The Psalms are among the world’s oldest poems. Usually sung, they have been passed down in a variety of forms ever since antiquity. The three libraries’ collections include numerous adaptations of the Psalms from the Middle Ages through to the present day. While some appear in book form or as sections of complete Bibles, others can be found in Bible commentaries, missals and richly illustrated Books of Hours or in a variety of published musical settings. These very different Psalm traditions provide a resource for discovering which genres of Latin, Middle Low German and Early New High German poetry were particularly treasured and cultivated. In other words, this is a project about historical aesthetics and poetics.

Besides the Wolfenbüttel Psalms, the project ‘Text and Frame’ also investigated ‘Der Fauststoff in Text und Bild’ (Faust Material in Text and Images) held in Weimar and ‘Klassik im Insel-Verlag ca. 1900–1930’ (The Classics of the Insel-Verlag c.1900–1930) held in Marbach. In all three cases, the main research question was: What makes these works canonical? What is it that makes people want to read them again and again when their continuing popularity is by no means guaranteed? The texts have to be constantly reframed and adapted to changing historical circumstances to meet the expectations of each new readership. The researchers believe that one key reason why the texts have remained attractive is their sensory appeal: both the tangible and visible materiality of the books and their oral and visual presentation in words, gestures and song. The digital resources of the MWW provide an excellent basis for analysing and presenting these sensory dimensions. The literary canons contained in the collections of the three institutions are ‘frozen’ in the time they originated. The MWW therefore supplied the extensive historical research resources required to examine these questions. The project team set itself the task of studying how the popularity of these literary canons boomed and how this was conditioned and constrained by the media in which they were presented. The result was an enlightened critique of the collections.

Funding: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (Federal Ministry of Education and Research, BMBF) in the framework of the MWW
Duration: 2014 – January 2017
Project participants: Dr Ursula Kundert (team member), Timo Steyer (digital humanities support), Torsten Schaßan (manuscript database), Prof. Ulrike Gleixner (contact)