SAECULUM. Jahrbuch für Universalgeschichte

Volume 71 (2021), number 1

Cover SAECULUM 2021/1


Roderich Ptak: Wegbereiter für Macau: Der Kreis Xiangshan, seine mutmaßliche Entwicklung und allmähliche Einbettung in den Seehandel (ca. 1000–1500)
“Western” scholars paid much attention to the history of early Luso-Chinese contacts and interpreted Macau as a multicultural settlement, believing that its economic rise largely depended on foreign trade. The present article looks at Xiangshan 香山 District (today Zhuhai 珠海 / Zhongshan 中山), i.e. Macau’s hinterland. This includes the Macau peninsula and several small islands in the area. It outlines the spatial and demographic changes in that region and shows how these changes promoted economic and cultural transformation on the local level in the period c. 1000–1500. It also argues that geographical factors favored Xiangshan’s multiethnic setting and its growing involvement in maritime matters. In short, Xiangshan paved the way for the rise of Macau; it functioned like a precursor of that port.

Hole Rößler: Maritime Schöpferkraft. Ein Beitrag zur Ideen- und Kunstgeschichte des Meeres
Due to its sheer vastness and depth, the sea remained largely spared from the progressive “disenchantment of the world” for a long time. It remained a source and habitat of wonders, monsters and monstrosities for a tireless imagination right up to the modern age. Before they were dismissed as the invention of poets, newsmen and showmen or as the result of the overwrought psyche of seafarers, scholars since antiquity have tried to explain their origin in the sea and its properties. Because they also tried to grasp the underlying principles of the emergence of the new, their theories of maritime creative power always also described processes of human imagination and creativity. This paper explores these connections between oceanography and artistic originality, with a particular focus on the early modern period.

Hans-Uwe Lammel: Westeuropäische Wahrnehmung von und Vorstellungen über Seuchen in Osteuropa, dem Osmanischen Reich und dem Nahen Osten, 1650 bis 1800
Events related to the historical plague in the eighteenth century have tended to be viewed from the standpoint of success. Western Europe declared victory over the threat of an epidemic that had bedeviled them since the mid-fourteenth century. Contemporaries understood the end of the illness’s spread in Western European territories to mean that the pestilence had retreated to the East, which explained its presence in Russia and Poland. At the same time, there was a shift in relations with the Ottoman Empire, where the challenge of dealing with the epidemic remained. With the effective cessation of military conflicts, both sides began to express greater interest in the exchange of goods, knowledge and luxury items and in building a deeper appreciation and understanding of differences between their distinct cultures and religions. While the Russian tsarina Catherine II experienced the “plague” primarily as a result of warfare with the Ottomans and sought to counter it in the European fashion (quarantine, inclusion and exclusions), Western European travelers took a different view of the Ottoman and Levantine handling of the “plague.” In those lands they traversed and traveled, they witnessed an approach to the epidemic that differed from the Western European methods with which they were familiar. This was not limited to the strikingly different concrete measures to prevent and control the spread of disease, but included alternate interpretations of these experiences against the backdrop of the cultural and religious assumptions held by the diverse populace. The observation and appreciation of these differences in their travelogues further contributed to the constitution of a Western European self. The perceived geographical shift of the epidemic and its effects, including the potential for conflict, to Europe’s margins, which continued to be sites of both exchange and exclusion, and a newly emerged, distinctively Western European perspective on the threat of an epidemic that continued to exist beyond those margins effected a sort of deprovincializing of Europe, contributing conceptually to the imagination of a space that was self-contained and purged of an epidemic that had been brought firmly under control.

Andreas Bähr: Der Name der Unsterblichkeit. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz und Athanasius Kircher
This essay analyzes the various meanings and functions of Athanasius Kircher’s Christian name in seventeenth-century representations of his religious and scientific persona. While the young Leibniz – like other admirers – considered the given name’s etymology as a good omen which promised Kircher’s immortality in the Republic of Letters, in Kircher’s own eyes his name committed him to the heritage of the late antique church father Athanasius of Alexandria. At the same time Kircher was aware of the given name’s interpretation offered by Leibniz: both his autobiography and his learned oeuvre proclaim to have realized what his name had predicted and demanded. The article examines the practices and strategies of Kircher’s immortalization and self-immortalization, relating them to early modern concepts and theories of proper names. It tackles this issue until the time when Leibniz began to revoke his prognosis of Kircher’s athanasia, i.e., until it became apparent that he, too, had the makings of a polymath.

Bernd Herrmann: Die Entdeckung der Umwelt. Jakob von Uexkülls Zentralbegriff organismischer Existenz und Weltwahrnehmung
The discovery of the “environment” by Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944) was a decisive contribution to the foundation of today’s view of nature as a whole and as a natural ecosystem, as well as of its inner relationships. With the construct “environment,” the discoverer described not only a spatial concept, but also the subjective world experience of every animal organism. This idea proved to be extremely fruitful for biology, albeit in a rather reduced modification. Biologists who continued to have profound humanistic-philosophical knowledge until the 20s and the 30s of the 20th century, no longer accepted Uexküll’s model due to its metaphysical substructure. Primarily because biologists left behind the philosophical and ideological ideas about the phenomenon “life,” biology became a materialistic and explanatory discipline. Uexküll’s idea did not impede a mechanistic-materialistic conception of biology. Even professional philosophers did not refer to him, only the trained biologist Helmuth Plessner could perhaps serve as a notable counterexample. Some, such as Hans Blumenberg, did not understand Uexküll and expressed themselves disparagingly, some, such as Edmund Husserl, reinvented and modified the wheel. Uexküll’s concept of the environment was most dramatically reinterpreted by life scientists who reduced his complex theoretical explanations to measurable parameters, hereby establishing the singular term “environment” as a synonym for “nature.” Since then, it has been used unreflectively, without taking its homonymy into account. Today, it mostly means “environment” or “milieu.” In opposition to Uexküll’s intentions, it is no longer defined as individual experience and perception of the world by a sensually gifted organism. Uexküll had previously followed Aristotle’s notion of aistheton (the perceptible), which implied that everything perceptible could be explained by principles of perception, to which a perceptual content (aisthema) was assigned.