Utrecht University has a glorious history. Since its founding in 1636 it has educated many thousands of students. However, at its 300th anniversary in 1936, the focus was on the ‘physical’ heritage of Utrecht University. A special , handwritten book saw the light of day, containing an overview of the immovable properties the university possessed at that time.
The book, titled Overzicht der gebouwen van de Rijks Universiteit te Utrecht in 1936 (‘Overview of the buildings of Utrecht University in 1936’) is unique because it is handwritten. It looks like no other comparable copy was made at the time. The maker of the album is unknown. However, we may assume, given the complete and structured character of the work, that it was commissioned by Utrecht University itself.
On a single photo, belonging to the Clinic for Surgery, we find the name of the photographer: ‘Fa. Jochmann, Disco, Heim Fotograaf’ (‘Company Jochmann, Disco, Home photographer’). It is Johan Erik Gustaf Fredrik Jochmann (1856-1941), born in Sweden but working in the Netherlands from 1887 onwards. Initially on several locations, including Utrecht, but from 1895 he established himself definitely in this city. As one of the first photographers in the Netherlands, Jochmann owned a workshop with electrical artificial light. He mainly worked in the student circles of Utrecht. Therefore it is not surprising that he was the one to immortalize the world of Utrecht University (even though we have to keep our options open with regard to the unsigned photos.)
The texts belonging to the photos are written in calligraphy, with the capitals in red or gold paint. Also the index at the back, alphabetically arranged by buildings, faculty rooms, institutes, clinics, laboratories and reading rooms, bears witness to the great care which was spent on the handwriting. Only a few, well executed corrections show the sensitivity to faults of such manuscripts. It is remarkable that the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and its buildings is mentioned separately in the index. Maybe this status aparte has to do with the fact that this faculty in 1925 was a recent addition to the university?
The album has a total of 61 pages and measures 45 by 35 centimeters. On each page one to four photos are glued, resulting in somewhat warped pages. The photos show the inside or outside of the buildings the university owned in 1936. Obviously on the first page we see the University Hall on Dom Square, to this day the iconic ‘face’ of Utrecht University. The Senate hall and the large Auditorium, ‘before the renovation’, follow on the next pages. Next we see the Office of the Executive Board and the University Archives, established on Trans 10 and Trans 8 respectively. The University Library at the Wittevrouwenstraat gets as many as two pages and seven photos, including pictures of the depots and reading rooms.
The educational and research rooms of the various faculties are also shown. The photos offer a fascinating insight into the university world of the interwar period. For example, many self-respecting institutions had their own museum, including the anatomical laboratory, the ophthalmology clinic, the geographical institute, the pathological institute and the zoological laboratory. In addition, they often had their own libraries and reading rooms. In the album we also find pictures of lecture and practical laboratories, as well as the offices of professors. The office of the professor in medieval history is quite different in functionality from that of his colleague in the 'knowledge of human foodstuffs of animal origin'!
Besides offering a splendid image of the university accommodations, the photos mostly show an intriguing view of the state of technique of those days. For instance, what to think of machines such as a ‘spectatorium’, a string galvanometer or an ‘aviatiek’ coming from the physiology laboratory? Or the soundproof room and sterilization room in the ear, nose and throat clinic and the ‘room for experiments regarding carrying diseases by insects’ in the institute for parasitic and infectious diseases? And the light treatments with the Finsen-Lomholt lamp and the Koolboog lamp also appeal to one’s imagination. Special mention deserves the surgery of the institute for dentistry, with dozens of dentist chairs drawn up in battle array!
Quite remarkably, people appear in only in 25 per cent of the photos. Only on pictures of some labs, reading rooms and hospital rooms we see students, visitors and patients. As a result, the album has a somewhat clinical appearance, but we must not forget that its main purpose was to give an overview of the university buildings. And those building certainly take pride of place in the book.
Will Utrecht University commission a similar memorial book in 2036 at the occasion of its 400th anniversary? If it turns out to be a physical album, it will certainly have twice the size!