Archive for April, 2017

Signing Off (28 April 2017)

Rathaus Platz Hamburg
22 April 2017

On Sunday I make the trek back home. It seems as though I have been away forever and Vibs tells me it seems like twice that long. An entire season (granted, not one of the best in Minnesota) has passed and the landscape will appear much different than when I left. Much more green and much less white and brown. The weather gods seem to be taking some perverse pleasure in teasing me; after an unseasonably cool Spring here in Hamburg, next week promises to be wonderful, with temperatures reaching the mid-60s and more sunshine. May Day, a major holiday here (and across much of the rest of the world) is supposed to be very pleasant.

As many of you will know, last Saturday, Marches for Science were held in more than 600 cities across the world. Hamburg had one and I attended. The rallying point was the plaza in front of the Rathaus and, as you can see from the accompanying photo, the crowd was of a respectable size. The proceedings started with speeches by the organizers (in both English and German) and then a brief address by a professor from the university. Lots of signs and costumes reflecting the numerous issues people felt needed to be addressed rationally. Perhaps needless to say, Trump caricatures were prominently featured. The event carried on despite a stingingly cold rain shower and swirling winds. At two points along the march route the assembly stopped to hear remarks by certain learned folk about the importance of reason and rationality in a time of increasing ignorance and misinformation.

This past week has seen a continuous round of goodbyes and social interactions. I have also been fortunate to encounter more people whose work gives new direction and focus to my own research. For example, a young Italian PhD student at the Center is doing experimental work attempting to re-create ink recipes found in certain medieval Arabic books. We were able to try making prints using the inks she made and the fact that inks used to write with are not so suitable for printing suggests that there may be, somewhere, recipes for printing ink and that would be awesome to find. So much work to do…

On one of my last days at the Center, about mid-morning, we were told we had to evacuate the building. This information was conveyed in person by one of the stalwart student workers who told me that the fire alarm system was temporarily out of order. (I flashed back to the numerous fire drills we endured over the years at Drake, always on the worst weather day of the season, it seemed) In point of fact, there was a small combustion event that had taken place in one of the kitchens (each floor has a small one where there are coffee makers, refrigerators,  and tea kettles, no stoves). It turned out that someone unfamiliar with the technology had left a package of paper coffee filters on the heating element of a coffeemaker– with predictable results. So, we had some excitement. No major damage was done and we returned to work with a faint whiff of burnt paper in the air.

Up In Smoke
26 Warburgstrasse

Two days to go and suddenly I’m at loose ends. I will start packing today—putting the suitcase out on the spare bed will be a reminder that this chapter is nearly at an end. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I actually did this, that someone thought enough of my work to allocate a sort of investment to it. Of course, that means I am now under some pressure to produce something and so I must re-order parts of my life to make it happen. Funny how life throws you curves when you least expect it. Time will tell what the result may be. Thanks for reading. Auf Wiedersehen.

Odds and Ends (18-22 April 2017)

Odds & Ends (18-22 April 2017)

So, a week to go. It seems that no matter how much planning one puts into a schedule, there’s always a flood of unfinished business at the end. The last several days have been full of “goodbyes,” promises to keep in touch, pledges of “let’s get together one more time before you leave,” and other assorted affairs to be attended to. Slowly, I’m beginning to discard the clutter that seems to accumulate without effort, despite my best intentions of keeping it to a minimum. What notes should I keep? What things can I send home, being fairly certain that I won’t need them in the next seven days? Is there someone willing to take my leftover groceries? It’s such a shame to throw out a nearly full box of muesli. (The answer is yes, my Fulbright Fellow neighbors are happy to have them so they won’t end up in the landfill or wherever they take such things.)

I’ve begun to think about the places I want to visit one more time, the restaurants I want to have a meal in because they serve something special, the coffee shop I found tucked away on a residential street that has REAL homemade pastries and good coffee and where I can sit with the newspaper or a book for an hour or so without being disturbed. Aside from these pleasures, I also have been busy consulting with as many of the bright young minds working in the center as I can. It’s amazing how a casual forty-five-minute tour of someone’s workspace can prompt new ideas, a potentially useful avenue of research that would not have occurred to me otherwise. Not to take advantage of such opportunities would border on the irresponsible.

There’s still time to enjoy the city and to do things. This afternoon a March for Science is being held in the Rathausplatz, the big open square in front of City Hall. It’s one of many similar marches being held in about 400 cities around the world. The purpose is to show support for rationality and the exercise of reason in everything we do, a tough row to hoe in the current climate but activism of this sort is still alive and kicking in Europe and it seems to be taking hold in the States as well. We hope someone is watching and listening. Tonight, there is a city-wide event called the “Long Night of the Museums.” Museums across Hamburg will be open until late and will be hosting all sorts of cultural events. If I can stay up, I just may have to check this out.

And the weather is slowly improving. Hamburg is apparently notorious for quickly changing conditions (sort of like Iowa) so you take an umbrella whenever you’re out. This morning I ran some errands and within the space of two hours I experienced a deluge with whipping winds, a smattering of hail (about 10 seconds worth), a few errant flakes of snow that never even reached the ground, and sunshine. As you can see from a couple of the pictures below, it’s getting green and it’s a bit sad to be leaving just as the warm weather is arriving, but I’ll catch it in Minnesota.

View from my window
Note sun AND dark clouds

Park behind Dammtor Train Station: Ice Cream in 50° weather! But look at the flowers…

A quiet street in my neighborhood. Probably not named for THAT Bieber…

Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)

This post is part of a series of “Resources and Services” posts from the Faculty of Cowles Library.

What You’ll Find in ECCODeclaration of Independence, 4 July 1776, by John Trumbull

Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) includes primary source content from over 200,000 books, pamphlets, essays, broadsides, and other documents:

  • printed from 1701 to 1800;
  • printed in the British Isles, Colonial America, the United States of America (1776-1800), Canada, or British territories, in all languages;
  • printed in any other part of the world, wholly or partly in English or other British vernacular.

The foundation of ECCO comprises publications from the Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalog (ESTC) project. In 1977, the British Library and the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies began a joint project whose aim was “to create a machine-readable union catalogue of books, pamphlets and other ephemeral material printed in English-speaking countries from 1701 to 1800.” [1] The project was later expanded to digitize and include publications dating back to 1473 (and was renamed the English Short Title Catalog), but the ECCO database contains the ESTC content from 1701-1800.

ECCO presents content as images of original book pages. You can search the text of these pages and download up to 250 pages as PDF files. ECCO contains content supporting research in literature, history, music, religion, medicine, law, linguistics, fine arts, and more.

Searching ECCO

Like most databases, ECCO provides a Basic and Advanced search. The Basic Search allows you to search for terms in the Keyword, Title, Subject, and Author fields, or within the pages of the documents themselves. You can enter a date limit and choose from one or more subject areas.

The Advanced search allows you to do all of the above, as well as combine terms from different fields, specify additional search fields (e.g., Publisher, Place of Publication), limit by Language, limit by Illustration type, and apply a “Fuzzy Search” option. Fuzzy Search looks for near matches and variant spellings of your search terms. Because of the variant spellings often found in historical documents, as well as the possibility of scanning errors during digitization, we recommend setting Fuzzy Search to at least Low.

Research Tools in ECCO

Be sure to consult ECCO’s Research Tools to explore detailed and carefully crafted Historical Contexts. These documents are essentially entries from reference works on a topic (e.g., French Revolution, War of American Independence, Slavery and the Slave Trade, Enlightenment) that present an overview of the topic within the context of the eighteenth century.

The Key Documents section provides an overview of what you can expect to find on a given topic in ECCO, where the collection’s strengths lie, and a list of important works (including links) in that subject area. Here, for example, is an excerpt from the “History and Geography” Key Document overview:

The history and geography collection, although rich in titles on English life and history, spans the world as it was known to eighteenth-century historians and travelers. It is particularly strong in ancient history, including many editions of Edward Gibbon’s masterpiece, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The user will also find numerous histories of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the nations and states of Europe (with particular strength in histories of the Scandinavian countries), as well as histories of Russia. The collection is strong in titles on the French Revolution, particularly English responses to it.

If you have questions about how to use Eighteenth Century Collections Online, reach out to a librarian.

Ambrose Digital Streaming Video

Need to convince your audience about the realities of global warming? Take a look at the extensive collection of streaming video clips available on Ambrose Digital Streaming Video. “Arctic with Bruce Parry” is just one of several series dealing with our changing climate. In this five part stunning series Bruce Parry journeys around the Arctic Circle to explore the lives of its many peoples in a rapidly changing world. Episodes include such locations as Siberia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Northern Europe.

Ambrose Digital Streaming Video is a collection of streaming video clips and full programs. The database includes all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays produced by BBC as well as additional films in history, social sciences, literature, fine arts, and the sciences.

  • All videos include synchronized captions, compliant with requirements of section 508
  • All closed captions are searchable
    Unlimited streams, unlimited simultaneous users
  • Public performance rights are included
  • 8 citation styles (APA, Harvard, MLA, MHRA, Chicago, CBE/CSE, Bluebook, AMA)
  • Viewable on all devices

46 new BBC programs now available:

  • Arctic with Bruce Parry – A World of Extremes:  Travel to the Arctic Circle, Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Russia and Northern Europe to explore the people and the effects of Global Warming. Five 50-minute Programs
  • Death Camp Treblinka – Survivor Stories:  Two men bear final witness. One 50-minute Program
  • Nature’s Microworlds:  Discover the key to life in the Galapagos, the Serengeti, Svalbard, and the Amazon. Sixteen 30-minute Programs
  • Rise of the Continents:  Discover the supercontinent that split apart to create 7 continents. Four 60-minute Programs
  • Shakespeare in Italy:  Travelogue Reveals the myths and stories that inspired Shakespeare. Two 50-minute Programs
  • Brazil with Michael Palin:  Meet the people and places that shape this nation. Four 55-minute Programs
  • Fierce Earth, Series 1:  Experience some of nature’s most destructive forces–earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. Ten 30-minute Programs
  • Orbit – Earth’s Extraordinary Journey:  Follow the Earth’s voyage around the Sun for one complete orbit. Three 60-minute Programs
  • Secret Universe:  Journey Inside the Cell:  Narrated by David Tennant, a high tech adventure inside our own cells. One 50-minute Program


As Time Grows Short… (5 April 2017)

With a month to go, I have been thinking about what’s changed here over the course of my nearly forty-year association with the country. I first visited Germany in 1983 when I was finishing my graduate degree. A return flight from the Middle East had a transfer in Frankfurt and I took the opportunity to break my journey and visit some of my father’s relatives in that city. I remember that some buildings, bomb-damaged during WWII were still standing. Not many, but a few, and there were a number of vacant lots where destroyed structures had once stood. All of that is gone, now. Damaged buildings have either been rebuilt and restored (mostly architecturally important public ones) or replaced with new construction.

The population has changed dramatically, too. Since Germany began to admit Turkish “guest workers” in the 1970’s, the face of Germany has become much more diverse. The recent admission of a million refugees from Islamic countries in the Middle East and North Africa has only intensified the heterogeneity. It is not uncommon, as I think I mentioned in an earlier post, to hear fluent German being spoken by people who are obviously of African origin, or Asian for that matter. In that way, Germany is not unlike many other places in the world where a multiplicity of ethnicities and cultures are showing up where they wouldn’t have been found, at least not in great numbers, even twenty years ago.

The influence of the United States is also increasingly apparent. Commercial television is one example, something else I’ve also alluded to before. There seem to be a great many more English words used than there used to be, too. The standard greeting is no longer “guten Tag,” but “Hallo” or even “hi” among 20-somethings. Passing by a group of students the other day, I overheard one say, “Ich hab’s ge-Googelt” (I Googled it). Well, why should I be surprised? Germans use Google, too. “Hotline” is hotline in German; “cool” is cool.

I took an extensive walk today, the primary purpose of which was to find free jazz performances being held somewhere in the city center (it was a big disappointment not to be able to find them) and I saw several American muscle cars being driven about by their proud owners who were eager to get them out of the garage after a long winter: a 1962 Corvette (sweet!), a 1960-something Mustang V-8, and a couple of others. Motorcycles—a bunch of Harley Davidsons—cruised about in their annoying, rumbling, blatting way, many ridden by too-stereotypical guys in t-shirts and over-ample girths. It could have been Des Moines!

Trying to find anything of the “old” Germany takes time and luck. Of course, we don’t want to look too hard for it in any case, but for some things—like beer for instance—you want to be able to trace a heritage. Bread is a case in point. You can buy the plastic wrapped sort in any grocery store, but most places will still have a proper bakery where you can buy a freshly-baked loaf. But that bread is usually the sort of bread you’d find in any bakery. On one of my strolls, I happened upon a small neighborhood bakery that sold varieties of old fashioned peasant rye bread, the kind of loaf that can serve as a doorstop after three days on the kitchen counter. The shop does a pretty good business judging from the line I had to stand in to purchase an experimental half-loaf a few weeks ago. But the customers were pensioners by and large and I wonder how much longer they’ll be able to keep places like that going. Other minor things also retain a sense of earlier times in Europe. Commercial toilet paper, for example, could easily serve as a substitute for materials used to give a final smoothing to fine woodwork. The Germans are a hardy lot, it seems.

That the “old” Germany is disappearing is a fact and not too many people will be sad to see it go. Yes, there are some things, like high quality craftsmanship and durable goods, that are also harder to find. Even some of my students here lament the “decline” in quality. But the streets are clean, the parks tidy and well tended, the people are still assured of good health care, education, and quality of life, for the most part. The economy is strong. It seems that people are always working. It’s a bit depressing to see beggars, panhandlers and homeless people on the streets. The “safety net” isn’t catching everyone, it appears. The infrastructure, like ours, makes the news because it’s failing in some places. Stretches of highway are in need of major overhauls and the quandary is how to fix them without causing huge traffic jams. Sounds familiar. But I have the sense that here they’ll decide what the best way to proceed is and get the work done. And it’ll be done well.

Another indication of new sensibilities is the official signage one finds posted here and there. This sign, telling people not to fasten their bicycles to the iron fence, is in a type face that we associate with a rather dark period in German history. My reaction to it is one of anxiety because I think of the Nazi period when I see it.

Like these guys…

The last thing I would want to do is to lock my bike up to that fence. But for those Germans born in the 80s, 90s, or 00s, this style of text won’t have that resonance and so it loses its force.

The danger, of course, is that people will forget the horrible things, too, and that could lead to very bad things happening all over again. One always hopes that our values and our institutions are so well established that they will make it difficult if not impossible for those bad things to occur, but history doesn’t hold out much hope for that outcome. Whether we’re all just three missed meals away from total chaos is a hypothesis I don’t want to test.

Sunday Reflection

A quiet Sunday in Hamburg. Another sunny day but a bit cooler than yesterday. Being here is so much easier when the weather is pleasant. Granted that most of my time is spent inside, either in the office, in a classroom, or in the library. And speaking of libraries, it has occurred to me that I haven’t said much of anything about the libraries here in Germany and as a former librarian, I think I should make some observations about that institution.


The print world seems to be alive and kicking in Germany. When I am out in the evenings and apartment lights are on, I cannot but be amazed at the number of homes that have bookshelves prominently featured. The walls of nearly every living room have bookshelves—floor to ceiling bookshelves—filled with books. Bookstores seems to be numerous as are newspaper vendors. The university libraries are huge (I think I mentioned that the Staatsbibliothek in Munich has some ten MILLION volumes). The library for the University of Hamburg, which also serves as the state library—hence the designation of “Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg,” meaning the state and university library of Hamburg—has 3.7 million bound volumes, 886,000 electronic resources, 7,500 western manuscripts, 1,500 eastern manuscripts, 3,200 music manuscripts, 5,800 print journals and 69,000 e-journals. This serves 40,000 students as well as the 1.2 million citizens of Hamburg. (There are other public libraries in the city as well.) The main library, Carl von Ossietzky Library, is located on the university campus and other branch libraries are scattered about.

University and State Library Hamburg

The law library is on Rothenbaumchaussee, across the street and down half a block from where I am; the Asian and African and social science libraries are just near the train station, also a five-minute walk away. Then there’s the reference library in the Center for the Study of Manuscript Cultures where I spend most of my days. It’s small, occupying a room about 20 x 30 feet and devoted, as you might guess, to works on the history of manuscripts and books from Asian, Africa and Europe.


Using the library is pretty straightforward and incredibly efficient. I was issued a library card during my first week here. It has a personal number and a PIN associated with it. With this information, I can access the catalog, all the university databases and check out books. When you want to borrow a book, you find it in the catalog, tell the system you want to borrow it, and enter your card number and PIN. Within eight to twelve hours, your book is ready to be picked up. You go to the library, drop all your gear—coat, hat, bag—in a free locker and enter the borrowing area. Here, you find rows of numbered shelves. The last digit on your ID card tells you which number shelf holds your material. You then use the first four digits to locate your book. A paper slip bearing your ID number and the first four letters of your last name has been inserted into the book so you can identify it. You then take your book to a check out machine. There you place your ID card, bar code up, on the table. The machine reads your number, then you place the book on the table and the machine reads the RFID tag attached to the book. You complete the transaction and you are done. The book is de-sensitized so you can pass through the security gate and you’re off. The slip of paper tells you when the book is due and if you want to renew, you simply log into your account on the library system and renew, just like at Cowles.


One big difference is the classification system; no LC here. I haven’t tried to figure out the entire scheme, only what I need for my particular area. The library has the obligatory café and the librarians are, just like at home, very helpful. The place is also, ALWAYS, full of students and faculty. I think it makes a big difference that university students in Germany, as in most of western Europe, do not pay for their educations, or at least only a very modest amount. In addition, they are provided with stipends that enable them to live while they are studying. Of course, the other major difference here is that only the best of the best, historically, have been granted this privilege. A university education here is not, unlike the States, considered a birthright. But then, also unlike the States, there are many other opportunities to receive training that will provide you with a way to make a living.

A Scottish Respite and Back to Work (3/24-3/31)

The past ten days or so have been a bit hectic. It appears that I contracted a rather nasty chest cold somewhere between northern Germany and Copenhagen. I felt pretty okay, but my ribs ached so much that I almost cancelled my long-planned trip to Kinross in Scotland last weekend. By the time I left last Thursday, though, I could tell that the worst was over and I was fairly sure I was no longer contagious. Just in case, I had my Scots hosts swing by a chemist’s shop and I picked up some good ol’ Robitussin. That did the trick.

Loch Leven

Kinross is about an hour outside Edinburgh and my friends’ cottage backs onto a nature preserve that surrounds Loch Leven. The loch is idyllic; lots of wildlife, birds especially, along with cows and sheep. Rabbits abound as do foxes and badgers, apparently, which has compelled the wildlife authorities to build a rather elaborate fence around much of the grasslands bordering the loch so that the birds can nest without fear of having their eggs poached (so to speak…).

Four days of eating when hungry, sleeping when tired, drinking when thirsty and chatting whenever the occasion arose did much to re-energize me. The sun had followed me to Scotland and we had four brilliant days with springtime temperatures. Lots of walking.

My flight back to Germany took about ninety minutes but we lost an hour of time because of the time zones. Nonetheless, I was back in the apartment at a decent hour and managed to get a good night’s sleep before my second seminar on “agency” on Tuesday. That went well and four of us, two students, another professor and I went out for dinner afterwards. The sun had set by then but even though the temperature had dropped, we sat outside at a café with a bunch of hardy Hamburgers and enjoyed our meal. One thing I’ll say about the Germans: they are a hardy lot. There are many cafes that offer outdoor seating, even in March. They simply provide cozy, colorful lap robes for people desiring to enjoy their food and beverages outside in twenty degrees. Kids play outside even on the greyest of days; parents watching over them with their shoulders hunched and hands stuffed deeply in their pockets. With the weather improving, there’s work being done everywhere to freshen paint, repair winter damage and make the plazas and courtyards inviting.

Spring has definitely arrived here. It gets dark much later now (thanks in part to the clocks being set forward last Sunday) and the grass is greening daily. Flowers are everywhere and flowering trees are already beginning to drop their blossoms. Runners have shed their insulated running pants and ice cream parlors are doing great business. The streets are a-bustle with Hamburgers enjoying being outside without raincoats, hats, gloves and all that. Time to turn your face up to the sun.

Plantings in the Gästehaus Courtyard

34 Rothenbaumchaussee

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