Recently I was asked to process the papers of Henry H. H. Remak, former Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature, Germanic and West European Studies at Indiana University- Bloomington. Not many current IU students will have heard of him, as he passed away in 2009. I would venture to guess though, that those who have heard of him and especially those who had the pleasure of knowing him personally, would have nothing but good things to say. Before starting in on the collection, I did some research on this well-known and beloved professor. While I don’t want to spend a lot of time paraphrasing Professor Remak’s biography, which can be found in more detail in countless newspaper and magazine articles, I will give a very brief outline.
Born a German Jew in Berlin in 1916, it should come as no surprise that by the time Henry Remak was twenty years old, he was attempting to emigrate to the United States. Though a difficult and time-consuming process, Remak was finally put in touch with IU Bloomington’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu thanks to the YMCA. Some of the alumni of Sigma Alpha Mu, a fraternity with strong Jewish ties, offered to sponsor Remak for free while he tried to find work. In many later interviews with Remak, it was apparent that he fell in love with Indiana University and with Bloomington right from the start. As a result, he wanted to do everything in his power to stay there, so he decided to become a student of the university. Since he didn’t have enough money to pay for tuition, he convinced the then president of IU, William Lowe Bryan, to let him attend for free. Having already completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Montpelier in France, Remak eventually obtained a master’s degree from IU in 1937. Ten years later, with a PhD in hand from the University of Chicago, Remak returned to Bloomington, this time as a full-time professor of Germanic Studies and Comparative Literature.
Dr. Remak wore a variety of hats while at IU. Not only was he Vice Chancellor and Dean of Faculties for a time, but he was also a founder of the West European Studies program, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study and Fulbright lecturer in both Germany and France. Remak’s list of achievements goes on and on. In 1987, at the age of seventy-one, Remak tried to retire but couldn’t stay away from IU for long. He returned and joined the faculty of the Honors College. Remak didn’t stop teaching until his deteriorating health prevented him in 2005. He passed away in February of 2009 at the age of ninety-two.
There is much to be said about this brilliant professor and much-loved man. It’s difficult to know where to start. Luckily, it will take many months for me to finish this rather large and dusty collection, so this is the first of several blog posts to come. Before concluding, I’d like to say a bit more about the collection. Give or take, there are about one hundred boxes with documents from as early as the 1940s to as late as the 2000s. The collection is as disorganized and as dusty as his office was described as being. Professor Remak didn’t seem to mind though, and in an article published in the September/October 1999 issue of the Indiana Alumni Magazine he claims, I suspect with a mischievous glint in his eye, that “a clean, uncluttered desk is the sign of a sick mind.” Perhaps he’s right. The condition and chaos of his papers certainly doesn’t make them any less interesting to peruse through.
Included in the collection are many administrative documents from when Remak was director of the Institute for Advanced Study and also from his time as Vice Chancellor and Dean of Faculties. Other documents pertain to Remak’s publications and research in comparative literature, but the majority of papers I’ve come across have been teaching files. Apart from being a husband and father of four, Henry Remak’s role as a teacher must have been his most cherished. This became apparent to me when I noticed how many student papers and biographies Remak kept, not to mention the significant amount of correspondence between Dr. Remak and his former students. Another clue is that Remak was a dedicated member of several committees devoted to improving the lives of students and the quality of teaching at the university.
Though I’ve only grazed the surface of the collection, I am looking forward to continuing. In my next blog post I plan on sharing more particulars about Henry Remak’s professional life, as well as some of the interesting documents that I’ve found while working on this collection.