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CCS 2008 meetings in Germany

 

The meeting of German members of the Captain Cook Society took place in Kassel on Friday, 20th June 2008. We had chosen this place and time to attend the annual colloquium of the Georg-Forster-Society (GFS). This year's title was "Forster - Globetrotter or Revolutionary?" There were fourteen scheduled lectures at the colloquium so we didn't prepare any of our own talks.

Günter Blohm, Andrea Siegling-Blohm, Helene Nymphius, Irmtraut Koop, Heiko Schnickmann and Anke Oberlies were this year's, more or less, far travelling CCS members who met at 8:30am at the International House of the Kassel University.

In the foyer we were warmly welcomed by GFS members including Professor Horst Dippel of the Kassel University and president of the GFS and Gundolf Krüger of the Cook-Forster-Collection in Göttingen. The meeting started at 9 o'clock in a quite small room (some of us had expected a lecture hall). As some of the speakers had not turned up we got to sit among the venerable GFS authorities. After all, the six of us made up about a quarter of the attendance. Prof. Dippel welcomed everyone and then announced a change to the order of the lectures.

Authorisations - from James Cook and Johann Reinhold Forster to Georg Forster

The first lecture was given by Christiane Weller, Melbourne, who tried to explain the relationship between Forster and his father Johann Reinhold from a psychological point of view - leaving out the "Cook" part completely. To do so she compared the Journals of Johann Reinhold and the German version of Georg Forster's "A Voyage Round the World" using the terms exotism and xenophobia to sustain her opinion that the voyage was Georg's flight from his father. This suggestion caused great disagreement from the audience who thought that the idea was nice but wrong for several reasons.

Hominis historia naturalis. Georg Forster's lectures from 1786/87 in the context of his Anthropology

She was followed by the Forster-biographer Ludwig Uhrig, Athens GA, USA. He looked on Forster's anthropological lectures when he was a professor at the University of Vilna (Poland) and tried to extract Forster's philosophy concerning the human beings. Uhrig told us that Forster quoted works of Linné, Buffon and the German naturalist Blumbach in those lectures, but in fundamental points had his own thoughts on the evolution of men influenced by the Scottish enlightenment.

Cabinet and Cabin: Forster's Influence on the Robinsonades

The third lecture was from Takashi Mori, Osaka, Japan, who showed us that Forster's travel story had an influence on the Robinsonade-literature of his time, and after him, as these texts included naturalistic aspects that were missing in Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe".

These three lectures took the time of the planned five lectures and lasted until lunchtime. GFS member Frank Vorpahl joined us at the university cafeteria and we exchanged facts and knowledge, listened to Helene who brought photographs from her visit to Kealakekua Bay and enjoyed the fresh air. Back in the lecture room Irmtraut and Anke used the remaining minutes to interview several GFS members about the authorship of a certain "Forster letter" a copy of which Cliff Thornton had trustingly put into our hands. We got very contradictory statements but one helpful name, so Irmtraut was able to find the answer later on.

The Flight into Politics as Forster's last Voyage

After lunch we got to hear from Marita Gilli, Besançon, who researched the political aspects of Forster's life. She stated that Forster was always an immigrant, impelled by external circumstances. These circumstances were with him on his voyage round the world and also when he travelled from one German princedom to another where he found inhuman despots. The conditions made him angry so when he witnessed the French Revolution he was with other revolutionists in Mainz where the first German republic was formed in 1793. Forster died exiled in a Parisian attic room in 1794.

Forster in Tanna: The Anthropologist in Melanesia

Frank Vorpahl, Berlin, spoke to us about Forster as an ethnologist. When Vorpahl was in Tanna, one of the islands of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), he discovered old texts and interviewed the people about their lives and the life of their ancestors. He found out that the Forsters made many mistakes in their studies of the people of Tanna and caused misunderstandings simply by not realizing taboos, customs and traditions and seeing everything with the eyes of European philosophers.

Discovering the Forster Legacy on the Internet: Descriptions of Collections as Methodological Approach to open up Forster-Collections Worldwide

The last lecture of the day was by Graham Jefcoate, director of the Nimwegen (Netherlands) library, who suggested the Georg-Forster-Society started an internet project to collect all Forster collections on one search screen, so researchers can have a look at all collections at one glance. The collections should be described on this website, as it is now done in the Netherlands with national libraries and museums.

With three other lectures having fallen through the meeting was adjourned to the next day. All lectures - including the missing ones - will be published in the 15th Journal of the Georg-Forster-Society in 2010, a German language publication.

Our German CCS meeting ended there as three of us had to catch trains and the others needed to leave early the next day. However, later that evening Irmtraut, Helene and Anke joined the formal dinner at an Italian restaurant attended by ten GFS members. At our table we enjoyed the company of Frank Vorpahl, the historian and film maker that discovered the Forster drawings that are in the new edition of "Reise um die Welt", as well as writing its epilogue.1 He also is a CCS member now!

It was an interesting, entertaining day for us and good to meet new fellow members.

We are already planning a meeting for next year, possibly in Bonn to coincide with the exhibition.

Anke Oberlies and Heiko Schnickmann
Please email us at Germany@CaptainCookSociety.com

Reference

  1. Forster, Georg. Reise um die Welt: Illustriert von eigener Hand. Published by Eichborn Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. 2007. ISBN 978-3-8218-6203-3. Reviewed in Cook's Log,
    page 39, vol. 31, no. 2 (2008)
Members at the meeting
Andrea Siegling-Blohm and her husband Günter, Irmtraut Koop, Anke Oberlies, Heiko Schnickmann and Helene Nymphius

 


Originally published in Cook's Log, page 3, volume 31, number 4 (2008).

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