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Historic school atlas belonging to the German-American photography pioneer Robert Benecke returns to Braunschweig.

The Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (GEI) recently purchased an old school atlas at an antiques market in the USA which proved to have a fascinating history.

The atlas is the "Vollständigen Schul-Atlas der neuesten Erdkunde" (Complete School Atlas of Modern Geography), produced in 1848 by the music and map-publishing firm Holle in Wolfenbüttel. The atlas contained handwritten notes, which provided clues to its former owner and to various events in his life. The name that eventually emerged as having been the original owner was that of Robert Benecke who was born in Stiege (Upper Harz) in 1835 and attended school in Blankenburg. Both these places, and Wolfenbüttel, were part of the Duchy of Braunschweig in the nineteenth century.

Robert Benecke discovered photography as a young man and started work in a photography studio in Nordhausen in 1855. Like many others at that time, his pro-democracy views forced him to emigrate and he settled in St Louis in the United States. In addition to working as a portrait photographer he captured images of railways, bridges, buildings and steamers; all symbols of progress at that time. He became one of the first photographers to release images of the mid-western USA to the public. Until his death in 1903 he produced photographic equipment and worked as editor of the magazine ‘St. Louis and Canadian Photographer’. His photographs form part of the collections of the New York Public Library, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Southern Methodist University.

This school atlas is not only a rarity because of its previous owner it is also a valuable collector’s item from a library perspective. As a result of losses in other libraries the ‘Benecke Atlas’ owned by the Georg Eckert Institute is the only known copy of the work still available, making its return to Braunschweig after 150 years an especially fortunate coincidence.

The procurement of the ‘Benecke Atlas’ and a number of other nineteenth-century atlases was made possible by the financial support of the Friedrich E.W. Walz-Stiftung to which we extend our gratitude.

In order to give the public an insight into how school atlases have developed throughout history the GEI is digitising these valuable and unique works, as well as historic textbooks dating from the genesis of formal school systems up until 1918. This work is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

GEI-Digital is a cooperation project. In addition to the GEI the participants are the Research Library for the History of Education at the German Institute for International Educational Research (BBF/DIPF) and the Gauß IT centre at the Technical University Braunschweig.

Links:

Robert Benecke: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Benecke

"Vollständiger Schul-Atlas der neuesten Erdkunde" (1848): https://gei-digital.gei.de/cms/ppnresolver/?PPN780346769

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