Intellectual Networks

Scholars’ Libraries of the Early Modern Period as Loci of Knowledge and Communication


The library of an early modern scholar was a place of creative activity, everyday reading and writing, collecting data and excerpting from books and files, observing nature and conducting philological research. The texts and letters of theologians and physicians, philosophers and lawyers originated in and with their libraries, where knowledge was acquired and communication took place. Thus scholars’ libraries and their provenances are valuable sources for the history of knowledge, ideas, books and persons.

At the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel a two-folded project focuses on the scholars Leonhard Christoph Sturm (1669–1719) and Johann Gottfried Lakemacher (1695–1736).

Leonhard Christoph Sturm

Sturm was an architectural theorist, an active participant in theological debate, and a professor of mathematics and architecture at higher education institutions, including the Ritterakademie Rudolph-Antoniana in Wolfenbüttel. By examining his private library and heterogeneous sources and media associated with Sturm – such as letters, machine drawings, books borrowed from the ducal library, invoices, service correspondence, lecture protocols and quotations – the project investigates the interactions between the holdings of both his own and the ducal book collections as well as Sturm’s literary and practical output.

The project’s main focus is the network of knowledge and scholarship which connected Sturm to his contemporaries and within which he was active. Digital Humanities methodologies are used to produce a survey of Leonhard Christoph Sturm’s intellectual sphere. It is hoped that this approach will stimulate and advance further research into semantic determination and the reconstruction of heterogeneous collections.

Johann Gottfried Lakemacher

Lakemacher is regarded as the typical Helmstedt professor. His library is the embodiment of a book collection assembled by a contemporary professor and scholar. The project aims to answer questions arising from the sale of Lakemacher’s books (approx. 2,000 bibliographic units in approx. 3,000 volumes). The collection’s history is characterized by its owner’s death and the resulting independent life of his books, thereafter circulating among new owners. The project thus focuses on scholarly book ownership and the destinies of individual books in the context of the University of Helmstedt.

The auction catalogue and sales protocol, both of which have come down to us, are a primary object of investigation, offering access to sales procedures and individual fates of books. The dynamics of private book ownership – the acquisition and dissolution of a book collection – serve as a data repository on the basis of which normative rules and social, economic and intellectual factors can be calculated, collated and visualized with the aid of digital methods.

Project phase 1: „Writers‘ Libraries: Materiality – Orders of Knowledge – Performance“

The current project is furthering research carried out under the Writers’ Libraries: Materiality – Orders of Knowledge – Performance framework, a project successfully completed in the first funding phase. This first phase explored early modern scholars‘ libraries as sources for book, knowledge and personal history, using c. 450 17th- and 18th-century Dutch and other auction catalogues which are held in the HAB collections. The project intended to reach a better understanding of breaks and continuities in scholarly biographies, business cycles in the book market, the history of knowledge, and natural philosophical and philological cultures. Special attention was given to the development of the library of the German exile, chiliast and mathematician Benedikt Bahnsen.

Research Project