Germanic Languages and Literatures.

Germanic Languages and Literatures. For the first 84 years of Princeton's history, the College itself offered no instruction in modern languages -- though it did authorize outsiders to serve as tutors, at the students' expense. The appointment of the first faculty member in German seems to have come as an afterthought. In 1832 Benedict Jaegar, A.M., an Austrian, was engaged as Curator of the Zoological Museum and Lecturer on Natural History. Perhaps because he was ``a man of talent and learning, and an admirable teacher,'' he was also named Professor of German and Italian.

Jaeger discharged his diverse duties until 1843. Thereafter, German was taught by a succession of short-term instructors until the appointment in 1857 of the German-born Karl Langlotz (far better known as the composer of the music to ``Old Nassau''), who served until 1869. At that time the study of modern languages was entirely voluntary, and as Langlotz later recalled, students would drop out until his class of forty members was reduced to ``ten or so faithful ones.''

The man who finally established modern languages as a regular part of the curriculum was President McCosh, in 1868, the first year of his administration. The man he appointed as the first John H. Woodhull Professor of Modern Languages was surely the most flamboyant holder of that distinguished chair: General Joseph Karg‚. A native of Prussia, Karg‚ had studied at Breslau, Paris, and Berlin; had twice been imprisoned as a Polish freedom fighter; had fled to the United States and become a Civil War hero; and then, from 1869 to 1892, quietly taught German and French at Princeton. His arrival marked the beginning of a new era for the teaching of German. He was later joined by Herman C. O. Huss, and followed by Willard C. Humphreys, J. Preston Hoskins, George Madison Priest, and Max F. Blau.

Whereas 1869 marked the start of regular modern language instruction, 1904 marked its consolidation. In that year Woodrow Wilson established the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. Among the ``preceptor guys'' whom he chose in 1905 were Priest and Harvey W. Hewett-Thayer. Alumni (including the writer, Class of 1935) remember the superb instruction that they received from the peppery Hoskins (who used to start off lectures by removing his false teeth), from their friend and mentor Priest (who translated Goethe's Faust), and from the gentle and humane Hewett-Thayer (who wrote Hoffmann: Author of the Tales).

From 1938 to 1940 the distinguished author Thomas Mann was Lecturer in German. Others who in these and later years joined the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures as teachers of German were Bernhard Ulmer in 1936 (retired 1976), Werner G. Hollmann in 1945 (retired 1976), Walter Silz in 1948 (in 1954 he went to Columbia), and Victor Lange in 1957 (retired 1977).

In 1958 German was made a separate department, with Lange as first chairman. Lange enlarged the size and scope of the new department through a number of appointments: in 1960 William G. Moulton, a linguist; in 1963 Michael J. H. Curschmann, a medievalist; in 1964 Theodore J. Ziolkowski (named chairman in 1973), with primary interest in modern German literature; and in 1966 Stanley A. Corngold, a teacher of German and comparative literature. During 1965-1970 Lange was president of the International Association of Germanists, and the 1970 Congress of this organization was held at Princeton.

Princeton's German department, though relatively small, has come to be widely recognized as one of the most attractive in the country. Like many departments elsewhere, it provides instruction not only in literature but also in a practical command of German; and this aim is supported by a ``summer work program,'' which annually enables many students to spend a summer actively using German in a German-speaking country. As in all other modern language departments at Princeton, the interests of faculty members extend beyond their own particular professional fields. Many teach courses in European literature, in general as well as Germanic linguistics, or hold joint appointments with Comparative Literature. Uniquely among modern language departments at Princeton, German offers three types of undergraduate majors: language and literature, language and linguistics, and culture and civilization.

William G. Moultoun

~Gest Oriental Library, The, which has been administered by the University since 1937, is one of the Western world's greatest Chinese collections. It includes among other treasures several thousand fine and rare editions that were printed before the Gutenberg Bible, and one of the world's three complete sets of the original 1728 edition of the famous 5,000-volume Chinese Encyclopedia. The Library's two thousand volumes on medicine constitute the largest collection of traditional Chinese medical books outside China and Japan.

This extraordinary library was founded by Guion M. Gest (1864-1948) and I. V. Gillis (1875-1948). Gest, a Quaker in religion and an engineer by profession, suffered from glaucoma. On a business trip to China, he met Gillis (then a naval attach‚ at the American embassy in Peking), who persuaded him to try an old Chinese eye remedy. Although this medicine did not cure the glaucoma, it gave Gest some temporary relief and led him to commission Gillis to buy Chinese books on medicine for him. Gest later extended his interest to other fields and for thirty years impoverished himself to provide Gillis with the funds required to indulge his love of books. In the end, his library numbered some 100,000 volumes.

In 1937, the Institute for Advanced Study, with help from the Rockefeller Foundation, acquired the Gest Library and housed it in a University-owned building at 20 Nassau Street. In 1948 the Institute transferred custodianship to the University and the collection was moved to Firestone Library. In 1972 the collection was moved to Palmer-Jones, the home of the Department of East Asian Studies. The University's East Asian Collections, which include the Gest Oriental Library, now total three hundred thousand volumes in the East Asian languages, in addition to the University's holdings in Western languages, making it one of the five largest East Asian research collections in the Western world.


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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