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Winter School 2014 – abstracts morning lectures

Cultural Transfers: Developments, Transformations, and Perspectives

Helga Mitterbauer

Cultural Transfers are processes of delocalization and transformation of cultural artifacts (goods, meanings, ideas etc.) from one cultural formation into another. According to the sociological background of the approach, transmitters such as translators, publishers, editors, art dealers etc. initiate the process.
In the lecture, I shall survey the evolution and transformations of the concept from the beginning in the mid 1980s when Michel Espagne and Michael Werner established the theory of cultural transfer as a concept opposing the widely accepted history of hegemonic influence (Einflussgeschichte). After their first publications on transfers between France and Germany (mostly on the 18th century), the bias towards analyses of bilateral transfers between the two nation states was enhanced to include regional studies and to triangular and later on to quadrangular configurations.

I argue that these ideas should be applied to cultural formations other than nations; the application of postcolonial theories (esp. hybridity, métissage, or créolisation) reveals the ubiquitousness and overlapping of global, continental, national, regional, areal, and local formations as well as imperialistic power structures. Cultural transfers, taken as processes of transformation put into motion by humans, rely on media; therefore, we shall discuss the historical changes in media from Early Modernism to the contemporary times of the Internet.

We will also study Michael Werner’s and Bénédicte Zimmermann’s reformulation labeled “histoire croisée” emphasizing the intersection of the analyzed subject and the analyzing scholar. The concept of cultural transfer itself changes from place to place and time to time, according to the subject matter and the socio-historical background of the scholar. I shall close my lecture by explicitly engaging with the title of the Bernese Winterschool and show how ideas from the study of cultural transfers could strengthen the idea of ‘culture as transfer’.

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