Department ofGermanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures

Gerhard F. Straßer

Gerhard F. Straßer

Emeritus Professor of German and Comparative Literature



Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, 1974
Fulbright Lecturership at Trinity College, Hartford, CT, 1967-68
Pädagogisches Staatsexamen für das Lehramt an Gymnasien,“ Regensburg, Germany, 1967
Wissenschaftliches Staatsexamen für das Lehramt an Gymnasien,“ Munich, 1965
Studies at the Universities of Munich and Grenoble, 1959-65
Fulbright Scholarship at Rhodes College, Memphis, TN, 1960-61
“Abitur” (with distinction), Landshut, Germany, 1959


Dr. Strasser’s fields of specialization include the history of universal languages in the Early Modern Period; early cryptology; the history of the plague; (pseudo-)hieroglyphics; emblematics; travel accounts, and 17th-century polyhistors such as Athanasius Kircher or Johann Joachim Becher.

After teaching at Northwestern University from 1973 to 1979 and at Penn State in the Departments of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures and in Comparative Literature, Dr. Strasser retired in 2004 after 25 years at Penn State as Professor emeritus and returned to Germany.

Dr. Strasser’s publications include the 1988  Lingua Universalis:  Kryptologie und Theorie der Universalsprachen im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, which has become a standard work in the field; Emblematik und Mnemonik der Frühen Neuzeit im Zusammenspiel: Johannes Buno und Johann Justus Winckelmann (2000); and co-edited books, such as Die Domänen des Emblems:  Außerliterarische Anwendungen der Emblematik (with Mara R. Wade, 2004).  Electronic publications include an expanded version of a symposium lecture delivered at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek discussing “Ansätze zu internationaler Verständigung durch konstruierte Sprachen“, URL: (2013).  In 2018 Dr. Strasser, with Marie-Madeleine Fragonard, co-published the second, greatly expanded French edition of a 17th-century French manuscript that he had first produced electronically in English in 2012 at the Herzog August Bibliothek (URL: The new, French edition is titled, Le Livre d’Enigmes de Jacques de Fonteny:  Manuscrit d’une série de sonnets para-emblématiques illustrés du début du XVIIe siècle.  Wolfenbütteler Digitale Editionen, XV, 2018 (URL:   In his retirement he co-organized a symposium at the Herzog August Bibliothek with Dr. Thomas Stäcker on “Bibliotheken und ihre Nutzer, 1650-1850” (2007) and has written major articles, which include “The Rise of Cryptology in the European Renaissance” in The History of Information Security: A Comprehensive Handbook (2007) or “Von der Lingua Adamica zur Lingua universalis“ in Diskurse der Gelehrtenkultur in der Frühen Neuzeit (2011).

Dr. Strasser continues to present his ongoing research at international conferences, such as materials from the history of cryptology at NSA (2011, 2013 near Baltimore, in 2022 virtually) or at the Slovak Academy of Sciences (2017); universal languages (Munich; Ankara; Vienna); emblematics (Nancy, 2017, Coimbra, 2022); the plague (Mersin, Turkey) or on the Amish (Ankara; Hamburg). In the summer of 2018 he co-organized the third international conference on cryptology (HistoCrypt 2018) at the University of Uppsala, Sweden; in 2022, he presented a keynote address at HistoCrypt 2022 at the Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam.

A life-long publication project of Dr. Strasser’s—the scholarly edition of a 1679 French-Turkish manuscript housed at the Herzog August Bibliothek—has taken on a new dimension with Dr. Marloes Cornelissen, Sabanci University, Istanbul, as co-editor.  “Lettres muettes, ou la maniere de faire l’amour en Turquie / Sans Scavoir nÿ Lire nÿ Escrire“ will be published in the book series of the journal, Der Islam, after a revision of the current, 80-page introduction.  At the same time Dr. Strasser is preparing a public lecture in Hamburg—where he has been living since 2016—on Alma Mahler-Werfel’s  “Album Amicorum“, a collection of more than 70 congratulatory letters kept in Penn State’s Special Collections.  In 1949 this bound volume was presented to Alma, the widow of the composer Gustav Mahler and of the writer Franz Werfel, on the occasion of her 70th birthday, which she celebrated in her Californian exile.  Contributions from many friends, among them exiles like Thomas Mann or the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, will be discussed in this lecture, and short compositions written for this occasion will be played on a Steinway and connected with their references, mostly passages from Mahler’s symphonies.

In the fall of 2012, Dr. Strasser was given the College of the Liberal Arts Emeritus Distinction Award.