Heym in his own words: exploring Cambridge University Library’s Stefan Heym Archive

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at Oxford University, in partnership with Cambridge University Library.

This fully-funded studentship is available from October 2024. Further details about the value of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page.

Closing date: 5 January 2024.

Project overview

This project provides an exciting opportunity to access untapped AV material in the Stefan Heym Archive and to make it accessible in turn to other researchers.

The German author Stefan Heym (1913-2001) was a major literary and political figure in East German and US cultural history.  Born into a Jewish family, he settled in America in 1935 and enjoyed early literary success with his bestseller ‘Hostages’.  He served in the US Army’s Psychological Warfare Division during World War 2, but moved during the McCarthy purges to East Germany.  Here he had a high profile and his work had considerable influence, but his outspokenness eventually led to his works being banned.  He took part in the events of 1989 which led to fall of the Berlin Wall.  He was a critical observer of the German unification process and in 1994 he successfully stood for the German parliament and gave the new session's opening address. He continued to write works of fiction and essays until his death. 

The Stefan Heym Archive is held by Cambridge University Library (CUL).  It consists of literary manuscripts, interviews, correspondence, press clippings, AV tapes, and miscellaneous material, all chiefly in German and English and running to 410 boxes of manuscript and printed matter alone.  The archive is remarkable for its richness as Heym painstakingly collected material relating to his life and work.  It provides an important resource for scholars working on Heym’s own literary output but also on East German cultural life and on US history for the period when Heym lived there.

The student’s doctorate would be based on the Heym archive and could relate to any of the wide areas of Heym’s work as an author, cultural figure, politician, and witness of national and world history. Within this framework, they would spend a portion of their time working on the AV material.  This consists of 465 audio and 146 video tapes plus 6 reels of 8mm film and is the only part of the archive without full catalogue metadata.  These untapped materials include recordings of readings, discussions, TV appearances, interviews and speeches at demonstrations, assembled and often recorded by Heym himself.  The student would help provide metadata for these materials to make them significantly more accessible.

A pilot digitisation project of the Heym AV archive is currently under way at CUL but will only see a small proportion of material digitised.  Based on metadata on the cassette cases and other sources, the student would with support and guidance from their supervisors identify a selection of materials of particular relevance to their doctoral research.  These would be digitised externally, providing the student as well as other researchers with access to these otherwise inaccessible sources; we envisage the digitisation being supported in part by an application for AHRC CDA research-related funding needs.

The student’s first year would be spent on their literature review and working on metadata for the AV material. They would have the chance to select tapes for digitisation in their first year to inform their research.  The student would also undertake external engagement work including blog posts, a public talk, and shaping an exhibition.

With training and extensive support from the CUL’s Department of Archives and Modern Manuscripts (AMM), the Digital Content Unit and Head of Digital Preservation, and the staff of the University Library Research Institute, the successful student would develop expertise in collections-based research methods which would open up career pathways in archival environments in addition to more standard academic pathways.


The lead academic supervisor is Professor Georgina Paul of Oxford University’s Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages.  The library supervisor is Christian Staufenbiel, the Germanic Specialist at Cambridge University Library.

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Applicants must have excellent German reading knowledge and already have/currently be studying for a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject relative to this collection and its research potential. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.

For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Professor Georgina Paul (georgina.paul@st-hildas.ox.ac.uk) and Christian Staufenbiel (cs10015@cam.ac.uk) jointly in the first instance.

You should apply to the DPhil Medieval & Modern Languages at Oxford University by Friday 5 January 2024 (midday, UK time), indicate your interest in being considered for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship and submit a completed copy of the OOC DTP Application Form at the same time.