Ways and works of Michael Kosmeli (1773-1844)

Project description

The Silesian-born Michael Kosmeli (1773-1844), a studied lawyer, versatilist writer, polyglot translator, virtuoso Jew's harpist and doctor of botany, never had a permanent job, not even a permanent residence, but traveled all his life as a vagabond scholar and musician crisscrossing half of Europe to Asia. He was the exact opposite of a parlor scholar. Kosmeli preferred to travel in the corridor that connected East Germany and Eastern Europe with the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Favorite ports of call and hubs in 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 reached 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 crossed countless geographical, political, cultural and religious borders without any effort, 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, above all of poetry (among others from Polish, Russian, Modern Greek, and Persian, among others), through his contacts with some of the most outstanding scholars and literary figures 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, in both directions, among all German-speaking actors in the early 19th century. Despite his extensive travels, diverse connections, and various publications, Kosmeli has long been a completely forgotten figure, who has so far only been rudimentarily examined in a single essay published in 2011 (by Dr. Dirk Sangmeister), but who will now be embedded in the overarching contexts of "Transottomanica." In a first step, the research project aims at reconstructing Kosmeli's intricate, partly obscure life and all his works in context by means of a short biography including a detailed bibliography and an annotated edition of his scattered letters. Based on this, in a second step, his role in the circulation of knowledge in the trans-Ottoman area, his connections, interconnections and interactions with scholars, literary figures and musicians in the West and East, as well as his transfer achievements in the course of the adaptation of texts, ideas, knowledge and compositions will be worked out.

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding the project as part of the priority program "Transottomanica" for a period of three years. In the priority program, conceived and led by historians Stefan Rohdewald (Leipzig), Albrecht Fuess (Marburg), and Stephan Conermann (Bonn), more than a dozen humanities scholars have been collaborating since 2017 to research Eastern European-Ottoman-Persian mobility dynamics from the early modern period to the 20th century.

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Contact person

Project staff
(Gotha Research Centre)


DFG funding within the priority program "Transottomanica


2021 - 2024