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Janos Frecot Collection at Stanford Libraries: Description of the Frecot Collection upon its acquisition in 1996

The writer, artist, photographer, and cultural historian Janos Frecot (1937-) assembled a substantial collection of circa 1500 books and monographs and approx. 250 periodicals related to the Lebensreform (social reform) movements in Germany, 1840-1920.

Description of the Frecot Collection upon its acquisition in 1996

Venkat Mani, then a graduate student in German Studies with interests in alternative movements and popular culture, helped organize and process this collection. At the time of its acquisition by Stanford Libraries, he wrote this brief essay about its contents and organizational strategies.

The Frecot Collection, recently acquired by the Germanic Collections of the Stanford University Libraries, is a rich cultural documentation of quite a few untapped aspects of Wilhelmine and Weimar Germany. The collection is a result of 30 years of efforts in archival search and acquisition of the Berlin archivist, and since 1978 the founder-director of the Photographic Collection at the Landesmuseum Berliner Gallerie, Janos Frecot.

Born in Romania in 1937, Frecot considered Berlin his home since he was 10 years old. His main profession, that of an editor/publisher of bibliographies on musicology, did not keep him away from his interest in the subaltern history of the metropolis Berlin, a city marked by the presence of subcultures and alternative thinkers. His acquisition of two books in 1965 from the Berlin antiquarian dealers, Bruno Wille's Offenbarungen des Wachholderbaums and Wilhelm Spohr's Oh Ihr Tage von Friedenshagen, channeled his interests towards aspects of the Reform Movements. This coincided with his coming in contact with the daughter of the painter Fidus, who had inherited from her father his collection on the Reform Movements, covering such facets as vegetarianism, the nudist culture, the youth movement and the theosophical movement. Although this acquisition resulted in Frecot's co-authoring a book on Fidus, Fidus 1868-1948. Zur ästhetischen Praxis bürgerlicher Fluchtbewegungen (Munich: Rogner and Bernhard, 1972), his interests did not stop there. Awareness of the fact that the journals and monographs belonging to these alternative movements appeared with small or very small publishing houses caused him to frequent such sources of acquisition as flea market sales and the sales of the antiquarian bookdealers, gifts from people who were involved with these movements and gifts from members of the Fidus family.

Frecot sees these alternative movements as symptomatic of the prevailing suspicion towards the 'development' that characterized modern times, a detour from the decadence of the city life on one hand, and paradoxically, an urge to develop taste in living style, luxury and comfort. He organized the 1500 books and monographs, and 850 holdings of some 250 magazines in 15 categories. These categories have been rethought and reconfigured for Stanford's Frecot Collection in order to make it more beneficial for the research interests of a late 20th Century student/scholar of cultural studies. Items in each category have further been arranged in ascending order of their chronology to enable the reader to follow the temporal trajectory of the growth, development and decline of many an alternative public spheres in the German linguistic-cultural realm.

While vegetarianism, alternative methods of healing (category #1), belief in astrology and phrenology (#10) do confirm Frecot's observations, there are other significant issues in contemporary culture studies that are addressed by various other categories. The third, which covers the nudist movement and body-culture is also a rich source to explore the beginnings of a homo-erotic aesthetic, although it was directed towards 'construction' of heterosexual Aryan masculinity. A magazine like Gesellschaft der Eigenen is an interesting exception for its open support of an androgynous corporal aesthetics. Gender issues gain interesting dimensions in the books written by or about women (#6), or perspectives on sexual relations, marriage and family (#4).

Familial containment and material possession become issues in the land-reform movement, (#2), which furthered the cause of the nascent German bourgeois family.

Alternative intellectual strains of thought and perspectives on education are covered in #8 and #9, the latter being a chief source of writings of Rudolf Steiner. A myriad of issues is covered in #12 which represents the Friedenshagener Kreis and # 14, a miscellaneous category.

The dangerous strains of alternative thought come in the super-reactionary thought on race-theory and Heimat-Kunst in #13, traces of which can be seen in #5 on the youth movement.

Peter R. Frank, former curator of the Germanic Collections at Stanford describes the acquisition of Grimms' dictionary with the Hildebrand library as a factor in transforming the Stanford University Libraries into a (high culture) "Gelehrtenbibliothek" ( library of the learned). The acquisition of the Frecot collection by Henry Lowood, Curator of the Germanic Collections at Stanford, is a giant leap in enriching and diversifying this "Gelehrtenbibliothek" through popular sources of alternative thought.

--B. Venkat Mani, graduate student, German Studies, Stanford University