Cambridge University Library

Rare Books

A detailed study of the Library's historic German holdings was carried out in 1994 by David Lowe. This can be found in the Handbuch deutscher historischer Buchbestände in Europa, which stands at B85.44h (in Rare Books Reading Room).

View of Munich. Topographia Bavariæ (Franckfurt: Matthæum Merian, 1644) (F164.a.1.4)

View of Munich. Topographia Bavariæ
(Franckfurt: Matthæum Merian, 1644)
(F164.a.1.4)

Brief descriptions of the main named collections for the German language and German area studies are provided on this page, linking to more detailed data where appropriate :


This page also contains details of German language collections of donated material which have not been kept within Rare Books as named collections but have been divided up and distributed amongst the Library's general collections :



Named Collections

The Acton Library

The Acton Library is the collection of John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, who was Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge from 1895 until 1902. The collection was donated to the library in 1902 by Lord Morley and is the most significant donation as regards German content (of the 60,000 volumes it contains, approximately 15,400 items are in German). This is unsurprising considering Acton's family connections (both his mother and wife were German) and the considerable amount of time he spent studying at the University of Munich. The books range from the 15th to the 19th centuries and the main subject emphasis is the political and ecclesiastical history of Europe. The major strengths of the German sections of Acton's library are the materials relating to the Reformation and the Thirty Years' War. Another remarkable aspect of the Acton Library is the the number of works printed by small local presses scattered throughout the German-speaking world. The collection also contains a significant body of material relating to Switzerland.

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Bensly Collection

The books of Near Eastern scholar and Professor of Arabic Robert Bensly (1831-1893) were donated to the library in 1894 on condition that they be kept together as a special collection. The German component of Bensly's library is an integral and important part of the whole. The collection is essentially a scholar's working library from the second half of the 19th century and it has three particular emphases: comparative Semitic philology, Syriac (and to a lesser extent Arabic) texts, and Biblical commentary. Printed catalogues of manuscripts in all three fields are a noteworthy feature of the collection.

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Hunter Collection

The Hunter-McAlpine Library, a collection of 7,000 works on psychiatry and psychiatric treatment formed by Ida McAlpine and her son Richard Hunter, was purchased by the library in 1982. The material in the collection ranges from the 16th to the 20th centuries and more than 1,000 of the works were published in German-speaking countries. The subject matter is wide-ranging: from withchcraft and demonology to epilepsy and dreams. It also includes works by, and about, pioneers in psychiatry such as Emil Kräpelin and Sigmund Freud. In addition, there are also many detailed accounts of individual hospitals and lunatic asylums across the German-speaking world produced by small regional presses.

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Illustrated volumes of the Insel Bücherei

The Library seeks regularly to expand its collection of pictorial volumes from the Insel Bücherei, which currently contains over 400 titles. These stand together as a special collection, with the classmark CCD.30.

The nucleus of the collection, consisting of 183 titles, was presented to the Library in January 1983 by Hans Schmoller in commemoration of his parents. The Insel Bücherei was launched by Insel Verlag in 1912, and the first volume with illustrations - tales by Boccaccio - appeared in the first year.

To read more about the Illustrated volumes of the Insel Bücherei, please click here.

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Collections on National Socialism (CCC.25 and CCA,C.26)

The library has two closely linked collections on National Socialism comprising approximately 1,600 volumes. The first contains a selection of books representing National Socialist Germany and is based on a collection of 750 items, including school textbooks and songbooks, which were acquired in August 1947 through His Majesty's Stationary Office.
            A parallel collection has a somewhat wider scope and is based on a collection acquired from Paul W.J. Alicke in 1927. It is concerned with National Socialism and its origins and contains some 850 items. It includes many titles published in the early decades of the 20th century, as well as works exemplifying other patriotic ("völkisch"), racialist, and pan-German movements. It also contains contemporary works critical of such movements.

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Royal Commonwealth Society Library

The RCS Library was presented to Cambridge University Library in 1993 after a £3 million national appeal saved the collection from being broken up and sold. The RCS Library is the most extensive collection for the history of the British Empire and the Commonwealth in existence. The collection contains over 300,000 printed items, over 600 archival collections and over 100,000 photographs. Although the library is primarily of importance for its English language material, an attempt was made from an early stage in the library's history to collect material relating to foreign colonial powers and their territories. A select bibliography of publications on foreign colonisation contained in the Library of the Royal Colonial Institute was published in 1915 and demonstrates the wealth of German material in the collection. Almost half the items listed relate to German colonisation, particularly of German South-West Africa, Togoland, Kamerun, German East-Africa, the Pacific and the Far East, Mesopotamia and the Bagdad Railway. Unfortunately, the German holdings suffered considerable damage during the bombing of London in World War II so it is impossible to quantify the number of German titles in the collection.

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Ritschl Collection

Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl (1806-1876) was a German classicist. Ritschl was a professor in Breslau, and worked in Bonn and Leipzig respectively, where his pupils included Friedrich Nietzsche and August Schleicher. His collection of 6,000 foreign dissertations was donated to the Library in 1878 and more than three quarters of this collection comes from German universities. The subject area is mainly classical and theological but there are also a substantial number of dissertations devoted to classical antiquities and ancient history.

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Der Krieg: Illustrierte Chronik des Krieges (Stuttgart: Franckh, 1914-1918) (WRB.2.9-)

Front cover of Der Krieg: Illustrierte
Chronik des Krieges (Stuttgart: Franckh, 1914-1918) (WRB.2.9-)

War of 1914-1918

An extensive collection of books, periodicals, pamphlets and ephemera relating to the 1914-1918 war (also called the War Reserve Collection). This collection was started in 1915 by the former University Librarian Francis Jenkinson in order to produce as detailed a documentary record as possible of the European conflict. Approximately 20 percent of the collection is in German. The collection is particularly notable for its fugitive material. There is an extensive collection of personal narratives and reminiscences, many of which are in German and date from as early as 1915. Another key element of the collection is the trench journals, flysheets and pamphlets produced by men at the front line. There are also magazines from internment camps such as Lager-echo and the Deutsche Internierte-Zeitung. The World War I Collection is invaluable as a history of wartime propaganda.

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Donated materials

Library of David Josef and Herbert Bach

David Josef Bach was a leading social democrat, journalist and "Kulturpolitiker" in early twentieth-century Vienna. After Bach's death in London in 1947 his library passed to his nephew Herbert, whose widow presented the books to Cambridge in 1975. This donation added approximately 1,900 new titles to the collection and considerably enriched the library's holdings of German literature from the period 1900-1930. The particular strengths lie in its collection of Austrian authors, in plays and in works on theatre history. It thus complements the Schnitzler Papers. The collection also contains a strong selection of works from other European literatures in German translation.

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