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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Ger 129

Claparède-Spir family papers


Papers primarily concern philosopher African Spir and include papers of Spir's daughter, Hélène Spir Claparède, and her family, especially her son, Jean-Louis Claparède.


  • 1867-1940

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in French, German, and English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

This collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


.5 linear feet (1 box)

Papers include: compositions by and about African Spir, Hélène Spir Claparède, and Jean Louis Claparède; clippings; diary excerpts; family photographs; obituaries; translations; transcripts; an autobiographical memoir written by Hélène Spir Claparède; and a list of family materials held by at the Université de Genève. Some material in this collection is original and some is typescript transcript copy compiled and annotated by Hélène Spir Claparède.

Correspondence of African Spir and Hélène Spir Claparède include prominent correspondents: J.G. (Joseph Gabriel) Findel, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, William Ernest Hocking, A. (Auguste) Penjon, and Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy. Topics discussed include African Spir's philosophical ideas, the publishing of his works, his influence on the thought of philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and philosophy and world peace.

Materials are in German, French, and English.

Biographical / Historical

African Alexandrovich Spir (1837-1890) [also known as Afrikan Spir] was born in the city of Yelisawetgrad, Ukraine. He left Russia permanently in 1867, studied in Leipzig, Germany when philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a student there (though they never met), and in 1869 moved to Tübingen, then in 1871 to Stuttgart. He married Elizabeth Gatternich in 1872 and they had a daughter Hélène. His most important book, Denken und Wirklichkeit: Versuch einer Erneuerung der kritischen Philosophie = Thought and reality: Attempt at a renewal of critical philosophy, was published in 1873 by his friend and publisher J.G. (Joseph Gabriel) Findel of Leipzig. In 1878 he contracted a lung infection and moved to Lausanne, Switzerland and in 1886 he moved to Geneva where he died of influenza in March of 1890. Spir never held a university appointment and therefore much of his writing remained unknown throughout his life. Some believe his work influenced the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.

Spir's daughter, Hélène Spir Claparède, is sometimes cited as Hélène Claparède-Spir. Her husband was Swiss psychologist and educator, Edouard Claparède (1873-1940). They had two children, a daughter, Eliane Claparède, and a son, Jean Louis Claparède (1901-1937). Jean Louis Claparède was an active proponent of the international peace movement. He died of a heart attack at age 35.


Organized into the following series:

  1. I. Correspondence
  2. II. Compositions by African Spir
  3. III. Compositions by Hélène Spir Claparède
  4. IV. Compositions by Jean Louis Claparède
  5. V. Family miscellany

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mme. Hélène Spir Claparède [via Professor William Ernest Hocking]; received: 1939-1940. Recat. from TP 4960.81.

Papers assembled by Hélène Spir Claparède and sent to Harvard philosophy professor William Ernest Hocking as gift to the Harvard University Library. For additional acquisition information, see correspondence between William Ernest Hocking and Hélène Spir Claparède in the papers of William Ernest Hocking item (1192) also at the Houghton Library.

General note

This collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.

Processing Information

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt

Claparède family. Claparède-Spir family papers: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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