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September 22, 2006

To the editor:

It is difficult to convey our shock, astonishment and dismay at the still barely believable news of the scandalous plan to sell the vast majority of the manuscript holdings -- some 3500 out of a total of 4200 volumes -- of the Badische Landesbibliothek in Karlsruhe in order to permit the house of Baden to pay off its debts and restore its last remaining residence at Salem. Other nations, for example, the United Kingdom, have found ways, through instruments such as the National Trust, to strike a balance between preservation and private property rights. Due, in part, to Dostoevsky, Baden-Baden, former residence of the Markgräfliches house, remains known around the world as the site of a now insignificant casino, but who would have thought that the government of Baden-Württemberg would turn out to be the biggest gambler of all? All other considerations aside, there is no way that the market could absorb so many manuscripts, many of them incomparable treasures, within a short span of time. It is therefore to be feared that a great many will be sold at prices that in no way reflect their real monetary value. Financial folly aside, with this act, arrived at in secret, without, apparently, proper public debate or review, one of the world’s greatest collections, in many respects an incomparable record and repository of over a millennium of European monasticism and memory, including, inter alia, major monuments in the history of art, literature, theology, mysticism and music, will be dispersed and destroyed. Books that have been conserved, catalogued, and exhibited (at considerable public expense) will end up God knows where. Many will disappear into private collections, becoming inaccessible to students, scholars and any wider public of culturally and historically-minded individuals. Historical collections -- monastic libraries assembled over centuries -- will be scattered, making it all but impossible to study them in systematic or a coherent fashion. Other books (perish the thought), having survived the Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic invasion, secularization, and two World Wars, will be broken up, made victims of the market -- and for what? To preserve, in apparent violation of due democratic process, let alone the public interest, the dignity of an overstretched aristocratic family.

A library is more than just a collection of books. It is a storehouse of memory, or better put, it is a resource that makes the work of memory, history and cultural self-consciousness possible in the first place. In WWII, despite the collection having been put in storage for safe-keeping, most of Karlruhe’s holdings -- some 360,000 printed volumes -- were annihilated by bombardment. Other great libraries, from Alexandria to Sarajevo and the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek in Weimar, have been lost due to accidents, vandalism or violence. Are we now to add Karlsruhe to this list of disasters? If so, it will have a place of special distinction, for in this case, a great library will have been destroyed, not accidently, but rather at the hands of the very people entrusted to protect it. It would be one thing if the collections in Karlsruhe were of no more than antiquarian interest, important only within a local or, at best, a regional setting. Even under these circumstances, their dispersal would be a scandal. Throughout the Middle Ages, however, and beyond, the Upper Rhine was a cradle of civilization, a major locus of European urbanism, a highway between north and south, in short, a driving force in European history. The sale of Karlsruhe’s manuscripts will be registered round the world as a clear signal that in Germany, the past is for sale -- and at bargain-basement prices. In selling off such treasures, the government of Baden-Württemberg makes a mockery, not only of democratic process, but also of its commitments to education, culture and the public good.

Yours sincerely,

Prof. Dr. Jeffrey F. Hamburger, History of Art & Architecture, Harvard University

Mitunterzeichnet von:
Prof. Dr. Ann Blair, History, Harvard University
Prof. Dr. Caroline Walker Bynum, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Prof. Dr. Walter Cahn, History of Art, Yale University
Prof. Dr. Margot Fassler, History of Music and Liturgy, Yale University
Prof. Dr. Roberta Frank, English, Yale University; President, Medieval Academy of America
Prof. Dr. Carmela Vircillo Franklin, Classics, Columbia University; Director, American
Academy in Rome
Prof. Dr. Rachel Fulton, History, University of Chicago
Prof. Dr. Patrick Geary, History, University of California, Los Angeles
Prof. Dr. Thomas F. Kelly, Music, Harvard University
Prof. Dr. James H. Marrow, Art & Archaeology, Princeton University; Fitzwilliam Museum,
Cambridge; President, Medieval Manuscript Society
Prof. Dr. E. Ann Matter, History, University of Pennsylvania
Prof. Dr. Robert Nelson, History of Art, Yale University
Prof. Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble, History; Director, Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame
Prof. Dr. Nigel F. Palmer, Medieval German, Oxford University
Prof. Dr. Ken Pennington, Columbus School of Law, School of Theology and Religious Studies
The Catholic University of America
Prof. Dr. Robert Somerville, History, Columbia University
Prof. Dr. Nicholas Watson, English; Chair of Medieval Studies Committee, Harvard University
Prof. Dr. Anders Winroth, History; Chair, Medieval Studies Program, Yale University

Kindly provided by Jeffrey Hamburger

More on the case in English see the recent entries at

More than 2000 scholars worldwide have signed the protest letter at


If you would like to sign the Open letter, send an email to
subject: Open Letter
please include your full name, title, institutional affiliation. AGB

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