Update on the Henry H. H. Remak Collection…

Much to my relief, the folders have been a bit less dusty in the past 10 boxes or so. I would even go so far as to say that they are fairly well-organized in comparison with what I encountered early on in my processing. I’ve mentioned it before, but I have to say it again. I am simply amazed at the sheer number of files that this dedicated and busy (but never-too-busy) professor of German, West European Studies and Comparative Literature kept on his students. These files are packed with detailed and affectionate correspondence, honest and sometimes glowing letters of recommendation, Christmas cards, wedding invitations, and notes thanking Professor Remak for helping a former student find a job or stay the night at he and his wife, Ingrid’s, home.

In my previous posts I’ve discussed the personal and professional dedication of Henry H. H. Remak (or ‘H to the third power Remak,’ as he often subscribed). In this, my third processing blog, I’d like to tell you about a few of the more unique finds, which provide insight into the somewhat less academic interests and concerns of Professor Remak.

In addition to being an active teacher, administrator and scholar at IU, Henry Remak was a watchful and committed member of the local Bloomington community. Though native to Germany and quite invested in German and West European affairs throughout his life, he was also concerned with the political, educational, and social welfare of the United States. While sorting through the collection, I have come across perhaps two dozen files containing various newspaper clippings on local and national current events. Remak added marginal notes to many of these clippings, expressing his agreement or sometimes dismay. These marginal notes often became the basis of letters to the editors, to political figures such as United States senators, or in one instance, to former President Reagan.

From rebuking the editor of the Indiana Daily Student for an impersonal article on the death of two IU faculty members to being on a first-name basis with the Director of Parks and Recreation in an ongoing correspondence about the safety and comfort of walkers/runners in Bryan Park, it is clear that Henry Remak did his best to stand up for the well-being of the community.

Remak accomplished this in less direct ways as well. In a 1995 interview conducted by Michael Smith, then editor of the West European Studies Bulletin, Henry Remak pointed out that American students view history in a very different way from European students of the same age. For Europeans, “…history is not something ‘bookish’ but rather something that you see around you all the time.” To someone born in the United States, on the other hand, history is not nearly as present or as visible in the everyday. Professor Remak claims that this partially explains why American students are, for the most part, less knowledgeable about history. In a small way perhaps Henry Remak was trying to remedy that both in and out of the classroom. As a member of the Indiana Covered Bridge Society, as well as an advocate for local historic preservation, Henry Remak was enforcing his beliefs in a living, tangible and ever-present history. This too was a way of looking out for his community, which he clearly loved and valued.

Processing the Henry H. H. Remak Collection Continues…

Henry H. H. Remak
It’s been about a month or so since I began working on the Henry H. H. Remak collection. During that time I’ve done a cursory examination of just under 40 boxes of documents that were taken from Professor Remak’s office, and I have about 60 more to go. In my last post on former Professor Remak I gave you a brief glimpse into his life story, and like so many others before me, I praised the love and care he had for his students. He cared for them not only as students but as individuals, a fact evidenced by the first two requirements that he gave to each and every one of them. First, each student had to turn in a detailed autobiography, and its worth noting that Professor Remak kept, if not all, many of these student biographies. Second, each student was to visit Henry Remak in his office at the beginning of the semester. The point of this was not to put his students on the spot, but rather to get to know each one of them as a person with unique interests and intellectual needs.

In one of Remak’s papers written for the Collins Living-Learning Center, a residential program on the IU campus that promotes academic exploration for undergraduates, Remak expressed frustration over an incident he had with “a bright student.” Professor Remak recommended a worthwhile, intellectually stimulating German film to this intelligent young man. In response, the young man stated that while he would like to see the film, unfortunately his friends would not be into that type of movie. Remak’s response to this encounter was to feel sadness, “sadness because (the young man) was falsifying his nature in order to maintain group acceptance.” In the essay, Remak goes onto to state that good grades are incomplete without “lively, self-motivated thinkers and doers with enough imagination and spontaneity to take chances…” Remak valued these qualities in his students, and I believe that he also valued them in himself, which is evidenced in the following example.

A letter from Alfred C. Kinsey to Henry H. H. Remak

I’ve come across almost an entire box full of Kinsey Institute files that reflect Remak’s dedication and willingness to assist, promote and often defend the Institute. From the very start of Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s work on human sexuality, Henry H. H. Remak gave his full support, despite the often vehement disapproval that the Institute has received from some camps since Dr. Kinsey began his research. As a student, Remak was one of the earliest contributors to Kinsey’s sex history files in the late 1930s, which essentially instigated a life-long admiration for Dr. Kinsey, as well as a professional relationship between the two men. A little over a decade later, when Remak had only just begun his career at IU, Remak assisted Dr. Kinsey by correcting translations of his seminal works: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Remak actively supported the Kinsey Institute once again by serving on the Friends of Kinsey Board of Directors.

Much later when Dr. Remak was Vice Cancellor and Dean of the Faculties, he wrote a long letter to Cornelia Christenson, author of the 1971 book Kinsey: A Biography. In it Dr. Remak praises Christenson for her “authorial modesty” and “objectivity” but he does have one or two small criticisms to make, the most telling of which is in response to her line, “‘He was perhaps not a great man.” Remak adamantly disagrees, claiming that “there was never any doubt in my mind, from my earliest contacts with him. . . that he was indeed a great man, I would have to say the greatest I have known in fair proximity.” Remak goes on to state that Dr. Kinsey had a profound influence on his own research, despite their differing fields of study. Additionally, in an article entitled “Courage as a rare commodity,” written for the February 26, 1999 issue of IU Home Pages, Remak would list Dr. Kinsey as among his heroes along with Eleanor Roosevelt, Herman B Wells and Ralph F. Fuchs.

To conclude my second blog post regarding the Henry H. H. Remak collection, I will simply say that through his intentions and actions, the late Dr. Remak seems to have possessed as much integrity and “modern heroism” as those that he so deeply admired.

The papers of former IU Professor Henry H. H. Remak are now being processed!

 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.