Germanic Languages and Literatures

It is difficult to find items that are not illustrious among Houghton’s enormous Germanic languages collection. The archives contain almost 400 manuscripts in the MS Ger class, as well as 21 MS Dutch, six MS Nor, two MS Swed, and a whopping 59 MS Icelandic. The rich history, literature, and culture of the Germanic and Scandinavian regions can be fully explored at Houghton by concentrators and non-concentrators alike, and much of the material that is of use to the Germanic Languages and Literatures concentration can be explored from an interdisciplinary standpoint.

As a jumping point, the library owns the papers and letters of many important figures in German history and literature. Students have access, for instance, to the papers of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (MS Ger 51, 000602039), one of the nineteenth century’s most important thinkers; the compositions of Thomas Mann (MS Ger 156, 009107870), one of the twentieth century’s most important German writers; the papers of Walter Gropius (MS Ger 208-208.3), the founder of the Bauhaus, a key art historical movement that waned with the rise of Nazism in 1933, and a Harvard professor from 1937 to 1952; the letters of Stefan Zweig, a celebrated Austrian writer (MS Ger 123-123.2); the family papers of Carl Friedrich Gauss (MS Ger 232, 009504696), one of the most important mathematicians in history; the papers of Ruth Fischer (MS Ger 204, 000602062), an early twentieth-century communist politician; and letters from Wilhelm II, the last German emperor (MS Ger 49-49.1, 009107955), during his exile in the Netherlands.

Houghton, however, also owns material concerning German history that does not necessarily makes the country’s luminaries its protagonists. One of the most fascinating of these items is the “My Life in Germany” contest papers (MS Ger 91, 000602078), in which students can find, in both German and English, personal accounts of life under Nazism. The library also contains more curious items, such as a manuscript census of the Kingdom of Bavaria from the first decade of the nineteenth century (MS Ger 249, 009771531), and an eighteenth-century physico-chemical treatise (Chem 373.1.2, 006524362) that can also be studied through science concentrations such as Chemistry and Physics.

Germanic Languages and Literatures, though heavily focused on Germany, does not study German only. Three highlights from Houghton’s Dutch collection demonstrate that students interested in other cultures within the Germanic and Scandinavian umbrella can also use the library to research their areas of interest. The library holds an 1480 Book of Hours (MS Typ 253, 009616976) that used to be the property of the Augustinian Canons of Windesheim, an exquisite example of medieval culture. Another interesting item is a nineteenth-century manuscript (MS Dutch 23, 013184586) from Bergues, a French city near the Belgian border, with information about tides, date calculations for religious festivals, and fascinating astronomical and geographical considerations, including maps of Earth’s continents. Finally, one of the most fascinating items in Houghton’s collection is Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Typ 732.05.567, 002860975), a 1705 entomology treatise written and illustrated by a Dutchwoman who spent years in Suriname with her daughter cataloguing and sketching her specimens. Written in the Dutch vernacular in an age in which Europe’s scientific language was Latin, it is an unorthodox item that deserves to be studied with respect to its many layers.