11 March 2020

The project was devoted to the most important academy in Germany predating the Leibnizsche Kurfürstlich-Brandenburgische Societät der Wissenschaften (Leibniz Society of Sciences of the Elector of Brandenburg). The Fruitbearing Society (FS), which had a total of 890 members over the course of its existence, is difficult to sum up in concise terms. Sponsored by aristocrats including princes of the empire, it was courtly in character, yet open to the bourgeois classes and the scholarly milieu, with which it cooperated; its founders were aloof from – or downright opposed to – the emperor, yet characterised by imperial patriotism and class-based libertarianism; its members were schooled in rhetoric and interested in a wide range of scientific disciplines, yet they were neither a society of scholars nor an association of linguists; it was predominantly Protestant, yet with an irenic and ecumenical Christian bent; it was committed to the German language, yet internationally connected under the exotic symbol of the coconut palm. Its members were inexorably caught up in the civilisational catastrophe that was the Thirty Years’ War, yet they sought and fostered rapprochement between the parties and opportunities for peace – an ‘asset item’, so to speak, in the propagation of the long-awaited universal peace which the Fruitbearing Society was finally able to celebrate after the conclusion of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

The FS’s concerns and objectives were rooted in Europe’s Renaissance Humanism and its academies, which, beginning in Italy, campaigned to raise the status of the volgare or vernacular language as the language of society, literature and scholarship. The FS, modelled on the Accademia della Crusca, was the most influential actor in this movement in Germany, expanding the use of High German at all levels of the linguistic system and promoting a highly developed German literature in keeping with the times. Additionally, the Crusca (Italian for bran) also supplied the FS with its model of language and literature studies focused on critical analysis and refinement: the sieve that separated the pure flour from the bran. For all the achievements and merits of its linguistic and literary work, however, it would be an oversimplification to describe the FS as a ‘baroque language society’. Its fundamental ethical orientation towards consensus-oriented communication and the common good under the motto of ‘Uses for Everything’ caused it to extend its radius of activity to encompass political and social culture, exhibiting a kind of ‘nation-building’ in the face of the political and confessional chasms that divided the empire. With its many-faceted profile in terms of structure, agenda and impact, the FS was a unique phenomenon in Germany and Europe during its era.

To do justice to the historical role of the FS and raise its profile both in academia and with the public, the research project decided at an early stage to compile a comprehensive edition of the society’s correspondence and sources. Thanks to Martin Bircher, then head of the 17th-century-research department, the FS became an emphasis in the Herzog August Bibliothek’s research activities back in the 1970s. Bircher was joined by Klaus Conermann of the University of Pittsburgh, who had been producing seminal studies on the FS since the late 1970s and had, in 1985, published a fundamental three-volume compendium on the first and most productive phase of the society under Prince Ludwig von Anhalt-Köthen (1617–1650, 521 members). Together they developed the project ‘The German Academy of the Seventeenth Century: The Fruitbearing Society’ in 1986/87. The project was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG) and began its operations in March 1988 with Dieter Merzbacher, Andreas Herz and Gabriele Henkel as research fellows. The edition was initially to consist of two series (I: Correspondence and Appendices); II: Documents and Illustrations) and three chronological sections (A: Köthen, 1617–1650; B: Weimar, 1651–1662/67; C: Halle, 1667–1680). This programme was focused by the DFG on ‘Series I, Section A: Köthen’.

‘Section C: Halle’ was completed in 1997 with three volumes, since Bircher was prevented from finishing his two projected volumes of series II owing to his departure from the HAB in December 1996 and his premature death in 2006. The crucial long-term stability of the project was ensured by establishing it in the German Academies Programme and by the sponsorship it received, beginning in 2001, from the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig (Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig). The project team stayed on at the HAB, which remained involved in the undertaking until the end through a cooperation agreement that was amended several times. In addition to Conermann, the editor and later project leader, the project team comprised the research fellows Andreas Herz and Gabriele Ball, later supported by Nico Dorn and Alexander Zirr as well as Anne Dickel (now Anne Rieck) and Jürgen May (both of whom were responsible for retrodigitisation) and various temporary assistants, contractual helpers and interns.

In addition to the three volumes of ‘Section C: Halle’, ten volumes of ‘Section A: Köthen’ had been produced by the end of August 2019, thereby concluding the 13-volume project on schedule. These volumes represent a comprehensive, systematic critical edition of the fundamental sources for the Köthen phase of the FS. With its contextualisation and meticulous commentary, the edition of the letters not only provides comprehensive documentation of the history of the FS’s impact and reception but also represents a compendium of the history of the first half of the 17th century, which, with its four cumulative indexes in the project’s online portal, offers copious information and interesting source materials for all disciplines of early modern research.

Additionally, an electronic resource has been and will continue to be provided via the HAB’s online public access catalogue (OPAC) for each volume of the edition (after a three-year protection period for the print publication). It is also thanks to the project team’s initiative that the most important sources were able to be digitised with the help of the HAB and made available for worldwide use via the Wolfenbüttel Digital Library (WDB). Moreover, additional HAB projects were developed and implemented on the basis of the FS project or with its support: the three-volume edition of the letters and documents of Martin Opitz (Prof. Conermann, Dr Harald Bollbuck); the finding aid for the Andreae correspondence (HAB, Dr Stefania Salvadori); and the digital edition of the journals of Prince Christian II of Anhalt-Bernburg, which will be completed by 2025 (University of Freiburg / HAB, Dr Andreas Herz, Dr Alexander Zirr, Marcus Baumgarten and Max Görmar). Further research endeavours by the former project leader Klaus Conermann and a follow-up project on the female virtue societies in the context of the FS (Ball) are being planned.

In total, the project has left its stamp on the HAB in multiple ways: in its cooperation with the collection of German prints and printed works, Sammlung Deutscher Drucke 1601–1700, as well as through exhibitions and other events. The project team has numerous publications to its credit, some of which were compiled in volume 150 of the Wolfenbütteler Forschungen series to mark the 400th jubilee of the foundation of the FS in 2017. All this is the enduring legacy of decades of scholarly dedication. The project team as a focus of the HAB’s research was dissolved on 31 December 2018. An edition of the sources for the second, ‘Weimar’ period of the FS (1651–1662/67) thus remains an urgent desideratum for the future.


About the author

Until his retirement in December 2020, Dr Andreas Herz was simultaneously a research fellow in the projects ‘Digital edition of the journals of Herzog Ludwig Rudolf and Herzogin Christine Luise von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel’ and ‘Digital edition and commentary on the journals of Prince Christian II von Anhalt-Bernburg (1599–1656)’. His research specialisms are the history of the German language in the 17th century and the Fruitbearing Society (1617–1680).

Homepage of the team ‘Die deutsche Akademie des 17. Jahrhunderts: Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft’