Matthew Vollgraff


Matthew Vollgraff
Research Associate
The Warburg Institute
Woburn Square
London WC1H 0AB
Tel: +44 (0) 207 862 87 55

Research Project

WIA ZK 41/021866. Photo: The Warburg Institute, London.

Memory and Matter: The Epigenesis of Images in Anthropology and Aesthetics circa 1900

This project takes Aby Warburg’s cross-disciplinary scholarship as the starting point for exploring a systematic tension between psychology and history in Germanic art history, anthropology and psychology around the turn of the nineteenth century. Warburg’s ideas about the migration and the survival of images were suffused by natural-scientific theories of ‘unconscious’ or hereditary memory (theories themselves rooted in earlier traditions of vital materialism and natural philosophy). His unpublished writings and fragments contain telling references to the ‘memory-images’ of nineteenth-century neurophysiology; to pre-Mendelian theories of heredity and biological ‘memory’; and to ethnopsychological treatments of tradition and transmission in non-literate societies. By taking Warburg’s declared philosophical ‘monism’ seriously, this project aims to recover a specifically epigeneticdimension to his thought that exceeds the distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ history in ways that have lost none of their relevance today. More broadly, the project aims to illuminate the complex relationship between memory, images, and human history within the scientific discourse networks of his era. Branching out from Warburg, it pursues these questions further in the work of his teachers Hermann Ebbinghaus and Karl Lamprecht; in intellectual sources such as Ewald Hering, Richard Semon, Ernst Brücke and Georg Hirth; and contemporaries including Emanuel Löwy, Max Verworn, Frederik Adama van Scheltema and Wilhelm Wundt. 


Academic Background

2005–2010      University of California, Berkeley: B.A. in Comparative Literature.

2011–2018      Princeton University: Joint Ph.D., German and Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities.

2014–2016      Guest Doctoral Researcher, Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Berlin.

2016–2018      Research Fellow, Forschungsgruppe Naturbilder/ ‘Images of Nature’, Universität Hamburg.


Edited Volumes

together with Frank Fehrenbach: Ökologien des Ausdrucks / Ecologies of Expression (Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter) [forthcoming in 2019].


“Vegetal Gestures. Cinema and the Knowledge of Life in Weimar Germany”, Grey Room72

(Summer 2018), 68–93.

“Intersecting Lines: Sergei Eisenstein Writes to Ludwig Klages,” Critical Quarterly, Volume 58, Issue 4 (February 2017), 113–122.

“The Archive and the Labyrinth: On the Contemporary Bilderatlas,” October149 (Summer 2014), 143–158.

“Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology” [annotated translation of Hugo Ball, “Carl Schmitts Politische Theologie,” 1924], October146 (Fall 2013), 65–92; and “Afterword: Hugo Ball’s [Political] Theology,” October146 (Fall 2013), 93–96.

Book Chapters

“The Archeology of Expression: Aby Warburg’s Ausdruckskunde,” in: Aby Warburg und die Natur. Epistemik, Ästhetik, Kulturtheorie, ed. Frank Fehrenbach and Cornelia Zumbusch (Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter) [forthcoming in 2019].

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