History of the academy archive

The archive of Berlin's Academy of Sciences was established soon after the foundation of the Electoral Brandenburg Society of Sciences (Kurfürstlich Brandenburgische Sozietät der Wissenschaften). It was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz himself, founder and first president of the Berlin Society of Sciences, who advised the academy to store its research results and documents in an archive. In his general instruction dated 11th July 1700 which, along with the foundation document of the same date, is the most important formation document of Berlin's scientific academy, he stipulates: “We wish all such proposals and works entrusted to our care to be placed at the disposal of the society in order to enable its members to communicate and examine what is needed, what to be improved on and what to be rejected. Whatever is good should be filed away, stored and kept and not be lost or forgotten, as has in the past been the case with many useful inventions and concepts.” The establishment of the academy archive, which at that time could only mean the non-current records of the Society, was the task of the ordinary member and secretary of Berlin's Society of Sciences, Johann Theodor Jablonski (1654-1731), who was responsible for the archive in the first third of the 18th century. His principle duty, however, was to manage the academic and administrative affairs of the academy. A report submitted in 1707 by Jablonski, secretary of the Academy of Sciences, to Leibniz, president of the Academy, bears testimony to the early existence of the archive. In it, he informs Leibniz that the Prussian king, Friedrich I, has passed on a manuscript sent to him “ad archivum societatis”.

As we know from the records, the documents written in the first three decades after the academy had been founded were stored in the home of the academy secretary, J. Th. Jablonski. After his death in 1731 they were taken to the observatory in Dorotheenstraße, the site of the main part of the academy until 1752. The archive files were stored there in a small chamber for a considerable period of time. In 1753, a year after the academy had moved to its new premises on Unter den Linden, the archive was also temporarily moved into the main building. At that time the building was, however, in a condition which left much to be desired. As a consequence, autographic scripts of Leibniz on the foundation of the academy were presented to the members in the academy's plenary session on 5th October 1758 after they had been found “sous l'escalier de l'observatoire”.

1765 was a year of fundamental significance for the development of the academy's archive in the 18th century. In the February of that year Frederick II appointed a commission consisting of academy members Leonhard Euler, Johann Georg Sulzer, Louis Isaac de Beausobre, Jean de Castillon, Johann Bernhard Merian and Johann Heinrich Lambert. They were to investigate the reasons why the academy income, incurred through the sale by royal order of calendars and maps, had considerably declined in the course of the Seven Years War, and were to offer ideas on how to augment its income. The members of this ‘Commission nommée par Sa Majesté pour examiner les revenues de l'Académie' discovered during their investigation that countless documents which they had presumed to be in the archive were still in the homes of the academy secretary, Jean Henri Samuel Formey, and the calendar administrator, David Köhler. This gave the commission members every reason to deliberate on the establishment of a new archive and to then implement their decision in its favour.

In the academy budget drawn up by the commission for the year of 1766, which was handed over to Frederick II to be sanctioned on 16th September 1765, the position of an archivist was provided for with an annual income of 250 talers. In a cabinet decree dated 22nd September 1765, Frederick II informed the commission that he had ratified the academy budget submitted by the members with his personal signature. The office of the academy archivist had thus been officially authorised.

The question of how the archive should most purposefully be organised and under whose responsibility it should be put gave cause for heated controversy between Euler and the other commission members. The underlying reason for the dispute was the question as to whether or not the academy directors should continue to be in charge of the administration of the academy, or whether the newly formed commission should assume the responsibility for it all from then on. Euler, director of the mathematics section and, since Maupertuis' departure from Berlin and consequent vacation of his post as president of the academy in 1753, head of the academy administration with the approval of Frederick II, doubtless felt that even the creation of a commission of enquiry was a sign of disapproval of his previous administrative activity.

In the commission meeting on 3rd October 1765, Euler presented his concept on the organisation of the archive in a written document, ‘Sur l'Etablissement de l'Archif'. Euler pointed out that the academy archive had hitherto consisted of two departments. One of them incorporated the records which had developed from the scholarly activity of the academy, whereas the other encompassed the financial and administrative records, which were very extensive due to the indirect form in which the academy was financed (monopoly of the calendar etc.). Euler had the notion that each of the two departments should be manned by its own archivist, whereby it was imperative for him that the academy treasurer should also hold the office as registrar of the financial and administrative records. With regards to the manning of the positions, Euler proposed to abide by the prevailing arrangement whereby Formey, the permanent secretary, remained in control of the archive holdings originating from academic activity, whilst at the same time Köhler, the former administrator of the calendar and treasurer at that time, should take care of the financial and administrative archive holdings because of his detailed knowledge on the subject.

Euler's recommendations were rejected decisively by the other commission members, who soon called themselves the economic commission. They did not find it advisable to have two people responsible for the archive and thus accommodate it in two different places, and were in favour of a single archive in one place, where both of the historically developed departments should remain. They wanted the archive to be directed neither by the permanent secretary nor by the academy treasurer, but rather by someone independent of these two officials. A final matter of deliberation was whether or not to make the archive responsible to the economic commission, which would have to fall back on the documents of the archive for its work. The controversy over the organisation of the archive and over who was to make the decisions on the financial and administrative affairs of the academy caused Euler to resign as a member of the economic commission in November 1765. Disillusioned, he left Berlin a year later and returned to the Academy of Sciences in Petersburg.

The duties of the academy archivist were promptly outlined by the economic commission in 1765 in a detailed list of procedural rules. According to this list, the archivist was to participate in the academy meetings so that he could make note of letters and manuscripts which had been sent and which he could then ask to be forwarded to the archive at the appropriate time. Each year, he was to ask the permanent secretary of the academy for his minutes and files and transfer them to the archive. According to the rules outlined, the archivist was also obliged to be at the disposal of the academy as registrar and copyist.

It was the intervention of the economic commission, therefore, which prepared the ground in 1765 for the independent existence of the archive of the Academy of Sciences. On 17th January 1766, Privy Councillor Flesche started to work as the first archivist under the new regulations. Shortly afterwards Jacob Weguelin, professor of history at the Ritterakademie (Knights' Academy) in Berlin, followed in his footsteps. He became an ordinary member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences and held the office of archivist until he died in 1791.

In order to gather all the important source documents together in the academic archive, the economic commission asked the directors of the academy and the permanent secretary to hand over the older minutes, manuscripts and letters of correspondence to the archive. There was adequate space in the observatory to incorporate both parts of the hitherto existing archive into one central archive. The economic commission, which officiated until 1798, had obviously chosen this location deliberately: it was there that the weekly meetings of the commission members took place. After the archive had been newly established, extensive measures were introduced to reorder the documents of the archive. From 1766 to 1768 the archival holdings, which had emanated from the academic, economic and administrative activities of the academy and were kept in the archive, were recorded in alphabetical order according to subject matter in a register comprising three volumes. In 1786 the oldest existing finding aid of the archive came into being, the ‘Catalogue des actes'.

In spite of the measures which were taken to secure the academy's archival material, it was not possible to avoid a loss of files passed on from the 18th century. The reason for this is to be found not so much in the fact that French troops occupied Berlin in 1806 during the Napoleonic wars and also overran the academy archive twice in the process, but rather in the careless attitude of leading representatives of the academy towards its written documents. Neither the academy president Maupertuis (1698-1759) nor academy secretary Formey (1711-1797) paid much attention to keeping the official correspondence they exchanged in the name of the academy separate from their extensive private correspondence. Because of this, their private papers and the official correspondence they contained fell after their death into different hands, and were kept in various places outside the academy. It is pointless, for example, to look in the academy archive for the letter of thanks for the admittance to the Berlin Academy of Sciences written on 5th May 1751 by Denis Diderot, the writer of the encyclopaedia. It is in the archive of the Académie des Sciences in Paris, where the private papers of Maupertuis, president of the Berlin Academy, have been kept since 1990.

After the reorganisation of the Berlin Academy of Sciences in the years between 1807 and 1812, the archivist's field of duty was further extended. Alongside his work as archivist and registrar, he was henceforth also responsible for the academy library, the printing of the academic scripts and for the administration and stock-taking of the academy's items of art. His extensive and varied tasks were specified in 14 points in the ‘Instruction for the archivist of the Royal Academy of Sciences', resolved by the academy secretariat on 8th June 1825. The office of the archivist is mentioned in detail for the first time in paragraphs 40 and 41 of the statutes of the academy dated 31st March 1838.

In 1824, Karl Heinrich Ulrici became the academy archivist. On entering the office, he found the archive to be in a desolate condition. At this time, the archive had had to vacate its rooms temporarily because of alterations that were being carried out on the academy building. In the process, the files had been indiscriminately piled up in heaps in the academy loft. The documents, some of which had not been adequately filed away, fell asunder with the result that Ulrici found, in his own words, a ‘large heap of single sheets of paper, sacrificed to destruction'. After extensive effort had been invested into arranging and describing the academy files from the period ranging between 1700 and 1811 and listing them in catalogues, he was able to produce a new finding aid in 1832, the ‘Inventory for the documents in the archive of the Royal Academy of Sciences, section 1 from 1700 to 1811 incl.'. This finding aid, based on an excellent classification system according to objective criteria, has held good to this day. Ulrici also compiled a finding aid for the winning essays of the open competitions set by the academy, for the academy members' lectures and for other sundry manuscripts.

In addition to the official records of the academy which were transferred to the archive ‘ex officio' in the second half of the 19th century and even more so in the 20th century, the private papers of academy members and other scholars of significance have come into the care of the archive as a donation, an acquisition or as a deposit. Since 1945, these private papers have become the second pillar in the tectonics of the archive holdings.

After the dissolution in 1944 of the Literaturarchiv-Gesellschaft, which had been founded in 1891 on the initiative of the philosopher and academy member Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911) with the aim of collecting, preserving and using the private papers of people of significance from the fields of literature, science and art for the purpose of research, its holdings of private papers were transferred into the possession of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. They were initially looked after by the German Commission of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and later by the Institute for German Language and Literature of the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin. In 1968 the holdings of private papers of the former Literaturarchiv-Gesellschaft were transferred from the Institute for German Language and Literature into the academy archive which, according to the statutes of the academy, was responsible for them. The archive, with its literary legacies, has since then been one of the leading literature archives in German-speaking countries.

During the Second World War, the holdings of the academy archive were stored in the shaft of a salt mine close to Bernburg an der Saale for security reasons. At the end of the war they returned, having suffered only minor losses, to the old academy building on Unter den Linden, which itself had been very badly damaged in the war. The archival sources of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, which the Soviet army had taken to the Soviet Union in 1946, included three folio volumes containing the diplomas of Alexander von Humboldt and one volume containing the minutes of the meetings of the general academy from 1890. They were not returned to the academy archive until 1996 and 1997 as a result of negotiations between Germany and Soviet Russia and Germany and Georgia over the exchange of archival holdings which had been moved due to the war.

On 1st March 1952, the archive was newly established as a scientific facility of the academy following a resolution of the executive commission of the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin. The academy had been re-opened on 1st July 1946 on the basis of order No. 187 of the Soviet military administration in Germany. In accordance with the state archive administration of the GDR, the academy archive had the function of an ultimate archive with the exclusive authorisation to accommodate the written and audio-visual holdings which had already been and still were being collected as a record of academy activity since 1700, along with the private papers of academy members and other scholars of significance. This function as an ultimate archive was, at a later date, anchored in the statutes and academy instructions and in the archival laws of the GDR.

As early as in 1957, the archive and its holdings had been moved into the main building of the academy at the Gendarmenmarkt. The underground strong rooms there which had been used by the former Prussian State Bank provided good storage facilities.

The transformation of the Berlin Academy of Sciences from a fellowship of scholars into an academy with its own research institutes, which began in 1946, also brought about changes to the archive. In view of the fact that the academy's research institutions were distributed widespread over the entire territory of the GDR, there was no question of a centralised storage of the documentary holdings of all the academy institutes in the archive in Berlin, as the stack capacity was not available. The archive therefore had to cope with the task, from the end of the fifties onwards, of building up an archival network and establishing institute archives in the institutes as record centres. The academy archive was the archive which was ultimately responsible for all of the institute archives. It was its duty to provide professional training for those people delegated to work in these archives and supervise them.

In addition to the preservation and supplementation of the academy holdings, the user-orientated description of the archival material has been a further objective over the past decades. The task of arranging and describing the holdings has brought tangible improvements to their utilisation in all archival departments. In 1972, the archive also began to take an inventory of the academy's items of art property which, in 1983, were removed from the archive and kept in one place to form an independent custodial group.

During the time of political change between 1989 and 1990, it was not sure that the academy archive would continue to exist as such. When the re-unification of Germany took place on 3rd October 1990 after the Unification Treaty had been drawn up on 31st August 1990, the Academy of Sciences of the GDR was separated as a society of scholars from the research institutes and other facilities. State law was to decide on the future of the society of scholars. The research institutes and other facilities were to remain institutions of the member states until 31st December 1991. During this time, the academic institutions were assessed by the academic council. On 3rd October 1990, the archive and its holdings had fallen under the jurisdiction of the state of Berlin. Like all other institutes and facilities of the GDR academy, it was under the control of the interim administration KAI-AdW (a coordination post for dealing with the institutes and facilities of the former GDR Academy of Sciences). Regarding origin, subject matter and the utilisation of its archival holdings, however, it saw itself at the same time as an infrastructural institution of the society of scholars.

The planning group of academics from east and west, appointed in December 1990 by the senate of Berlin to develop ideas on a future Academy of Sciences in Berlin, decided that the academy archive should continue to exist. The then president of the society of scholars applied at the same time for an assessment of the academy archive by the academic council of the Federal Republic of Germany. The council made this assessment on 18th March 1991. Its recommendations set the course for the incorporation of the archive into the Academy of Sciences which was to be newly established. From 1st January 1992, until its incorporation into the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the archive was under the control of the ‘Coordination and Development Initiative for Research in the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia reg. ass.' (KAI e.V.), which had replaced KAI-AdW.

The archive was assigned with the archival safeguarding and transfer of the written heritage of the academy institutes and facilities which had been dissolved at the end of 1991. In the course of 1991, the archive was confronted with a massive flood of official records from the central executive body and administrative departments of the GDR academy when it was dissolved.

With the transfer of the institutes and facilities into the sovereignty of the state in which they were based in accordance with the stipulations of the unification treaty, an ultimate archive for the whole of the former Academy of Sciences in the GDR was no longer required. In accordance with KAI-AdW, the archive of the state of Berlin and the administration of the Senate for Science and Research, the archive was, however, responsible for the official documents – including personal files – of the academy institutes and facilities in Berlin. For this reason, it concentrated in 1992 on the transfer and archival securing of records emanating from the over 40 academy institutes and facilities which had been dissolved. In order to enable the safeguarding of this considerable volume of records in the archive, an outpost with a stack capacity of over 3 000 running metres of files was established. In the years 1990 to 1993, the archive took over a total of 2 500 running metres of documents, amongst them 15 000 personal files. It has meanwhile also taken over the files of the former Academy of Sciences in West Berlin and those of KAI-AdW and KAI reg. ass.

The contract drawn up by the states of Berlin and Brandenburg on the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, which became effective on 1st August 1992, was a decisive step towards the incorporation of the archive into the Academy of Sciences which was to be newly established. Article 12, paragraph 2 of the state contract stipulated that the newly constituted academy was to take over the infrastructural facilities (library, archive, curator) of the society of scholars from the academy of the GDR. On 28th March 1993, the official ceremonial act for the newly established Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities took place. A commission, elected in the plenary session to be responsible for matters relating to the library, the archive and publications, determined the aims and the structure of the archive. The commission decided that the items of art property of the former archive, which had been separated from the academy archive in 1983 and kept and safeguarded elsewhere, were to be returned to the archive's collections department. The commission also worked out regulations for the archive and the access to it.

Since 1st January 1994, the archive has been an academic institution of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, since 2004 under the responsibility of the Director for science administration. The archive is accommodated in the academy building in Jägerstraße 22/23. Its outpost is at Hausvogteiplatz 5–7.

The academy archive was substantially redeveloped from 2012 to 2013. It was possible to create a spacious, modern reading room in the entrance area of the archive with 11 reading desks and two places with internet access. The exhibition areas were enlarged so that the archive treasures could be displayed more effectively and to enable the participation of larger groups of people in a guided tour of the archive. The former reading room was transformed into a finding aid room where also events can take place. As a result of these measures, smaller events or meetings for up to 15 people can be held in the archival area. Modern compact shelf systems were fitted in the main stack-room, increasing the storage capacity from 1,900 to 2,000 running metres. By installing air conditioning in the stack-room and other additional measures, optimal storage conditions were created there for the precious archival documents.

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