The history of the Jahn Library – like the history of African literature in Germany – is closely connected with Janheinz Jahn and Ulla Schild. The Jahn Library owes a great part of its virtually unique holdings to their enthusiasm for contemporary African literature and collector's zeal.
In 1951, following his encounter with Léopold Sédar Senghor, Janheinz Jahn began to collect not only bibliographic information on black writers from all over the world but also copies of their literary works. For several years, his private collection was even maintained by a trained librarian, Claus Peter Dressler, who supported Jahn in his work.
After Janheinz Jahn's death in October 1973, Ernst Wilhelm Müller and Gerhard Grohs, formerly professors at the Department of Anthropology (as it was called at the time) at the University of Mainz, advocated the acquisition of Jahn's pivate collection of 'neo-African' literature, including a comprehensive card catalogue. Their efforts were finally successful. In December 1974, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft agreed to finance the acquisition of the so-called 'Janheinz Jahn Library' with special funds from the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wirtschaft.
The 'Janheinz Jahn-Bibliothek für moderne afrikanische Literatur' (Janheinz Jahn Library for Modern African Literature), as it was originally called, was established in early 1975. At the same time, a new position was created at the department to be filled by Ulla Schild, Jahn's colleague and partner of many years. As head of the new library, she was to curate and expand the collection, teach courses in African literature and organise academic conferences.
The first international conference organised by Ulla Schild took place as early as April 7-8, 1975. It was held in commemoration of Janheinz Jahn and was to be the first in a series of symposia named after him, which has been continued until today. Only a year later, part of the conference proceedings were published as Neo-African Literature and Culture: Essays in Memory of Janheinz Jahn (1976), edited by Bernth Lindfors and Ulla Schild. Ulla Schild co-convened seven Janheinz Jahn Symposia altogether.
In the more than twenty years of heading the Jahn Library Ulla Schild turned it into an internationally renowned and much-cherished research facility.
After Ulla Schild's premature death in February 1998, her position initially remained vacant. Between May 1999 and July 2000 it was temporarily filled by Dr. habil. Thomas Brückner and, between September 2000 and September 2002, by Dr. habil. Thomas Geider. In October 2002, Dr. Anja Oed was appointed head of the library, which is now called Jahn Library for African Literatures.
In 2004, the series of international Janheinz Jahn Symposia was resumed with a symposium on the production, mediation and reception of creative writing in African languages and, in 2008, with a symposium on African crime fiction.
The collection of the Jahn Library has steadily grown since 1975. Today, the focus of the collection lies on African literatures. Following in Jahn's footsteps, the Jahn Library collects literary works across linguistic boundaries, e.g. creative writing in all languages used by African writers, as well as relevant critical sources. Languages include the former colonial languages as well as a great number of indigenous African languages.
Lindfors, Bernth and Ulla Schild (Ed.), 1976: Neo-African Literature and Culture. Essays in Memory of Janheinz Jahn. (Mainzer Afrika-Studien, 1). Wiesbaden: B. Heymann.
Müller, Ernst Wilhelm, 2006: "Reminiszenzen eines Betroffenen". In: Anna-Maria Brandstetter and Carola Lentz (Eds.): 60 Jahre Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien. Ein Geburtstagsbuch. (Mainzer Beiträge zur Afrikaforschung, 14). Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe, 63-85.
Oed, Anja, 2006: "Literaturen in afrikanischen Sprachen und die Jahn-Bibliothek für afrikanische Literaturen". In: Anna-Maria Brandstetter and Carola Lentz (Eds.): 60 Jahre Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien. Ein Geburtstagsbuch. (Mainzer Beiträge zur Afrikaforschung, 14). Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe, 163-177.
© Anja Oed
We would like to thank the Janheinz Jahn Archive Berlin for the pleasant cooperation and for allowing us to use the above pictures of Janheinz Jahn and Ulla Schild on this page.