Early Modern Scholarsʼ Libraries

Johann Heinrich Linck (1674–1734), writing surrounded by
his collections (HAB: Portr. A 12556)

Project in the cluster “Writers’ Libraries: Materiality – Orders of Knowledge – Performance in the research network Marbach – Weimar – Wolfenbüttel

The library of an early modern scholar was place of creative work: of daily reading and writing, collecting, ordering and excerpting, of scientific and philological observation. It was from here that scholars communicated with one another. Texts by trained theologians or physicians, philosophers or lawyers were created in and with libraries. The historical holdings of scholars’ libraries and their provenance marks are thus informative sources for the history of knowledge.

Regrettably, scholars’ libraries were also goods in demand and usually dispersed at auction, if they were not merged into other libraries. Printed auction catalogues or inventories often provide the last information we have about the reading and research interests of many scholars. Natural specimens, scientific instruments and antiquities on display and in cabinets frequently shared the room with the library and were finally sold together with the books. Evidence from such trade catalogues, however, may be fragmentary and is at best a snapshot of a book estate. Accessions and losses during the collector’s lifetime remain undocumented and the classification of the printed catalogue need not reflect the scholar’s own authentic ordering of the knowledge at his disposal.

Some 1.100 catalogues of private libraries printed before 1800 have survived in the Herzog August Bibliothek. A collection of about 450 Dutch auction catalogues from the 17th and 18th centuries containing many unique copies is particularly valuable. Significant representative catalogues from these holdings will be selected, digitised and indexed. The project will result in a digital presentation and visualisation of selected scholars’ libraries indexed by names, places and things. Research questions will focus on breaks and continuities in the history of knowledge, cultures of fact in natural philosophy and philology as well as dissident and non-conformist knowledge.

To begin with, the library of the Amsterdam mathematician and chiliast Benedikt Bahnsen (who died in 1669 and whose library was auctioned off in 1670) is going to be examined, together with his correspondence with Augustus the Younger, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg whom he supplied with books from the Netherlands. The selection of about 100 representative catalogues is another task. From them digital image-copies will be produced and the catalogues tagged with structural metadata for navigation. Some pieces from this body will be subjected to OCR, i.e. the digital images get converted into machine-encoded text. Moreover, a database and web presentation will be developed to host, display and make searchable the recorded contents of the catalogues. A third emphasis lies on the identification of one or two libraries (catalogues) owned by a scholar or a privat person which are especially instructive and which are investigated in depth like the Bahnsen library.

Project information: http://www.mww-forschung.de

Funding: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung im Rahmen des MWW-Verbundes
Duration: April 2014 – August 2018
Researcher: Dr. Jörn Münkner
Digital Humanities Support: Timo Steyer
Phone: +49(0)5331-808-124, Fax -277