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University archive to make the knowledge of its archivists accessible

History of the Humboldt-Universität from its founding until 1945 available to research online

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University Archive of Humboldt-Universität
Photo: Alexander May

Anyone who wishes to browse the archive of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) can now find files and documents about figures like Friedrich Carl von Savigny, Lise Meitner or Robert Koch, whether at home or on the go.

This information is provided in the reference catalogues produced by the archivists, when they sort, assess and register inventories. Previously, these reference catalogues in the university archive were only available as hard copies on site in Berlin-Adlershof. In order to prepare for a visit to the archive, researchers were dependent on individual advice. These reference catalogues are now available digitally.

Documents spanning almost 2,000 metres of shelf space are preserved in the archive in Berlin-Adlershof. They cover the period between the founding of the university in 1810 and the end of the Second World War. The inventory is a remarkable source of infor-mation – for historical as well as biographical or genealogical research.

The archive of the former Berlin Universität, one of the most important universities of Prussia and Germany, holds one of the most significant inventories of German education history from the last two centuries. The history of institutional and personal connections and documents of professors as well as Nobel Prize laureates, students and institutes, are available to view there. Although it is still necessary to visit the archive’s reading room, the reference catalogues are currently being expanded with digitalised files, such as doctorate certificates.

The electronic reference catalogues now released encompass all the inventories of the archive from the 19th century, the period of the First and Second World War, the Weimar Republic and National Socialism. Moreover, additional reference catalogues are available in analogue form and are gradually being added to the online portal. At the same time, more recently dated files are being registered. What exactly are reference catalogues?

Reference catalogues provide access to information from individual files and documents. Their content is as unique as the files themselves. The archivists prepare them according to context. They closely consider every single file, examining them for the contextual background and assigning them a title, date and content overview. As each file is unique and only available as a single specimen, archivists are unable to rely on existing data when compiling reference catalogues. The sorting method is based on the chronological and administrative context that arises from the origin of the files in individual administrative units of the university. These units are subject to changes, and are reformed, re-structured, redefined and assigned to new staff. These processes are likewise considered in the archive’s reference catalogues.

This is because historical findings arise not least on the basis of relevant decisions. The content of a document often only becomes meaningful once it is possible to identify its origin, once it can be determined who produced the document, in which context and for which purpose. For this reason, the archivists in the HU archive reconstruct the university structures of long ago and manage those that are necessary to understand their history.

Further information

Archive of Humboldt-Universität (in German)

Website University Archive


Dr Aleksandra Pawliczek
University Archive
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Opening hours

Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.