Monday, July 12, 2010

Hans Wehr: Part 1

UPDATE: Hans Wehr Part 2

My Arabic school here in Rabat sometimes has students do presentations. I had avoided them for the most part with my busy work schedule (I’d rather chat in Arabic or go hiking with an Arabic guide or do anything besides presenting to a group of non-native Arabic speakers and a few teachers). Alas, I reached the limit for getting out of these presentations, so I reluctantly told my teacher I’d prepare a talk on Hans Wehr. Or rather Prof. Dr. Hans Wehr. There is almost nothing that the internet doesn’t know; however, Hans Wehr’s life happens to be a total mystery unavailable on the internet. Wikipedia in English, French, German and Arabic is nearly useless. Even WorldCat, my faithful friend, doesn’t yield much. Google can only sell me the books he has written, but can’t do much else for me. I finally came across 3 serviceable sources, and one of those is just a bibliography, the other an epic scholarly tribute. None of the three really reveal anything about the orientalist’s life.

First there is Wolfdietrich Fischer’s article on the event of Hans Wehr’s death.

Wolfdietrich Fischer. Hans Wehr (1909-1981). Der Islam, 59 (1982) p.1

That article led me to the bibliography called ‘Verzeichnis der Schriften von Hans Wehr’ in the Journal of Arabic Linguistics. Issue 8. 1982, p. 7-11. It is finally the one place where all of Prof. Dr. Wehr’s published work is listed together, by H. Bobzin and O. Jastrow. Interestingly, it is the first and only mention my perfunctory research has revealed of a Frau Wehr…that would be Frau A. Wehr…Agnes? Agatha? Some good German name, no doubt.

Then there is the book called Festgabe für Hans Wehr. Zum 60. Geburtstag am 5. Juli 1969 überreicht von seinen Schülern. Edited by Wolfdietrich Fischer. Since it’s a proper book, the closest I can come is the review article by T. M. Johnstone in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 34, No. 1 (1971), p. 144.

The Library of Congress turned up this gem after a key word search: Fünf sprachen unter einem hut by Helene Fera, 1939. But I doubt it is related to the Prof. Dr. Wehr, as the Google Books preview didn’t look promising.

So what does it all mean? I shall write Hans Wehr’s biography! I happen to be visiting Leipzig, his birthplace, in August. I intend to gather any documents I can find there-birth certificate, marriage certificate…whatever else. Also, I contacted the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft photo archivist, who is going to send me a photo they have from 1939. Mysteriously there is a photo of Hans Wehr on the ‘Hans Wehr is my copilot’ Facebook page. I contacted the person who manages it about the photo, but he hasn’t gotten back to me. Since the revered (by me, at least) linguist studied and taught in Halle, where the archives and library of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft are currently located, I’ll make a visit there since it’s just 25 minutes or so from Leipzig. Research is grand! That is my plan for now. The next step will be to seek out this fantastically named Wolfdietrich Fischer and see what he can tell me. Meanwhile, yes, I will still be working on my dissertation, which happens to be totally unrelated. Also, why should you care about Hans Wehr? Well if you don’t know who he is, you shall have to wait till my book is finished. And if you do, then you KNOW why you should care about him.


Anonymous said...

Have you found anything out about Hans Wehr's life? I am an Arabic student at the American University in Cairo and am very interested in knowing if you have had any success so far with your research!

Melodee said...

Hello! I am sorry it's taken me so long to reply. I will answer in the form of a blog post that you can come back to. I intend to revisit this topic after I finish my dissertation. Thanks for your interest. Please feel free to email me at