Archival Summer Seminar in Germany 2012

Jun 27, 2012 - Jun 30, 2012

Seminar in Germany | Convener: Clelia Caruso (GHI)

From June 18 to June 29, 2012, the GHI Archival Summer Seminar took place for the twentieth time. A group of ten American Ph.D. students visited archives and research institutions and met with archivists and scholars in four German cities: Speyer, Cologne, Koblenz, and Munich. The seminar seeks to give American doctoral students in the field of German and European history the opportunity to familiarize themselves with a wide range of research institutions in Germany. The two-week program started in Speyer, where the participants, under the guidance of Walter Rummel, learned how to read documents in old German handwriting. An irreplaceable partner of the GHI Archival Summer Seminar since its beginning, Walter Rummel, head of the Landesarchiv Speyer, offered a well-conceived and motivating introductory course in paleography. The group practiced their newly acquired paleographical skills with documents from the seventeenth to the twentieth century over an entire week. Moreover, they learned a great deal about the procedures of Quellenkritik as Rummel carefully contextualized the sources and taught the basics of Quellenkunde. During a tour through the Landesarchiv, the participants got to see some of the "crown jewels" from the stacks as well as the conservationist facility for old documents. Two afternoons in Speyer were spent discussing the participants' dissertation projects. The students' presentations in a semi-formal atmosphere produced lively discussions and paved the way for intensive scholarly exchange throughout the two weeks.

The second part of the Seminar consisted of visits to federal, state, local, and private archives and libraries. First, the group visited the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz. Archivist Thekla Kleindienst explained the organization of the German archive system and introduced the participants to the vast holdings of the branches of the Bundesarchiv. Most of the time was spent on an introduction to the digital research tools of the Bundesarchiv's electronic finding aids combined with a practical exercise in archival research: The participants were assigned a fictitious research project and sent on a mission to find relevant sources in the Bundesarchiv's holdings.

Next, the group visited the municipal archive of Cologne. A long-standing partner of the GHI, Cologne's municipal archive has gained a sad notoriety: In 2009 the archive collapsed. This accident was most probably closely related to the construction of a new subway line of the Cologne Stadtbahn system. Nearly the entire collection was damaged, and the archive has been under reconstruction ever since. The deputy director of the archive, Ulrich Fischer, gave a presentation on the collapse of the archive and led a tour of the restoration facilities, which allowed the participants to gauge the amount of work and the technological expertise and equipment needed to restore archival documents. In addition to familiarizing participants with the technological aspects of this process, this tour strengthend their awareness of the fragility of historical documents and of the selection processes historical documents undergo in the process of archival storage.

The seminar's third destination was the Staatsbibliothek München. Here Patrick Frauenrath provided an introduction to the history of the library and its current function, as well as a general tour of the facilities and an introduction to the online catalog. The afternoon was dedicated to a meeting with two German graduate students who shared their knowledge about methods and practices of archival research and about Internet and database research in particular. Drawing on his own research experience, Michael Hohlfeld shared valuable tips on how to prepare archival visits and on the computer-based management, compilation and analysis of archival documents. Christiane Sibille (University of Basel), a specialist in the history of the League of Nations, introduced the group to German online research tools and networks for researchers, providing an excellent overview of journal databases, digitization projects, archival web sites, and communication platforms for historians.

On the following day, archivist Monika von Walter welcomed the group to the Bayerisches Hauptsstaatsarchiv. She explained how numerous administrative changes on the regional and state levels affected the organization of archive holdings in Germany and thus elucidated the practical consequences of the principle of provenance. Following this theoretical introduction, the students had the opportunity to work on records related to their research topics. The last station of the seminar was the Deutsches Museum München, a museum and archival complex dedicated to the history of technology. After an inspired guided tour of the highlights of the Museum with Bruno Graf, head archivist Wilhelm Füßl gave an overview of the history of the museum and introduced participants to its archival holdings. He also explained how this archive differed from the governmental archives that the group had visited up to that point: Whereas the holdings in governmental archives are composed mostly of regular transfers from the public administration, the collections of the Deutsches Museum were mostly acquired by gift and bequest.

The GHI organizers would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to all the individuals and organizations that made the 2012 Archival Summer Seminar in Germany a success. An announcement of the program for the 2013 seminar can be found on the GHI website.

Clelia Caruso (GHI) 

Participants and their dissertation topics:

  • Nathan Delaney (Case Western Reserve University), Modes of Extraction: German and American Copper Mining in Mexico, 1848-1910
  • Jane Freeland (Carleton University, Ottawa), Domestic Violence in Divided Germany, 1969-1990
  • David Harrisville (University of Wisconsin-Madison), "God is with us": Religion and the Wehrmacht Soldier
  • Carla Heelan (Harvard University), Mediavialism and the Making of Modern Germany
  • Noria Litaker (University of Pennsylvania), Canonizing the Catacombs: The Transfer of Roman Catacomb Saints to Counter-Reformation Bavaria (1578-1750)
  • Megan McCarthy, (Columbia University), The Empire on Display: Exhibitions of Germanic Art & Design in America, 1897-1914
  • Nicolas Ostrum (Stony Brook University), Oil, Germany, and the Global Economy, 1940-1973
  • Jessica Plummer (University of Texas at Austin), Mass and National: Kolportage Novels and Symbols of the Nation, 1880-1914
  • Lauren Stokes (University of Chicago), The Migrating Mind: Entwurzelung and Mental Illness in the Twentieth Century
  • Matthew Yokell (Texas A&M University), Qingdao and the German Experience in China, 1880-1918


Call for Papers

The Archival Summer Seminar, organized by the German Historical Institute, is a two-week 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.

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 Germany, either for future reference or for their general edification as scholars of German 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 proposal, but have not yet embarked on actual research (ABD). Prospective candidates must have excellent knowledge of written and spoken German. All parts of the program will be conducted in German. The organizers will evaluate applicants' German proficiency by telephone interview before participants are selected.


  • A complete application consists of:
  • a cover letter that outlines the candidate's motivation to participate;
  • a curriculum vitae;
  • a dissertation proposal (4-8 pages), and
  • a letter from the doctoral adviser.

Applicants are encouraged to submit their materials via e-mail. Advisors' letters can be sent directly, by mail (postal address below) or by e-mail, to Clelia Caruso at the GHI.

The application deadline is 2011 January 31, 2012. All applicants will be notified by February 15, 2012.


- Attn: Archival Summer Seminar -
German Historical Institute Washington DC
1607 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington DC 20009

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