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The Rise Of Cultural Context

This "Counter-Enlightenment" was associated with a further expansion in the meaning of the term "context," increasingly concerned not only with local circumstances but also with the "historical context" of an entire culture, society, or age. A famous example is Madame de Staël's essay De la littérature considerée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales (1800; The influence of literature upon society). Within the German tradition of hermeneutics, the classical scholar Friedrich Ast distinguished in 1808 between the literal or grammatical level of interpretation, the historical level (concerned with meaning), and the cultural level, concerned with grasping the "spirit" (Geist) of antiquity or other periods.

Karl Marx was a contextualist in another sense, concerned to locate consciousness and its expressions within "life," especially social life. Marxists and non-Marxists alike were increasingly concerned with Zusammenhang, the connection between the parts and the whole.

Material context was also taken more seriously in the early nineteenth century than before. In archaeology, the increasing concern with stratigraphy in the early nineteenth century implied a concern with context or location. Antoine Quatremère de Quincy denounced the looting of Italian works of art by Napoleon, Lord Elgin, and others on the grounds that this uprooting or déplacement deprived the objects of their cultural value. Later in the century, the German anthropologist Franz Boas caused a sensation in museum circles by arguing that artifacts should be arranged by "culture area" rather than evolutionary sequence because an object could not be understood "outside of its surroundings."

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to CoshContext - Texts In Context, The Rise Of Cultural Context, The Discovery Of Situation, The Contextual Turn