Alfred Senn Papers, 1921-1963


Summary Information
Title: Alfred Senn Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1921-1963

Creator:
  • Senn, Alfred, 1899-1978
Call Number: Mss 542

Quantity: 3.6 c.f. (9 archives boxes)

Repository:
Archival Locations:
Wisconsin Historical Society (Map)

Abstract:
Correspondence and manuscripts of Alfred Senn, an internationally renowned scholar whose chief contributions were in the fields of German, Baltic, and Slavic philology and linguistics. Born of Swiss parents and educated in Switzerland, he worked in Lithuania during the 1920s and then settled in the United States where he held academic positions at the University of Wisconsin (1931-1938) and the University of Pennsylvania (1938-1969) and later also played a prominent role in several professional organizations. The collection consists primarily of letters--roughly half of which are in German, Lithuanian, and other non-English languages--from friends and colleagues in both Europe and the United States concerning academic affairs, professional organizations, publishing, study and travel abroad, and personal activities. It also includes items dealing with Swiss-American cultural affairs, the problems of scholars victimized by the Nazi regime, and the situation of friends and displaced persons in post-World War II Germany. Prominent correspondents include Alfons Nehring and Max Niedermann.

Language: English, German, and Lithuanian

URL to cite for this finding aid: http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/wiarchives.uw-whs-mss00542
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Biography/History

Alfred Senn, internationally renowned philologist and linguist, was born in Blotzheim, Alsace, on March 19, 1899 of Swiss parents, Alfred and Bertha (nee Affolter) Senn. After attending elementary and secondary schools in Goldach, Switzerland, he studied at the classical gymnasium in St. Gallen from which he graduated with highest honors in March 1918. From 1918 to 1921 he studied primarily Germanic philology but also German literature and Greek philology at the University of Fribourg where he received his doctorate upon completing a dissertation on Germanic loan words in the languages of Europe. Although Senn had never been his student, it was Dr. Max Niedermann, professor of Indo-European philology at the University of Basel, who directed him toward the study of Baltic languages and especially Lithuanian.

Immediately after his doctoral examination, Senn went to Lithuania where, through his fraternity brother, Dr. Joseph Ehret, he took the post of assistant director of the Department of Information of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After resigning this position in 1922, Senn took a variety of jobs -- including teaching and serving as a principal at local gymnasia, lecturing at the University of Lithuania, and serving as a correspondent for the Swiss Telegram Agency. In 1925 he managed to obtain a more stable post at the University of Lithuania in Kaunas where he taught diverse courses in comparative linguistics.

In 1930, uncomfortable as a Swiss living in Lithuania, he accepted a Sterling Fellowship in Germanics at Yale University. The following year he transferred to the German Department at the University of Wisconsin, where he served as professor of Germanic and Indo-European philology and also as chairman of the Department of Comparative Philology. While at Wisconsin he introduced the teaching of Russian and also helped in winning approval for Polish language courses. He became actively involved in local Swiss-American affairs and from 1939 to 1940, after his departure from Madison, edited the Amerikanische Schweizer Nachrichten, a weekly published in Winona, Minnesota, and Monroe, Wisconsin. In addition, he founded the Swiss radio program which remained a regular feature of WHA Radio until the early 1970s.

In 1938 Senn became professor of Germanic Philology (after 1948, professor of Germanic and Balto-Slavic Philology) at the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained until his retirement in 1969. During this period he served as chairman of the Department of Germanic Languages (1944-1946) and the Department of Balto-Slavic Studies (1947-1965), and was a visiting lecturer at several institutes and universities in both the United States and Switzerland. He also served on the editorial board of the American Slavic and East European Review and as president of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (1948), the American Association of Teachers of German (1956-1959), the International Association of Slavic Languages and Literatures (1960-1963), and the American Name Society (1963).

Senn was a man of diverse scholarly interests. In his lifetime he studied some forty languages and collected an extensive library dealing with such subjects as Indo-European linguistics, history of the German language, and Swiss and Lithuanian history, culture, and folklore. His library has been donated to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library. His most important published works include:

  • Worterbuch der litauischen Schriftsprache, 5 vols. (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1932-68). In collaboration with Max Niedermann, Franz Brender, and Anton Salys.
  • Handbuch der litauischen Sprache, 2 vols. (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1955-66).
  • Kleine litauische Sprachlehre, 2 vols. (Heidelberg: Julius Groos, 1929).
  • An Introduction to Middle High German (New York: Norton, 1937).
  • Word-index to Wolfram's Parzival (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1938).
  • Multi-lingual Dictionary, A Seven Language Dictionary (New York: Bantam, 1967). Contributor.
  • “Storia della letteratura lituana,” in Giacomo Devoto, et al. (eds.), Storia delle letterature baltiche (Milan: Nuova Accademia, 1957, new ed. 1969).
  • “Carl Spittelers Dichtersprache,” German Quarterly 32 (1959): 187-198.
  • “Notes on Swiss Personal Names,” Names, 10 (1962): 149-158.

In 1923 Senn married Marie Vedlugaite; they had three children: Marie B., Elfrieda G., and Alfred Erich. Alfred Senn died in 1978.

Scope and Content Note

Because Senn's life was primarily devoted to scholarship and teaching, the bulk of the collection consists of scholarly and personal correspondence detailing the private activities of colleagues and friends, academic appointments, teaching duties, publication projects, study and travel abroad, and the affairs of professional organizations.

Roughly half of the collection consists of foreign language materials. Most of this is in German (either typed or neatly written), but there are also numerous Lithuanian pieces both from the United States and abroad as well as a few others in such languages as French, Italian, Polish, and Russian.

Apart from the Manuscripts series, almost all items come from Senn's correspondents. Possibly the most important items among the correspondence include 1938-1939 materials relating to Swiss-American cultural affairs and problems of the Swiss-American press in resisting pan-German encroachments (box 3, folders 1-9; box 4, folder 1), letters of the late 1930s detailing the problems of German scholars such as Alfons Nehring victimized by the Nazi regime, and Senn's efforts to find them suitable employment in the United States (box 2, folder 2; box 3, folders 1-2; box 8, folder 5), and correspondence from friends and Lithuanian displaced persons in Germany describing postwar conditions in that country (box 4, folders 6-9; box 5, folders 1-4).

Administrative/Restriction Information
Acquisition Information

Presented by Alfred E. Senn, Madison, Wisconsin, 1975. Accession Number: M75-88, M75-333


Processing Information

Processed by William J. Orr and Joanne Hohler, May 1980.


Contents List
Box   1
Folder   1
Series: Biography
Series: General Correspondence
Box   1
Folder   2-3
1921-1922, A-Z
Box   1
Folder   4-7
1930-1932, A-Z
Box   1
Folder   8-10
1933, A-R
Box   2
Folder   1
1933, S-Z
Box   2
Folder   2-4
1934-1937, A-Z
Box   2
Folder   5-8
1937-1938, A-Z
Box   3
Folder   1-7
1938-1939, A-Z
Box   3
Folder   8-9
1939-1940, A-M
Box   4
Folder   1
1939-1940, N-Z
Box   4
Folder   2-5
1942-1947, A-Z
Box   4
Folder   6-7
1946-1950, Sequence 1, A-Z
Box   4
Folder   8-9
1946-1950, Sequence 2, A-L
Box   5
Folder   1-3
1946-1950, Sequence 2, M-Z
Box   5
Folder   4-6
1950-1951, A-Z
Box   5
Folder   7-8
1952-1954, A-Z
Box   5
Folder   9-11
1954, A-Z
Box   5
Folder   12
1955, A-M
Box   6
Folder   1
1955, N-Z
Box   6
Folder   2-4
1956, A-Z
Box   6
Folder   5-7
1957, A-Z
Box   6
Folder   8-10
1958, A-Z
Box   7
Folder   1-3
1959, A-Z
Box   7
Folder   4-6
1959-1960, A-Z
Box   7
Folder   7-8
1960-1963, A-Z
Series: Correspondence With/Respecting Individuals and Organizations
Box   7
Folder   9-12
American Association of Teachers of College German, 1956-1957
Box   8
Folder   1-2
Balcikonis, J., 1949-1965
Box   8
Folder   3-4
Junior Year in Switzerland, 1945-1947
Box   8
Folder   5
Nehring, Alfons, 1936-1938
Box   8
Folder   6-10
Niedermann, Max, 1921-1942, 1947-1954
Box   8
Folder   11
Office of Strategic Services and Office of War Information, 1942-1943
Box   8
Folder   12
Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, 1943-1944
Box   9
Folder   1-2
Summer School of European Studies, 1946-1947
Box   9
Folder   3
Swiss Literature
Series: Manuscripts
Box   9
Folder   4
Miscellaneous Mss. from the 1920s
Box   9
Folder   5
Lithuanian language Mss. by Senn, circa 1930s
Box   9
Folder   6
Manuscripts and offprints by Senn and Horst Engert concerning the Lithuanian poet Maironis, 1930s
Box   9
Folder   7
“Lithuanian Literature” by Senn, undated
Box   9
Folder   8
“Das Badehaus des Doktors,” author not given, undated
Box   9
Folder   9
On Lithuanian history and culture by Senn, circa 1950s
Box   9
Folder   10
Clippings and offprints of articles by Senn, 1944-1972