The German Archive for Diaries

Das Deutsche Tagebucharchiv (DTA)

Our history

The Deutsche Tagebucharchiv (= German Archive for Diaries/DTA) is a place for the collection and storage of autobiographical documents from the German-speaking world. To prevent these documents from being lost to history, the DTA was founded in January 1998 by Frauke von Troschke. She was familiar with the Archivio Diaristico Nazionale in Pieve Santo Stefano in Tuscany/Italy, founded in 1985 by the journalist Saverio Tutino, and had discovered that Germany had no institution devoted to the collection of personal memoirs.

The small town of Emmendingen – 15 km to the north of Freiburg-im-Breisgau – provided rent-free office space in the Old Historic Town Hall, which had to be enlarged by two external storage rooms in 2017 and 2019.

Who we are

The Deutsche Tagebucharchiv is a registered non-profit association of public interest and is led by an elected volunteer executive board consisting of a president, a vice-president, a treasurer and up to 3 more committee members. The association’s office is equipped with two employees, one salaried full-time, the other half-time. Our budget relies heavily and mainly on donations and membership contributions, the rent-free office space and minor project grants, but so far there has not been any permanent public funding.

What we hold and what we do

The main goal of the DTA has always been to collect unpublished autobiographical texts (diaries, memoirs, letters) written by “ordinary” people from all social classes. Not only do we preserve those records but we also make them available for scientific research and to the public.

DTA ego-documents range from the mid-1700s up to the present time, and comprise a stock of 21,795 archival documents written by 4,657 authors. Among them are more than 15,600 diaries, more than 3,000 memoirs and almost 2,880 collections with 180,000 single letters (figures updated 01/2020).

18 % of our records are available as digitized documents (transcriptions from Kurrent (German script) into typewritten copies & scans of originals-PDF)

Our oldest document is the Württembergischer Schreibkalender of 1760 – a kind of daily planner written by Gottlieb Christoph Bohnenberger (1732-1807), a vicar from Neuenbürg (northern Baden-Württemberg) and military chaplain. He took part in the Seven-Years-War and marched with his regiment to Thuringia and Saxony.

Volunteering at the DTA

Around 100 volunteers are involved in running our archive. Archiving, transcribing and reading at the DTA is a threefold process:

Step 1 consists of concluding a contract with the submitter, setting up  a sheet with biographical details about the author, listing and cataloguing and entering the basic details onto the browser-based database AxiellCollections.

Step 2 – if necessary – is the transcription from German script (which was operational up to the 1940s) into a typewritten version. Thanks to the approximately 25 transcribers (all across Germany), access to these documents is made possible especially for those researchers otherwise unable to decipher these obsolete scripts.

In step 3 most of the documents are handed over to members of the reading groups (the DTA has two local ones with approximately 30 readers and about 20 external readers from all across Germany). Reading volunteers have a passion for the biographical and some kind of historical interest. A volunteer reader fills in the 20-page questionnaire whose entries are then fed into the database so that researchers can trace the documents. Keywords such as political events/ childhood/youth/education/profession/ etc. are listed in detail with references and so documents may be found in our anonymized Web OPAC.

Research at the DTA

Classical research projects like master- and doctoral theses or post-doctoral research projects are done by university members, but primary source study is also done by journalists, writers or high school students with their teachers.In 2019 we had about 200 research requests – uncomplicated and complex ones.

We offer a paid search service and 2 places for undisturbed research work to our visiting scientists and students. To research in the archive, please read our fees and terms of use.

What else do we do?

  • We produce publications, e.g. for our annual Public Readings (ZEITREISE= JOURNEY THROUGH TIME) usually in November.
  • The annual brochure LEBENSSPUREN (= paper trails) contains brief summaries of the approximately 200-250 submissions we receive each year. They are meant to acknowledge the submitters’ courage and confidence to hand their documents over to the DTA.
  • Four times a year we publish a newsletter with up-to-date information from the association for our members and friends.

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Museum im Deutschen Tagebucharchiv

In 2014 we opened a small museum. The current exhibition „Lebenslust – Lebenslast – Lebenskunst – Tagebücher erzählen… (=  life’s passions – life’s burdens – art of living – tales  from diaries…)   celebrates the DTA’s   20th anniversary.

Advisory council

An advisory board representing various scientific disciplines from Freiburg university (D) and Basel university (CH) support the activities of the archives.

Cooperation at  European level

We have taken full advantage of the pioneering role of the Italian archive (ADN) and are working closely with the Association pour l’autobiographie et le Patrimoine Autobiographique (APA) in France, which has, for example, resulted in a joint project “Franco-German Autobiographical Days” held in Strasbourg and Emmendingen in May 2014. In 2018, the DTA was invited to present its collection, discussing the sheer variety of correspondence kept in the archive and the issues involved in receiving these donations of letters in terms of copyright law, and deciphering the authors’ handwriting. There are also many informal contacts  between the Nederlands Dagboek Archief and the DTA.

In June 2015 the European Ego-Documents Archives and Collections Network (EDAC) was founded. EDAC aims to exchange best practices, data and expertise amongst the different diary archives in Europe and to promote academic research on diaries, life stories, and correspondence. The EDAC Secretariat is hosted by the Dutch Expatriate Archive Centre, The Hague, Netherlands.
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The German Archives for Diaries in figures

as of May 2019
stock of texts 20,810
authors 4,608 54 % male
42 % female
3 % anonymous
1 % multiple authorship
type of material diaries 15,614
memoirs 3,166
collections of correspondence 2,848
letters 183,661
script German script (Kurrent) 5,625
shorthand 219
Latin 12,494
typewritten 5,953
digitised documents 3,393
visitors 60 to 70 per month
guided tours 4 per month
salaried employees 1.5
volunteers ~ 100
members of the association ~ 600