Columbia University Libraries Receives Gift of Stern Family Correspondence


NEW YORK, July 1, 2008 This past year, Professor Fritz Stern, Columbia’s distinguished historian of modern Germany and former Provost of the University, donated to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library a rich cache of more than 500 letters to his parents, Rudolf and Käthe, from a galaxy of noted German scientists and professionals in the first half of the 20th century.

Both parents were accomplished practicing professionals whose lives and careers intersected with important figures of the time. Perhaps the most notable was Fritz Haber, the Nobel laureate in Chemistry, who was a close friend and patient of Rudolf Stern and after whom Fritz Stern was named, and Richard Willstaetter, a Nobel laureate with the broadest interests. Stern noted, “The correspondence affords vivid insights into the home and front life of the First World War as well as the fragile world of Weimar and the terrifying aftermath.”

An acknowledged leader in kindergarten teaching, Käthe Brieger Stern immigrated with her family to the United States from Germany in 1938. Her innovations in the teaching of elementary mathematics and reading had a lasting impact on elementary school curriculums. Rudolf Stern was a physician and an expert on the traumatic origins of internal disease, as well as a veteran of the Great War.

“These letters will offer a microcosmic view of an important corner of the brilliant, multiply interconnected, and morally serious world that the German Jewish professional elite had built for itself between the middle of the nineteenth century and its tragic destruction by National Socialism. They are the record of a people for whom work, family, and bildung-- culture and education -- were the core of a decent, meaningful life,” said Thomas W. Laqueur Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor at the University of California’s Department of History. “Having heard about the Sterns’ circle in the writings of its illustrious son Fritz it is wonderful for the public to have the documentary record available as well through the generous donation Columbia has received.”

The letters complement materials already held by the RBML, including correspondence between his parents and Albert Einstein earlier donated by Fritz Stern.

To mark this important gift, the Libraries invited Professor Stern to address the Friends of Columbia Libraries on April 10th on his long career at Columbia. Stern enrolled in the College in 1943, and continued through graduate school, followed by a long and notable career in the Department of History. He was Columbia's Provost from 1980 to 1983 and acting provost in 1987-88.

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 10 million volumes, over 100,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 25 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 550 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries at www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb is the gateway to its services and resources.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library owns over 600,000 rare books in some 20 book collections and almost 26 million manuscripts in nearly 2,600 separate manuscript collections. It is particularly strong in English and American literature and history, classical authors, children’s literature, education, mathematics and astronomy, economics and banking, photography, the history of printing, New York City politics, librarianship, and the performing arts. Individual collections are as eclectic as they are extensive. For additional information about the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, please call 212-854-5153 or see: www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/rbml/index.html.

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