Archives News: Pforzheimer Fellow

Pforzheimer Fellow James McSpadden enhances access to Bruning archive

This summer, the Harvard University Archives is hosting James McSpadden, a Harvard graduate student in history and Harvard Library Pforzheimer Fellow. James is working on the papers of Heinrich Bruning, Chancellor of Germany and Littauer Professor of Public Administration at Harvard. The project goal is to survey six uncataloged accruals of Bruning material held by the Archives and create in-depth descriptions to support discovery and access by researchers.

Read on for James's thoughts on archives and research, and a sneak peek at his discoveries so far...

"History graduate students spend hours and hours in archives, but we are often stuck in reading rooms going through finding aids and ordering boxes that catch our eye. Few of us have the privilege of working closely behind the scenes with archivists to help describe and catalogue unprocessed accessions. As a Pforzheimer Fellow at the Harvard University Archives this summer, I have that unique opportunity with the collection of Heinrich Brüning. My dissertation touches on Brüning, the German chancellor from 1930 to 1932, and the political world he inhabited, but after looking in every folder and opening every envelope in several unprocessed accessions, I have a much better picture of Brüning as a person.

I’ve been surprised at how much work happens behind the scenes [in the Archives]! Researchers see the reference archivists, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I would encourage [researchers] to be open to archivists’ suggestions. Ask for advice and have dialogue with archivists, there’s so much more under the surface..."

War Diary

"Several things in this collection are objects and images that stand out in casting Brüning in a different light than the one favored by historians who write of him as a politicians on the threshold of Hitler’s seizure of power. For example, Brüning’s own experiences as a German soldier on the front lines of the First World War are brought to life with his so-called “War Diary” from 1918. With a cover like any normal appointment book, as a soldier Brüning wrote in his near inscrutable shorthand about his unit’s movements and engagements. The page for November 11, 1918—the day the 11 AM armistice brought an end to the war—clearly shows that Brüning’s plans changed for the day, with his original notes crossed out and replaced with new ones. Brüning later used this appointment book to reconstruct his own recollections for his memoirs, but with this book his connection to the front line—and the wartime experience that shaped him and his entire generation—seems all the more real."

The Wild West

"Heinrich Brüning’s collection is also interesting in that it contains material from his elder brother Hermann. Growing up in a strict Catholic family, Hermann joined the priesthood and traveled on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church to the United States even before the outbreak of the First World War in Europe. Part of Hermann’s experiences in America included a trip to the Wild West—at least in a photo studio. Curious images of him and friends from 1921 ended up in Brüning’s collection alongside a photograph of Hermann dressed as a proper priest. The juxtaposition of the images of the priest and the cowboy is particularly striking. Hermann labeled one of these picture postcards in German as being of “the German and Austrian delegation in the Wild and Wooly West.” Presumably, the wooly reference is to the outlandishly fleecy chaps he is wearing."

Shoes to Order

"In addition to the priest-turned-cowboy photos, Hermann’s letters scattered around his collection include one of the most cryptic items I’ve ever come across in an archive. An envelope from Germany in 1913 addressed to “Reverend H.J. Brüning” in Cumberland, Maryland, included a small swatch of black wool cloth wrapped inside a scrap of paper. Finding textiles is itself rare, but also in the envelope was the traced image of someone’s foot that had been cut out and carefully folded. This foot drawing includes measurement and the German phrase: “Most important not too small,” likely a reference to shoes that were being requested. Whether this is Hermann’s order for custom-made German shoes to match his latest black priest’s cassock or the request of one of the Brüning family in Germany for the latest in American shoe style of the 1910s, we can’t be sure. However, these small everyday items preserved in the collection of man known as a leading politician of the Weimar period shed new light on his youth and his family life."

A Silent Salutation

"A large part of the family correspondence in Heinrich Brüning’s collection is between him and his sister Maria. During the years of the Third Reich when Brüning was in exile, Maria remained in Germany and secretly continued to send her brother letters. This image is of a letter she sent to Heinrich Brüning in 1935 addressed to him under the false name “Elisabeth” and signed by “Aunt” Maria. This letter is particularly poignant because it includes a pressed leaf at the top about which Maria wrote: “I just now came from the grave of your dear, loving mother, and from there I’ve brought you a silent salutation, the last and only violet.” Maria risked her own safety should she be found to be corresponding with her brother; nevertheless, she risked sending him this letter and a poignant reminder of his mother."

Taking Note

"The unprocessed accessions in Heinrich Brüning’s collection contain a number of folders dating from his time as a doctoral student. Among this material are several drafts of Brüning’s dissertation as well as copious notes on various economic and historical books. This image is of two fairly typical pages of Brüning’s reading notes from his university studies—representative in that Brüning took notes in various languages (here we see Latin for the majority of the notes, as well as German) and typical in that we see different scripts (here Brüning used Latin script, traditional German Kurrent script, and his own shorthand). Brüning’s shorthand, which is limited on these pages to a phrase or two, becomes more and more prominent in his private notes during his political career. Far less frequently found among Brüning’s notes are doodles like this one of a mountain. I imagine graduate students everywhere can understand doodling instead of focusing on taking notes on the books we are reading for our dissertations!"