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 studied North-American and Media Studies at the John F. Kennedy Institute, Free University Berlin, where he received his doctorate for a thesis on cultural perception and imagination in American realist painting and literature in 1996. From 1997 to 2004, Peter Schneck had been Assistant Professor at the American Institute, Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich. After the successfull completion of his habilitation on the topic "Rhetoric and Evidence: Legal Conflict and Literary Representation in American Culture“, he worked first as a Associate Professor at LMU Munich, before accepting a chair position for American Studies at Osnabrück University in 2007. Various scholarships, fellowships and teaching assignments took Peter Schneck abroad, among others to the University of California at Irvine, the Venice International University, the University of Nottingham, the University of Turin and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D. C.

His research interets are the history of the U.S-American culture and literature with a special focus on the 19th century to the present, law and literature, especially rhetoric and representation of property and ownership in U. S. American-culture, as well as general questions on the relationship between cognition, poetics, and aesthetics in literature.

Since October 2018 Professor Dr. Peter Schneck is Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center „Law as Culture“.