Portrait of a Life" is expected to be published in late 2010 by Open Book Publishers.

Gossman is currently working on a study of Heinrich Vogeler, a successful turn-of-the century German artist and illustrator and a friend of the poet Rilke. Gossman is interested in Vogeler's transformation from a dandy and aesthete in the years before World War I into a left-wing anarchist and then Communist in the years following the war, and in his dogged, ultimately unsuccessful search for an artistic form appropriate to his changed convictions and worldview.

Complete Bibliography

  • Men and Masks A Study of Molière (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1963)
  • Medievalism and the Ideologies of the Enlightenment: The World and Work of La Curne de Sainte-Palaye (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968)
  • French Society and Culture: Background to Eighteenth Century Literature (Prentice Hall, 1973) (ISBN 9780133312980)
  • The Empire Unpossess'd: An Essay on Gibbon's Decline and Fall (Cambridge University Press, 1981; new ed. 2009) (ISBN 9780521234535; ISBN 9780521103459)
  • Orpheus Philologus: Bachofen versus Mommsen on the Study of Antiquity (American Philosophical Society, Transactions 73:5, 1983) (ISBN 9781422374672)
  • Towards a Rational Historiography (American Philosophical Society, Transactions 79:5, 1989) (ISBN 9780871690005)
  • Between History and Literature (Harvard University Press, 1990) (ISBN 9780674068155)
  • Geneva-Zurich-Basel: History, Culture, and National Identity (Princeton University Press, 1994) (ISBN 9780691036182)
  • Building a Profession: Autobiographical Reflections on the History of Comparative Literature in the United States (Edited, with Mihai Spariosu; State University of New York Press, 1994) (ISBN 9780791417997)
  • Basel in the Age of Burckhardt: A Study in Unseasonable Ideas / Basel in der Zeit Jacob Burckhardts: Eine Stadt und vier unzeitgemässe Denker (University of Chicago Press, 2000 / Schwabe, 2006) (ISBN 9780226305004 / ISBN 9783796521577)
  • Begegnungen mit Jacob Burckhardt: Vorträge in Basel und Princeton zum hundertsten Todestag (Encounters with Jacob Burckhardt; Edited with Andreas Cesana; Schwabe, 2004) (ISBN 9783796518096)
  • The Making of a Romantic Icon: The Religious Context of Friedrich Overbeck's "Italia und Germania" (American Philosophical Society, Transactions 97:5, 2007) (ISBN 9780871699756)
  • Brownshirt Princess. A Study of the "Nazi Conscience" (Open Book Publishers, 2009) (ISBN 9781906924065)
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