Archival Summer Seminar in Germany 2009

Jun 22, 2009 - Jun 03, 2009

Seminar in Germany | Convener: Corinna Unger (GHI)

The GHI’s seventeenth archival summer seminar in Germany took place from June 21 to July 3, 2009. This year’s group visited research institutions and met with archivists and scholars in Speyer, Düsseldorf, Koblenz, Cologne, and Weimar. The aim of the seminar was to introduce doctoral students in German history to the wide range of research institutions in Germany and to support them in preparing their prospective dissertation research in German archives and libraries. In the first part of the seminar, participants learned to read documents in old German handwriting. The second part consisted of visits to local, state, and federal archives and libraries to familiarize the participants with the German archival system and the basics of Archivkunde. The group also met with two scholars to discuss research methods and practices and to receive advice on the practical issues of archival work.

As in former years, the seminar started off with a one-week course in paleography led by Walter Rummel, who heads the Landesarchiv Speyer. Rummel is not only a well-respected scholar but also a talented and experienced teacher. In accordance with the participants’ research topics, he taught the group to read documents covering the seventeenth to twentieth centuries. In addition to an introduction to the evolution of German handwriting and the technical aspects of paleography, the course also included the basics of Quellenkunde as well as a tour through the Landesarchiv. In the afternoons, the students had the chance to explore Speyer, with its famous Romanic Dom and the Judenhof, both dating from the eleventh century.

One of the afternoons was dedicated to a meeting with Heinrich Hartmann (FU Berlin/Universität zu Köln) to talk about practical aspects of archival research. An expert on French and German history whose dissertation compared German and French companies’ management techniques between 1890 and 1914, Hartmann is now working on a study on recruiting techniques and military statistics in Europe, with a special emphasis on the anthropological aspects of “measuring” individuals and populations. Hartmann offered valuable advice on how to prepare archival visits, make the best use of time in archives, and optimize note-taking. He encouraged participants to make use of databases, both as digital resources and to organize one’s findings efficiently. 

Following the paleography course, the group spent a day at the Landesarchiv NRW, Abteilung Rheinland, in Düsseldorf. Archivists Uwe Zuber, Kathrin Pilger, and Jens Niederhut explained the archive’s organization, gave an overview of its holdings, and offered helpful advice on a number of research questions from the participants. Of special value were two practical exercises in working with archival files. The Landesarchiv NRW is famous for its extraordinarily large holding of Gestapo files from Düsseldorf, some of which the archivists used in order to give the students a feeling for the kinds of information archival material can offer or lack.

At the Bundesarchiv Koblenz, President Hartmut Weber kindly welcomed the participants. During the morning session, archivist Jörg Filthaut introduced them to Archivkunde. The introduction to the “secret language” of symbols and colors used to communicate between different departments, subdivisions, and staff members will certainly prove valuable to the students when working with government documents. In the afternoon, the group was given a tour of the archive and learned about the Bundesarchiv’s digital photo archive, which offers access to a continuously growing number of the archive’s total of 11 million photographs, posters, and aerial photographs. The digital archive cooperates with Wikipedia and can be accessed online.

On the seminar’s last day in the Rhineland, Joachim Oepen welcomed the group at the Historisches Archiv des Erzbistums Köln. He explained the Provenienzprinzip, which is especially important with regard to historical developments that led to administrative changes on the regional and state levels. For example, in the early nineteenth century, secularization resulted in the break-up of Church archives’ holdings. These were then transferred to state and local archives, creating a complicated network of diverse archives. Something similar happened in the postwar era, when new Länder and Bistümer were created. Following this theoretical lesson, the students did a hands-on exercise. They worked with Findbücher to find files that might be of interest with regard to a specific research question, in this case the confiscation of a particular Church property by the National Socialists. 

The third and last station of the seminar was Weimar. Here the group visited the Gedenkstätte Buchenwald, where Zsuzánna Berger-Nagy led participants on an excellent tour of the grounds. After the tour, archivist Sabine Stein presented the archival holdings of the Gedenkstätte. Since the SS destroyed most of its documents at the end of the war, sources are scattered and incomplete, but the researchers at Buchenwald cooperate with many national and international institutions to assemble as much information about Buchenwald and its many Außenlager as possible. The scope of scholarly interest is not limited to the camp, however. The seminar met with Jens Schley and Sabine Schweitzer, who are currently preparing an international traveling exhibition on forced labor during National Socialism. They talked about their methodological challenges and conceptual considerations and offered fascinating insight into how archival sources can be brought to life.

The last day of the seminar was devoted to the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek (HAAB) in Weimar. Roland Bärwinkel led the group through the rococo reading room and library, which had been destroyed by a fire in 2004, but were restored and reopened two years ago. With its exquisite historic building and a highly aesthetic modern addition across the street, the HAAB offers outstanding working conditions. The tour was followed by a meeting with the HAAB’s director, Michael Knoche, who kindly took the time to talk about the library’s work, especially with regard to salvaging and replacing those books damaged or lost in the fire, and to answer participants’ questions. Hans Zimmermann presented the journal Simplicissimus, which has been digitalized and made available for online research by the library. In the last session, Annett Carius-Kiehne discussed the issue of NS-Raubgut – books stolen from libraries and individuals during the Nazi period – and the efforts to find and return those books to their rightful owners.

In the afternoon, the seminar group met with Tim Geiger, a historian working at the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Berlin on the Edition der Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik. Geiger shared his own research experiences with the seminar’s participants. Using his Ph.D. dissertation – a study of the conflict between Atlanticists and Gaullists within the CDU/CSU in the 1960s – as an example, he offered helpful advice on how to identify relevant material and approach archives. He encouraged the participants to thoroughly study the existing primary and secondary literature before entering the archive in order to avoid duplicating others' work. He also answered questions on writing techniques and methods to manage the psychological burdens that can accompany the final stages of writing a dissertation.

We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to all the individuals and organizations that contributed to the 2009 Archival Summer Seminar in Germany. An announcement of the program for the 2010 seminar can be found on our web site.

Corinna R. Unger

Call for Papers

The Archival Summer Seminar, organized by the German Historical Institute, is a program for advanced graduate students in German historical studies. The program trains participants to read old German script, familiarizes them with German research facilities (archives and libraries), provides a forum for discussing research methods, and helps prepare them for their prospective dissertation research trips to Germany. The group will spend the bulk of their time in various German archives. Students will learn how to contact archives, use finding aids, identify important reference tools, and become generally acquainted with German research facilities. Participants will be exposed to various approaches that archivists, librarians, and schol-ars use to locate source material in an exceedingly complex repository landscape. They also will gain insight into how historical materials are acquired, stored, and made accessible to scholars. Participants will hear from scholars actively engaged in research, and will have the chance to ask them questions on research methods, strategy, and planning.

Potential applicants should note that the program is exploratory in nature and should not be considered a pre-dissertation research grant; participants will have only limited opportunity to do their own work. We hope that participants will gain an appreciation for the various kinds of archives and special collections located in Ger-many, either for future reference or for their general edification as scholars of Ger-man culture, history, and society. Of course, students are welcome to extend their stay in Germany to do their own exploration and/or preliminary research after the tour ends.

Applicants must be enrolled in a Ph.D. program at a North American institution of higher education. The program seeks qualified applicants interested in historical studies in a broad range of fields (art history, history, literature, musicology, etc.). The program is open for advanced graduate students whose projects require that they consult source material in German archives and research libraries as well as handwritten materials in old German script. Preference will be given to those who have already chosen a dissertation topic, have already written a dissertation pro-posal, but have not yet embarked on actual research (ABD). Prospective candidates must have excellent knowledge of written and spoken German. All parts of the pro-gram will be conducted in German. The organizers will evaluate applicants’ German proficiency by telephone interview before participants are selected.

A complete application consists of: (1) a cover letter that outlines the candidate’s motivation to participate; (2) a curriculum vitae; (3) a dissertation proposal (4-8 pages), and (4) a letter from the doctoral adviser. Applicants are encouraged to submit their materials via e-mail. Advisors’ letters can be sent directly, by post or by e-mail, to the GHI.

Deadline for submission is December 31, 2008. All applicants will be notified by February 15, 2009. For more information, contact Corinna Unger, GHI. Phone: (202) 387 3355; e-mail.

Send application materials to:

German Historical Institute
Dr. Corinna Unger
1607 New Hampshire Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009-2562