Uppsala University Library

Autograph Albums (Alba Amicorum)

An autograph album is a type of friendship album primarily used by students at German-speaking universities. The tradition of carrying an autograph album emerged in Germany during the Reformation. Autograph albums were mainly used to collect greetings, or inscriptions, from fellow students and professors.

The autograph albums at Uppsala University Library are available in digital form through the database Alvin: Autograph albums in Uppsala University Library.

Autograph albums became popular among the nobility, theologians and more, until finally becoming a phenomenon that spread beyond Germany to Scandinavia. However, autograph albums contain more than just inscriptions; they are also often artistically decorated with pictures, drawings and crests. The tradition of carrying an autograph album lasted into the twentieth century.

An autograph album was typically a volume of originally blank pages on which inscriptions were written. An autograph album entry is structured with the actual text, such as a quotation or adage, followed by a dedication that usually includes information about the place and date, and the signature. The most common languages to appear in autograph albums are German and Latin, but inscriptions are also in Greek, Hebrew, French, and other European vernaculars.

SOURCES OF FAMILIARITY WITH CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT

An autograph album collection as a whole reflects an extensive cultural development: the book is not an isolated phenomenon, but a genre influenced by the tastes and styles of various eras as regards both form and content, and it evolves accordingly. The writing and quotation style in autograph albums changes over the centuries, thus helping to describe a cultural evolution. Autograph albums are deeply interesting from a socio-historical perspective, as the quotations in the entries can be directly connected to the people who wrote them.

Autograph albums are of enormous cultural-historical value and interesting to researchers from numerous scientific disciplines, including linguists and linguistic historians, historians of science and culture, heraldists, art historians, genealogists, personal historians and historically oriented sociologists.

THE FACEBOOK OF THE PAST

Autograph albums allow for the investigation of the social network that existed among scholars, nobility, theologians and other high-ranking individuals of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. These people commonly met one another on their Grand Tours and signed one another’s autograph albums. By following the autographs in an individual’s autograph album, both contacts and routes through Europe can be mapped and analysed. Autograph albums thus served a similar function to Facebook today.

LARGEST IN SWEDEN

Uppsala University Library’s collection of autograph albums is the largest in Sweden. It includes approximately 150 autograph albums from the late sixteenth century through the first half of the twentieth century. There are autograph albums here of major cultural-historical interest, such as those of botanist Carl Peter Thunberg, baroness Magdalena von Beskow, poet and professor of aesthetics in Uppsala Carl Wilhelm Böttiger, Princess Cecilia of Sweden (daughter of Gustav IV Adolf), and the author Ernst Malmberg.

The total number of inscriptions amounts to approximately 11,200. They include entries from Carl Linnaeus, H.C. Andersen, Alexander von Humboldt, Isaac Newton, Goethe, Esaias Tegnér, Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom, Erik Gustaf Geijer, Fredrika Bremer, Victor Hugo, Knut Hamsun, John Bauer, Elin Wägner and more.

Most of the library’s autograph albums are listed in the catalogue of manuscripts according to subject, under the letter Y.

The Section for Manuscripts and Music can help you with your search. Ordered materials are studied in the Special Reading Room.

Contact

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