Paul Oskar Kristeller papers, 1910-1989

Summary Information


Professional and personal papers of the German émigré scholar Paul Oskar Kristeller. Kristeller was a professor of philosophy at Columbia University and a world renowned scholar of Renaissance humanism and Renaissance philosophy who published widely, notably his major catalog of uncataloged manuscripts from the Italian Renaissance, the Iter Italicum.

At a Glance

Call No.:
Bib ID:
4079550 View CLIO record
Kristeller, Paul Oskar, 1905-1999
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Physical Description:
115 linear feet (172 boxes: 82 document boxes, 72 record storage cartons, 18 notecard boxes, 275 microfilm reels)
English , German , Latin , Italian , French .
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located onsite.



Professional, personal, and family correspondence, manuscripts, memorand, reports, minutes, documents, photographs, microfilms and printed materials. The extensive correspondence files written in German, Italian, English, and French, document his life as a student and teacher in German during the 1920s, his removal as a teacher by the Nazis in 1933, his new life in Italy during the 1930s until the Fascists barred him from teaching in 1938, and finally his emigration to the United States in 1939. There are long detailed letters between Kristeller and his parents, letters with his family, letters of inquiry to determine the fate of his relatives during World War II and after, letters to aid scholars and students escape from Nazi Europe. Kristeller's vast professional correspondence deals with all aspects of teaching, research, and especially scholarly publication in the fields of philosophy, medieval and renaissance intellectual history, classical Greek and latin texts and their manuscript sources. There are detailed letters of advice and criticism to his Columbia students writing theses under his direction, and scores of letters to American and European scholars who submitted manuscripts to him for his valued opinion

His scholarly projects files reveal his active role in fostering international cooperation among scholars of medieval and renaissance studies through his participation in the American Council of Learned Societies, the Mediaeval Academy of America, the Renaissance Society of America, the International Federation of Renaissance Societies, and the Committee to Rescue Italian Art. There are extensive files on his editorship of the CATALOGUS TRANSLATIONUM, a project to catalog all medieval and renaissance latin translations of and commentaries on latin and Greek classics, and his co-directorship of the NUOVA COLLANA DI TESTI UMANISTIC INEDITI O RARI. collections of unpublished humanistic texts. He was also on the editorial board of the JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF IDEAS and the book review editor of the JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY. Among his manuscripts is the original German holograph for his book THE PHILOSOPHY OF MARSILIO FICINO (1937). Also included is a file of printed ephemera consisting of pamphlets, periodicals, brochures, flyers, invitations, posters, and clippings concerning his addresses, lectures, professional papers, publications, and other scholarly activities.

1982 ADDITION: General correspondence with scholars, 1951-1983, chiefly 1979-1983, and correspondence, manuscripts, and notes for his ITER ITALICUM; A FINDING LIST OF UNCATALOGED HUMANISTIC MANUSCRIPTS OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALIAN AND OTHER LIBRARIES (London, Warburg Institute, 1963-). This first installment includes detailed descriptive bibliographical entries for manuscripts, correspondence with scholars containing additional significant data on specific manuscripts, and drafts of his manuscript for this on-going publication.

1985 ADDITION: Additional correspondence and subject files for the CATALOGUS TRANSLATIONUM ET COMMENTARIORUM, 1944-1968, and correspondence files for THE JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF IDEAS, 1979-1985, additional manuscript and research notes for ITER ITALICUM.. (Vols. 1-3).

1986 ADDITION: Manuscripts, notes, and related correspondence, much of which contains data used in his books, contributions to monographs, festschriften, articles, conference papers, addresses, lectures and other remarks; files on his participation in the NEH study: "To Reclaim a Legacy: a Report on the Humanities in Higher Education" issued by William Bennett and dealing with the broader issues of American cultural policy and its relation to politics; printed materials consisting of reviews, essays, and comments by others on Kristeller's scholarship and publications.

1987 ADDITION: Manuscripts for Vol. 4 of ITER ITALICUM.. and correspondence, notes, and excerpts for the editing of Vols. 4 and 5 of the ITER.

1988 ADDITION: General correspondence, 1987, lectures and lecture notes for Columbia courses and non-Columbia conferences, meetings, seminars, etc., early manuscripts and writings, 1928-1935, and 83 notebooks for POMPONAZZI AND THE HISTORY OF ITALIAN UNIVERSITIES (unpublished). Correspondence with related research materials for Vol. 5 of ITER ITALICUM.., additional notes and notebooks, and printed materials by and about Kristeller.

1995 ADDITION: 310 microfilm reels (38 missing) of rare monographic materials acquired from a variety of American and foreign libraries.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1926-1998

    This series contains Paul Oskar Kristeller's correspondence, incoming as well as some carbons of outgoing correspondence. The series is divided into two suberies, the first is General Correspondence that focuses on correspondence with professional contacts and the second is Personal and Family Correspondence which has a more personal focus.

  • Series II: Personal and Biographical Material, 1905-1997

    This series includes personal, biographical, and genealogical material related to both Paul Oskar Kristeller and his wife Edith. There are copies of Kristeller's memoirs "Recollections of My Life" that he wrote and shared with friends and colleagues towards the end of his life, as well as his C.V., Bibliographies, and awards and honors that he received throughout his career. There are also numerous photographs included in this series-- both his family and travel photographs and photographs of Edith Kristeller's family. This series also includes documents related to both Paul and Edith's attempts to collect indemnity pensions from the German Government, their attempts to locate relatives missing after the holocaust, and family trees and genealogical material.

  • Series III: Professional Activities, 1941-1996

    This series consists of Kristeller's correspondence, research, and writings with various associations, societies, and committees. The records focus on project research for articles and books along with administrative tasks for each organization. The three prominent components of the series are on the Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum, the Committee to Rescue Italian Art, and the Journal of the History of Ideas.

  • Series IV: Columbia University, 1939-1989

    This subseries includes papers and records related to Paul Oskar Kristeller's long career at Columbia University, including material related to his teaching and activities as well as administrative and other University activities.

  • Series V: Writings, 1926-1995

    The writings series has been arranged in three subseries: Manuscripts, Lectures and Speeches, and Articles and Essays. Kristeller often had several drafts of his texts with extended annotation and revisions. Many of these drafts have accompanying research notes, notecards, and correspondence with librarians, colleagues, and publishers. This series spans Kristeller's entire career and contains writings in English, German, Italian, and French.

  • Series VI: Iter Italicum , 1949-1997

    This series is comprised of research notes, manuscripts, and other records related to the Iter Italicum-- the catalog of previously uncataloged or incompletely cataloged Italian humanistic manuscripts, a major work of scholarship that is considered Kristeller's magnum opus.

  • Series VII: Notebooks and Notes, 1920-1990

    This series contains research notes, correspondence with libraries and colleagues, and some manuscript drafts related to various areas of Kristeller's research interests.

  • Series VIII: Printed Material

    This series contains printed material from Kristeller's library, some by Kristeller himself, but the majority are offprints, articles, and books by other-- many inscribed to Kristeller by the author. This series also includes lists of books and articles that formed Kristeller's personal library.

  • Series IX: Microfilms of rare monographic materials

    This collection includes two sets of microfilm of rare monographic materials acquired from a variety of American and foreign libraries. These were designated the 'K' and 'POK' series. See subseries description for more information about each.


This collection is arranged in 9 series

Using the Collection

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located onsite.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

The microfilms of rare monographic materials acquired from American and foreign libraries are available for use by certified members of the Columbia academic community. Non-Columbia researchers must apply to Professor Kristeller's estate for access (Lya Friedrich; 450 Park Avenue; New York, New York 10022.

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Paul Oskar Kristeller papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Selected Related Material-- at Columbia

Catalogus et Commentariorum Records


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact for more information.

Ownership and Custodial History

Gift of Paul Oskar Kristeller, 1977, 1980-1989.

Transfer from the Microform Reading Room, 1995.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Kristeller, P.O. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1977. Accession number--M-1977.

310 microfilms of rare monographic items from a variety of American and foreign libraries: Source of acquisition--Transfer from MRR. Date of acquisition--08/--/0195.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Processed RL 03/--/1989.

310 microfilms of rare monographic items from a variety of American and foreign libraries Processed 09/18/1995.

This collection was processed by Carrie Hintz and Lea Osborne with Amaya Rivera, GSAS 2011 and Danielle Childs, Barnard College 2010. Finding aid written by Carrie Hintz in September 2011. Finding aid written by Carrie Hintz in February of 2012.

Revision Description

2012-02-03 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

2020-01-17 Removed incorrect restriction on microfilm. kws

Biographical Note

Paul Oskar Kristeller, the Frederick Woodbridge Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, was a major scholar of Renaissance philosophy and Renaissance humanism.

Paul Oskar Kristeller was born Paul Oskar Gräfenberg on May 22, 1905 in Berlin Germany to well-to-do Jewish parents. Paul Oskar's father, Oskar Gräfenber, was a merchant who died of a heart attack shortly after Paul Oskar's birth. In 1911 Alice Magnus married the wealthy industrialist Heinrich Kristeller, whose last name Paul Oskar Kristeller adopted in 1919.

Kristeller, always intellectually curious, attended school at the Mommsen Gymnasium in Berlin starting in 1914 and graduating with honors in 1923. The curriculum included an extensive foreign language program, including 12 years of Latin training. In 1923 Kristeller started college, studying philosophy, medieval history, and mathematics at Heidelberg, Freiburg, and Marburg between the years 1923-1928. He went on to continue his studies at the University of Heidelberg, earning his PhD in 1928 with a thesis on Plotinus. He went on to do a Habilitation with Martin Heidegger in Freiburg, writing his Habilitationsschrift on the fifteenth century Platonist Marsilio Ficino, a thinker that would continue to figure in Kristeller's scholarship throughout his career.

The rise of the National Socialist government in Germany and their racist and anti-Semitic policies put an end to Kristeller's academic career in Germany in 1933. With his career in Germany cut short, Kristeller went to Italy where he taught German at a number of schools and Universities including the Istitito Superiore di Magistero in Florence and the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa and the University of Pisa, where he also received the degree of Dottore in Filosofia in 1937. He remained in Italy, studying and teaching until 1938, but as the Mussolini regime gained more power in Italy, Kristeller began his attempts to secure an academic position in the United States. He eventually received an invitation to teach a graduate seminar at Yale University in 1939, and he remained based in the United States for the rest of his life, becoming a US citizen in 1945.

Kristeller obtained a permanent faculty position in the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University in the fall of 1939 where he was to spend the rest of his professional career. He was promoted to the rank of full professor in 1956 and taught classes, gave lectures until his retirement in 1973. Even after his retirement, Kristeller remained an active member of the Columbia Community giving occasional lectures and continuing his own research and scholarly projects up until the time of his death in 1999.

Kristeller was an internationally recognized scholar on the intellectual history of the Renaissance. He published widely, including a book length study on Marsilio Ficino and hundreds of articles on topics in Renaissance humanistic thought and Renaissance medicine. Though his scholarship is prodigious, he is probably best known for his work compiling research guides and manuscript catalogs, particularly his magnum opus the Iter Italicum, a seven volume catalog of previously uncataloged humanistic manuscripts.

Kristeller received many academic honors and accolades over the course of his career. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, received a Guggenheim fellowship, and was awarded a Macarthur "genius" award. Kristeller was a member of editorial board of the =Journal of the History of Ideas, and was a founding member, and president, of the Renaissance Society of America.

In 1940 Kristeller married Edith Lind Lewinnek, another German Jewish émigré from Hamburg. Edith Kristeller received a diploma in physical therapy from New York University, and her medical degree from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. She spent most of her career working in rehabilitative medicine at various New York City hospitals. Edith Lind Kristeller died in 1992.

Paul Oskar Kristeller died on June 7, 1999 at the age of 94.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches for other collections at Columbia University, through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, and through ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

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Addresses CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Articles CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Bibliographies CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Brochures CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Card files CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Essays CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Festschriften CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Handbills CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Invitations CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Lecture notes CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Lectures CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Notebooks CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Notes (documents) CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Obituaries CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Photographs CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Posters CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Reports CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Reviews (documents) CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Speeches (documents) CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Theses CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
minutes (administrative records) CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
American Council of Learned Societies CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Columbia University CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Committee to Rescue Italian Art CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Ficino, Marsilio, 1433-1499 CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
International Federation of Renaissance Societies CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Medieval Academy of America CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
National Endowment for the Humanities CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Pomponazzi, Pietro, 1462-1525 CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Renaissance Society of America CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Europe -- Intellectual life CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Germany -- History -- 20th century CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Anti-Semitism CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Authors, Latin -- To 1700 CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Civilization, Medieval CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Civilization, Modern CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Classical education CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Classical literature CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
College teachers CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Editors CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Emigration and immigration CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Humanism CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Intellectual life -- History CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Latin language, Medieval and modern -- Study and teaching CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Latin literature, Medieval and modern -- Bio-bibliography CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Manuscripts, Greek CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Manuscripts, Latin CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Middle Ages CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Philosophers CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Philosophy CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Philosophy, Renaissance CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Renaissance CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Scholarly publishing CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Scholars CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID