In the service of scholarship since 1872From the beginning, HARRASSOWITZ has dedicated itself to scholarship in the humanities in the broadest sense, thereby gaining international reputation. The company was founded in 1872 in Leipzig by the young bookseller and antiquarian Otto Wilhelm Harrassowitz (1845-1920) both as a publishing company and as a bookstore to import and export academic literature. From then on, this business model has been kept. (The following essay deals with the history of the publishing company only. If you would like to know more about the overall company Otto Harrassowitz GmbH & Co. KG, please visit the website www.harrassowitz.de).
Already in the days of its founding, the publishing company specialized in two program areas that have remained supporting pillars: book and library science and, above all, Oriental Studies. This was not by accident. Enthusiasm for the Orient, rekindled in the Western world since the 16th century, reached a both new and novel peak in the 19th century. Up to that time, the orient had been romanticized and mystified, but now scholars of the German Empire began to closely examine the “Morgenland” (Orient) politically and economically, and to do academic research in its languages and cultures. The sensational discoveries made from the mid-18th into the 19th century by English and French scholars were an important motivation for this growing special interest in “countries of the Bible.”
The Germans did not want to lag behind these achievements. In 1845 - about thirty years before our company was founded - the “Association of German Orientalists”, the “Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft”, was established in Leipzig. Being the oldest academic society of German orientalists, its members predominantly deal with topics in languages and cultures of the Orient (“Morgenland”), especially the Near East, as well as parts of Asia, Oceania, and Africa. In 1877, the “Deutsche Verein zur Erforschung Palästinas” (“German Society for the Exploration of Palestine”) was founded, and some years later, the “Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft” (“German Oriental Society”) was formed. It was meant to support research in the field of oriental archaeology and to make the findings available to a more general public, being under the protectorate of Emperor William II who was extraordinarily interested in archaeology. Those three associations of linguists, cultural scientists and archaeologists exist up to the present and, quite notably, belong to the most important partners of HARRASSOWITZ.
Otto Harrassowitz clearly recognized these trends of his time and, at the beginning of the so-called German Empire, laid the foundation for an ambitious academic publishing program with many standard works. The company developed further and prospered until its ambitious publishing and bookselling life was abruptly interrupted by World War II. As a result of the devastating air raid on Leipzig on the night of December 3, 1943, the business premises and stockrooms of HARRASSOWITZ were completely destroyed. All documents, the archive and almost a million books were burned. For this reason, unfortunately, a detailed and well-founded company history for the years before 1947 does not exist (yet).
After the end of the war, the company first continued with its business on a provisional basis. However, in 1947, Hans Harrassowitz, son of the founder and director of the company since 1915, did not see a future for his company in Leipzig, which was situated in the Soviet Occupation Zone. The opening of a branch in the American sector in Wiesbaden, later the provincial capital of Hesse, was soon followed by the re-founding of the company, after HARRASSOWITZ had been dispossessed and dissolved by the GDR government at the beginning of the 1950s. From 1956 on, HARRASSOWITZ was an OHG (General Partnership) owned by Hans Harrassowitz and Wilfred Becker. After Hans’ death, his widow Gertrud as well as the general managers Richard W. Dorn and Felix O. Weigel entered as personally liable partners. Today still owned by these persons and their heirs and families, respectively, HARRASSOWITZ acts as GmbH & Co. KG as an independent owner-operated company. The publishing company has been a mostly autonomous department, always having sole responsibility for the program. It was first headed by Hans Harrassowitz himself, followed by the historians Dr. Ludwig Reichert (1953-1974) and Dr. Helmut Petzolt (1974-1992) as well as the theologian Michael Langfeld (1992-2007). From 2007 to 2020, the literary and linguistic scholar Dr. Barbara Krauss directed the publishing house. On January 1, 2021, she handed over the management to the classical archaeologist and historian Stephan Specht.
Moving to Wiesbaden meant in essence starting from scratch, not least because of the total loss of the book stock. The revival of scientific and academic life in the young Federal Republic of Germany favored this new beginning. The need for new, politically unburdened textbooks and materials as well as establishing new research approaches and methods were taken up enthusiastically by the program of the company.
The 1960s and 70s of the past century have been characterized by major endeavors to compile dictionaries and encyclopedias. These years witnessed an abundance of new book series and journals, and the existing program areas were developed further and extended. The publishing part of cataloging occidental manuscripts in German libraries, a long-term project supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) since 1960, was headed by HARRASSOWITZ. Not least because of the cooperation with the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel, which had come to publish its books, journals, and exhibition catalogs with HARRASSOWITZ in 1984 as a commission agent, an emphasis on the early modern period and book history could be established and consolidated. New program segments were “History of Eastern Europe” and “Slavic Studies”.
The fall of the Wall and the reunification of Germany opened up new markets. Building and re-structuring the universities in the “new federal states” offered manifold chances for publishers. There was a strong demand for up-to-date and non-ideological specialist literature, and the spirit of optimism was reflected in new book series, journals and textbooks. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, Oriental studies experienced a further resurgence when the “Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft” partnered with HARRASSOWITZ for its book series and journal.
Since 2007, important areas of the program developed when the publishing company and the “Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft” decided on close cooperation. Since then, Studies on Near Eastern Archeology and Ancient Studies belonged exclusively to HARRASSOWITZ. The area of “Cultural History and History” was actively promoted during those past years, receiving essential impulses by the cooperation with the Franckeschen Stiftungen zu Halle (Francke Foundations at Halle), 2010, among others. Since 2013 HARRASSOWITZ has been proud to be the exclusive publishing company for the renowned “Monumenta Germaniae Historica”, this time-honored institution which, since its founding in 1819 by Karl vom und zum Stein has made it its task to edit and make accessible medieval text sources and to contribute to academic research in German and European history, respectively, by editing critical studies. Close cooperation with the German Archaeological Institute, in particular with its departments in Cairo, Athens, and Rome, has made archaeology one of the main topics of the publishing house since 2017.
Although HARRASSOWITZ still places great emphasis on valuable printed books of high quality, new media have nevertheless found their way into the program. Since about 2015, all new titles are published simultaneously as a printed version and an e-book, and a wide range of journals are printed as well as published as an e-journal. Modern printing and reproduction processes render it possible to make books that are out of stock available as “book on demand” or to offer limited editions of specialist literature.
Thus, tradition and innovation go hand in hand, and just as in the early years, HARRASSOWITZ publishes books and media by scholars for scholarship: learned studies, doctoral dissertations, Habilitationsschriften (post-doctoral theses), collections of essays, documentations, editions, catalogs, excavation reports, textbooks, lexicons and dictionaries. Having 4,000 titles in stock, about 150 active book series and 32 journals and yearbooks as well as about 250 new publications annually, HARRASSOWITZ today belongs to the leading international academic publishers.