Dissertation Defense: Willi Wolfgang Barthold

Candidate Name: Willi Wolfgang Barthold

Major: German

Advisor: Peter Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

Title: Zeitschrift, Text und Bild. Der bürgerliche Realismus im Kontext der visuellen Massenmedie des 19. Jahrhunderts

The dissertation focuses on German realist literature of the late nineteenth-century and its interplay with the visual and media culture of its time. While realist writers dedicated themselves to showing the “true essence” of reality in literary art, new theories of perception, rapid processes of modernization, and profound technological innovations drastically challenged any stable models of representation and complicated notions of the “real”. As a result, realist texts of the late nineteenth-century developed new literary aesthetics that were shaped by their intermedial environment and explored modern mechanisms of discursive and medial reality construction through epistemological experiments. In addition to the increased societal prominence of photography and other technologies of image production, illustrated journals and magazines became omnipresent reading materials during this time and featured, among numerous text genres and illustrations, also realist novels and novellas. These texts therefore need to be analyzed in their original, serialized mode of publication and within the context of an emerging popular culture of visual stimulation. This study thus asks how realist literature was shaped by its contextualization within illustrated journals as “mass media” and how it reacted to integration into this media culture with self-reflective, poetological, and epistemological discourses that explored changing notions of reality. With detailed close-readings of works by Wilhelm Raabe, Theodor Fontane, Balduin Möllhausen, and Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach that contextualize each work in its original publication context, this research demonstrates that realist literature grappled with transforming ways of storytelling in an increasingly image-dominated society, the mechanisms of creating “truth” in mass media communication, as well as notions of gender and foreignness in a modernized and globalized media-cultural context. While doing so, the study also challenges the still prevailing high vs. low culture dichotomy in literary studies by investigating authors and texts that are not represented in the established, male-centered canon and showing their media-critical potential. This research bridges the gap between scholarly arguments that, on the one hand, focus on the importance of journals as publication media of realist texts and those that, on the other hand, focus on literary realism’s interplay with the visual, by suggesting that only a combination of methods from both fields can lead to a thorough understanding of the epistemological inquiries that shape these texts. By providing insight into the emerging system of mass media entertainment in the late nineteenth-century through the lens of literary texts, the dissertation ultimately facilitates a long view of the changes and challenges that have shaped and continue to confront our contemporary world, which is again facing a rapid transformation of medial infrastructure and an increased “visualization” of communication.

Friday, February 14 at 10:00am to 12:00pm

Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 563 and by Zoom, https://georgetown.zoom.us/j/354758903
37th and O St., N.W., Washington

Event Type

Academic Events, Dissertation Defense


Georgetown College, German, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Graduate Thesis and Dissertation Defense



Open to the public and the press?


Event Contact Name

Courtney Feldman

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