Lionel Gossman

M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Emeritus
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C-GL-1 Firestone Library


Born in Scotland, educated at Glasgow (M.A.Hons. in French and German), Paris (Diplôme d’études supérieures, with a thesis, directed by Jean Frappier, on “L’Idée de l’Age d’Or dans Le Roman de la Rose”), and Oxford (D.Phil. dissertation on medieval studies in the eighteenth century, directed by Jean Seznec), Gossman came to the U.S in 1958 as Assistant Professor of French in the Department of Romance Languages at Johns Hopkins. He rose through the ranks, becoming Professor in 1966 and Chair in 1975. It was a time of great intellectual ferment at Hopkins and Gossman was fortunate to have as colleagues and friends in those years Jacques Derrida, René Girard, Lucien Goldmann, Jean-François Lyotard, Louis Marin, and Michel Serres.

His first book, Men and Masks: A Study of Molière (1963), was written under the influence of Girard. With his second, Medievalism and the Ideologies of the Enlightenment: The World and Work of La Curne de Sainte-Palaye (1968), a revision of his D.Phil. thesis, he reverted to the more scholarly approach of his mentors, Frappier and Seznec, as well as to an earlier interest in the history, theory, and practice of historiography. In 1976, at the urging of his friend, the medievalist Karl D. Uitti, Gossman came to Princeton. As at Hopkins, he regularly taught seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature. He also continued to offer graduate and undergraduate courses on the writing of history and published several books on the topic: Augustin Thierry and Liberal Historiography (1976), The Empire Unpossess'd: An Essay on Gibbon's Decline and Fall (1981, reissued 2009), Orpheus Philologus: Bachofen versus Mommsen on the Study of Antiquity (1983), Toward a Rational Historiography (1989), Between History and Literature (1990). An undergraduate seminar co-taught in the European Cultural Studies Program with historian Carl Schorske resulted in Basel in the Age of Burckhardt (2000; German transl. 2006), which was awarded the American Historical Association’s George L. Mosse prize.

Since retirement in 1999, Gossman has resumed his undergraduate studies of German culture. He has written on various aspects of nineteenth-century German art and cultural politics, notably two substantial articles and a short book on the Nazarene painters of the early nineteenth century. A book on the cultural background of National Socialism (Brownshirt Princess: A Study of the “Nazi Conscience”) appeared in 2009 and a translation and edition of a 1929 memoir by Hermynia Zur Mühlen, an Austrian countess who became a writer of socialist-inspired novels and children’s fairytales and a bitter foe of the National Socialsts, was published in 2010 (The End and the Beginning. The Book of my Life). In addition, Gossman has maintained his interest in historiography. Figuring History, a study of the illustration of history books, appeared at the end of 2011.

At Princeton, Gossman was DGS, Departmental Representative, and from 1991 to 1996 Department Chair. He also served on the editorial boards of the Johns Hopkins University Press, the Princeton University Press, and several scholarly journals, as well as on various committees of the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and, since 1997, the American Philosophical Society, to membership of which he was elected in 1996. In 1990 he was a recipient of the Howard T. Berhman Award for distinguished service in the humanities; in 1991 he was made an Officier in the order of the Palmes Académiques; and in 2005 he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities from Princeton University.

Gossman has just completed a study of Baron Max von Oppenheim. a half-Jewish German banker’s son and well respected amateur archaeologist and ethnographer, who proposed the fomenting of jihad among the Muslim subjects of the British, the French, and the Russians in the First World War as part of German war strategy and who advised the Hitler regime on policy in the Muslim world in the Second World War. Finally, Gossman has been working for a number of years on Heinrich Vogeler, a successful turn-of-the-century German artist-illustrator and friend of the poet Rilke. Vogeler was transformed by the experience of the First World War from a dandy and aesthete into a left-wing anarchist and finally a committed Communist. He emigrated to the Soviet Union in the early 1930s and died there in 1942. Gossman is interested in Vogeler’s dogged, ultimately unsuccessful search for an artistic form appropriate to his changed convictions and worldview.


Brownshirt Princess: A Study of the "Nazi Conscience"
The End and the Beginning: The Book of My Life
Andre Maurois (1885-1967): Fortunes and Misfortunes of a Moderate 
The Passion of Max von Oppenheim: Archaeology and Intrigue in the Middle East from Wilhelm II to Hitler
Thomas Annan of Glasgow: Pioneer of the Documentary Photograph