Report from the 1998 Nijhoff Study Grant Recipient

By Jeffrey Garrett

WESS Newsletter

Spring 1999, Vol. 22, no. 2

Association of College & Research Libraries
©American Library Association

Early on the morning of April 4, 1826, Joseph Scherer, then director of the Court and State Library in the Bavarian capital of Munich, attempted to drown himself in one of the fast-flowing streams that pass through Munich's Englischer Garten. A decade before, his predecessor, Julius Wilhelm Hamberger, one of the unpopular Nordlichter ("Northern Lights") brought in by King Maximilian Joseph from Berlin, Göttingen, and elsewhere to help "modernize" Bavaria, died in an insane asylum in Bayreuth. Michael Foucault or Jorge Luis Borges, had they been Bavarian rather than French or Argentinian, would have had a field day locating the source of insanity and suicide among Munich court librarians in the first quarter of the 19th century. They would have probably found it in the complete collapse of the Baroque and Enlightenment models of the universal library under the weight of hundreds of thousands of books from over 200 secularized monastery libraries that flowed into Munich during those years.

Between November 28 and December 15 last year, I was privileged to travel to Munich and to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek as the recipient of the 1998 WESS Martinus Nijhoff International Study Grant. There I was given access to the personal diaries and a host of other unpublished materials relating to the work of Martin Schrettinger (1772-1851), the ex-Benedictine monk and librarian who ultimately led the court library out of the chaos that had plunged an entire generation of librarians into epistemological despair, into a future where catalogs rather than shelf order organized the collections. Schrettinger had kept a meticulous record of his personal and professional life ever since his 21st birthday. Many of these documents were withheld from scholars until just a few decades ago.

I not only had two weeks with Schrettinger's archive, thanks to the support of Hermann Leskien, the library director, a member of the library staff worked as my personal research assistant, I received close to 1000 frames of documents on microfilm, and I had the opportunity to discuss my work with Rupert Hacker, author of the historical article on the Staatsbibliothek in the Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände, Claudia Fabian, head of the catalog department, and an entire hour-and-a-half with Herr Leskien himself, who, unlike the predecessors mentioned above, seemed eminently sane to me.

As a result of my Nijhoff grant, and since grants always seem to flow where grants have already flowed, I applied for and was given a fellowship with the Alice Kaplin Center for the Humanities at Northwestern, freeing me for one year half-time to pursue my research. My first obligation to the center was to present a paper with my initial findings, which took place on March 8. The title of my paper was "Books and Things: The Crisis of Representation in German Libraries after 1800." It offers a Foucauldian perspective on the history of the court library in Munich as revealed in Schrettinger's personal papers.

I can't tell you how much the Nijhoff has meant to me. I feel revitalized as a scholar and researcher and a much wholer librarian as I work with university faculty and students. I want to repeat my profound thanks to Martinus Nijhoff International, especially to Nijhoff's Bas Ruit and Ineke Middeldorp-Crispin, for their kindness and very gracious grants administration.

I wish everyone in WESS the opportunity that I have had-one after another.

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