Farewell ceremony for former Chancellor Dr Eberhard Firnhaber, who was responsible for setting up the University Archives, on 13 October 1998. From left to right: Chancellor Karl Hermann Huvendick, former Chancellor Dr Eberhard Firnhaber, former Rector Prof. Dr Karl Peter Grotemeyer, Rector Prof. Dr Gert Rickheit and University Archivist Martin Löning. Photo collection FOS 00865
The initiative to establish an archive at the University, which was founded in September 1969 with far-reaching reform ambitions under the expert guidance of Helmut Schelsky, is almost as old as the University itself. As early as 1972, the idea was considered to create a “university policy archive” as a repository for materials. In 1987, prompted by the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the University, the rectorate proposed the publication of a series entitled "Universitätsarchiv" (University Archive), which would be published annually and focus on the history of the University and portraits of notable people associated with it. Finally, at the end of 1994, the former Chancellor and honorary senator of the University, Dr. Eberhard Firnhaber pushed for the establishment of a permanent archive at the University with dedicated staff. He argued that as the years wore on, the University was in danger of losing the knowledge of its foundation, the founding concept and its realisation. The establishment of the University from 1996 onwards enabled the University to maintain its archives in accordance with legal requirements.
Initially the archive was staffed by a historian who was financed by the employment office and under the supervision of the representative for the buildup of the University Archive. The University Archive was assigned to the Office for Public Relations, as a working unit of the Rectorate. Following the founding structural concept, the collection was first organised into 14 divisions. Working closely with the Bielefeld City Archives, an archiving system was created supported by a data bank, which meant that staff and visitors were able to access the records more easily than via the conventional finding aids. The Archive was able to acquire records early on from the most important University bodies and institutions during its establishment. Despite this, time needed to be invested to raise its profile, so that people across the University would become aware of the importance of its central role as the University Archive. With the support of the University management, which included the distribution of a circular by the Chancellor (‘Provisional Regulation for the Safeguarding of Material for Archiving’), there was a considerable increase in acceptance for the requirement to submit materials of historical worth, as well as a reduction in the “wild” destruction of records. The founding Chancellor of Bielefeld University, appointed in 1968, witnessed himself the establishment and development of the “reform university” Bielefeld. Through him, it was possible to contact other witnesses of the time from the founding committee, the academic advisory board, from the political sphere and in administration. The resulting interviews supplemented the existing records held by the Archive on the University’s history. Records were also acquired from those organisations and persons related to the University, e.g. through the first chairperson of the Westphalian-Lippe University Society, Rudolf-August Oetker. However, a significant amount of records from this founding period are lost, no doubt due to extensive length of time it took for the Archive to finally be established.
In 2002, Martin Löning was appointed as a full-time University archivist. He had already provided specialist support during the establishment of the Archive. Exciting times lie ahead, as the Archive digitises its archival processes for the future.
Since 2015, the University Archive has been providing technical support for the indexing of Niklas Luhmann’s estate. In a project funded by the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences and the Arts, the collection is being reviewed, indexed and made more accessible to the public. You can find out more about the project on the website of the Luhmann Project.
At the moment, there are more than one hundred completely or partially catalogued holdings with about 40,000 archive entries in the University Archives. A good 10 percent of these are in the “Central Bodies / University Commissions” inventory group (including the Founding Committee / Academic Advisory Board, Convention, Senate, Rectorate and Public Relations Department). In addition, the group of holdings “Aufbau und Planung” (Structure and Planning), which primarily contains third-party sources, is particularly informative for the planning and founding phase of Bielefeld University, as is the aforementioned holdings of the University Society. In addition to the holdings from the "Administration" department and the papers of the individual faculties, there are also important (partial) bequests of important persons in the history of the University in the Archive, including Helmut Schelsky. Furthermore, the collections on the University’s history are being continually expanded to include printed matter, biographical holdings, newspaper clippings, posters, flyers, photos and films.