Classical german philosophy. University of Padova research group

Event: Workshop “W.E.B. Du Bois and classical German thought” (Berlin and Online, 25 November 2023)

We are glad to give notice of the workshop W.E.B. Du Bois and classical German thought, which will take place in Berlin (Humboldt University, Unter den Linden 6, Room 3071) and online, on November 25th, 2023.
For the Zoom link you can register at this link.

The event is organized by Tobias Rosefeldt (Humboldt University).

Below you can find the presentation and the program of the conference.


W.E.B. Du Bois once wrote that “it was in Germany that my first awakening to social reform began”. On several occasions throughout his life, he emphasised the influence of his “Berlin days” from 1892-94 on his subsequent intellectual development. During his Lehrjahre, “in the midst of a Hegelian revival”, at what was then the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin, Du Bois studied political economy with Heinrich von Treitschke, Adolph Wagner and, above all, Gustav Schmoller, who arguably had the greatest influence on him. Indeed, Schmoller influenced not only the methodology of Du Bois’s early ethnographic and sociological studies, but also his approach to the social reform of race relations in the United States. Inspired by Schmoller’s Verein für Sozialpolitik (Association for Social Policy), Du Bois would then go on to transform what was discussed as the ‘soziale Frage’ (social question) in Germany at the time into the ‘negro question’ in America.

In addition to his teachers in Berlin, classical German philosophy also played an important role in Du Bois’s earlier academic training at Harvard, where he studied philosophy with notable American scholars of Hegel (and other classical German thinkers) such as William James, Josiah Royce, and George Santayana. In this intellectual environment, Du Bois claimed to have “found and adopted a philosophy that has served me ever since”. A truly transatlantic thinker, Du Bois embodies the fascinating entanglement of German and African American thought.

The influence of classical German thought on Du Bois has been the subject of lively scholarly debate in the United States. Some scholars trace this influence by identifying themes from Fichte, Schiller, Goethe, Herder, Humboldt, Hegel, Marx and Dilthey in Du Bois’s work. In philosophy, this interpretive approach is epitomised by Kwame Anthony Appiah’s 2014 book Lines of Descent. In this book, Appiah seeks to ‘recover the sense in which Du Bois was a German intellectual’, particularly with regard to his ideas on race and racial identity. His work has been instrumental in bringing Du Bois into the canon of philosophy. However, other scholars such as Adolph Reed Jr. and Tommy J. Curry have resisted this approach. They argue that it suggests that vindicating Du Bois’s ideas requires linking them to the canon of European thought. This amounts to marginalising his embeddedness in the black intellectual tradition and those elements of his thought that cannot be assimilated into the European canon.

Despite his apparent connections to classical German thought, the congeniality of his ideas with those of classical German philosophers, and the debate that both have fuelled on the other side of the Atlantic, Du Bois has received surprisingly little attention in the context of present-day German academic philosophy. To expand our understanding of what we take to be the legacy of classical German thought and foster the exchange between scholars of classical German and African American thought on both sides of the Atlantic, this workshop seeks to examine Du Bois’s connections to classical German philosophers. Moreover, it also seeks to critically discuss the limits of such an approach, and its broader implications for questions of canon formation in philosophy. What better place to host such a discussion than Du Bois’s alma mater, the Humboldt University of Berlin!


10.30 Tobias Rosefeldt (HU Berlin) / Daniel James (TU Dresden) / Franz Knappik (University of Bergen): Introduction

10.45 Rima Hussein (Johns Hopkins): Du Bois and Schiller on the Goal of Civic Education

11.15 Michael Saman (NYU): Questions of Method: Synchronizing and Anachronizing W.E.B. Du Bois

11.45 Discussion

13 Lunch

14.30 Kimberly Ann Harris (University of Virginia): Du Bois on the “Practical and Intriguing” Value of Hegel

15 Andreas-Johann Sorger (LSE): W.E.B Du Bois: A Theorist of Ideology?

15.30 Discussion

16.45 Break

17.15 Panel discussion with Kimberly Ann Harris, Rima Hussein, Daniel James, Anthony Obst (FU), Michael Saman & Andreas-Johann Sorger: Du Bois in Germany

18.15 End

Event: Workshop "W.E.B. Du Bois and classical German thought" (Berlin and Online, 25 November 2023)

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