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Home » Research and publications » Scholarly collaboration before the digital age: Pieter Jacob Cosijn, Johannes Franck and the first etymological dictionary of the Dutch language

Scholarly collaboration before the digital age: Pieter Jacob Cosijn, Johannes Franck and the first etymological dictionary of the Dutch language

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Starting in February 2019, Peter Alexander Kerkhof (Leiden University) and I will be leading a project on the correspondence of Anglo-Saxonist Pieter Jacob Cosijn and etymologist Johannes Franck. The project will employ two student research trainees for the duration of seven months. The project is funded by the Research Traineeship Programme of the Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University.

In this age of GoogleDocs and social media, it is hard to imagine how scholars collaborated before the Internet. This project will shed light on how two pioneering nineteenth-century scholars exchanged ideas through handwritten letters. It aims to reconstruct how this correspondence contributed to the publication of a landmark in Dutch lexicography and historical linguistics: Johannes Franck’s Etymologisch Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (1884-1892), the first etymological dictionary of Dutch on Neogrammarian principles.

Johannes Franck (1854-1914), “privaatdozent” at the University of Bonn, corresponded with various colleagues in the Netherlands, including Pieter Jacob Cosijn (1840-1899), Leiden’s first professor of Old Germanic and Anglo-Saxon. In 1883, Cosijn convinced the publisher Nijhoff to hire Franck to write an etymological dictionary of Dutch. In subsequent years, Franck and Cosijn corresponded about the etymologies of various Dutch words. Their correspondence (73 letters in the Leiden University Library, over the period 1879-1893) provides a unique insight into how these scholars worked and lived: Cosijn and Franck not only bounced off etymological hypotheses, but also shared much about their private lives, including their concerns over antisemitism in nineteenth-century Germany.

This project aims to reconstruct how this exchange of letters may have influenced Franck’s etymological ideas. As it turns out, Cosijn often disagreed with Franck and his alternative suggestions often ended up in Franck’s published dictionary. A reconstruction of this collaboration is important for at least two reasons. First of all, the correspondence may shed some light on the accusation by some reviewers of Franck’s etymological dictionary that its author had merely translated Friedrich Kluge’s Etymologisches Wörterbuch (1883). Secondly, these letters demonstrate the role played by scholarly correspondence in the acquisition, development and exchange of knowledge in the nineteenth century.

You can read our full proposal here.

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