A Short History of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH)

„Sacred love of the fatherland gives us spirit“ (sanctus amor patriae dat animum)

It was under this patriotic slogan that Freiherr Karl vom Stein and ten fellow scholars founded the „Gesellschaft für ältere Geschichtskunde“ in 1819, declaring it to be a society dedicated to „the production of a complete edition of the source writers of German medieval histories.“ In 1875, the society was reconstituted with the designation of its first president, Georg Heinrich Pertz, and the creation of a central board of directors with its seat in Berlin. The first members of the board were the scholars Mommsen, Waitz, Stumpf, Sickel, Giesebrecht, Hegel, Euler, and Perz himself. Further historical developments saw the co-optation of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica as the „Reichsinstitute für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde“ in 1935 and, in 1945, the restauration of the institution through representatives of the German and Austrian academies, supplementing the board with new members from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Since 1949, the MGH have had their seat in Munich. They moved into their present location in the building of the Bavarian State Library (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek) in 1967. In over 200 years, many eminent historians have contributed and still contribute to fulfilling the mission of the MGH: the edition of medieval sources of German history.

A corporation of public law since 1963

In 1963 the MGH became a non-profit corporation governed by public law. As such, they fall under the legal charge of the Bavarian State Ministry of Education, Research and the Arts. The MGH cooperate with the scientific academies in German-speaking countries (the Academies of the Sciences and Humanities in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Mainz, Munich, and Vienna and the Geschichtsforschende Gesellschaft of Switzerland) and operate a number of external research posts.

Developments in the 21st century

In the last decades, the programme of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica has expanded continually to embrace further genres of source material and new areas of research. Besides works of historiography, charters, and constitutions and laws, the MGH now publish epistulary collections, poetry, memorial books and necrologies, political treatises, sources for the intellectual history of the Middle Ages, and Hebrew texts. The MGH journal, the „Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters“, publishes source-critical studies accompanying and evaluating editorial publications and keeps apace with current developments in international mediaeval research.

The world’s largest specialised library for mediaeval history

The cornerstone of the MGH library was laid by the Munich mediaeval philologist Ludwig Traube († 1907) who endowed the state with his private library under the condition that it be made available to the Gesellschaft für Ältere Deutsche Geschichtskunde for the purpose of preparing editions. In 1911, Traube’s collection of palaeographic and codicological material was ideally supplemented by the complementary library of Oswald Holder-Egger, the longstanding chief editor of the MGH Scriptores series. Until 1944, the MGH library was housed in Berlin; thereafter it was removed to Schloss Pommersfelden near Forschheim, where it survived the war. In 1949, it was moved to Munich.

The MGH library offers users free access to the stacks with some 150 000 books. The collection includes two complete and 90 fragmentary mediaeval manuscripts, 19 early modern manuscripts, 8 incunabula (early printed books published before 1500) and 106 postincunabula, ca. 3000 reproductions of mediaeval manuscripts (on film, film reproductions and photo-plates), and 205 current periodicals. The reading room has 34 workplaces and a stock of 2500 reference works to hand. The library is completely accessible through the MGH online catalogue.

The records of 200 years MGH history

The MGH archive essentially preserves the research materials of the "Gesellschaft für Ältere Deutsche Geschichtskunde". Originally, these were housed first in the private rooms of of Johann Friedrich Böhmer in Frankfurt and thereafter in the home of Georg Heinrich Pertz in Berlin. After his appointment as director of the Königliche Bibliothek in Berlin, Pertz took the archive to the library building. In 1874, the MGH records passed into the hands of Waitz’s successors, Richard Lepsius as library director and Theodor Mommsen as president of both the MGH and the Berlin Academy of Sciences. A catastrophic fire in Mommsen's study in July 1880 prompted the society to purchase an armoured safe for the particularly valuable work materials and manuscripts, which were henceforth stored for safekeeping in Waitz’s private rooms. By the time Waitz died in 1886, the Monumenta had already taken up permanent residence in the Königliche Bibliothek. The archive remained there until 1943.

The fate of the archive in the Second World War and in Divided Germany

While the MGH library was evacuated to Schloss Pommersfelden in Franconia, the archival records remained at first in Berlin. In 1943, 30 crates of archival material were removed to the Harz mountains. Eight of these were irretrievably lost, but 22 crates were found in Blankenburg in August 1947 (cfr. MGH-Archiv B 719) and handed over to the East German Akademie der Wissenschaften (they now form the nucleus of the present-day sub-fond A). Until 1992, these records remained in the hands of the GDR Akademie der Wissenschaften where they were re-sorted and indexed.

The greater part of the records from the years 1829 to 1935 survived the war in a cellar of the University of Berlin. In January 1946, they were removed to the Secret State Archive (Geheimes Staatsarchiv) in Berlin-Dahlem, where a provisional post of the MGH was installed. When this post moved to the Akademie der Wissenschaften in East Berlin, some of the records went with it and were merged with the other archival materials in sub-fonds A. The preponderance of the material, however, was retained in the West due to political tensions. It was stored in the Geheimes Staatsarchiv and indexed as Repositorium 338, although technically speaking it was a depositum of the MGH, not a repository.

In Pommersfelden and later in Munich, the archive of the reorganised MGH began anew storing newly accrued records and the materials that had been returned after 1945. These records, inventoried with simple numerical signatures, now form sub-fonds B. In 1975, they were reunited with the West Berlin depositum (338) and, in 1992, with the other materials from East Berlin (sub-fonds A) that were returned to the MGH under the terms of an agreement with the Akademie der Wissenschaften of Berlin-Brandenburg.