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The Hannah Arendt Research Group at Vanderbilt University

ArendtHannah Arendt (1906-1975) is one of the major political thinkers of the twentieth century. She is well-known for her books The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, and Eichmann in Jerusalem, as well as for her various collections of essays. In spite of her lasting prominence in both academic and public debate, she is one of the few thinkers of her generation whose writings have never been published as a critical edition.

In order to rectify this situation and provide Arendt’s readers with a reliable textual foundation for the study of her thought, a group of international scholars led by Dr. Barbara Hahn (Vanderbilt University), Dr. Hermann Kappelhoff (Freie Universität Berlin), Dr. Patchen Markell (University of Chicago), Dr. Ingeborg Nordmann (independent), and Dr. Thomas Wild (Bard College), have begun preparing an edition of Arendt’s Complete Works to a rigorous philological standard.

Not only will this edition be the first critical preparation of the entirety of Arendt's published and unpublished writings. In at least two further respects the edition will be unprecedented. Arendt wrote in both English and German, frequently translating her own books and essays from one language into the other with considerable reworking and revision. The Complete Works preserves the bilingual character of Arendt’s oeuvre, presenting the text of each version of her work in the language in which Arendt originally wrote it.

In addition to its comprehensiveness and linguistic fidelity, the Complete Works is also unprecedented in terms of its presentational technology. The edition consists of two components: a physical version that prints annotated versions of her edited writings, and a digital version that makes these writings available in a variety of formats: as facsimiles, diplomatic transcriptions, and constituted texts. The edition as a whole will encompass seventeen bound volumes, as well as a dedicated online presence hosted by the Freie Universität Berlin.

manuscript Two of Vanderbilt University’s faculty in the Department of German, Russian and East European Studies are involved in this project: Dr. Barbara Hahn and Dr. James McFarland. Together with Dr. Ingeborg Nordmann, and with the help of colleagues in Berlin and Nashville, they have been actively editing the initial volume of the edition. This volume presents under the title The Modern Challenge to Tradition the remains of a book Arendt planned and worked on in the early 1950s, but which she eventually abandoned. Dr. Hanno Berger (PhD in Film Studies, FU Berlin) is assisting Dr. Hahn and Dr. McFarland.

In addition to Dr. Berger, Vanderbilt’s generosity has allowed the German Department to support several additional scholars involved in other aspects of the Collected Works. Dr. Wout Cornelissen (PhD in Philosophy, Leiden University) joined the department in the fall 2016, and is editing Arendt's final, unfinished book, The Life of the Mind, published posthumously by her close friend Mary McCarthy. Dr. Vera Kallenberg (PhD in History, TU Darmstadt / EHESS Paris) and Dr. Christian Pischel (PhD in Film Studies, FU Berlin) are preparing The Origins of Totalitarianism / Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft, Arendt's classic study of totalitarian rule.

In fall semester 2017, the Hannah Arendt Research Group is organizing various activities:


The Modern Challenge to Tradition: Fragment eines Buchs is the first volume of the edition to be published. It will be officially presented to an international audience of renowned experts from various disciplines at a conference hosted by Vanderbilt University on November 2-4, 2017. 

Graduate Seminars

Barbara Hahn is teaching a graduate seminar in German Studies on the archival condition of The Modern Challenge to Tradition and the theoretical and practical implications of their philological preparation (GER 8205: Seminar: Intellectual Constellations – Archive, Author, Work)

Wout Cornelissen is teaching a graduate seminar in Political Science on Hannah Arendt's later political thought, focusing on The Life of the Mind, Vol. I: Thinking, Crises of the Republic, and related writings by Arendt and by other thinkers (PSCI 8370-05: Topics in Political Science: Hannah Arendt: Political Thinking)


Christian Pischel and Vera Kallenberg have organized a workshop on the relevance of Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism to our contemporary situation. The workshop is meant for Vanderbilt faculty and graduate students, and will take place on October 20-21.