Transatlantic Book Movement

Migratory paths and transfer routes before and after 1945

Why did the DLA Marbach invite Kurt Pinthus, an early chronicler of expressionism who had emigrated to New York in 1939, to Marbach with his entire library of rare prints from the early 20th century? How did Hugo von Hoffmannthal’s estate end up at the Houghton Library, and why did the library donate a portion of his manuscripts to the Freie Deutsche Hochstift in Frankfurt in 1965? Despite sending his Baroque library to America in 1939, why did Curt von Faber du Faur copy his collection onto microfiche after the war? How did flight, emigration and war influence the preservation of German literature? How did archives, libraries and researchers react to the translocation of a significant portion of their research material?

This case study examines the transfer routes and migratory paths of libraries and autographs on German literature after 1945. The “transatlantic book movement” is in fact a metonym for a global phenomenon – the primary but not sole focus of this study. Translocations can be studied using the materials formerly owned by emigrants. Their connections to museums and research organisations can be examined based on where such materials “changed hands”, e.g. auction houses and antiquarian bookshops. Despite the efforts of the National Socialists to confiscate and/or destroy them, numerous estates and private collections were saved from destruction or loss thanks to translocation, transfers and change of ownership. These include the philosophical writings of Novalis, the work manuscripts of Adalbert Stifter, correspondence of Theodor Fontane, the estate of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the libraries of Karl Wolfskehl and Kurt Pinthus, the Baroque library of Curt von Faber du Faur and many more. Most, but not all, of these objects can be found in German archives and museums once again. Their “return” is the consequence of an academic desire for new scientific editions and research driven by publicly funded collection policies in coordination with research interests within the German studies discipline. How did migration and war, material politics and material awareness in museums and research institutes change after 1945? How did political events and subject-related differentiation processes influence the attention to conservation issues in literary studies? Why hasn’t “provenance” become a literary studies subject in its own right? And how did questions of provenance nonetheless influence literary scientific research after 1945?

Based on the example of discovered translocations – including Kurt Pinthus’s library which will be studied as part of the project – the case study reveals the running and interrupted themes in discourse concerning the material archiving of German literature. The goal is to make literary studies work visible in how it relates to material history and the aesthetic autonomy of the text. Three analytical levels will be crosslinked: object-biographical access, the history of discourse and a close reading of translocated texts with respect to literary perspectives on ownership and provenance. In addition to the objects themselves and the materials associated with them, the most important sources include acquisition records, antiquarian and autograph catalogues.

In order to use these sources and make them accessible to networked research into other issues, the project will focus on digitally indexing and studying the acquisition records, auction catalogues and antiquarian catalogues at the DLA Marbach. A DH-based analysis of the lists and catalogues will enable researchers to provide information on trade centres, transfer routes, financial circumstances and canonisation processes, as well as on the language and knowledge found in the catalogues – knowledge that not only reveals the precarious connections between antiquarian, connoisseur-like and philological thinking. The project will tie the interest in the relationships between commerce, collections and research with the activities of the research group “Provenance” at the MWW.


Former staff: 

  • Caroline Jessen