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Subject: City Archive of Augsburg, Germany

City Archive of Augsburg, Germany

From: Thomas Max Safley <tsafley<-at->
Date: Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Support the City Archive of Augsburg, Germany

Dear Colleagues,

We have all heard the reports of scholarly catastrophe in Europe:
the fire in the Anna Amalia Library in 2004; the collapse of the
City Archive of Cologne in 2009.  They are immeasurable scholarly
losses:  two valuable collections of rare books and archival
documents, unique sources from the past that can never be replaced.

I write today to alert you all to developments that threaten another
great cultural treasury.  The City Archive of Augsburg is now one of
the most important city archive in Germany, housing the greatest
collection of documents for a single city from the period between
the early eleventh and the early nineteenth century.  On the basis
of its serial collections alone, it is arguably the most valuable
city archive for research in the late medieval and early modern
periods, when Augsburg was one the greatest cities of the Empire and
of Europe, a metropolis of commerce and culture, home to Fugger and
Welser as well as to Breu and Holbein, site of the Augsburg
Confession and the Religious Peace.  Located in a nineteenth-century
Burgerhaus, however, this great archive is at great risk.  The
current situation meets modern standards for neither study nor

Those of you who are familiar with the City Archive know from
personal experience that the reading room is small, stuffy and
shabby.  It lacks sufficient space for regular users.  It lacks
up-to-date catalogues to access the collections.  It lacks
sufficient, secure electrical outlets to permit the use of personal
computers by all users.  Such conditions are not only an
inconvenience for scholars but also a strain for both staff and

Far more important is the current situation of the collections
themselves.  As a result of their sheer size, the collections far
outstrip the available shelf space, so that a large percentage lies,
uncatalogued and unshelved, in cartons in the basement.  Given the
age of the structure and surrounding construction, that basement is
given to periodic flooding with predictable and consistently
lamentable results for the documents.  Shelved documents are, in
fact, no more secure, because there is no automated fire-suppression
system.  Given the age of the electrical and heating systems in the
house, the threat of an uncontrollable fire is a real and constant
presence.  All of these conditions contribute to an environment in
the stacks that has encouraged a proliferation of so-called
bookworms.  These pests enter archives and libraries through poorly
fitting windows and doors and proliferate where dust, dirt, heat,
darkness, and poor ventilation prevail.  The mature female insect
lays her eggs on the edges of books, or in the crevices between
quires, and the hatched larvae burrow into the books, riddling them
with tiny tunnels. Thus, even as flood and fire threaten the
collections of Augsburg's City Archive, the documents as of this
writing are quite literally being eaten away.

These are deficiencies, for which the archive's committed,
professional staff cannot entirely compensate.  Though its number
has increased in the last few years to say nothing of the level of
its professional training and its achievements in matters of
conservation, organization and exhibition have won well-deserved
praise, it cannot be expected to contend with the challenges that
confront them.

The situation has reached crisis.  Plans are now in hand to close
the City Archive for three years, beginning next summer, to permit
the fumigation of the building.  Not only will the collections be
unavailable for use, but the measures themselves will prove futile.
Experts have already reported the building so infested and so
unsuitable that the only hope for Augsburg's unique historical
record is to find it a new, safe home.

I have included a series of articles, which I invite you to read.
They document the story of the City Archive and its neglect no other
word, unfortunately, can accurately be applied by the city
government.  You will see that these developments are not new.  You
will see, also, that the city government has recognized the problems
by undertaking exploratory studies to move the archive to a new
location, where its collections can be appropriately stored and
studied.  You will see, finally, that the city government of
Augsburg has, its recognition of the problem notwithstanding, not
rescued the City Archive, claiming budgetary restrictions on the one
hand, while acquiring millions in new debt to underwrite the
construction of a new football stadium, among other "cultural"
projects, on the other hand.

The city government of Augsburg refuses to act.  Fiscal
considerations may be part of the explanation, but a failure to
appreciate the cultural and scholarly importance of the historical
record also plays a role.  In brief, the political leadership
neither knows what is in its archive, nor accepts responsibility for

This is where each of us can help.  I have been asked by our
colleagues, Professor i. R. Dr. Rolf Kiessling, Lehrstuhl fur
Bayrische und Schwabische Landesgeschichte der Universitat Augsburg,
and Professor Dr. iur. utr. Christoph Becker, Lehrstuhl fur
Burgerliches Recht, Romisches Recht und Europaische Rechtsgeschichte
der Universitat Augsburg, to organize a letter-writing campaign
among American colleagues, who may be more directly familiar with
Augsburg, to save the City Archive.  Let me therefore ask each of
you who see the scholarly importance of the Augsburg City Archive
and the human importance of cultural memory to write to the
Burgermeister of Augsburg, urging him to preserve the archive by
moving it without delay to its planned, new home in the renovated
structure of the Augsburger Kammgarn-Spinnerei.  Letters should be
sent to:

    Oberburgermeister Dr. Kurt Gribl
    Maximilianstrasse 4
    D-86150 Augsburg

By writing, we have the opportunity to help prevent a catastrophe,
rather than merely to read and grieve about it after the fact.

Thank you for your help.  Please contact me, if you have any

    Thomas Max Safley
    Professor Dr. Thomas Max Safley
    Department of History
    208 College Hall
    University of Pennsylvania
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6379

                  Conservation DistList Instance 23:17
                 Distributed: Sunday, November 15, 2009
                       Message Id: cdl-23-17-003
Received on Wednesday, 11 November, 2009

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