Old School Innovation: Rediscovering Adalbert Stifter

A couple of months ago I decided to publish a second edition of my PhD thesis on Adalbert Stifter – not just a reprint, but an updated version. “Why, for goodness’ sake? Nobody outside a literature seminar was interested in that piece of work the first time around! Why bother? Just write something new!” Well, I might not have gotten these reactions, but I guess a lot of people thought that way. And I can understand them.
Adalbert Stifter was a 19th century Austrian author and quite the innovator when it comes to formal education. He is rather unknown for his modern pedagogic ideas, and, in my opinion, way underappreciated when it comes to his literature. Personally, I never found his novels to be boring, but they can be hard to read – especially if you are used to action-packed thrillers and suspenseful crime novels.

Those outside German philology classes who are even aware of his existence connect him to fat novels with endless descriptions of small details nobody wants to read. And he was fat himself, too! And he lived in the Biedermeier era! So, he had to be boring and conservative, right? In the end, tired and worn out by the same old prejudices, I gave up defending my beloved author and educator.

So why the second edition, then? Well, I’ve decided to make another stand for Stifter’s ideas and his innovative approach to education. And I wanted to do so by publishing a book accessible for everybody, not just academia: When I made my husband read the first chapter he was surprised by the “hidden treasures” (his words, not mine) embedded in Stifter’s modern thinking and their continued relevance: It turns out that not too much has changed in school and education since the 1800s.

What is it that’s so special and modern about Stifter? Besides being an author, he also worked as a school inspector in Upper Austria and found the primary school system rather underdeveloped. The trigger for Stifter was the revolution of 1848 when the need for a constitutional state with equal rights and obligations for everyone became clear to him – along with the urge to contribute to its development. But the growing radicalization of the revolution, apparent in violent street riots, came as a shock and he tried to find answers for the underlying causes. One question was especially important for his pedagogic mindset: In the end, was not the state to blame for having neglected its educational duties towards its people?

To prevent further radicalization, Stifter used his articles in newspapers to plead for an education which prioritizes the development of the mind as well as a responsible handling of freedom that ensures no other human being is exposed to violence and harm. I agree with my husband: I find this premise quite relevant in today’s world, too.

As an inspector, Stifter tried to innovate the school system from within: For the rest of his life he fought for a pedagogic design prioritizing the development of mind and heart as well as a better social standing for disrespected elementary school teachers who often lived below the poverty line. When the ultra-conservative school authorities finally fired him, Stifter couldn’t take the blow: He became depressed and remained prone to ill health until his death in 1868. I hope my revised thesis can help keep his ideas and ideals alive for as long as we still need them.

If you want to take a glimpse at the book – which is available in German only – click here. I’ve chosen tredition, a publisher outside academia which strives to combine the best elements of self-publishing and publishing houses. I’ve found they’re doing a good job in that regard so far: They offer extensive marketing help, really nice and easy-to-use tools for the publishing process and, if you want, a sample copy before the final release – so you can see what your readers will get before it is too late to make any changes.

Additionally, and for me that was the deciding factor, you can self-determine the price for your books. The deal breaker with academic publishing houses are the book prices which more often than not are beyond all good and evil: Nobody outside a seminar where poor students are pressured into buying them by their professors will ever do so. And even then, it is highly unlikely. Plus, with tredition you don’t have to choose between hardcover, paperback or eBook beforehand – your book is automatically sold on-demand in all three versions on Amazon and every other renowned platform, depending on your readers’ preferences. So, if you are planning on publishing a book of and on your own, I recommend to check them out.

In closing, I hope you can share some of my fascination for Stifter’s works and ideas. I wish you many cozy and inspirational hours while reading – treat yourself to a cup of Viennese Melange and a strudel along with it!


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