The expression ‘World Literature’ (Weltliteratur) was coined by Goethe during the 1820’s. Since then, it has given rise to countless reflections on that notion extending to other continents.
As a humanist, even revolutionary, mantra — found in Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto and in the writings of Maxim Gorky—, ‘World Literature’ in the United States quickly became an educational subject primarily intended to emancipate the working classes and open the minds of students attending Colleges to a mix of disciplines. Since the middle of the 20th century, World Literature has become a subject of study at university level, that in the 21st century has been institutionalised and is now studied internationally.
The Bibliotheca Bodmeriana also participates in this political and intellectual history. It represents an important landmark: Martin Bodmer is in fact the only person to have concretely realized his own personal vision of world literature in the form of a collection of books and related objects. Himself the author of works and articles on the subject (for these, see his bibliography), his acquisitions of rare books sought to materialise his own philosophy on world literature. The most recent works within this field, illustrated among others by the reflexions of Pascale Casanova, David Damrosch and Franco Moretti, give a contemporary reality to the extraordinary breadth of Martin Bodmer’s collection.