The Library of a Writing-Master

By Meindert E. Peters

Meindert E. Peters spent eight weeks as a research intern at the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel. In what follows the student of German at the University of Oxford explains how he discovered little Venice in Lower Saxony, why he searched for book plates in a granary and why, to this day, he remembers Wolfenbüttel fondly.


Front page of the sales catalogue of the library of the Dutch writing-master Johannes Heuvelman. (c) HAB

Who has heard of Wolfenbüttel? That is the question I asked myself when the Oxford German Network and the Marbach Weimar Wolfenbüttel Research Association (MWW) accepted me for an eight week long internship at the Herzog August Library. The only thing I knew about this little town was that they brew a liquor, high in alcohol, that is also available in the United Kingdom. That there is much to be discovered and learned in this town, however, is a knowledge hard to distil from its bottle.

Little Venice and oh-so-German half-timbered houses

I arrived in Wolfenbüttel on a Friday evening, so I had a whole weekend to discover this little city in Lower Saxony. First, I visited the wonderful castle, which unfortunately was more impressive from the outside than from the inside. Nevertheless, they did have a little exhibition on the re-unification of Germany which left an impression lasting to this day. What the exhibition showed in contrast to the ages-old building was how recent West and East came together and yet how self-evident this now is – will Europe’s unification be soon as self-evident? On the topic of Europe, Wolfenbüttel also harbours a ‘little Venice’: a little canal where houses bend over the Oker River like weeping willows. The most beautiful in all of Wolfenbüttel, however, is typically German: the beautiful half-timbered houses to be found throughout its centre.

After these touristic highlights labour called. During my internship I supported Dietrich Hakelberg on his work on Scholars’ Libraries in the MWW-project “Writers’ Libraries: Materiality – Orders of Knowledge – Performance”. He prepared for me a project that would occupy my time in Wolfenbüttel and beyond: the research into a sales catalogue of the library of a Dutch 17th Century writing-master named Johannes Heuvelman – a printed catalogue only to be found in Wolfenbüttel.


Expeditions in the Library

Meindert E. Peters at his speech about the library of the Dutch writing-master Johannes Heuvelmann...

Although my research interests as well as my educational backgrounds are dominated by the 20th century I was immediately impressed by the style of handwriting of Johannes Heuvelman and fascinated by the questions arising from the catalogue: What can a library tell us about his proprietor? What can we found out about his profession when we study Heuvelman’s books? Why did a writing-master, not a profession for a learned man usually, even have so many books? With these questions at the back of my mind I got to discover the library in Wolfenbüttel. I presented these findings not only in a presentation on the Bibliotheca Heuvelmaniana – a very exciting and educative experience with lots of inspiring questions – but they will also appear shortly in a scientific journal.

 ... to which his supervisor Dietrich Hakelberg (left) gave a short introduction. Photos: Sarah Melzian

But the excitement also continued beyond my own little project with insights into the work of my colleagues. There was, for example, the amazing synthesis of the arts that is the Augusteerhalle. And the little drawings of car-pushing-piglets and fun-having-devils in early-modern prayer books which are being researched in the MWW-project “media history of the psalms”.

The depths of the granary

Together with my supervisor I was also allowed to, in the name of provenance research, dive to the depth of the granary where many books of the Herzog August library are also kept. In these books we looked for book plates hoping that some would have belonged to a certain historical figure. Unfortunately we found only one. But no result is also a result: at least now we know that our treasures are not to be found at the bottom of the granary.

In addition to all the intensive research little Wolfenbüttel offered much for fun and engaging encounters. Particularly the library’s daily get-together of guests and fellows over coffee brought about many interesting conversations. Especially lucky I was too with the two colleagues with whom I shared an office. They always provided much happiness and joy – that is, unless I forgot to make new coffee. Together we discovered not only what Wolfenbüttel had to offer culturally, but at the staff outing to the Paläon Museum in Schöningen we also discovered the earliest of European history (including a course in throwing spears) and the basilica of Königslutter.

A feeling of warmth

And thus my eight weeks flew by. My colleagues said goodbye with a bottle of the liquor I mentioned earlier. And back in Oxford I still dedicate part of my time to Heuvelman’s library. All in all, Wolfenbüttel left a lasting impression. So when I now look upon that green bottle of liquor, I can not only pinpoint Wolfenbüttel on the map, but I also feel a lot of warmth. And that has nothing to do with the alcohol.

Meindert E. Peters is currently studying for a master’s degree in German Studies at the University of Oxford where he writes on Martin Heidegger’s understanding of the body in comparison to Pina Bausch’s
Tanztheater. He received his bachelor’s degree from Amsterdam University College. Before that he was a professional ballet dancer in Germany. Dance and Germany have always stayed a fascination for him and it was particularly his love for the latter that in July and August 2015 brought him to do a research internship in Wolfenbüttel.