Cover image for Georg Forster: German Cosmopolitan By Todd Kontje

Georg Forster

German Cosmopolitan

Todd Kontje


$99.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09326-0

$32.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09327-7

Available as an e-book

208 pages
6" × 9"
1 b&w illustration

Max Kade Research Institute: Germans Beyond Europe

Georg Forster

German Cosmopolitan

Todd Kontje

Winner of the 2023 DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in Literature and Cultural Studies

“Todd Kontje’s book is both an excellent starting point and a significant addition to existing scholarship. The image of Forster that emerges is further removed from modern progressive values, but no less fascinating and important.”


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  • Table of Contents
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Watch “PSU Press Presents: Germans Beyond Europe,” a virtual author event hosted by the Press on August 3rd, 2022 with Adam A. Blackler, author of An Imperial Homeland: Forging German Identity in Southwest Africa, Kristin Dickinson, author of DisOrientations: German-Turkish Cultural Contact in Translation, 1811-1946, Todd Kontje, author of Georg Forster: German Cosmopolitan, and Patricia Anne Simpson, author of The Play World: Toys, Texts, and the Transatlantic German Childhood:

Georg Forster (1754–1794) was famous during his lifetime, notorious after his death, and largely forgotten by the later nineteenth century. Remembered today as the young man who sailed around the world with Captain Cook and as one of the leading figures in the revolutionary Republic of Mainz, Forster was also a prolific writer and translator who left behind two travelogues, a series of essays on diverse topics, and numerous letters.

This in-depth look at Forster’s work and life reveals his importance for other writers of the age. Todd Kontje traces the major intellectual themes and challenges found in Forster’s writings, interweaving close textual analysis with his rich but short life. Each chapter engages with themes that reflect the current debates in eighteenth-century literary and cultural studies, including changing notions of authorship, multilingualism, the representation of so-called primitive societies, Enlightenment ideas about race, and early forms of ecological thinking. As Kontje shows, Forster’s peripatetic life, malleable sense of national identity, and fluency in multiple languages contrast with the image of the solitary genius in the “age of Goethe.” In this way, Forster provides a different model of authorship and citizenship better understood in the context of an increasingly globalized world.

Compellingly argued and engagingly written, this book restores Forster to his rightful place within the German literary tradition, and in so doing, it urges us to reconsider the age of Goethe as multilingual and malleable, local and cosmopolitan, dynamic and decentered. It will be welcomed by specialists in German studies and the Enlightenment.

“Todd Kontje’s book is both an excellent starting point and a significant addition to existing scholarship. The image of Forster that emerges is further removed from modern progressive values, but no less fascinating and important.”
“A worthy contribution to the scholarship on Forster.”
“This book is daring, somewhat provocative yet brilliant. It is an elegant volume, well done and with a helpful index. Above all, this is a major contribution to current scholarly debates on race, travel literature, science, and political and philosophical discourses surrounding the French Revolution and the Mainz Republic.”
“Grounding his research in prominent scholarship on Georg Forster, and highlighting moments of a perineal traveler’s contact with an increasingly globalized world, Todd Kontje offers us an inspiring voyage through the late eighteenth-century world of letters and politics with his new book.”
“Kontje’s superb and highly readable study is an achievement that will not be soon repeated.”
“Kontje’s elegantly and accessibly written monograph gathers a host of key debates and concepts to situate Forster in his specific historical context.”
Georg Forster is a well-conceived and important book that comes at a moment of unresolved tension around questions of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, globalization and imperialism, individual identity and group identity, and populism and democracy—questions that were central to Forster’s life and his writings. Written by one of the foremost scholars in German literary approaches to other cultures, it will make an important contribution to the scholarship on Enlightenment travel, thought, and writing.”

Todd Kontje is Distinguished Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of several books, including German Orientalisms; Thomas Mann’s World: Empire, Race, and the Jewish Question; and Imperial Fictions: German Literature Before and Beyond the Nation-State.



1. What Is an Author?

2. A Voyage Round the World

3. Race, History, and German Classicism

4. Views of the Lower Rhine

5. Revolution in Mainz: Liberation or Conquest?

Conclusion: A Different Kind of Classic




Download a PDF sample chapter here: Introduction