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German Swiss Collections

The German-Swiss collections go back to the dawn of printing in Switzerland. Quite literally so since the Library holds a copy of the first book printed in the country, the Mamotrectus super Bibliam of Johannes Marchesinus, printed at Beromünster in 1470.

Die Schweiz : Ihre Geschichte, Geographie und Statistik (title page)

Die Schweiz : Ihre Geschichte, Geographie und Statistik. Shelfmark: 10195.f.28. Copyright © The British Library Board

Early Collections

In the 16th century cities such as Zürich and Basel were in the forefront of religious, political and cultural changes and became important centres of printing. Swiss presses produced religious and humanistic works, political pamphlets, scientific books such as Conrad Gesner's Historiae Animalium (1551; see X.325/1335 for a 1980s reprint) and chronicles of the confederation's 'history' which helped to popularise the legend of Wilhelm Tell throughout Europe. Details of the Library's early German-Swiss imprints in all these fields can be found in the 16th- and 17th-century short-title catalogues as described on the Early Printed Collections web pages. Eighteenth- and early 19th-century printing and publishing are also well represented in the collections, including a number of items relating to the Helvetic Republic of 1798-1803. In order to find books published on Switzerland's history until 1912, Hans Barth's Bibliographie der Schweizer Geschichte, enthaltend die selbständig erschienenen Druckwerke zur Geschichte der Schweiz bis Ende 1912, etc. (Nendeln/Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1969 HLR 949.4) is useful.

Modern collections

The modern German-Swiss collections naturally include the works of major native literary authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from Gotthelf and Keller to Dürrenmatt and Frisch as well as those of exiled German writers who found a haven in Switzerland after the revolutions of 1848-49 and, later, during the Nazi regime. However, the standard language is only one part of German-speaking Switzerland's cultural heritage, and the strong and enduring dialect tradition is also reflected both in linguistic studies and reference works such as the Schweizerisches Idiotikon and (to a lesser extent) in original works of dialect literature or 'translations' into Schweizerdeutsch. This is the kind of uniquely Swiss material which the Library attempts to collect as far as possible. 

Similarly, we try to acquire Swiss works relating to specifically Swiss concerns such as the recent re-evaluation of the country's relationship with Nazi Germany or the anniversaries of the Confederation in 1991 and of the Helvetic Republic and Federal Constitution in 1998. We also continue to receive a number of official publications at both federal and cantonal level and to buy major topographical, archaeological and historical works such as the series Kunstdenkmäler der Schweiz. For the broadest overview of publishing in and about Switzerland, readers can consult the national bibliography, Das Schweizer Buch (Le livre suisse / Il libro svizzero) which is kept in the Humanities Reading Room (HLR 015.494); it covers the years 1918 to 2005; for the publishing activities after 2005 one needs to consult an online database, or PDF files (2005- ; 25 issues per year: one issue per PDF). 

Useful reference sources

Swiss-German books are generally well covered in the standard German bibliographic sources. In some cases, this is the only source of reference; for example there is no separate Books in Print publication for Switzerland, but German-Swiss imprints (including some non-German language material from the predominantly German-speaking cantons) are included in VLB/German Books in Print. The same applies to general encyclopaedias, and reference works on subjects such as literature. Conversely, general reference works relating specifically to Switzerland tend to cover all the regions, languages and cultures of the country rather than just one area.


German Section
The British Library
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United Kingdom

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