UA Acquires Major Collection of Medieval Work
Special Collections has acquired an important library of late Medieval and reformation history at the same time that a related UA division has completed fundraising for an endowed chair in the discipline.

By Gabrielle Sykes-Casavant, UA Libraries
Dec. 8, 2010

Heiko A. Oberman spent his career amassing a reputation for being one of the most famous Reformation scholars in the world with a personal library collection to match.

Before his passing in 2001, the Regents’ Professor and founding director of the now renowned University of Arizona Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies promised to grant his extensive library to the UA should the institution raise enough funds to endow a faculty chair.

Both efforts have come to fruition.

Special Collections at the UA Libraries has acquired the Oberman Research Library that, in 1998, was appraised at $1.2 million and said to be the largest collection of its kind remaining in private hands in North America.

As a particularly prolific scholar, Oberman accumulated a lifetime’s worth of source materials, a working library of more than 10,000 volumes, some of which are quite rare. The Heiko A. Oberman Research Library includes more than 100 original Martin Luther texts, more than 60 John Calvin texts and also the first collected edition of Ulrich Zwingli’s work, which is dated 1545. 

The announcement of the acquisition comes just months after the completion of a effort to raise $2 million to endow the Heiko A. Oberman Chair in Late Medieval and Reformation History, which is now held by Ute Lotz-Heumann.

In addition to securing the expansive library for the UA, the completion of the Heiko A. Oberman Chair Endowment Fund will ensure that the division will be able to continue to attract the highest caliber of scholars from around the world to teach at the UA.

Susan Karant-Nunn, a Regents’ Professor of History who succeeded Oberman as the division's director, noted the wisdom of the provision, explaining that “if there were not a chair – that is, someone actively teaching doctoral students in this field on campus – the books would go unused and ultimately might be sold.”

In 2004, the UA Libraries acquired an initial portion of Oberman's research collection through a purchase by the Friends of the Library. He was determined that the UA would continue to be an internationally renowned site of excellence in late medieval and Reformation studies.

Explaining her predecessor’s determination to grant the resource to the UA, Karant-Nunn has been quoted as saying, “Harvard offered to purchase the library years ago. I believe Professor Oberman thought UA needed the books more.”

The Oberman Library also contains writings from the Second Vatican Council, including drafts of each document produced, as well as final printings.

Thought to be the only complete holding of this kind outside of official Catholic Church archives, the collection presents scholars with a unique opportunity to research the evolution of Roman Catholic thought from the Council of Trent though Vatican II.

By issuing this challenge grant to the UA, Oberman ensured that his research library would not only remain intact, in safe-keeping, but that it would also continue to be of practical use.

Upon her husband’s passing, Toetie Oberman confirmed the same sentiment, saying: "It was my husband’s wishes for the work of the Division to be preserved. We do not want it to be endangered."

Oberman, who received numerous awards in the U.S. and abroad for his work, joined the UA faculty in 1984.

He published widely in his field with 17 independent works, 19 edited or co-edited volumes and 137 articles, prefaces and other items included in his repertoire.

His most well-known works stem from his study of Martin Luther with his 1982 book, "Luther: Man Between God and the Devil," being called “the most controversial study of Luther produced by an expert since the 1920s,” by one review. The book was originally published in German and has since been translated into Italian, Dutch, English and Spanish.

Roger Myers, librarian and archivist with UA's Special Collections, has said that the addition of the Oberman collection will “dramatically enhance” the stature of the University Libraries on the national scene.

As funds become available, Special Collections will continue to purchase additional relevant volumes to augment the collection. Information regarding all books held within Special Collections is available via the Library’s online catalog, and books are available for viewing upon request.

Because the UA is a public university, keeping Oberman's collection is a boon to scholarship, he said, adding that of the books in the collection, “scholars coming from other universities to see them would otherwise have to go to Harvard, Princeton or Yale.”

Extra info

Special Collections at the University Libraries maintains collections of rare books and unique archival materials that make possible in-depth research on selected topics. The scope and diversity of Special Collections make it an important resource for the international academic community. Established in 1958 to house materials on Arizona, the Southwest and the U.S./Mexico Borderlands, Special Collections now includes rare books, manuscript collections, photographs and other materials in a wide variety of subject areas.


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Roger Myers

UA Special Collections