Scholarly trove rescued

A professor of German has rescued from disrepair and scholarly oblivion one of the largest American collections of German-language materials - an important record of German immigration to the United States.

Frank Trommler, professor of German and comparative literature, played a large part in the revival of the Library of the German Society of Philadelphia, which was teetering close to obsolescence at the opening of this decade. This week's international conference on the future of German-American history, co-sponsored by the University, crowns Trommler's successful rescue, which he began by raising $1.1 million, mainly from German sources, to save the society's 90,000-volume collection.

"[The society] is a very good, if not the best, treasure of German immigration in America," Trommler said. "It also asks a question of the future: If you bring together money, supplies, people and scholarly know-how, what is going to happen in the next century? Will people make use of this and, specifically, will it play a role in German-American relations?"

Trommler first encountered the library during a conference at the society in 1983 celebrating the tricentennial of Germantown's settlement. "I just became fascinated with the library. But when I sent students and went myself in the late '80s and early '90s I found that it was just impossible to use; volumes were out of reach or inaccessible."

At this week's conference, more than 80 German and American scholars will gather along with editors and politicians.

Cooperation between the University and the Society dates back to the 19th century. Oswald Seidensticker, dean of German at Penn and the Society's librarian in the latter half of that century, began a collection of German Americana in 1867, bringing together close to 10,000 titles, including a work from 1683 by the founder of Germantown, Franz Daniel Pastorius.

The Society's library started in 1817, mainly stocking titles in English to facilitate immigrants' integration into society. The failed German revolution in 1848 brought a new wave of middle-class immigrants to the United States, and the collection subsequently shifted to mostly German-language texts.

For information about the conference, contact 627-2322, or visit the conference Web site.

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Originally published on April 15, 1999