Can we trust the texts we read?

For many texts (in some cases, even those by modern European authors, writers or scholars), we do not have the original, material evidence that transmits the texts as the authors wrote them down; yet we read and study their works. So can we trust the texts we read?

Objectives of the Philology and Textual Criticism Working Group

  • Exploring and taking stock of philological techniques for transmitting knowledge, their theories and history, based on a broad cultural and chronological perspective, from their origins to the digital age.

Project description

In order to know whether to trust the texts at hand, it is necessary to have an idea of:

  • how texts have been transmitted over time (in years, centuries or even millennia),
  • what kind of changes, innovations (technical, "errors" in authorial texts) or adaptations have been made to them, 
  • why and how, according to what methods and with what aims, we can recognise, understand and correct these changes or simply present them in a neutral way.

The answer to these questions is the primary object of philology as textual criticism, that is, as the critical study of texts and the tracing of their history. Since written texts have been the most powerful means of transmitting culture for millennia, the various approaches to the written heritage also constitute a fundamental part of knowledge, both in the European tradition and in other cultures that have known a refined philological tradition for thousands of years.

The aim of the working group is to explore and take stock of philological techniques for the transmission of knowledge, their theories and history, based on a broad cultural and chronological perspective, from their origins to the digital age. This investigation includes the disciplines of lower and higher textual criticism, but also exegesis and hermeneutics, as well as the material foundations in manuscript research and codicology. At the moment, the group covers a cultural space that includes Europe, the Mediterranean, Ethiopia, India and China from antiquity to the present.

Perspectives and review

  • Mai 2022, Hamburg: Inaugural workshop „Philological Cultures – the Sources“

Members of the Working Group

Position Name Discipline
Prof. Dr. Alessandro Bausi Klassische Philologie
Prof. Dr. Christian Brockmann Klassische Philologie, insbesondere Gräzistik
Prof. Dr. Michael Friedrich Sinologie
Prof. Dr. Kaja Harter-Uibopuu Alte Geschichte
Prof. Dr. Harunaga Isaacson Klassische Indologie
Spokesperson Prof. Dr. Eva Wilden Kultur und Geschichte Indiens und Tibets