German novels of the 19th century still relevant for today’s entrepreneurs

20 January 2017


"Literature makes available to us the experience of previous generations" -  Professor Barkhoff  explains at his inaugural lecture 

Delivering his inaugural lecture as Professor of German, the Head of the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, Professor Jürgen Barkhoff gave a compelling insight into the values espoused in the bestselling German merchant novels of the long nineteenth century.   

Speaking to an audience attended by family, friends and colleagues including the Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast, Professor Barkhoff discussed how the German merchant novel, which explores the interrelationships between the business world with the culture, society and politics of the time, is often overlooked in academic research.

Works such as Gottfried Keller’s Martin Salander (1886) portrayed the problems of boom and bust economics and the scourge of unbridled economic speculation which Professor Barkhoff noted were not so different to the problems faced by economies such as Ireland in recent times. 

Other works explored by Professor Barkhoff included Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1796), Gustav Freytag’s Debit and Credit (1855) and Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks (1901). Speaking to the significance of these texts, Professor Barkhoff said: "as widely read and discussed texts, these novels not only portray and mirror the mentality of this specific bourgeois German merchant identity, but co-produced it, influenced the hearts and minds of their readers, provide role models and offer critical reflection."

Professor Barkhoff is a native of Essen in Northrhine-Westphalia in Germany where he studied German, History and Pedagogics at the Universities of Tubingen, Hamburg and Dublin. His long career in Trinity College Dublin which began as DAAD-Lektor in 1988 has led him to hold a number of senior positions including Director of the Centre for European Studies, Registrar of the University and Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute.

Introducing Professor Barkhoff, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Darryl Jones, cited the "formidable ability" of his scholarship as well as Trinity’s long history of fostering scholarship in the modern languages. "The date of the actual foundation of the chair of German and of the other modern languages is widely accepted as being October the 29th, 1776, when King George III of England confirmed the appointments by royal letter."  Trinity College Dublin’s Chair of German (1776) is believed to be the oldest in the world.

Responding to his appointment, Professor Barkhoff said "for a scholar of the late enlightenment it is a particular honour to be the holder of a Chair that dates back to that seminal period during in which the key concepts of our modern age took shape."

Questioning what lessons these 19th century novels hold for entrepreneurship and its values today, he concluded: "in three of these novels, a commitment to one’s business and a strong sense of civic engagement absolutely belong together."

"Literature makes available to us the experience of previous generations and we have to judge and test what we can learn from them."

Aoife King, Communications Officer, Trinity Long Room Hub | | 01 896 3895

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