Inspiring First ReIReS School in Mainz

September 23-28, 2018, the first training session of ReIReS was held in the form of a week-long school. 13 scholars and librarians from different countries all over Europe came to the Gutenberg-city Mainz for the school “Use and study of special documents” to learn which sources and documents are available through the special collections of the libraries and archives, which have joined ReIReS, and how to use them for investigations of historical-religious issues.

The school began with an introduction to ReIReS’ training programme by Karla Boersma (Theological University of Apeldoorn). In the Martinus-Bibliothek, the Academic and Regional Library of the Diocese of Mainz, Dr. Christoph Winterer showed mediaeval manuscripts and early printings as a short introduction to the special collections and then allowed the participants to “discover” books with fragments in the closed stacks. After learning strategies and resources, the participants took manuscript fragments in their own hands to identify the texts and works these scraps originally belonged to, and were mostly successful in doing so – often to the astonishment of the scholars. That kind of  “hands on” training with the materials – instead of “hands off” – the scholars who participated – rated highly and felt like they were part of an episode of “CSI”.

Each day meeting in another library of the institutions affiliated with the ReIReS partner JGU Mainz, the scholars first got a presentation of the available materials by acknowledged experts, introducing the relevance of specific expertise with respect to the different kinds of documents and showing the range of research. The focus of the Mainz’ school was, due to the holdings, on book history and provenance research. In the training sessions the participants learned how to work with historical documents and were challenged to use their new skills. An evaluation of the results and reflections on how the participants can disseminate the knowledge they acquired and train others to the same approach rounded out every day of the school.

Hymnbook Archive

In the hymnbook archive different versions of the well-known hymn “Te deum” were compared under the guidance of the experts Prof. Dr. Ansgar Franz and Dr. Christiane Schäfer to reveal the intention of the alterations in different historic and religious contexts. In the version of the hymn that was printed in the “Feldgesangbuch” for the soldiers in World War II, the participants discovered that in the Nazi period words of Hebrew origin were eliminated and the hymn‘s structure destroyed. By omitting the Christ verse, the word „Volk“, people, no longer meant the people of Christ but the German nation. You cannot visit a hymnbook archive without singing, and so the “Te deum” was intoned together while everybody sung it in his local language, which harmonized very well.

Jewish Library

Prof. Dr. Andreas Lehnardt introduced the group on Wednesday to the Jewish Library at JGU Mainz, which holds a collection of almost 5,500 volumes, among them rare Hebraica and manuscripts, and is one of the very few libraries spared from the persecutions in Germany. Today it is part of the Protestant Faculty on loan from the Jewish community of Mainz. Most interesting is the reconstruction of the ownership of some of the books, religious and profane works, which originate in the libraries of the former liberal and orthodox Jewish communities at Mainz. The fact that here a library of historic interest survived and is available in open stacks prompted a discussion about the future of libraries with old and rare holdings in the era of digital data in the various European countries. The discussants agreed that we need an awareness of European cultural heritage and that a book not only holds a specific content in form of texts that can be digitised, but also is a unique witness for studies about history, culture, mentality, religion and other fields.


In the Wissenschaftliche Stadtbibliothek of Mainz the focus lay again on provenance research to reconstruct the former Mainz Carmelite Library. The participants got historic books and worked in groups under the guidance of Dr. Annelen Ottermann to detect and identify provenance – they read ownership entries, researched former owners, and analysed successfully the results. During a visit to the bookbinding workshop an insight into the archaeology of the historical book inventory, the components of books and their preservation was provided.

Palaeographical Training

On the last day, Pof. Dr. Claus Arnold offered a session on the topic of palaeographical training on Latin texts of the Early Modern period and an exhibition in the Martinus-Bibliothek with drawings and woodcuts from the 16th century of the Swiss artist Urs Graf Mainz was given by the curator Dr. Ute Obhof. Of course the group also explored the city of Mainz and visited the cathedral of St. Martin, the Gutenberg-Museum, and St. Stephen’s Church to admire the windows Marc Chagall created as his only work in a German church and which shine a mystic blue light on the interior and on the visitors.

The participants agreed that it was very inspiring to work in internationally and interdisciplinary mixed groups and that the training significantly increased their expertise in terms of the awareness of the importance of making use of the results from different disciplines to analyse and use the materials of these collections for research in the domain of historical religious studies.

Alexandra Nusser M.A.

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