Project description

Die Fürstenbibliothek Arolsen als Kultur- und Wissensraum vom 16. bis zum frühen 19. Jahrhundert und ihre Einflüsse auf Genese, Formung und Identität des Fürstenstaats

Description of the project

Illustration Timor, in: Charles Lesueur, Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes (ca. 1807) FWHB
Timor, in: Charles Lesueur, Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes (ca. 1807) FWHB

In close collaboration with institutions and experts from Germany and other countries, the DFG project, begun in April 2009 and ended in August 2012, examined the Princely Waldeck Court Library (FWHB) as a space of culture and knowledge. The court library not only represents a complex cultural space, in which medieval traditions of knowledge and early modern empiricism fruitfully intersect and interact, but also constitutes a particularly stimulating cultural center throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, not least due to the Princess Christiane von Waldeck-Pyrmont (1725-1816) and her sons Christian August, Friedrich Carl August and George of Waldeck-Pyrmont. The library molded the architecture and ways of life of the principality and played a significant role in shaping its governmental and educational systems. The spectrum of archival material documents relationships with prominent contemporaries (among others, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Wilhelm von Humboldt) and allows the reconstruction of a multi-faceted region spanning political and topographical boundaries that not only formed part of a European network of culture and knowledge, but also replicated it in microcosm, formed it anew, and adapted it to the region's own ideas and requirements. The manifold holdings include among other things property and inventory lists, wills, loan, purchase and sale records, art objects, architectural documents, letters, and personal records. The multiplicity and broad reach of the collections, which bring together materials from across geographical and cultural borders, and the regional and international networks of the library combine to make the FWHB a more than rewarding subject for modern culture and knowledge research.

The research plans and goals of the project were

Self-portrait of Albrecht Dürer the Young (1498), in: FWHB Adhesive volume
Self-portrait of Albrecht Dürer the Young (1498), in: FWHB Adhesive volume

a) the systematic collation, classification, and digital processing of the book collection with its unique characteristics and of the diverse archive materials. Among these are single pages with dedications and indications as to use, interleaved books, so-called adhesive volumes with cutout portraits, single-page prints, works that demonstrably shaped the city plan, the public gardens, and the social life of Arolsen, library catalogues, loan and collection records, auction catalogues, wills, estate accounts, and semi-official documents. The books of the literary society of Schaumburg will play a special role, as their handwritten reading lists provide a direct window into the contemporary situation of reception.

b) the scholarly analysis of the books and archive materials with the help of metadata, which were carried out in collaboration with Heidelberg University Library. Preparations were made in cooperation with FotoMarburg and resulted in the construction of a database that is integrated into the international image index of FotoMarburg and will provide the basis for a digital catalogue.

c) the thematic study of the princely library:

First, there is the relationship between factuality and fictionality in early modern learned literature. In the collection, 'modern,' realistic travel narratives stand as a matter of course together with fantastical travel narratives based on ancient authorities. This contradicts the scholarly consensus that in the early modern period empiricism replaced the traditional written authorities. The book holdings and archive materials allowed the closer examination and more precise delineation of the complex relationship between fact and fiction in the interaction between traditional models and new concepts.

Second, it was important to ask about the imitation, adaption, transformation and destruction of stores of culture and knowledge are central. The many media in the holdings at Arolsen that can be placed in a context of their immediate use and/or acquisition, and that thereby provide clues about the adoption or rejection of a conventional or self-renewing cultural memory, provide an invaluable trove of information.

Illustration in: Goethe, Johann Wolfgang, Das römische Karneval (1789) FWHB
In: Goethe, Johann Wolfgang, Das römische Karneval (1789) FWHB

A third theme took in questions about the reciprocal relations between the library and the life of the principality, which could be comprehensively reconstructed thanks to the unusually rich array of sources. Particularly striking was the extensive collection of militaria (compendia of military knowledge of various types), which gave us a better understanding of the extent to which the library's archival capacities could satisfy the intellectual demands of the court. Also worthy of note is the relevant corpus of pedagogical texts, which reveals not only the interest of the court in a topic - experimenting with new pedagogical theories along the lines of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Philipp Moritz and Johann Bernhard Basedow - of particular relevance for an age of enlightenment, but also the central role that such theories played in the education of the princes and thus indirectly in the governance of the principality, a result not least of the openness of the principality to intellectual tendencies of the era.

Through a combination of digital indexing of the collection (with open-source systems) and research on the available materials, the project went far beyond a mere literary history of the library or region. Rather, the Library of the Prince of Arolsen exemplifies the multi-faceted culture of the early modern period, in particular of the European Enlightenment, and is a case study in the research of modern culture and knowledge.

In this dual aspect lies its potential to be a model for a future methods of research on princely libraries, which integrate literary and cultural-historical aspects and could have an impact on an international level.