Ferdinand Tönnies‘s (1855–1936) correspondence provides an important window into the establishment and formation of sociology as an independent discipline, as well as the transnational and trans-disciplinary context in which scholars communicated about the developing field. It also reveals the significance that epistolary exchange continued to have on academic networking and knowledge formation well into the 20th century. This suggests the crucial influence of epistolary styles and conventions on both epistemic and social norms, and on the guiding principles of the emergent discipline.
Research into this originary context, however, faces a key obstacle: Tönniesʼs letters are scattered worldwide and mostly written in Kurrentschrift, a difficult-to-read form of german cursive. This project aims to facilitate research into these letters by building an online edition of all non-family letters belonging to Tönnies. Over 1,700 letters are to be collected, digitized, transcribed, edited, equipped with analytical tools, and presented in a freely accessible format on a forward-looking internet platform. By forward-looking, we mean that new findings and research results will be able to be imported into this edition in the future.
Lastly, the competencies gained in this process and the analytical tools furnished should enable research into the overlooked epistemic-epistolary context mentioned above using the various tools developed: What is the link between the way these letters were written, the shape of this social network and the structure of sociological knowledge? This interpretive work will additionally serve to test and improve the electronic edition.
Four institutions are working together to realize this project: 1) the Kulturwissenschaftliche Institut Essen (KWI), which will conduct the editorial and research work; 2) the Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesbibliothek (SHLB) in Kiel, which holds the Tönnies-Papers; 3) the Trier Center for Digital Humanities (TCDH) of the Universität Trier, which will provide the project’s IT and supervision; 4) the Kommunikations-, Informations-, Medienzentrum (KIM) of the university of Konstanz, which will provide, on the one hand, the server infrastructure and, on the other hand, will, with the Sozialwissenschaftliche Archive Konstanz (SAK), assist with editorial work. After the project is completed the KIM will guarantee the continuing availability of the edition in its technology and its content.