International Brecht Society (IBS)

       

                                                  



A Brief History of the International Brecht Society 1970-2016

By Marc Silberman

The origins of the International Brecht Society go back to the late 1960s when a group of young Germanists in North America organized for two years consecutively well-attended seminar sessions on Bertolt Brecht at the annual conference of the Modern Language Association, a professional organization that represents the interests of all language and literature scholars and teachers in North American institutions of higher learning (www.mla.org). The momentum and energy gathered at these seminars (“Brecht Research,” organized by John Fuegi and Reinhold Grimm in 1969, and “Brecht’s Prose from the Beginnings to 1928,” organized by Gisela Bahr in 1970) led to the first Brecht Congress in Milwaukee (Wisconsin), organized by John Fuegi with support from Reinhold Grimm and Jost Hermand. A highpoint of the gathering was a staging by Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller of Eric Bentley's translation of Die Maßnahme (The Measures Taken) by the Milwaukee Theater X, including the original music by Hanns Eisler. The IBS may be said to be an offshoot of the MLA because these activities led to the establishment of the IBS as a organization. After extensive discussions among the participants of the first two seminars and the Congress, Reinhold Grimm and John Fuegi drafted a set of bylaws for the society. These provisional bylaws were published in the first issue of what became the organization’s newsletter: Communications from the International Brecht Society (December 1971), and were discussed and passed by both members and prospective members. The membership amended the bylaws by a vote on 30 April 1977 and again on 9 March 1985; the bylaws language was updated on 19 May 2010 at an IBS business meeting during the 13th IBS Symposium in Honolulu. On 1 July 1980 the IBS was incorporated as a non-profit, educational organization in the State of Maryland.  In 1989-90 its federal non-profit status was extended to tax-exempt status as well.  The history of the IBS, which is now over forty years old, is closely related to the Modern Language Association in that the Society’s members have continuously sponsored scholarly sessions and business meetings at the annual conferences and was recognized as an official MLA affiliate organization in 1978, with that status being reviewed and renewed every seven years since 1999.

See list of IBS sessions at the MLA and other organizations’ conferences.

 

As stated in its bylaws (Article II: Objectives), the IBS aims “to encourage the international study of all aspects of Bertolt Brecht’s life and work and (modeling itself on Brecht’s own plans for a Diderot-Gesellschaft) the inter-disciplinary study of the interrelationship of the modern arts and society at large. To these ends the IBS will encourage scholars and scholarship of every political persuasion and without regard to national and traditional boundaries of purely literary or aesthetic study. The IBS will also endeavor to consistently encourage people working in the arts, particularly theater performance.” Brecht formulated his ideas for a Diderot Society in 1937, envisioning a network of corresponding members who would systematically collect and organize the exchange of reports by working artists and intellectuals. The international exchange of scholarly and experimental work across aesthetic and political boundaries remains the goal of the IBS, striving to maintain an open network of communication and to create opportunities for exchanging ideas through publications and regular meetings and conferences.

See the IBS Constitution.

 

From its outset the IBS produced two different publications with contributions solicited internationally from scholars and theater people at all stages of their careers. Communications from the International Brecht Society (edited by Gisela Bahr from 1971-77) was originally conceived as a newsletter “for the exchange of ideas and information pertinent to [the IBS members’] ‘common cause.’” The mimeographed brochure of a few pages generally appeared three times a year, but this rhythm was not always maintained.  It expanded to a journal format in 1982 under the editorship of Marc Silberman who also reduced the publication schedule to two issues per year; since then it has featured, besides IBS news and reports, short essays, performance reviews, and bibliographical information. In 2000 the publishing schedule shifted from biannual (with an average of 80 pages) to annual (with over 100 pages). The last print issue appeared was vol. 43/44 (2014-2015).  In 2016 Communications became an online blog: https://e-cibs.org/

 

The IBS’s second publication, Brecht Yearbook, is devoted to the results of scholarly research. The Yearbook was titled Brecht heute / Brecht Today from 1971-73, then Brecht-Jahrbuch from 1974-80, and thereafter The Brecht Yearbook / Das Brecht-Jahrbuch with individual volume titles. The fact that it was published in Germany and (mostly) in German during its first 10 years gave rise to criticism and complaint among IBS members who were either not academics or not proficient in German, especially from non-German theater practitioners. When Suhrkamp Verlag in Frankfurt am Main cancelled the publication after 1980, John Fuegi shifted the production to Wayne State University Press in Michigan under a new editorial board and with a commitment to publish in German and English as well as Spanish and French. During the 1980s the widespread interest in Brecht’s writings that had launched the IBS was diminishing, and despite a generational shift in leadership this affected the numerical strength of the society and the frequency of its publications. The Yearbook no longer appeared annually, so that libraries and institutional subscribers began to cancel. When the publisher demanded a very large publication subsidy in 1987, the IBS shifted to independent desktop publishing with vol. 14 (1989), and until 2014 the Brecht Yearbook continued to appear annually, distributed by the University of Wisconsin Press. In 2016 production shifted to Camden House Publishing with vol. 40 (www.camden-house.com/default_camden.asp).

See the digital Brecht Yearbook, currently vols. 1-35 (1971-2010) are freely accessible:

https://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/German/BrechtYearbook/.

The entire run of print issues of Communications from the IBS from 1971 until 2014 is also freely accessible:

https://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/german/brechtcomm/

 

The IBS has been at the forefront of Internet communications. Its website was launched in 1997 to supplement Communications and has developed into the largest and most informative portal on Bertolt Brecht, most recently adding an IBS Facebook page as well:

https://www.facebook.com/brechtsociety

The IBS also supports an online bibliography of Brecht’s works in English translation:

https://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/BrechtGuide/.

 

The IBS is committed to sponsoring major international symposia that bring together scholars and performing artists from all over the world; between 1970 and 2016 it has organized fifteen such conferences in Germany, Canada, the USA, and Hong Kong.

See list of IBS congresses and symposia.

 

Finally, the IBS maintains contact with other organizations that focus on Brecht’s work, including the Bertolt Brecht Archive in Berlin and the Stadt- und Staatsbibliothek Augsburg.

 

While the following numbers may not be exactly correct, they reflect the general trends in membership over the past four decades:

 

Year                 Individual        Institutional    Total

1972                124                                          124

1973                142                                          142

1974                153                                          153

1975                167                                          167

1976                178                                          178

1977                188                                          188

  ...

1980                234                                          234

  ...

1982                286                                          235

  ...

1997                112                  96                    208

1998                165                  87                    252

1999                101                  77                    178

2000                107                  89                    196

2001                100                  83                    183

2002                97                    90                    187

2003                133                  84                    217

2004                98                    88                    186

2005                90                    79                    169

2006                109                  75                    184

2007                53                    72                    170

2008                76                    84                    160

2009                84                    86                    170

2010                40                    100                  140

2011                60                    110                  170

2012                105                  115                  220

2013                90                    110                  200

2014                100                  110                  210

2015                99                    101                  200

2016                104                  99                    203

 


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