Ashes to Archives

This exhibition – held at the KU Leuven Central Library from February 20th to March 20th 2015 – tells the intriguing story of the Institute of Philosophy and the Husserl Archives at the KU Leuven against the backdrop of the First and Second World Wars. By illustrating the history of the Institute and tracing the life and work of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, it illuminated the intimate relationship between philosophy, phenomenology, and war.

Husserl’s son Wolfgang (photo) was killed in 1916 at Verdun and many of Husserl’s students fought in the war and wrote about it. The Institute of Philosophy served as a field hospital during the German occupation of Leuven, and was instrumental in saving Husserl’s writings—40,000 pages and his philosophical library of over 4,000 books and pamphlets—in 1938.

In 1951, Father Herman Van Breda launched the edition of Husserl’s writings, the Husserliana, and created a crucial anchoring point with the Husserl Archives in Leuven for the reestablishment of intellectual contacts between France and Germany, and throughout Europe. Many important philosophers, including Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jacques Derrida, came to Leuven to read Husserl’s unpublished work, and Van Breda enjoyed extensive contacts with Lévinas, Heidegger, and others. In this unique manner, the Institute of Philosophy and the Husserl Archives proved critical for the post-war reconstitution of a European republic of philosophy, one that had been tragically fragmented with the outbreak of the First World War.

On this page, you will find a number of digitised documents from the exhibition. Please note that the documents still need to be annotated.

Hermann van Breda

Books and Pamphlets

Letters and Postcards