Carnegie Mellon University
October 08, 2012

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon's School of Drama Receives NEH Grant To Support Translation Work on Lessing's "Hamburg Dramaturgy"

Contact: Pam Wigley / 412-268-1047 /
Dennis Schebetta / 412-268-2068 /

PITTSBURGH-The translation of a centuries-old German text still relevant today to theater artists has earned Carnegie Mellon University's College of Fine Arts its first National Endowment for the Humanities grant.

Wendy Arons, an associate professor of Dramatic Literature in Carnegie Mellon's School of Drama, who also serves as option coordinator of the Dramaturgy Program, and her collaborators - Natalya Baldyga of Tufts University, Michael Chemers of the University of California at Santa Cruz and independent scholar Sara Figal - have received a $289,697 grant from the National Endowments for the Humanities (NEH) Scholarly Editions & Translations Program. The grant will support work on the first complete translation from German into English of G. E. Lessing's "Hamburg Dramaturgy." It marks the first time the School of Drama has received an NEH grant, and Arons noted that the proposal was one of a select few awarded the full amount requested.

"It's unusual for the NEH to support drama and theater projects, and it funds only a handful of translations every year," she said. "But the NEH has clearly recognized the importance of this text for both the humanities and the arts. Moreover, we believe the fact that our project featured the added component of digital publishing combined with traditional printing helped to make our proposal more attractive."

The "Hamburg Dramaturgy" is a collection of 101 short essays published serially from 1767-1769 as critical commentary on productions staged at the short-lived Hamburg National Theater in Hamburg, Germany. It represents one of the first sustained critical engagements with the potential of theater as a vehicle for the advancement of cultural ideals, Arons said. The only existing English translation of Lessing's text was first published in 1890, but it omits more than 30 percent of the original material. As a result, the full scope of Lessing's project has been unavailable to English-speaking readers. Arons and her team of collaborators aim to rectify this gap in the theater historical and humanities record.

Each will play a different role in the project. Arons and Figal, both scholars of 18th century German literature and history, will translate the nearly 600-page text; Baldyga and Chemers, both theater historians, will provide contextualizing annotations and bibliography; and Arons, Baldyga and Chemers will each write an introductory essay to the volume, helping to situate Lessing's project in its historical and intellectual context. They will publish the essays digitally as they are completed during the three-year grant term, in much the same way Lessing completed his work. To do this, the team will use an innovative publishing model to bring the work into the 21st century.

"We imagine that if Lessing were alive today, he'd have a blog," notes Arons, the author of her own arts and culture blog (The Pittsburgh Tatler). "Not only did he publish his essays serially, but he also was a firm believer in the value of discourse and feedback. He would have liked the way that web publishing allows authors to engage with, receive criticism from, and respond to their readers. We've decided to open up our own process to the kind of free dialogue and critique that was the cornerstone of Lessing's own critical attitude and approach by publishing our translations online as we finalize them and inviting interested students, teachers, and scholars from a variety of disciplines to comment, criticize, offer suggestions, and engage us in debate and conversation around our translation choices and the meaning of the work at all levels."

The translation began appearing online in late September at, a site committed to the promotion of open academic peer review. The print edition of the fully annotated translation will be published by Routledge Press.