Lester Kruger Born was an expert on medieval manuscripts. Born in Alameda, California on January 23, 1903, he earned two degrees in Classical Philology from the University of California before studying Classics at Princeton University. He combined his interest in the history of political theory with that of ancient archives, conducting in-depth research on medieval manuscripts, most notably his 1936 translation of Erasmus’s 1516 book, The Education of a Christian Prince. Following the completion of a doctoral degree from the University of Chicago in 1929, Born worked as an assistant professor at multiple American universities, including Ohio State University in Columbus (1929-30), Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland (1930-34), and The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (1934-1936). He traveled widely throughout Europe, viewing historic monuments in England, France, Germany, Poland, Austria, and Italy while becoming fluent in French and German.
Born was a prolific researcher and writer, publishing articles in Political Science Quarterly, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Journal of Modern History, The American Archivist, and American Journal of Philology. His impressive knowledge of archives and public history attracted the attention of the Historical Records Survey, a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program devoted to indexing state, county, and local archives across the United States. Born worked as an assistant archivist of the Historic Records Survey until 1941, when he joined the Office of Price Administration.
During World War II, Born served as the archivist with V Corps of U.S. First Army in Belgium. In October 1944, Monuments Man Fred W. Shipman, Adviser to the War Department on Archives, recommended Born for service with the MFAA. The following May, he served as Archivist Specialist Officer to the MFAA Branch of the U.S. Group Control Council (USGCC) in Germany, working alongside Monuments Man Sargent B. Child, Adviser on Archives and Libraries. Most notably, Born helped coordinate archival operations at the Ministerial Collecting Center in Fuerstenhagen, near Kassel. Together, Born and Child supervised the accessioning of over 1,420 tons of records and forty tons of film and equipment related to the German ministries. Born remained at the center until February 1946, when the entire contents were transferred to Berlin. During a visit to the center in December 1945, Monuments Man Col. Seymour J. Pomrenze, Director of the Offenbach Archival Depot, praised Born’s achievements. He remarked that he was “greatly impressed with the manner in which this place operates and the important position Born as archivist occupies on the operational and technical staff. Born himself is a person of unusual ability, a scholar, and one of the finest officers I have met in the last 40,000 miles of my travels. He is all work and lets nothing deter him from his objective.”
Born remained a leading participant in the effort to sort, classify, and restitute looted archival collections until 1950. His experiences in Europe were followed by an appointment to the Library of Congress, where he helped coordinate the microfilming of historical documents. That same year, he published two accounts of his work as a Monuments Man: “The Archives and Libraries of Postwar Germany” (American Historical Review, October 1950) and “The Ministerial Collecting Center near Kassel, Germany” (The American Archivist, July 1950). Born served as a cultural affairs officer at the American Embassy in Manila, the Philippines, from 1956 to 1959 before returning to the Library of Congress. He was a member of the American Philological Association, the Mediaeval Academy of America, and the Classical Association of the Middle West and South. Born was very active with the Society of American Archivists, including terms of service on the Committee on Archival Bibliography and the Committee on International Relations.
Lester Born died in Washington, D.C. on October 7, 1969.
Photo courtesy of Case Western Reserve University Archives.