ANR-FWF - Appel à projets générique 2020 - FWF

Engineering Nationality – Engineering Nationality

Submission summary

This interdisciplinary cooperation project deals with an important, but hitherto neglected chapter at the crossing of technical and cultural history, the rescue campain (1905-1926) of one of the most outstanding buildings of the European Gothic period – the Strasbourg cathedral. It was initiated by Johannes Knauth (1864-1924), the master builder of the cathedral workshop . We seek not only to further a more precise understanding of one of the most complex technical achievements at the beginning of the 20th century, rather neglected by the Strasbourg cathedral historiography, but also aim to reconsider the position of "master builder" in a comparative perspective. This question is closely related to the cultural-scientific significance of cathedral workshops and their master builders – a current topic for which a UNESCO application for recognition as immaterial cultural heritage is currently in progress.
For more than 100 years, this restoration project has been claimed by both the French and German sides as a national achievement. It was not until 2015 that the city of Strasbourg paid tribute to the true author of this achievement, Johann Knauth, thus putting an end to a long ideological dispute. The working hypothesis is that the engineering achievement of the renovation of the cathedral tower foundations cannot be described as an alternation between »French« or »German« techniques – as it has been classified for almost 100 years – but rather that this restauration work has to be considered as an interplay of German and French fields of knowledge. The scientific assessment of the sources will reveal that, beyond nationalist rhetoric, the engineering work was the cumulative result of expertise in the field of reinforced concrete construction and restauration, which was in its kind probably only possible in Strasbourg.
In order to ascribe a more complex meaning to the preservation work done by Knauth, new historical sources documenting the engineering achievement will be considered, the prime element being the extensive "Building site Journal"
By bringing together the new discipline of construction history with methods of cultural history, hidden networks of specialists come to attention, allowing to rewrite an important chapter of European engineering and cultural history.
The interdisciplinary research team will consist of the construction history specialist on reinforced concrete Christiane Weber, hosted at the technical faculty of Architecture at Innsbruck University, and cultural historian Alexandre Kostka from the Strasbourg University. The project will be led in close cooperation with Sabine Bengel, head of the research unit of the Fondation de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame (Strasbourg cathedral workshop), which is planning to prepare an exhibition to be held in 2026 in commemoration of the anniversaries of the completion of the restoration work.

Project coordination

Alexandre Kostka (Sociétés, acteurs, gouvernement en Europe (UMR 7363))

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


SAGE_UNISTRA Sociétés, acteurs, gouvernement en Europe (UMR 7363)

Help of the ANR 231,105 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2020 - 36 Months

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