skip to page content | skip to main navigation
 Catalog and Search Tools  Research Help   Libraries and Collections  Services  How To ...  About SULAIR


Printer-Friendly Printer-Friendly     

Germanic Collections

The German Area Collection: A Stanford Tradition. From 'The Imprint' of the Stanford Libraries Associates, Volume IX, Number I, April 1983

by PETER R. FRANK, Curator Emeritus (1967-1990) of Germanic Collections at Stanford

Since the beginning, in 1891, Stanford has had a special commitment to teaching and research about the German parts of central Europe. Today its German collection, including holdings relating to Austria and Switzerland as well, like collections at the Library of Congress and other large American libraries, is second only to English material in size and scope. But when you consider that California is almost halfway around the world from central Europe, that Stanford is so much farther away from Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna, or Zurich than Harvard, Yale, or the University of Chicago, the breadth and depth of its German materials is surprising.

All this did not come about by accident, of course. Nor was it by chance that David Starr Jordan, first president of Stanford, chose a German phrase, "Die Luft der Freiheit weht [Let the winds of freedom blow]," as the official motto for Stanford's seal. Jordan had been a student at Cornell University, which was one of the first American universities to adopt the German seminar system. He considered the German university a kind of model and took a lifelong interest in German matters. Even Jordan's first published "works" (printed in the student paper, Cornell Era) were translations of German poems by Voss, Schlemiel, Goethe, and Heine. Shortly thereafter he wrote a study of Ulrich von Hutten, a humanist writer at the turn of the sixteenth century and author of the phrase that became the Stanford motto.

Jordan's interest in things German is also reflected in the first appointments he made. About half of the original faculty members were either trained at German universities or were native Germans, as for example Ewald Fluegel from Leipzig, an eminent Chaucer scholar, who became head of the English Department. In summing up the first ten years of the university, Jordan wrote Mrs. Leland Stanford in March 1902: "We do a real university work, in the German sense, and more will come in time . . ."

This long tradition is felt to this day and has made Stanford and the holdings of its libraries into a center for central European studies. In 1938, Bayard Quincy Morgan, chairman of the German Department, published through the Stanford University Press the final edition of his Critical Bibliography of German Literature in English Translation, the standard work in this field. And just recently, two Stanford scholars, J. Murray Luck, who was American cultural attache in Bern, Switzerland, and the Austrian-born Kurt Steiner, published books about Modern Switzerland (1978) and Modern Austria (1981) with the cooperation of Swiss and Austrian colleagues.

Altogether there are now about forty faculty members in various disciplines interested in study and research on central European topics. Prominent among them are Gordon A. Craig (author of Germany 1866-1945 and The Germans); Peter Paret (Clausewitz and the State and The Berlin Secession); Reformation scholar Lewis Spitz; Katharina Mommsen (author of books on Goethe, dramatist Heinrich von Kleist, novelist Theodor Fontane, and Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal); Lorenz Eitner (Art Department); Martin Esslin (Drama); Van A. Harvey (Religious Studies); and Hans Weiler (Education and Political Science), to name but a few.

In recognition of these achievements, Stanford was granted an endowed professorship for Austrian studies by the Republic of Austria in 1976 and received a similar grant from the Volkswagen Foundation and the Federal Republic of Germany for a chair in comparative Western studies. In addition, German, Austrian, and Swiss guest professors come regularly for one or two quarters to teach courses in their fields. To give its under-graduates an opportunity to learn the German language while living and studying in a German environment, Stanford established its Overseas Studies Program in 1958 with a campus in Beutelsbach (it has now moved to the Muthesius-Villa in Berlin-West), and a similar campus in Austria, first at the Semmering and now in Vienna. An exchange of only a humble 23,000 volumes. At this time, Stanford faced a serious financial crisis; essentially no money was available. And yet, the private library of the late Professor Rudolf Hildebrand of Leipzig was purchased for $5,500. This was done without the knowledge or consent of Mrs. Stanford the acquisition was disguised as a "gift." When Mrs. Stanford finally became aware that money was solicited for the purchase from the trustees and even from her personal friends, she was furious. She called President Jordan: ". . . I cannot consent to purchase that German library . . ." Fortunately, it was too late, and the collection of 4,605 volumes and 1,052 pamphlets came to Stanford.

The last remnant of the money had to be raised as late as November 1897, at a "Kirmes" (country fair) where Mrs. Jessie R. Jordan, wife of the president, and Herbert C. Nash, the librarian, directed and participated in a farce, properly called "The Train Robbers." But the troubles were not over. When the materials arrived, Prof. Julius Goebel from the German Department, who had been instrumental in bringing this collection to Stanford, considered it his private library and kept large parts of it in his house. When he left Stanford in 1905, several carloads of books, long overdue, finally came back to the library.

With the acquisition of the Hildebrand library, Stanford immediately had a solid collection of German books and journals, mainly in the field of German language and literature. Professor Hildebrand had long been an editor of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch [German Dictionary]. As a good German professor, he evidently relied more on his private collection than on Leipzig's libraries. And although his was a working library, it contained a wealth of rare and valuable books and journals. Its fourteen incunabula marked the beginning of Stanford's incunabula collection. One of these, Maximilian I's Ordnung des Heiligen Römischen Reiches [Statutes of the Holy Roman Empire], printed in 1500 by Hieronymus Hoelzel in Nuremberg, is the only copy in the United States. Four others are duplicated by only one other institution in this country.

The Hildebrand collection was especially rich in works of German philology. It included 300 dictionaries and dialect dictionaries, grammars, books on style, and the like. No less important was the section on German literature, with some parts on theology, philosophy, and history. There were valuable first editions from the German classical and romantic periods and a notable core of Reformation and baroque books. Finally, the collection contained about zoo periodicals, from the seventeenth century through the nineteenth.

For fifty years after the purchase of Hildebrand's library, Stanford's German collection grew steadily, although there was no real selection policy. The acquisitions were more sporadic than systematic, often hampered by insufficient funds and lack of staff. Excellent holdings existed in some areas but surprising gaps in others.

Important additions often came by chance. In 1919, the Hoover Library on War (now Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace) was founded at Stanford and became later a research institute of its own. Concentrating first on material about World War 1, with some emphasis on central Europe, its rapidly growing library and archives have become an important collection of contemporary history, with large stocks of books, periodicals, and secret government materials. Covering the period roughly from 1871 to the present, this collection is especially strong for the Third Reich and for Germany and Austria after World War II. It includes such unique items as the original diaries of Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, among others. Combined with the holdings of the University libraries, this gives Stanford an unusually fine standing in the field of modern and contemporary history and politics.

Another unplanned acquisition occurred in 1922. Professor Adolph Barkan from the Medical School donated to the Lane Medical Library a collection on the history of medicine. The manuscripts and books were mainly oriental, but because they were once part of the famous collection of Professor Ernst Seidel in Meissen, some German material came with them. It was also Barkan who interested Prof. Karl Sudhoff of Leipzig, founder of the modern scientific history of medicine, to advise Stanford on further acquisitions. And for years a full card catalog of the Stanford Collection on the History of Medicine was kept in Leipzig.

One of the most spectacular gifts was presented to Stanford libraries in 1950, the Memorial Library of Music. Established in memory of Ameri-can soldiers who died in World War II, it contains such treasures as the autographs of one of the earliest Bach suites, Mozart's Lodron Concerto and an aria from Tile Marriage of Figaro, Beethoven's In Questa Tomba Obscure, Schubert's Lied im Gruenen and the famous Rosamunden Overture, a long letter from Wagner, Brahms's Tragic Overture, and the full score of Johann Strauss's famous operetta Eine Nacht in Venedig [One Night in Venice], as well as rare first editions of orchestral and piano scores. (This collection includes of course similar valuable items from other composers, too, from Purcell to Stravinsky.)

Eight years later a collection of early recordings was given to Stanford and formed the core of the Archive of Recorded Sound, one of the great audio archives in this country. It preserves also a wealth of material from German composers, conductors, and performers, and, in spoken recordings, from authors, actors, and such different public figures as Emperor Franz Joseph I and Adolf Hitler.

Shortly after World War II, Stanford began to emerge from its role as a major regional institution to become what it is today, one of the world's leading universities. New programs were developed, new faculty hired, and more students enrolled. The campus libraries could not meet all the demands for research and teaching materials. One critic even called the holdings those of a "kindergarten library."

The needs were particularly great when it came to supporting faculty and student interest in central Europe. In the early 1960s Profs. Gordon Craig, Wayne Vucinich, and Gordon Wright surveyed library holdings and needs for this area. When their survey was completed, Professor Craig was quoted in the Stanford Daily as follows:

"In history we really are dependent on what is in the library. We don't need machines or equipment; what we need most of all are books and magazines. In the field of history, we have a pretty fair selection of secondary material, books. In official papers and documents, we are in fair shape, but there are astonishing holes. And in the level of scholarly magazines, we have only the obvious, and not all of those. The reasons for this are readily apparent. If you depend on professors to work for your library, it will be spotty, with good collections in the professor's [sic] specialty, and nothing else. This problem can only be checked by having an adequate staff and by spending a lot of money."

The library had already recognized the state of affairs, but it was not until 1963 that Elmer Grieder then associate director of the library, created a new book selection mechanism, the Resources Development Program. Known now as the Collection Development Program (CDP), this program together with its selection policy statement was so effective that it became a model for many American research libraries. CDP started out with three foreign language curators (for Romance, Germanic, and Slavic material) to which later a Latin American office and numerous selectors for various disciplines were added. This Collection Development Program was an ingenious response to the challenge of a fast-growing university program, and its impact was felt immediately. In the German field, gaps were filled systematically.

There was other unfinished business, too, some even dating back to the foundation of the library. This included many books from the Hildebrand collection and an enormous collection of German dissertations, both of which were uncataloged. For over sixty years the library had received German dissertations from almost all major German university libraries. They had been packed away in boxes, and although some of these items were important for research, only a few librarians knew of their existence. They were not only uncataloged but also inaccessible. A major effort was made in 1969 to screen these approximately 80,000 items, and about 35,000 dissertations were added to the collection. The earliest, in classics, dated from 1834. Several of these dissertations had been written by scholars who later became famous, among them physicist and Nobel laureate Gustav Hertz, the classical scholar Hermann Fraenkel, the philosopher Max Scheler, and the theologian Paul Tillich.

An important addition was the purchase of approximately 400 books by writers from the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany, as it was then called), for a course given by Prof. Helmut R. Boehninger and others. In 1963, during the Cold War, teaching on the topic was rare in American universities and of course controversial. The proletarian and socialist past had been a neglected field, to say the least. Since then, ma-terial from and about the GDR has become an integral part of the Stanford collection, and many other books and journals have been added.

In 1967 Stanford bought about 3,000 volumes and 1,260 broadsheets and leaflets that were formerly part of the famous library of Max von Portheim and other distinguished collectors. Portheim, who was from an old Jewish family in Prague, had brought together what was considered the finest private collection of Austrian materials, with a special emphasis on the Austrian Enlightenment, the time of Joseph II. When the collection arrived at Stanford, a great many items proved so valuable they had to be transferred to Special Collections, including many samples of rare broadsheets from the Napoleonic Wars and the Revolution of 1848-1849, and many valuable books, journals, and brochures.

Since then the Austrian collection has been systematically supplemented and strengthened with holdings from the Reformation up to the present time and with works by such authors as the avant-garde poet Ernst Jandl and novelist and dramatist Peter Handke. With the support of the Associates, correspondence between Handke and his American translator, Michael Roloff, including proofs and galleys of the translations with corrections by Handke, were acquired in 1978. In the meantime, the part of the collection covering the old monarchy and the Republic has become one of the strongest and best in this country. This fact played an important role in obtaining the Austrian professorship for Stanford. One of the neglected areas within the German field has been Switzerland. In 1973, Stanford acquired a large collection that contained important histories of this multinational country, large document editions, and long sets of almanacs and annual reports of numerous cantons and cities. The Swiss collection, too, has grown in si lection of materials specifically devoted to Germany had almost doubled. German programs at the university were considerably strengthened, and new fields came into the focus of study and research. All this required a more sophisticated strategy for the further development of the collections. We began with a careful evaluation program. The holdings were checked against bibliographies and standard lists such as editions of German literature German history from the Reformation to the Weimar period, and periodicals of the eighteenth century. Although it was known that the col-lection of German periodicals was strong, we were surprised that Stanford had 35 percent of what was available in this country. Hardly any major edition of German literature was missing, except for two that were subsequently purchased. The holdings in history were quite good, but the evaluation revealed some unexpected gaps, most of which are now filled.

Because regional history is so important for such a diversified area as Germany, we supplemented the existing collection with regional and city histories, from Appenzell to Kiel, from Mannheim to the Burgenland.

Language, literature, and history are, of course, the most obvious fields for a German collection. But the scope at Stanford is much broader and includes almost every important discipline and topic from art and education to science and technology. For research of his book on Königgrätz, Professor Craig could rely on an extensive collection of regimental histories and lists and other military materials, as did Professor Paret for his book about Clausewitz. When women's studies began to find attention in Germany, the library quickly bought sets of relevant periodicals and other material. This supported later the research for the anthology German Women Writers of the 20th Century (1978) by Elizabeth R. Herrmann and Edna H. Spitz, and Susan G. Bell's and Karen Offens two-volume documentary interpretation Women, the Family, and Freedom, now in preparation at the Stanford University Press.

Because Jews played such an important role in German life and culture, Jewish holdings and those dealing with antisemitism constitute another strong part in the collection. The latter include such rarities as the report on the first International Antisemitic Congress in Dresden in 1882. Social and economic history has become of growing interest to historians and collections of documents and histories of important banks, industrial firms, and unions have been acquired, for example about such well-known firms as CIBA, Krupp, AEG, and Porsche. The publishing industry, always of great importance in German intellectual life, is well represented with almanacs, histories, and catalogs. And when the library made such spectacular acquisitions as the Mary L. Schofield Collection of children's literature or recently the Barchas Collection in the History of Science and Ideas, one could be sure that they contained a fair share of German material, too.

Several years ago it became apparent that the German holdings of manuscripts, autograph letters, and first editions had increased greatly in size and value. To make them more prominent and accessible it seemed advisable to include them in one collection. At the initiative of Professor Paret the Stanford Collection of German, Austrian, and Swiss Culture was established in 1977. Numerous gifts and acquisitions have since been added. Professor Paret presented what remains of the archive of the famous Berlin art dealer and publisher Paul Cassirer, with typescripts and autographs, printings of the Pan Presse, and most notably the Protokollbuch [Minutes] of the Berlin Secession. From George Hill of the Oxford publishing house of Bruno Cassirer we received a copy of the judgment against Frank Wedekind's Büchse der Pandora [Pandora's Box], one of the famous obscenity trials of Wilhelminian Germany. (Wedekind's play was used by Alban Berg for his opera Lulu.)

Stanford's collection of works from and about the German area has three components holdings in the main stacks, materials in the reference collection, and the especially rare and valuable items in the Stanford Collection of German, Austrian, and Swiss Culture. Taken together they comprise one of the largest gatherings of German material in the United States. Although they were assembled to support faculty and student research at Stanford, because of their variety and richness they are now attracting scholars from all over the world.



Last modified: January 4, 2008

© Stanford University. Stanford, CA 94305. (650) 723-2300. Terms of Use | Copyright Complaints
[an error occurred while processing this directive]