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Albrecht Goetze papers

Call Number: MS 648

Scope and Contents

The Albrecht Goetze Papers consist of twenty-two boxes of correspondence extending eight linear feet and containing more than ten thousand items. The letters were written between 1923, the year after Goetze received his first academic appointment, and the spring of 1971, shortly before his final return to Germany. The vast majority were exchanged with fellow students of cuneiform texts and civilizations. Virtually all of Goetze's outstanding contemporaries and scores of lesser scholars are represented. Among his most frequent correspondents were these: William F. Albright (1936-1965), Kurt Bittel (1933-1970), Hans Ehelolf (1924-1938), Jacob J. Finkelstein (1953-1965), Johannes Friedrich (1924-1968), Hans G. Güterbock (1931-1970), Thorkild Jacobsen (1936-1970), Carl H. Kraeling (1947-1963), Samuel N. Kramer (1945-1963), Benno Landsberger (1923-1965), Julius Levy (1925-1963), Otto Neugebauer (1929-1970), Edith Porada (1943-1971), James B. Pritchard (1944-1969), Abraham Sachs (1936-1969), Edmond Sollberger (1949-1969), and Ephraim A. Speiser (1935-1964). There is also correspondence with collectors of antiquities and with scholars in related fields of specialization. Goetze's own letters are in German (mainly before 1939 and after 1965) and English; the incoming letters are in English, German, and occasionally Turkish or French. The incoming letters and postcards outnumber the outgoing, but beginning in 1929 Goetze kept carbon copies of most of his letters except those written abroad.

The great bulk of Goetze's correspondence is concerned with the advancement of cuneiform studies. The letters are distinguished for their lengthy discussions of problems in transcription, translation, and interpretation; their uninhibited comments on the achievements and attitudes of other scholars; and their preoccupation with the economic, political, and, organizational context of research and publication. Readers interested in the substance of cuneiform studies must use their own acquaintance with the literature to select the correspondence they wish to examine. The following summary of modern themes is for the benefit of historians of twentieth-century politics and scholarship.

Goetze's own publications were based mainly on tablets already acquired by museums and libraries in Germany and the United States, but his directorship of the Baghdad School of the ASOR placed him at the center of efforts to obtain research opportunities for Americans in Turkey and Iraq. As outlined in the annual officers' reports in the Bulletin of the ASOR, the Baghdad School passed through four phases in his period of service: an early promise of good relations with Iraq, culminating in Goetze's stay at the Iraq Museum in 1948; a decline beginning around the time of his visit and lasting several years; an unsuccessful attempt to maintain a field program by joining the Turkish government in excavations at Kültepe; and an improvement in relations with Iraq, culminating in participation in the Joint Expedition to Nippur beginning in 1953. Goetze's correspondence with American and Near Eastern scholars and with government officials supplements the carefully circumspect published account by providing information and opinion about the political motives of Near Eastern departments of antiquities in regulating Americans' access to museums and archaeological sites. Most of the letters are gathered under the name of the ASOR.

An important element in the political problems facing the Baghdad, School was Arab hostility to the formation of the State of Israel. Thus, in September 1947, Goetze wondered whether choosing a Jew as Annual Professor in Baghdad might not be "the proverbial last straw as far as the Arab nationalists are concerned." The following spring he himself was expelled from Iraq on the charge that he was a Zionist spy. (He speculated, however, that the accusation was contrived by an employee of the Iraq Museum seeking a political advantage over Goetze's friends on the staff.) After his return to the United States, the publication of the Laws of Eshnunna was complicated by Iraqi reluctance to credit the contribution of Goetze's assistant, Selim Levy, a Jew who had been employed in the museum in 1948 and had since emigrated to Israel.

Other political obstacles had little to do with the conflict between Arabs and Jews. The publication of the Laws of Eshnunna was impeded not only by the Iraqi response to the participation of Selim Levy but also by the failure of Goetze's effort to insure that Western publicity of the discovery fully acknowledged the Iraqi contribution. Turkish government officials rejected his plan for cooperation at Kültepe because, as he saw it, they cared more for expressing nationalistic resentment of Western scholarly pre-eminence than for seizing an unusual opportunity for progress in archaeology. United States Foreign Service officers occasionally provided sympathy or technical assistance, but the only evidence that American nationality was a political advantage is a second-hand opinion, offered in December 1950, that henceforth the Iraqis might be more friendly to American scholars because they needed to counter Communist influence from within. There is little to show that Goetze and his colleagues were interested in the region's current problems except that they tried to arrange for the training of native specialists in American universities.

The political difficulties of the ASOR were intramural as well as international, and Goetze's correspondence is an important but more peripheral source for this level of controversy. The issue was the allocation of income between the Jerusalem and Baghdad Schools a topic that is treated euphemistically in the ASOR Bulletin. Goetze frequently complained that the Baghdad School was not receiving enough support to sustain an independent program on the Jerusalem model, and he came to attribute the inequity to a virtual conspiracy rooted in biblical scholars' loss of interest in the fruits of Assyriological studies. The correspondence is valuable both for its treatment of these themes and for its compact demonstration of Goetze's tendency to interpret disagreement in ways that intensified his conflicts with fellow scholars.

Goetze's correspondence confirms the recollection of his eulogists that research and teaching dominated his life to a degree extraordinary even among his peers, but there are lines, paragraphs, and a few entire letters that show him speaking out as a citizen-scholar in opposition to the Third Reich. Asked to undertake professional activity that he construed as acquiescing in Nazism, he responded with principled condemnations of the conduct of German academics before, during, and after Hitler's ascendancy. See, for example, these letters: to Richard Handl, 1937 Dec 10, on publication in Artibus Asiae; to the University of Marburg, 1946 Feb 9, on an invitation to return to his former position; and to George S. Lane, 1950 Apr 17, on the nomination of a German scholar to honorary membership in the American Oriental Society. On other occasions he took positive actions to assist the opponents of Nazi rule. The only evidence of participation in American politics is his letter to Senator John A. Danaher defending Lend-Lease (1941 Feb 12), but he sought places in American universities for a number of fellow refugees including Paul Oskar Kristeller, Julius Lewy, Karl Loewenstein, and Walter Naumann. He refused, however, to support the Loyalty Committee of Victims of Nazi-Fascist Oppression because he thought its plan to donate a war plane to the United States government was a mistaken means to the refugees assimilation into American life (to Karl Lehmann[-Hartleben], 1942 May 6, 13). The letters offer little first-hand information about political events in Germany, but the researcher may wish to consult Goetze's recollection of Emil J. Gumbel's removal from the Heidelberg faculty in 1925 (1952 Oct 27) and Julius Lewy's reaction to Goetze's dismissal from Marburg (1933 Dec 8). References to scholars thought to be contaminated by Nazism are more common, especially in letters exchanged with German and German-trained scholars in the late 1940s.

Goetze's satisfaction with the freedom of American universities did not extend to financial matters, and he declared himself on the subject when occasion offered. He protested to Yale President A. Whitney Griswold that the University should not allow the football team to incur a large deficit when the academic program was inadequately supported (1953 Nov 16). He used his acquaintance with officers of the American Council of Learned Societies and the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to urge the importance of providing money for travel to international meetings (1953 Jun 1, Oct 5). When German academics asked for assistance in arranging for subsidized American publication of their work, he pointed out that such benefits were much less available in the United States than they had been in pre-war Europe (to Karl Bouda, 1947 Mar 27; to Alfred von Pawlikowski-Cholewa, 1947 Dec 28). The genuineness of the problem in his own experience is borne out by the ASOR correspondence already cited and by many other letters about publications, conferences, and expeditions.

Most users of the Albrecht Goetze Papers will probably favor either the scholarly or the political correspondence, but this division is artificial from a psychological point of view. Within the limits of his responsibilities as he defined them, Goetze was animated by an uncompromising conception of what was right, and one might look to this attitude as much as to the circumstances for an understanding of his conduct. This aspect of his character is so vividly described by Jacob Finkelstein that it would be pointless to paraphrase; it is only worthwhile to affirm that his interpretation is borne out by Goetze's letters.


  • 1923-1971


Conditions Governing Access

Letters of recomendation for students and colleagues written by Albrecht Goetze between 1958 and 1971 are restricted for seventy-five years or until 2047.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. Albrecht Goetze, 1972. Additional correspondence transferred from the Sterling Memorial Library Babylonian Collection, 1975.


Correspondence is arranged alphabetically.


8 Linear Feet (22 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


As a refugee from Hitler, he was outspoken on political issues and attempted to aid fellow scholars similarly uprooted. A portion of the correspondence reveals his efforts on their behalf and expands on his political views. Other letters discuss university policies, including problems at Yale University, and foundation grants for scholars. Among Goetze's important correspondents are William F. Albright, Kurt Bittel, Hans Ehelolf, Jacob J. Finkelstein, Johannes Friedrich, Hans G. Güterbock, Thorkild Jacobsen, Carl H. Kraeling, Samuel N. Kramer, Benno Landsberger, Julius Lewy, Otto Neugebauer, Edith Porada, James B. Pritchard, Abraham Sachs, Edmond Sollberger, and Ephraim A. Speiser.

Biographical / Historical

Albrecht Goetze (1897-1971) was an assyriologist and teacher. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg in 1923. Goetze was a professor at Marburg from 1930-1933. He was dismissed by Hitler's government in 1933, emigrated to the United States in 1934, and became a naturalized citizen in 1940. From 1936-1965, Goetze was a professor at Yale University. He served as director of the American School for Oriental Research in Baghdad from 1948-1956. Goetze was the author of articles and books on the ancient Near East and on ancient inscriptions and texts.

Guide to the Albrecht Goetze Papers
Under Revision
by Susan Grigg
February 1978
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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