With HEIDI to the Pharaohs – Die Heidelberg University Library
The Bibliotheca Palatina was regarded in early modern times as the preeminent collection of books north of the Alps. It was created in Heidelberg when Elector Ottheinrich, an ardent bibliophile, merged the town's castle and university libraries in the Church of the Holy Spirit. Other literary treasures were added in 1584 when the Augsburg patrician and Protestant convert Ulrich Fugger bequeathed his extensive collection to the University of Heidelberg.
The painstaking and prolonged efforts to build up the library were ruthlessly cut short by the Thirty Years' War. When Tilly, commander of the armies of Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria and the Catholic League, took Heidelberg in 1622, Maximilian claimed the Bibliotheca Palatina as booty and presented Pope Gregory XV with its entire collection of over 3,500 manuscripts and some 13,000 printed works.
Medieval manuscripts on the WebNumerous subsequent attempts to repatriate the library from Rome to Heidelberg came to naught. To this day the bulk of the Palatina remains in Rome. In Heidelberg, however, the Latin works in the collection have been catalogued and can now be virtually perused on HEIDI, the Heidelberg library system's on-line catalogue. Researchers can also scroll through microfiches of the printed works kept at the Bibliotheca Vaticana.
In the year 1816, 847 German manuscripts did make it from the Vatican back to the town on the Neckar River, followed in 1888 – after a detour to Paris and as part of a negotiated swap – by the most illustrious German manuscript: the Codex Manesse, compiled in Zurich between 1305 and 1340, aka the Grosse Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, or "Great Heidelberg Collection of Ballads".
The library's in-house digitalization lab has processed selected portions of its copious historical collection, so one can now "leaf through" more than 70 manuscripts from the Bibliotheca Palatina on-line. In particular, all 852 pages of text and illustrations from the Codex Manesse are posted in colour on the Web, including the world-famous miniatures of 137 minnesingers (medieval bards).
Four specialist collections with virtual librariesThe historical hoards were heftily enlarged in the 19th century by the addition of a number of monastery libraries and the purchase of the collection of the Cistercian abbey in Salem, Germany. But those aren't the only treasures housed in the four-wing castle-like main building in the heart of Heidelberg's old town.
The Heidelberg University Library is famed beyond Germany's frontiers for the special collections it houses under the cooperative Scientific Library Systems and Information Services project of the German Research Foundation (DFG). Heidelberg's librarians amass all the printed and electronic media they can get their hands on in four areas of scholarship: Egyptology (covering every aspect of high pharaonic civilization from c. 4,000 BC to 400 AD), classical archaeology, medieval and modern art history up to 1945, and, of late, South Asia as well.
The library provides a wide range of electronic information services in these disciplines. Its specialized virtual libraries feature on-line catalogues, links to pertinent Websites, a document server called "HeiDok SSG" on which scholars the world over can publish articles free of charge, plus an express document delivery service, which handles orders within 48 hours for publications in the special collections.
From scriptorium to databaseYet the library's electronic services rounding out its conventional profile as a literature provider are not confined to the special collections. In addition to over 3 million books and periodicals and over 483,000 miscellaneous media like microfilms and videos, this public research facility provides access to more than 3,000 e-journals. What's more, upwards of 33,000 active users can ransack some 350 bibliographic and full-text databases on the Internet.
Germany's oldest university library does an impressive job of meeting the needs of our modern-day service-geared information society while scrupulously tending our historical heritage. If, after surfing its state-of-the-art databases, you feel the urge to stretch your legs and find out about the birth of bookmaking in the Western World, then take a stroll through the permanent "Skriptorium" exhibition on the upper level of the library to see how medieval scribes once toiled away and how parchment was once made.
Freelance journalist, Bonn.
Translation: Eric Rosencrantz
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
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