Communication Networks in the History of Czech Art – The Correspondence of Zdeněk Wirth (1878–1961)

Project support: Strategy AV21 for 2021, program “Memory in the Digital Age”, research topic “Digital Humanities – access, preservation, and rescue of sources in the digital age” (Researcher: Ing. Martin Lhoták / KNAV)

Research institutes: Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences (ÚDU AV ČR), Masaryk Institute and Archive of the Czech Academy of Sciences (MÚA AV ČR)
Researchers: PhDr. Kristina Uhlíková, Ph.D. (ÚDU AV ČR) and PhDr. Hana Kábová, Ph.D. (MÚA AV ČR)

Project characteristics, its intentions and goals:

These are two interconnected projects that together create a platform to enable gradual access to the unique and extensive collection of the official and private correspondence of Zdeněk Wirth (1878–1961), a leading figure in Czech art history, heritage preservation, museology, and cultural policy. Most of these documents reveal the rich network of contacts he built up over many years; this network was a key starting point for him in coordinating the activities of the cultural sphere in the interwar period, when he was the head of the Department of Enlightenment of the Ministry of Education and National Enlightenment, as well as afterwards.

The projects are realized as part of the web portal Historical Correspondence Online (HIKO), where they use a database of correspondence created through the cooperation of founding partners (Institute of Philosophy of the CAS, Masaryk Institute and Archive, and Library of the CAS). They are based on close cooperation between the Institute of Art History and Masaryk Institute and Archive in recording Wirth’s correspondence.

The correspondence received by Wirth (in the range of approx. 10 bm) is registered primarily in the Institute of Art History, where it is stored as part of the personal fund of Zdeněk Wirth (cf. It covers the period from the 1890s until Wirth’s death. The Masaryk Institute and Archive focuses on the record of correspondence sent by Wirth stored in various memory institutions of the Czech Republic, especially in the Masaryk Institute and Archive, Archives of the National Gallery, Archives of the National Museum, and Literary Archive of the Museum of Czech Literature, as well as in regional museums and archives.

In the first phase, files of Wirth’s correspondence with more important personalities are to be selected at the Institute of Art History; they will undergo restoration, be scanned, extracted, and entered into the HIKO database. The Masaryk Institute and Archive will focus mainly on finding the counterparts of larger and more significant files of correspondence received by Wirth; it also ensures their scanning, extraction, and detailed registration.

The registered collection of Wirth’s correspondence will then be analyzed and evaluated. The researchers will suggest specific forms of its further (full-text) access as thematic editions. In the following years, in addition to the gradual realization of the proposed editorial plan, the database is expected to expand in two directions, namely the registration of other correspondence units of Zdeněk Wirth and the mapping of the correspondence of other art historians, including cultural figures.

Expected benefits of the projects:

The proposed database of unique “ego-documents” will become a key aid in monitoring the connections that influenced events in the field of Czech art history as well as in the entire cultural sphere from the last decades of the 19th century to the 1950s. This database will be useful for a number of research topics in the field of art history, history, heritage care, museology, ethnology, and other related fields, as well as a starting point for the preparation of publications. It can also be assumed that the registration, inventory, and analysis of Wirth’s correspondence within the HIKO platform will enrich the methodology of electronic access to ego-documents.