Sandra Hofert, M.A.


Project title: Didactic Nature in Vernacular. Utilization and Instrumentalization of animals, plants and minerals in Middle High German texts of the High Middle Ages

Dissertation project:

Teaching about nature and with the help of nature are connected very closely: in many mediaeval texts animals, plants and minerals are described and utilized in different ways. Amongst other purposes their characteristics and exegesis are used in particular for moral-didactic purposes. In my dissertation project I study different Middle High German texts from the High Middle Ages, especially from the 13th century, which deal with the relationship between micro- and macrocosms and with the transfer of parts of nature to the human life.

Linked to the analysis of traditions of knowledge, which underlie the texts, and the concepts of nature and humans, that the texts devise, is the question of the strategies, which the different authors use to compose their texts, and of the instrumentalization of parts of nature: How are animals, plants and minerals listed, described and used didactically to exploit the ordo of nature as a regulating system for humans? Which knowledge do they convey and how are they used? Are they used metaphorically or are they part of an aesthetic technique?

These questions arise in different contexts (e.g. sermons or fables) and my text corpus focuses on didaktische Literatur (didactic literature/poetry) – texts which are in terms of content and form very diverse. Since nature is used for a didactic purpose in many texts, both longer and shorter ones, I want to choose examples of both categories and analyse them contrastively: thus I will include an analysis of "Der Welsche Gast" by Thomasin von Zerclaere, "Die Bescheidenheit" by Freidank and "Der Renner" by Hugo von Trimberg on the one hand, and on the other hand I will consider several selected Sangsprüche, which since at least the 12th century have presented themselves as Singen von und über Moral ("Singing from and about moral").

This way, a broad textual base is being provided to ensure the validity and the representativeness of my research. Furthermore, each text’s individual historic background will be included, so the texts will be set in relation to one another as well as to the context of their traditions.

The dissertation project was completed in March 2020 and successfully defended in September 2020.