The Hong Kierkegaard Library; a Research Collection at St. Olaf College

By Rumble, Juliet | Scandinavian Studies, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

The Hong Kierkegaard Library; a Research Collection at St. Olaf College


Rumble, Juliet, Scandinavian Studies


THE HOWARD V. AND EDNA H. HONG Kierkegaard Library, located on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, houses the largest collection of works by and about Soren Kierkegaard outside of Denmark. The collection consists of approximately 11,000 volumes, which include multiple editions and translations of Kierkegaard's works, extensive secondary literature on Kierkegaard, and numerous works by related thinkers who influenced or were influenced by Kierkegaard. The core holdings of the library were donated to St. Olaf in 1976 by Howard and Edna Hong, who arc known to Kierkegaard scholars around the world for their English translations of Kierkegaard's writings.

Over a remarkable period of thirty-three years, the Hongs edited and translated the seven-volume Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers (Indiana) and the twenty-six-volume Kierkegaard's Writings (Princeton). (1) Both Hongs are alumni of St. Olaf College. Howard Hong served on the faculty at St. Olaf for forty years before retiring in 1978. Edna Hong, in addition to the Kierkegaard translations, published religious works, poetry, historical fiction, and children's stories. The Hongs' gift of their personal library was motivated, as was their translation work, by a desire to make Kierkegaard more accessible to readers. Thanks to the Hongs and to others who shared their vision, Kierkegaard has been a central figure at St. Olaf for decades.

The Hong Kierkegaard Library originated as the working collection of two scholar-translators, but over time it evolved into a special collection library dedicated to acquiring, preserving, and providing access to materials about Kierkegaard. Along the way, the library became something more than a collection of books and manuscripts. As the Hongs intended, it became a study and publication center and a gathering place for Kierkegaard researchers. Today, Kierkegaard scholars from around the world travel to St. Olaf to attend conferences and to use the library's collections. Reflecting upon the value of the library as a research collection and as a place for scholars to meet and exchange ideas, Kierkegaard scholar Bruce Kirmmse noted: "Both [the collection and library programs] are absolutely invaluable, and they really put St. Olaf on the world map" (as quoted in Hequet 43).

This article provides a brief history of the Hong Kierkegaard Library, describes its collections, and examines the programs that have transformed the library into a global research center.

LIBRARY HISTORY: KIERKEGAARD AND ST. OLAF COLLEGE

According to the Howard Hongs, the origins of the Kierkegaard Library can be traced back to a day in 1938 when he skipped lunch in order to browse the shelves of a Copenhagen antikvariat [antiquarian bookstore]. Hong, who had been hired the previous year to teach English and philosophy at St. Olaf, had been awarded a Fulbright grant to study Kierkegaard in Denmark. On this day, he spotted a book by Kierkegaard and purchased it. Before long, Hong was skipping lunch regularly and using the money he saved to buy more books about Kierkegaard for his collection (Hequet 43). Over the years, Hong would return to Copenhagen numerous times as he pursued his research interest in Kierkegaard.

The Hongs' first translation of Kierkegaard was simply an exercise in learning Danish. Not satisfied with the progress they were making with their Danish language tutor, the Hongs pedaled off on their bicycles to Copenhagen's Kongelige Bibliotek [Royal Library] where they sat down with Kierkegaard's texts and a Danish-English dictionary and simply "plunged in" (as quoted in Elbrond-Bek 83). Later, they came to view their translation projects as a way of introducing Kierkegaard to a wider, English-speaking audience. Howard Hong's research with Kierkegaard's journals and papers had convinced him that Kierke-gaard scholarship was developing without exposure to key texts. Even more important, the Hongs believed that Kierkegaard's philosophical anthropology--his understanding of what it means to be, or to become, a human being--needed to be communicated to modern readers (Cynthia Lund Interview 10 May 2006). …

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