Source edition

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A source edition is the publication of historical or literary sources . Traditionally, one thinks of this source research aid as a printed publication, such as a document book , but it can also be realized electronically and offered on the Internet, for example ( digital edition ).


Relief by Johannes Trithemius (by Tilman Riemenschneider )

In the age of humanism , the first important source collections were edited and published, for example by Johannes Trithemius . They were also stimulated by the Reformation, which sparked interest in church history. This also includes the sighting of hagiographies by Catholics such as the masons around Jean Mabillon (the founder of diplomacy ), since hagiographies were questioned by Protestants. The French Jesuits sought the texts of the councils.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, collections of sources were created on the texts of the church fathers and from the area of ​​regional history. The most important companies in Germany are the Monumenta Germaniae Historica , published by the Society for Older German History, founded in 1819, while in Switzerland the Collection of Swiss Legal Sources has been editing sources for all parts of the country and in all national languages ​​since 1894.

Concept and delimitation

The terms source collection and source edition are often used synonymously. With the collection, one thinks primarily of the use by the reader who wants to deal with a topic (an epoch, etc.) on the basis of selected sources. The collections from the Middle Ages and early modern times, with which editors at the time wanted to preserve old sources, are also referred to as collections of sources.

The term source edition emphasizes the scientifically supplied publication of sources, usually of the same origin, which have not yet been published or only inadequately published. The edition is usually more extensive and detailed than the collection. For example, while a selection of letters from various social democratic politicians (possibly already published elsewhere) is called a source collection, the publication of a lengthy mutual exchange of letters between two politicians would be a source edition.

No source edition is the new edition of already published, mainly literary texts, for example older articles by an author. However, a source edition can occasionally contain already published texts that are difficult to access in the original form of publication.

Function of source editions and source collections

Sources are the basis of historical knowledge. The majority of all sources cannot be published for practical reasons; if they have been indexed at all, then individual researchers go to the storage location (an archive , a private collection). For particularly important sources, however, editions are created because

  • it is beneficial for science if these sources can be used by more people in more places (e.g. at home or in libraries where the often expensive editions can be viewed);
  • Original documents can be damaged by excessive use;
  • not every historian or interested person has all the skills to develop a source for himself and to understand it (for example because the original text was written down in an ancient script).

Possible selection criteria

To be issued

  • Sources on a specific topic (e.g. sources on the history of social democracy),
  • Sources of a certain origin, i.e. an institution or person (e.g. documents from the SPD parliamentary group),
  • Sources of a certain type of text (e.g. the correspondence between Willy Brandt and Herbert Wehner), one then speaks of a letter edition, file edition, diary edition, etc.,
  • Sources from a specific collection (e.g. a selection of documents from the archive of social democracy).

Source edition as a scientific work

The transcription and the critical description of a source is done according to defined transcription and edition guidelines. A single copy of a source is not enough, because the text should be checked and corrected (collated) several times on the original at intervals.

As a rule, one expects from a scientific source edition not only the conscientious selection and transmission of source texts, but also factual commentary , which helps the reader to better understand the sources (information on people, places, etc.). Since the editor of the edition can - despite all care - make mistakes, you may still have to look up the original documents yourself in important cases.

The source part of a source edition is historically attributable to the sources, the introduction or other additions by the editor are secondary literature. Nevertheless, a source edition is reported in a historical work as a whole under the (published) sources.


A source edition that opens up a specific archival collection is:

  • Reich Chancellery files. Weimar Republic , ed. for the Historical Commission at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences by Karl Dietrich Erdmann, for the Federal Archives by Hans Booms, 22 volumes, Boppard 1968–1995.

A source edition that reproduces sources on a specific topic (here: legal sources of Swiss cantons in a specific period) is the

  • Collection of Swiss legal sources (SSRQ), Collection des sources du droit suisse (SDS) and Collana fonti del diritto svizerro (FDS), published by the Legal Sources Foundation of the Swiss Lawyers Association.

A source edition on the emergence of the German welfare state is:

A thematic - here nevertheless very broad - collection is:

  • Causes and consequences. From the German collapse in 1918 and 1945 to the state reorganization of Germany in the present. A collection of certificates and documents on contemporary history , ed. and edit by Herbert Michaelis and Ernst Schrapler with the assistance of Günther Scheel, Volumes 1–26 and register volume, Berlin 1958/1979.

A source edition that is narrowly defined in terms of time and topic is

A popularizing series that first describes an epoch or a topic and enriches this with source texts is:

  • German history in sources and representations , ed. by Rainer A. Müller, 11 volumes, Stuttgart [Reclam].

See also


→ Further reading also under edition studies


  1. Ahasver von Brandt : Tool of the historian. An introduction to the historical auxiliary sciences. 11th supplemented edition. Stuttgart u. a. 1986, p. 64.
  2. ^ After: Egon Boshof u. a .: Basics of the study of history. Cologne 1973, pp. 199-201.
  3. Examples e.g. T. after: Barbara Wolbring: Studying modern history. Konstanz 2006, pp. 113–121.