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The Emancipation of Writing: German Civil Society in the Making, 1790s–1820s

Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 345
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  • Book Info
    The Emancipation of Writing
    Book Description:

    The Emancipation of Writingis the first study of writing in its connection to bureaucracy, citizenship, and the state in Germany. Stitching together micro- and macro-level analysis, it reconstructs the vibrant, textually saturated civic culture of the German southwest in the aftermath of the French Revolution and Napoleon's invasions. Ian F. McNeely reveals that Germany's notoriously oppressive bureaucracy, when viewed through the writing practices that were its lifeblood, could also function as a site of citizenship. Citizens, acting under the mediation of powerful local scribes, practiced their freedoms in written engagements with the state. Their communications laid the basis for civil society, showing how social networks commonly associated with the free market, the free press, and the voluntary association could also take root in powerful state institutions.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92852-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    German history has long centered on the state. In its various incarnations, the German state has acted as an instrument of totalitarianism, an agent of national unification, and an architect of civil war, religious reform, and social discipline. Often depicted as the source of ultimate oppression, sometimes viewed as an “organic” entity with a life and purpose of its own, and always acknowledged as a decisive player in European geopolitics, the state in many ways figures as the prime mover of German historical development. Scholars from Max Weber onward have recognized the centrality of bureaucracy to the state’s power. A...


    • 1 The Civic Landscape
      (pp. 13-34)

      Württemberg ranks among Germany’s civic heartlands, as an area where constitutional government took root as early as the Protestant Reformation. By the nineteenth century, it furnished a home to the early liberal and democratic movements, and would play a prominent progressive role in the 1848 Revolution. The very entrenchment of its civic traditions, however, insulated Württemberg from the broader currents of dynamism sweeping Germany in the late 1700s. It failed to develop either a robust cameralism in the governmental sphere or a strong Enlightenment tradition in the cultural arena.The powerful burgher estates resolutely opposed any absolutist initiatives, and their isolationist...

    • 2 The Tutelage of the Scribes
      (pp. 35-66)

      The world of the scribes was a world saturated with formality. Official texts regulating all manner of social interactions proliferated in what, to modern expectations, seems wild disproportion to the size and complexity of the communities concerned. Scribes managed mortgages and liens for simple peasants remarkably conversant with the intricacies of credit and amortization. They drew up contracts between parents and their own children, using precise legal language to specify the nursing heirs had to provide their elderly parents in exchange for a share of the family bequest. And they crafted written petitions for citizens who knew how to exploit...

    • 3 The Black Forest Cahier
      (pp. 67-95)

      Among the most important texts produced during the French Revolution were thecahiers des doléancesprepared in the various districts of the realm, notebooks listing the particular grievances each wanted to present before the Estates General. Alexis de Tocqueville called them “the swan song of the old regime, the ultimate expression of its ambitions, its last will and testament.”¹ As a rule, the cahiers shied away from calling for an end to the monarchy, much less a bloody overthrow of the entire political system. Textually, they are more interesting as residues of collegiality than as portents of violence. A great...

    • 4 Constitutional Fetishism
      (pp. 96-126)

      In September 1805 near Ulm, on Württemberg’s eastern frontier, 200,000 French soldiers met and subsequently defeated 73,000 men from Austria. This battle and the ones that followed brought an end to the Holy Roman Empire in Germany. Napoleon himself traveled to the Ludwigsburg palace on 2 October, met Duke Friedrich, and offered to convert his duchy either into a conquered French province or, if Friedrich cooperated with him, into a richer, larger, and still autonomous land. Friedrich, acceding, was made King of Württemberg by Napoleon late that year and his kingdom included, under French auspices, in the new Confederation of...


    • 5 Transcending “Textual Serfdom”
      (pp. 129-164)

      The formal emancipation of civil society from the state in Germany culminated under Napoleon’s rule. During a decade of continental wars and occupations, from 1803 to 1815, Napoleon redrew the political boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire. Partly in response, partly in reaction, and both before and after his fall, German states created a new civic order through modernizing reforms in government, law, the military, economics, and infrastructure. Though the process was highly uneven from region to region, and though many progressive measures were later rolled back or eviscerated, the reform epoch ushered Central Europe into the modern world. For...

    • 6 Reading, Writing, and Reform
      (pp. 165-197)

      The true measure of any civil society’s coalescence is its ability to compel governmental action on its behalf. In Württemberg, the public and parliamentary agitation against the scribes strikingly illustrated the potential for citizen action to focus the state on problems of official corruption. In direct response to this campaign, the government, having dawdled for a decade and temporized with piecemeal measures, acted decisively and systematically to dismantle the scribes’ profession. Between 1817 and 1826, it handed down a wave of edicts converting the scribes into menial notaries public salaried and appointed by the state, and dispersed their monopoly over...

    • 7 Cataloging the Social World
      (pp. 198-219)

      Starting in the 1820s, the state’s relationship with civil society was increasingly mediated by print. Because the reform of theSchreibereideliberately curtailed handwritten exchange between them, the well-established technology of print could emerge as a natural alternative to the scribes’ tutelage. The shift, it should be emphasized, was by no means automatic. As the OVK’s sociographic methods showed, handwriting, still the quickest way to process information nimbly, played a vital role in an age otherwise dominated by print culture. Print enjoyed the unique advantage, however, of bringing information to the masses. For the state, it offered a compelling new...

    • 8 The Intelligence Gazettes
      (pp. 220-238)

      If the effort to produce practical knowledge, begun in the state and negotiated with the public, culminated in the statistical almanacs, then the intelligence gazettes show how knowledge production created true markets for ideas and information. This surprisingly vigorous print medium flourished in provincial Württemberg between the 1820s and the 1840s, and, like the almanacs, brought local notables together with state officials under the banner of popular Enlightenment. More so than the almanacs, the intelligence gazettes depict a small-town world pulsating with entrepreneurship and treating information as the lifeblood of civic improvement. As local announcement bulletins, gazettes abstained from the...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 239-246)

    Practices of official writing vividly depict how bureaucratic power is applied, how citizenship is exercised within the state, and how civil society emerges from textual encounters between officials and citizens through a long learning process. This book has tracked changes in writing practice over a tumultuous period in Germany’s history by examining four separate, yet interlocking, aspects of its civic culture. First, the quality of formality underlies actions and assumptions utterly fundamental to the rule of law in an ordered, civilized society, all centered on the ability to seize a text and derive from it a series of practical truths,...

  9. Glossary
    (pp. 247-248)
  10. Abbreviations
    (pp. 249-252)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 253-302)
  12. Sources
    (pp. 303-324)
  13. Index
    (pp. 325-330)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 331-334)