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Immanuel Kant – 300

On 22 April 2024, the world celebrated the 300th anniversary of the birth of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant by holding seminars and conferences, as well as organizing conversations about philosophy and enlightenment. Latvia had a special place in Kant’s life because he published his book “Tīrā prāta kritika” and his other most important works in Riga. The first editions of these books are kept in the collection of the National Library of Latvia (NLL), while their translations into Latvian are available in the NLL’s digital resources.


In honour of the 300th anniversary of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, the National Library of Latvia (NLL) is organizing a series of events throughout the year, and in April invited to the first events which focused on various aspects of the history of intellectual thought of the 18th century and the relevance of the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment nowadays.


On April 23, an event “Two Kants: Immanuel Kant and Johann Heinrich Kant between Karaļuči and Kurzeme” was held in the German language with simultaneous interpretation into the Latvian language.


Immanuel Kant’s life and creative work were closely related to Latvia – he published his most important works in Riga. However, there is another important connection – Kant’s younger brother Johann Heinrich Kant (1735–1800) lived and worked in Latvia. The two brothers wrote to each other on a regular basis, and the letters preserved provide an interesting insight not only into Kant’s life, but also into the history of East Prussian and Baltic cultural contacts. Born in Karaļuči and having completed his theological studies, Johann Heinrich Kant went to Kurzeme where he initially worked as a teacher, married a local woman and later became a pastor of Vecsaules (Altrahden) church. His life and work are also related to Jelgava and Academia Petrina.


The German historian Manfred von Boetticher, who is known in Latvia as a former visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Latvia and a researcher of the history of German-Baltic culture, talked about the materials related to this teacher and theologian that are stored in the archives and why it was worth remembering him today.


Manfred von Boetticher’s lecture was followed by an academic discussion led by Raivis Bičevskis, Professor at the University of Latvia.


On April 24, there was a discussion “The Publisher’s Golden Section: Books and Readers from the 18th to the 21st Century”.


Immanuel Kant published his most important works in Latvia. “Tīrā prāta kritika” (1781, 1787), “Praktiskā prāta kritika” (1788), “Tikumu metafizikas pamatojums” (1785) and a number of other books written by Kant were published by Johann Friedrich Hartknoch’s printing house in Riga. Kant’s “Spriestpējas kritika” (1790) was published by Johann Daniel Friedrich and François Thédodor de Lagarde in Liepāja.


What were the reasons that made Kant to choose publishing his books in Riga and Liepāja? Why were the publishers of Vidzeme and Kurzeme opinion leaders and cultural missionaries in the 18th century? What are the values ​​that unite the Age of Enlightenment and nowadays in book publishing?


During the event, Andris Vilks, Director of the NLL, presented the work of the publisher Hartknoch and the world of books from the Age of Enlightenment. Dagnija Baltiņa, Director of the Special Collections Department of the NLL, lead a discussion with Gvido Straube, Professor at the University of Latvia, and Aija Taimiņa, leading researcher of the Academic Library of the University of Latvia, discussing the intellectual landscape of Riga in the 18th century. Besides, Aija Taimiņa provided an insight into newly discovered facts about the location of the Hartknoch publishing house in Old Riga.


Conversation was continued by Laima Slava (publishing house “Neputns”) and Ingrīda Segliņa (publishing house “Zinātne”). They shared their impressions about the relationship between the publisher and the public, intuition, ambitions and quality standards in the publisher’s work, as well as about the role of publishers as the invisible cultural producers. The NLL already started to illuminate this aspect during the conference “Publishing and the Nation” organized last December, which was dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the publisher Ansis Gulbis.


Participants of the event enjoyed the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his student Johann Gottfried Müthel from Riga, performed by the pianist Vladimirs Tarasovs, as the sounds of Hartknoch’s period intertwined with modern jazz interpretations


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