Processing Archival Collections as a Bilingual Archivist

by Andrea Lurie - January 10, 2024

German and English correspondence of Felix Hirsh from the 1930s
German and English correspondence of Felix Hirsh from the 1930s.

During my tenure working as a graduate student assistant at the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives from 2022-2023, I processed the Hermann Rauschning Papers and the Felix and Elisabeth Hirsch Papers among several other arrangement and description projects. The Rauschning and Hirsch Papers were especially exciting for me because of my knowledge of German. I studied German language from sixth grade to my senior year of undergraduate studies. My passion for German language and culture comes from my dad; he was stationed in Germany during his time in the U.S. Army.

Along with being a graduate assistant in the Department of Special Collections and Archives, I received my dual degree MA in History/MS in Information Science (Archives and Records Management concentration) at the University at Albany. The overlap allows for students to expand on the unique skillsets from both programs. As an example, I was able to apply my knowledge of history and language to archival practices.

Hermann Rauschning (1887-1982) was a German author and politician, who served as the President of the Freie Stadt Danzig, or the Free City of Danzig from June 1933-November 1934. Danzig was a city state, established as a self-governing power in 1920, as a breakaway from the German Empire. During the rise of Nazism, Rauschning was initially a supporter of the movement, but eventually broke from the party in 1934, and emigrated from Germany in 1936. As a political émigré, Rauschning settled in the United States and authored a variety of political works on Germany. The collection contains a variety of materials in German, English, and French; correspondence and publications authored by Rauschning comprise the bulk of the papers. Correspondence with other German émigrés, such as Golo Mann (1909-1994) and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (1888-1973) is included.

Another political émigré, Felix Hirsch (1902-1982) was born in Berlin and received his Ph.D. from Heidelberg University in 1923. He was editor of various German newspapers before he came to the United States in 1935. He earned a degree in Library Science from Columbia University and became a librarian at Bard College at Annandale-on-Hudson, NY in 1936. Felix Hirsch also served as a professor of History at Bard until 1954. In 1955, he became librarian and professor of History at Trenton State College in New Jersey, retiring in 1972. The collection contains his biographical materials, correspondence, manuscripts of books and articles, as well as academic lectures.

A specialist in Renaissance philosophy, Elisabeth (Fesit) Hirsch (1904-1998) grew up in Berlin, received her Ph.D. in Philosophy and History from the University of Marburg, immigrated to the United States in 1938, and married Felix that same year. After raising their two sons, she began teaching at Bard College and, beginning in 1956, was Professor of Philosophy and Modern Languages at Trenton State College. The collection includes her correspondence and offprints.

Besides being able to apply my knowledge of German to processing, arranging, and describing the collections, I also enjoyed applying my research skills in history to find biographical information about Rauschning and the Hirsches. Understanding the context of the record creator, like how their lived experiences shaped their work, and how their life fit into a historical narrative, allows for the materials in a collection to be better represented. For example, Rauschning’s background as an émigré and a conservative politician, who attempted to represent the complex identity of the German nation during the 20th century connects all of the materials. Understanding both German and English, the predominant languages in the Rauschning and Hirsch Papers, allowed me to have a unique perspective on how German and American audiences perceived the issues Rauschning and Felix Hirsch discussed in articles. A bilingual approach also encourages a unique comparative examination and can promote a deeper understanding of cultures.