Born in Silesia, Michael Kosmeli (1773-1844), a trained lawyer, versatile writer, polyglot translator, virtuoso Jew's harpist and botanist with a doctorate, never had a permanent job or even a permanent residence, but spent his life travelling all over Europe and Asia as an itinerant scholar and Musician. He was the exact opposite of a parlour scholar. Kosmeli preferred to travel along the corridor that connected East Germany and Eastern Europe with the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Favourite stops and hubs on his travels were Berlin, Breslau, Riga, Reval, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Tbilisi, Jassy and Constantinople, where Kosmeli had loose networks of local scholars and friends who could accommodate and assist him. He travelled as far as Persia (Isfahan, Shiraz) and, according to contemporaries, even toyed with the idea of converting to Islam; years often passed before he temporarily returned to Silesia and Prussia. Kosmeli not only continually and effortlessly crossed countless geographical, political, cultural and religious borders, but actually felt at home in this Eastern European-Ottoman region. Through his "Rhapsodic Letters on a Journey to the Crimea" (1813) and the "Harmless Remarks on a Journey via Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev to Jassy" (1822), through his translations, especially of poetry (including from Polish, Russian, Modern Greek and Persian), through his contacts with some of the most outstanding scholars and writers of his time, including Hammer-Purgstall, Goethe, Chamisso and Jean Paul, and through his constant concert appearances at home and abroad, Kosmeli was the most mobile and versatile mediator of texts, ideas and Music between West and East of all German-speaking actors in the early 19th century, in both directions. Despite his extensive travels, diverse connections and various publications, Kosmeli has long been a completely forgotten figure, who has so far only been examined in a single essay published in 2011 (by Dr Dirk Sangmeister), but is now to be embedded in the overarching context of "Transottomanica". In a first step, the research project aims to reconstruct Kosmeli's labyrinthine, sometimes lost life and all his works in context by means of a short biography with a detailed bibliography and an annotated edition of his scattered letters. Building on this, the second step will be to analyse his role in the circulation of knowledge in the trans-Ottoman region, his connections, interdependencies and interactions with scholars, writers and musicians in the West and East, as well as his transfer achievements in the course of adapting texts, ideas, knowledge and compositions.
The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding the project for a period of three years as part of the "Transottomanica" priority programme. Since 2017, more than a dozen humanities scholars have been researching Eastern European-Ottoman-Persian mobility dynamics from the early modern period to the 20th century as part of the priority programme conceived and led by historians Stefan Rohdewald (Leipzig), Albrecht Fuess (Marburg) and Stephan Conermann (Bonn).
To the project page
Further information can be found here
Contact: Dr Dirk Sangmeister
Funding: DFG funding as part of the priority programme "Transottomanica"
Duration: 2021 - 2024