Insights into the History of the Collection

Prof. Dr. Konrad Guenther

23.5.1874 – 26.1.1955

Konrad Guenther was born in Riga (Latvia). His scientific studies took him to Bonn, Leipzig and Freiburg. He received his doctorate in Freiburg in 1900 for a thesis on the delicate construction of a butterfly wing, followed by his post-doctoral research (habilitation) in 1902. All in all, spent over forty years working at the University of Freiburg.

Guenther was involved in many associations for nature conservation, including the Badischen Landesverein für Naturkunde und Naturschutz (Baden Regional Association for Natural History and Nature Conservation and the Bund für Vogelschutz (Society for the Protection of Birds). He published numerous articles and books. Focusing on the animal and plant world, Guenther undertook study trips to Asia Minor (1907), India (1910–1911) and Brazil (1923–1924). He embarked on further expeditions in 1929, visiting Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Syria and Palestine.

Together with Eugen Fischer and Karl Hegar, he supported the foundation of the Freiburg chapter of the Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene (Society for Racial Hygiene). During the Nazi era, he offered guided tours and lectures for the party and party-related associations and gave lectures on local history. Guenther joined the NSDAP in 1937 and relinquished his teaching position at the University of Freiburg two years later.

Guenther and the Museum

Konrad Guenther was the honorary director of the Museum für Naturkunde from 1919 until 1934. Guenther wanted to restructure the museum and thereby separate natural history and ethnology into two discrete subject areas. He was particularly engaged in natural history and made efforts to develop the museum as an Anstalt für volkstümliche Naturkunde und Naturschutz (Institution for Popular Natural History and Nature Conservation) and into a Zentralanstalt für naturkundlichen Unterricht (Central Institute for Natural History Education). Although his endeavours met with approval, his applications were not granted for financial reasons. Guenther's focus on regional natural history was instrumental in presenting the natural history collection from 1931 onwards in the present-day museum building on the Gerberau – used as the "Alte Adelhauser Schule" (Old Adelhausen School) until 1925 – and consigning the ethnological holdings to storage due to lack of space. Guenther resigned as director of the museum in 1934 in protest at the paid employment of party member Heinrich Schütz as museum director.

Guenther Donation

In 1920, Konrad Guenther donated fifty-four butterflies to the museum as well as seventy-four other insects not described in detail and a few bird skins. The entry on the roll of honour was made in 1933, one year before he resigned his honorary directorship of the Natural History Museum.

Konrad Guenther, no date, in: 1930, Reichshandbuch der deutschen Gesellschaft, vol.1, p. 608, *)
Konrad Guenther, no date, in: 1930, Reichshandbuch der deutschen Gesellschaft, vol.1, p. 608, *)
Hummingbird skins, Guenther donation 1931, photo: Axel Killian
Hummingbird skins, Guenther donation 1931, photo: Axel Killian