Université de Strasbourg

Libraries and cultural transfer

Libraries and cultural transfer: the case of the National University Library (BNU) Strasbourg

USIAS Fellow: Frédéric Barbier

Since the 1450’s, Strasbourg is one of the historical capitals for books and printing, thus all related activities have tremendously developed for centuries. In addition, the city has played a key role in cultural transfer between France, Germany and most of the continental Europe until the modern era.
The history of the main library of Strasbourg, the Bibliothèque National Universitaire Strasbourg (BNUS), can provide a new perspective to these phenomenons. Under the French monarchy, Strasbourg owned one of the finest collections in Europe (libraries of Magistrat and of the city, but also of religious and teaching institutions). After the Revolution everything was seized and restructured into a new library, which was then nearly entirely destroyed by German bombings in 1870.
The new authorities started reconstituting a collection conceived as a showcase for the success of the German empire. A new building was inaugurated in 1895, and the library ranked second, in terms of budget, among all German libraries. The end of the First World War and the re-annexation of Strasbourg and Alsace to France lead to the start of a new project; the “BNU nouvelle” which aimed at enhancing this rich patrimony and to put the library on a trajectory that would go beyond the traditional national rivalries.
The BNUS is a unique example to better understand not only the history of the city and the Rhineland, but also the history of institutions and ideas, as well as the issue of cultural transfers, national identities and European integration between two major actors, France and Germany. The main objective of this projectis to propose a History of the BNU, which will be analysed through the issue of cultural transfer in order to make sens of the European framework. The project will be linked to the creation in Strasbourg of a Center for Book History.

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