Peter Schneck (Osnabrück/Bonn): The Hermeneutics of Property: Francis Lieber on Copyright, Labor and Textual Interpretation


Franz ‘Francis’ Lieber (1798-1872) was born in Berlin and went on to become a student of Schleiermacher and Niebuhr, fight against Napoleon, and be jailed for his connections to the nationalist Jahn-Movement. He subsequently emigrated to the United States where he raised to prominence as a leading scholar of political philosophy, law and social reform. He was likewise known for being a counselor to Abraham Lincoln and the first Chair of Political Science at Columbia University, New York.

Lieber’s life and work present an intriguing and – unfortunately – thoroughly understudied presence in the 19th century transatlantic cultural history of law and literature. Given his prolific production as a political thinker and public figure, his individual contributions must be seen within the context of his general system of political authority, civic responsibility and individual freedom.

Thus, Lieber’s Letter on International Copyright (1840) obviously marked an important contribution to the debate on intellectual property in 19th century U.S. American law and literature. While the arguments Lieber brought forward, which favored authors’ natural rights and international copyright protection, were broadly discussed both at home and abroad during his time – and while his Letter also has regained recognition as a central text within the larger debate in more recent scholarship – the significant relation between Lieber’s copyright treatise and his other important writings has received only little attention, if at all. 

A closer look at Lieber’s conceptualization of literary property, particular within the context of his work on legal and political hermeneutics (1839) and his essays on labor and property (1841), reveals how his ideas on property, labor and (legal) interpretation converge in a systematic way and make literary property a model case for modern proprietary relations and property rights overall.

Thus, Professor Schneck’s lecture will combine two subjects cherished by the Center: On the one hand, the open and hidden affinities between law and literature, and, on the other, the contribution of legal forms, like property, to an emerging capitalist economy.

Curriculum Vitae

Professor Dr. Peter Schneck studierte Nordamerikanistik und Kommunikationswissenschaften am John F. Kennedy-Institut der Freien Universität Berlin, wo er 1996 mit einer Arbeit über den Realismus in der amerikanischen Literatur und Malerei promoviert wurde. Von 1997 bis 2004 war Peter Schneck als Hochschulassistent am Lehrstuhl für amerikanische Literaturgeschichte des Amerika-Instituts der Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität München tätig. Nach erfolgreichem Abschluss seiner Habilitation zur Darstellung und Verhandlung von Recht und Rechtsprozessen in der amerikanischen Literatur und Kultur, arbeitete er zunächst als Associate Professor an der LMU München, bevor er 2007 den Lehrstuhl für amerikanische Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaften der Universität Osnabrück übernahm. Verschiedene Forschungsstipendien, Fellowships und Lehraufträge führten Peter Schneck ins Ausland, unter anderem an die University of California at Irvine, die Venice International University, die University of Nottingham, die University of Turin sowie an das Smithsonian Institut in Washington D.C. Seine Forschungsschwerpunkte sind die U.S.-amerikanische Literatur- und Kulturgeschichte mit einem Schwerpunkt auf dem 19. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart, Recht und Literatur, vor allem zur Rhetorik und Repräsentation von Eigentum und Besitz in der US-amerikanischen Kultur, sowie allgemein Fragen zum Verhältnis von Kognition, Poetik und Ästhetik in der Literatur.

Seit Oktober 2018 ist Professor Dr. Peter Schneck Fellow am Käte Hamburger Kolleg „Recht als Kultur“.