THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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5 posts from August 2018

16 August 2018

Failing Colonizers or Failing Memory: Sweden in the Americas

Colonial history rarely makes us think about the Nordic region. That omission, it has been said, allows these nations to ignore their connections to the global imperial system. As Gunlög Fur writes with regard to Sweden’s self-understanding in the 20th century, ‘there was no decolonising moment, during which Sweden had to rethink its position. Instead this left room for reformulating a Swedish strategy for non-alliance and mediation’ (p. 24).

The current BL exhibition ‘Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land’ encourages us to look closer. The discovery of three 18th-century Swedish legal documents in the British Library collections (to add to the many others received and purchased over the centuries) reminds us of Sweden’s continuous intention to compete with the superior European powers at the colonial table, a table at which their neighbours Denmark had already managed to establish themselves.

Map New SwedenEngraved map of New Sweden by P. Lindström in Thomas Campanius Holm, Beskrifning om provincien Nya Swerige uti America (Stockholm, 1702). 1061.g.8

But first, a quick sketch of Sweden’s Atlantic exploration. 1637 saw Sweden establish a colony on the banks of the Delaware River, with the help of Dutch merchants. ‘New Sweden’ was short-lived (it collapsed in 1656) but it still ‘became a home for generations of colonists’ (Ekengren et al., p. 169). In 1702 Thomas Campanius Holm wrote a comprehensive account of the geography, the colonists, the native Indians and, perhaps most interestingly, included chapters of phrases in the Lenape language.

Lenape IndiansAbove: Engraving by P. Lindström depicting Lenape Indians, and below: List of Lenape phrases related to fish and birds, both from Thomas Campanius Holm Beskrifning om provincien Nya Swerige

List of Lenape phrases

While the two decades of official Swedish occupation in Delaware have often been viewed, in early histories of the period, as either ultimately unsuccessful and therefore harmless, or successful in Sweden’s cultivation of wild forest into fertile land (and therefore harmless), the episode might be seen in parallel to the establishment of West African forts at the same time. Seafaring expertise and a thirst for trade opportunities led the Swedes simultaneously to America and Africa (with the Sápmi, arguably also part of the ‘colonial’ conversation), tying the search for land and goods and the accompanying Christian missionary activities, together with the beginnings of the Atlantic slave trade.

Sweden had to wait 130 years for their next American colony, the island of St Barthélemy in the Caribbean, given by France in return for trading rights in Gothenburg. However, modern scholarship does not consider the intervening period a hiatus, rather ‘Sweden’s interest in the American world continued unabated, as evidenced by several plans to found colonies in the Caribbean or on the South American continent. At the same time, economic ties, both direct and indirect, were growing between Sweden and the Americas’ (Schnakenbourg, p. 229).

St Barthelemy map 1801Map of St Barthélemy (Stockholm, [1801]). (Image from the John Carter Brown Library, via Wikimedia Commons.)

It is the latter idea of economic ties across the Atlantic, which is in evidence in the British Library collections recently found. The importance of Swedish iron to triangular trade is one example of how Sweden fitted into the global network (Evans and Rydén) but Sweden was not content simply to export domestic products. Rather, they were consistently engaged in establishing a colony in the Caribbean, since the premature end of earlier ventures (Schnakenbourg). The Library holds both the 14 June 1731 privilege for ‘Hindrich [Henrik] König & compagnie angÃ¥ende en fart och handel pÃ¥ Ost-Indien’, which inaugurated the Swedish East India Company, as well as the 2 December 1745 privilege ‘pÃ¥ en handels och siö-farts inrättande pÃ¥ America, för handelsmännerne Abraham och Jacob Arwedson & Compagnie’, which preceded the founding of the Swedish West India Company.

Privilege ArfwedsonPrivilege for Abraham and Jacob Arfwedson to travel and trade in the Americas. RB.23.b.3540

While engaged in triangular trade in the mid-18th century, supplying slaves to Caribbean colonies owned by other powers and directly selling Swedish commodities—herring as well as iron—to the new markets, the ambition remained to possess somewhere in the Caribbean to begin their own trade in sugar and other products. Therefore, the 1745 privilege was also intended to explore the possibility of taking first Tobago and later Barima, but Spanish and Dutch suspicion would prevent any serious attempts by Sweden. Their goal was secured in 1784 with the exchange for St Barthélemy, an island the French had struggled (and the Swedish would struggle) to cultivate. The harshness of the land led to the declaration ‘som förklarar ön St. Barthelemy i Westindien för en fri hamn eller porto franco’, in other words the island became a free port in an attempt to maximize trade activity.

Free Port of St BNotification establishing the free port of St Barthelemy. D.K.1/9/(4.)

Eight months later the Swedish crown was obliged to publish a sort of corrective to the free port announcement, as it had seemingly encouraged too much interest among Swedes in making the switch to the Caribbean. The notification ‘Til hämmande af obetänkte utflyttningar til Ön St Barthelemy’ of 2 May 1786 suggests that the previous year’s announcement was intended to encourage traders and not settlers. It highlights the tough conditions on the island, the lack of resources and the resistance to cultivation, as well as the limited space. Farmers, instead, should think more about working the fatherland!

Privilege discouraging travelNotification discouraging travel to the Caribbean. [Awaiting cataloguing]

From the beginning of Swedish administration of the island and aided by the official establishment of Swedish West India Company on 31 October 1786, ‘a commercially-oriented infrastructure was erected with the development of the island’s natural harbour, le Carénage, as well as the edification of its capital city, Gustavia, with warehouses, supply depots, and public buildings surrounding the port’ (Lavoie et al., p. 381).

Privilege Swedish West India CompanyPrivilege for the Swedish West India Company  [Awaiting cataloguing]

To conclude this survey of some of the documentation regarding the Swedish colony of St Barthélemy, it is worth reiterating the complicated position contemporary Swedish historians are in. Fur describes the awkwardness as follows: ‘popular understanding has gone from no colonialism to post-colonialism without stopping in-between, without having to confront the challenges and ambiguities of decolonization’ (p. 26). The problem remains that St Barthélemy, in comparison to the sugar island colonies of other powers, was always a site of temporary and fugitive wealth as an entrepôt, and therefore Sweden ‘cannot be considered as a colonial power in the full sense’ (Schnakenbourg, p. 240). At the same time, by avoiding the overestimation of colonial achievements you risk the oblivion of the Sweden’s role in the global matrix of exploitation. ‘[N]owhere, and no one, was untouched by the forces of colonialism in the early modern world.’ (Horning, p. 297).

Pardaad Chamsaz. Curator, Germanic Collections

References

Yolande Lavoie, Carolyn Fick and Francine-M. Mayer, ‘A Particular Study of Slavery in the Caribbean Island of Saint Barthelemy: 1648-1846’, Caribbean Studies 28:2 (1995), pp. 369-403. 3053.130000

Gunlög Fur, ‘Colonialism and Swedish History: Unthinkable Connections?’, in Scandinavian Colonialism and the Rise of Modernity: Small Time Agents in a Global Arena (New York, 2013) m13/.14914, pp. 17-36

Chris Evans and Göran Rydén, ‘From Gammelbo Bruk to Calabar: Swedish Iron in an Expanding Atlantic’, in Scandinavian Colonialism…, pp. 53-67

Fredrik Ekengren, Magdalena Naum, Ulla Isabel Zagal-Mach Wolfe, ‘Sweden in the Delaware Valley: Everyday Life and Material Culture in New Sweden’, in Scandinavian Colonialism…, pp. 169-187

Eric Schnakenbourg, ‘Sweden and the Atlantic: The Dynamism of Sweden’s Colonial Projects in the Eighteenth Century’, in Scandinavian Colonialism…, pp. 229-242

Audrey Horning, ‘Insinuations: Framing a New Understanding of Colonialism’, in Scandinavian Colonialism…, pp. 297-305

13 August 2018

Signs of different times: French First World War posters

From under one of the British Library’s unassuming shelfmarks ‘Tab.11748.a’, a fascinating portal into the First World War emerges. It references a collection of some 350 French posters dating from 1914 to 1918, which were in the Library’s possession by 1920. While a few have been displayed in exhibitions or included in the British Library’s World War One website  and Europeana 1914-1918, the majority have waited, neatly stored in their sturdy red wooden boxes, for nearly a century. As part of the Library’s PhD research placement programme , I began delving into this wonderfully rich collection, with the aim of bringing to light these pages of history for researchers, historians and the wider public.

The Great War is considered the first ‘total war’ in that not only armies but whole nations were mobilised to support the war effort. The streets of towns and cities quite literally bore its signs. The posters in this collection are the tangible artefacts of the urban environment of those who lived through the war; they informed, persuaded, warned, entertained, prescribed and prohibited. The images and messages they convey are those which ordinary French people saw, read, leaned against, walked by, tore down and pasted over. As well as offering testimony to the dramatic upheavals for people across France, they also bear witness to the burgeoning visual vocabulary of poster advertising and mass publicity.

1. Paris Street The call for mobilisation, posted at 4 p.m. on the rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, Paris, 1 August 1914. (Image © Préfecture de Police, Service de l'Identité judiciaire/BHVP/Roger-Viollet)

2. Colonne MorrisColonne Morris, December 1914, (Image © Charles Lansiaux/BHVP/Roger-Viollet)

Eric Fisher Wood, an American in Paris at the outbreak of the war, remarks in his journal entry of 23 August 1914, ‘Here in Paris, extraordinary as it may seem, we have had no real news of the progress of the war. The Official Communiqués carry to a fine point the art of saying nothing of any importance.’ Naturally, people would have been desperate for information and one can imagine Parisians gathered around posters to read the speeches, announcements and call-ups.

These bills would have been posted on walls, hoardings, monuments and on the iconic Morris columns. These ubiquitous pieces of urban architecture, named after the printer Gabriel Morris, began to sprout up across France’s cities from 1855 and still pepper its streets, palimpsests of publicity and print culture.

The effectiveness of posters relied not only on key developments in industrialised production and chromolithography but also on mass literacy; for text-based posters to work, everyone needs to be able to read them. By the early 20th century, widespread literacy had been assured in France. Guizot’s law  of 1833 on primary education paved the way for Jules Ferry’s more comprehensive education act of 1882  which brought obligatory, free and secular primary education to children in France.

And what was being seen and read by French people across the country? This collection represents a cross section of the kinds of posters displayed during the war, varying from vibrant image-based posters to densely-printed transcripts of speeches and decrees. A wide range of themes are touched upon, from propaganda to appeals for donations, to local council announcements, each a unique prism through which to gain insight into the realities, norms and concerns of the time. Some highlight the startling difference between then and now, while others seem to reach across and reveal just how similar our realities are.

In contrast to Britain and the USA, France’s soldiers were not recruits but conscripts, so there are no equivalents of Kitchener’s or Uncle Sam’s famous pointing fingers in this collection. General mobilisation was announced in France in the first days of August 1914, solemnly calling up all men of fighting age:

3. General mobilisation
 Official government announcement for general mobilisation. 2 August 1914. République française. (All poster images are taken from the collection at Tab.11748.a. A complete listing with fuller shelfmark details is in preparation.)

However, even though service was obligatory, there were still attempts to boost morale and stir national pride. This poster uses patriotic, energetic imagery to encourage Frenchmen to sign up for training programmes to arrive fit and ready for the front.

4. Military Preparation

Poster for pre-military training programmes for future troops, 1918. Ministère de la guerre.

One of the most interesting kinds of posters, albeit less visually scintillating, are the state-issued posters for public dissemination announcing decrees and regulations under military law. They are to do with requisitions of all kinds of property including cars, horses, mules and even carrier pigeons for military use, summons to public commemoration such as the transference of the remains of Rouget de l’Isle, author of ‘La Marseillaise’, to the Hôtel des Invalides, and a great number are related to the sale of alcohol, absinthe in particular.

5. Pigeon requisition Announcement for requisition of carrier pigeons in the Seine department, 1917. République française.

6. La Marseillaise
Commemoration of the transference of Rouget de l’Isle’s remains to the Hôtel des Invalides, Paris, 1915.

7. Absinthe
 Regulations on the sale of alcohol and prohibition of absinthe, Paris, October 1914. Préfecture de police.

Among the more artistically appealing are the posters advertising war bonds. These raised the means to fund the war and later to help rebuild the country through liberty bonds. Each bank issued its own posters, sometimes engaging well-known artists to urge individuals to lend what they could to the state, at low fixed-interest rates. Their imagery is direct, persuasive and unabashedly patriotic.

8. Flag bonds Poster resembling the French flag advertising war bonds, Paris c. 1915, Compagnie des agents de change.

9. On les a
‘On les a’, ‘We’ve got them’. Poster for liberty bonds featuring French poilu, a Scottish highlander and an American soldier. London County & Westminster Bank (Paris), Firmin Bouisset, 1918.  

Posters appealing for funds and donations make up another substantial part of the collection, advertising galas, concerts and art exhibitions for various causes. They reveal the proliferation of charities and aid organisations from the outset of the war, all raising funds for different groups of people adversely affected by the war: orphans, wounded soldiers, POWs, families of soldiers killed in action, refugees and the poor.

10. Croix-verte

 Poster for ‘La Croix-Verte’, a charity for wounded and returning soldiers, Paris, c. 1915.

11. Reconstitution du foyer
Poster for the charity ‘Reconstitution du foyer’, calling for donations of household furniture and objects. Paris, c. 1916.

There is of course a number of anti-German propaganda posters, describing the cruelty and barbarism of the ‘Huns’, their violation of international treaties and their violence against civilian populations, often comparing them with the moral irreproachability of the allies.

12. PangermanismFrom the pamphlet ‘…et LA LUMIÈRE se fait…’ Law and justice versus the egotism and pride of Pangermanism. Paris, 1914-1918.

13. Anti-German poster
 Anti-German poster detailing the atrocities committed by its government and armies arranged under nine headings. Paris 1915-1918.

There are also posters which have a more tangential connection to the war, such as this remarkable advert by Henri Montassier  for a serial by Régis Gignoux and Roland Dorgelès. His anthropomorphised tank takes less inspiration from contemporary tanks than those in H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Another is the striking poster for ‘L’Exportateur français’, with its imposing silhouette and vibrant orange sky, an early example of the stylised art deco posters of the 20s and 30s.

14. L'HeurePoster advertising the serial La machine à finir la guerre. Henri Montassier, Paris Atelier Charles Didier, c. 1917.

15. War of the worlds L.45-3317
Henrique Alvim-Corea’s artwork for H. G. Wells, La guerre des mondes, translated by Henry-D. Davray (Brussels, 1906). L.45/3317

16. L'Exportateur francais
Poster for L’Exportateur français, by Marc, Atelier Pichon, Imprimerie Joseph Charles, Paris, c. 1918.

In Paris and cities throughout France, the sites that displayed these posters continue their functions, as do the Morris Columns, now adapted for cities’ evolving needs. They were taken over in 1986 by advertising giants JCDecaux, and have gradually been repurposed with dual functions; they are toilets, phone boxes, and some are even equipped with pollution-absorbing devices; ultra-modern but concretely connected to the past. Now, a century after the end of the war, the posters they once displayed reanimate the visual landscape and invite us to reimagine France’s urban theatres and the lives that took place within them.

Phoebe Weston-Evans, PhD placement student, BL European and American Collections – University of Melbourne

References

James Aulich, War Posters: Weapons of Mass Communication (London, 2007). LC.31.b.9601

John Barnicoat, A Concise History of Posters (London, 1972). X.429/5360

Rosalind Ormiston, First World War Posters (London, 2013). YKL.2015.a.2857

 Eric Fisher Wood, The Note-Book of an Attaché. Seven Months in the War Zone (New York, 1940). 9082.ff.28

Christine Vial Kayser and Géraldine Chopin, Allons enfants! Publicité et propagande 1914-1918 (Louveciennes, 2014). YF.2017.a.11967

Charles Lansiaux, Paris 14-18: la guerre au quotidien. Photographies de Charles Lanciaux (Paris, 2013). LF.31.a.5681

 

09 August 2018

East European newspapers in the British Library collection

The rapid growth of the British Museum Library from the 1840s onwards brought about the expansion of its collections of foreign material. Books, journals and newspapers in East European languages were also regularly acquired, initiating the future development of the individual countries’ collections. Newspapers, though relatively small in numbers of titles, constituted a vital part of them. The Catalogue of the Newspaper Library, Colindale (London, 1975; HLR.011.35; all records are now also available in our online catalogue) records numerous 19th-century papers from around the world. Among them the oldest titles in East European languages are:

Russkii Invalid 1815

Russkii invalid (St Petersburg, 1813-1917; NEWS13712) a paper of the Russian military.

Dostrzegacz Nadwislanski 1824

Dostrzegacz nadwiÅ›laÅ„ski / Der Beobakhter an der Vayksel (Warsaw, 1823-4; NEWS15170).  A bilingual Polish and Yiddish weekly, the first Jewish journal published in Poland. Only 44 issues appeared, of which the BL holds three copies for February 1824.

In 1932 the Newspaper Library was established in Colindale and overseas titles were moved there from the British Museum building. Eastern European newspapers were part of this process. In the 1950s there were 74 titles in Slavonic and East European languages acquired annually by the Library. In 2014 a new reading room for all forms of news media opened in the St Pancras building, where these titles can now be consulted.

Political, social and economic transformations in Central and Eastern Europe following the revolutionary wave of 1989 had a huge impact on the publishing industry. Such phenomena as the free market economy, freedom of expression and the rapidly growing political movements, all new to Eastern Europe, also greatly influenced the newspaper output, giving rise to many new titles or title changes. In the early 1990s there was an explosion in the number of papers published, and at its peak the British Library was receiving about 300 titles per year. Many were short-lived and produced only one or two editions. In such chaos it became necessary to get an overall picture of the situation, especially since other UK libraries experienced a similar influx of newspapers. A Union List of Slavonic and East European newspapers in British libraries (YC.2018.b.1946), which was put together in 1992, aimed to provide information about the availability of any particular title in the UK libraries. It should be noted that there were no online library catalogues at the time, so the printed list was the most effective way of communicating.

The collection of newspapers for this period represents the whole spectrum of political colours, social movements and cultural diversity in Eastern European countries. Examples include:

Respekt 1992

Respekt (LOU.F631G) began publication in November 1989 as one of the first independent journals in Czechoslovakia. It was a pro-Havel liberal weekly reporting on domestic and foreign political and economic issues with a focus on investigative journalism. It is still running.

Spotkania 1991
Spotkania (NEWS13748) attempted to act as the Polish Newsweek and aimed to be an informative paper with no political bias; it lasted only from 1991 to 1993. BL holds 93 issues for the years 1991-2.

The Warsaw Voice
The Warsaw Voice (NEWS3057) is an English-language newspaper published in Poland, providing news on Poland and neighbouring countries with the focus on business and the economy. First published in 1988, it is still running; our holdings include the years 1992–2017.

Oslobodenje 1993OsloboÄ‘enje (LOU.F710D) is the oldest daily newspaper in Bosnia, which began in 1943. The paper received many international awards for continuous publication throughout the 1992–95 siege of Sarajevo. During the war, the editorial board consisted of Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats, reflecting the multi-ethnic society of Bosnia.

At present our collection includes newspapers held in print form, as microfilm and in digital copies. With hard copies and microfilms creating storage and preservation problems, the policy of the Library is to subscribe to aggregated newspaper databases or link to online resources. We currently still receive 17 newspaper titles in print from Lithuania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Romania and recently Poland. A number of Russian, Ukrainian, Moldavian, Belarusian and Baltic newspapers are available online through the commercial supplier Eastview, but currently there is no newspaper coverage for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia, mainly because of distribution problems and a lack of aggregated databases.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

 

06 August 2018

Devout diplomat and dramatist: Paul Claudel (1868-1955)

Visitors to the recent exhibition Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece at the British Museum will have seen, among the photographs of the sculptor at work in his studio among his disciples, the image of a dark-haired young woman whose gaze was equally intense when fixed on the master or on her own work – Rodin’s pupil, model and mistress Camille Claudel.  Her stormy relationship with him and her reputation as a pioneering woman sculptor, depicted in biographies, plays and films, have raised her profile outside her native France, where, despite this, the name Claudel is more readily associated with her younger brother Paul.

Together with their sister, Camille and Paul grew up in Villeneuve-sur-Fère (Aisne) in a family with solid roots in farming and banking. The young Paul’s approach to spiritual matters was equally rational and prosaic, tending towards atheism, until at the age of 18 he underwent a profound conversion experience while hearing the choir of Notre-Dame singing Vespers on Christmas Day. He remained a devout Catholic for the rest of his life, and considered becoming a Benedictine monk. Instead, however, he went into the diplomatic service, and found an outlet for his religious fervour in poetry and drama.

At the same time, his experiences of living in other countries provided him not only with inspiration but also with a deeper understanding of their cultures than the mere taste for exoticism. and especially for Oriental culture, common in France at the turn of the century. He made rapid progress in his career, rising from first vice-consul in New York and Boston to become French consul in China, living in Shanghai, Fuzhou and Tientsin, before being posted to Prague in December 1909.

Claudel Portait YF.2016.a.2114

 Paul Claudel during his time as consul in Prague, reproduced in Paul Claudel et la BoheÌ‚me: dissonances et accord, ed. Didier Alexandre & Xavier Galmiche (Paris, 2015) YF.2016.a.2114

Czech artists and authors had already established a thriving community in Paris in the 19th and early 20th century, and Claudel’s time in Prague similarly contributed to the deepening of cultural relationships between France and Bohemia. One of his most important contacts was with the Czech artist Zdenka Braunerová, who introduced him to her circle of friends, including Vilém Mrštík, Julius Zeyer and Jan Zrzavý. She had spent part of every year in Paris during the period 1881-1893, promoted Czech culture in France, and invited Auguste Rodin to visit Bohemia and Moravia in 1905. Claudel chose her as godmother to his daughter, born during his residence in Prague, and their lasting friendship enhanced the understanding of Czech art in France and of French literature in Bohemia.

Inspired by his exploration of the Czech spirit and its expression in art, Claudel composed a sequence of poems, Images saintes de Bohême, of which the British Library possesses a bilingual edition in French and Czech a testimony to the deep impression made on him by a city which he had initially greeted with distaste as an ‘icy bivouac’.

Claudel St Ludmila

 â€˜St Ludmila’, illustration by Miroslav Å aÅ¡ek from Paul Claudel, Images saintes de Bohême = Svaté obrázky ÄŒeské (Rome, 1958) 11517.p.35.

Claudel subsequently served as consul in Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg, as ministre plénipotentiaire in Rio de Janeiro and Copenhagen, and as ambassador in Tokyo, Washington, D.C. and Brussels. Several of his works were published abroad, including his translation of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon (Fuzhou, 1896; YA.1986.a.1815) and the exquisite edition of his poem ‘Sainte Geneviève’, composed in Rio de Janeiro in July 1918 and issued in a limited edition with Japanese woodcuts executed in Tokyo from drawings by Claudel’s friend Audrey Parr.

Claudel Ste Genevieve tpTitle-page (above) and illustrated fold-out page (below) from Sainte Geneviève (Tokyo, 1923) Cup.410.c.170

Claudel Ste Genevieve Cup.410.c.170

Although initially influenced by Rimbaud and the Symbolists, Claudel struck out in a different direction, deeply imbued with his Catholic faith. Not surprisingly, the saints frequently figured in his work; for example, he provided the text for his friend Arthur Honegger’s oratorio Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher (s.l., [1935]; Music Collections I.1650), and also wrote a poem on St Thérèse of Lisieux, published in another limited edition with illustrations by Maurice Denis.

Claudel Ste Therese 11483.h.49 Opening of Sainte Thérèse ([Paris], 1916) 11483.h.49.

Among the treasures in the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Collection of Manuscripts  is a fair copy of Claudel’s play L’Annonce faite à Marie (1911), signed by the author and presented to Zweig in 1913. Like his other dramas, such as the Everyman-like Le Soulier de satin (Paris, 1929; 12516.v.27), set in the age of the Conquistadores, it explores the timeless themes of human responsibility, guilt and divine grace.

Claudel zweig_ms_139_f002v dedication

 Dedication to Zweig and opening of the prologue, from the manuscript of L’Annonce faite à Marie. Zweig MS 139. Ff.2v, 3r  (below)

Claudel zweig_ms_139_f003r

The careers of Camille and Paul Claudel appeared to diverge widely; while one plunged into an unconventional milieu and died in an asylum, the other was outwardly a pattern of respectability, representing his country abroad and forming part of the Catholic literary tradition continued by Mauriac and Gide. Yet both, equally controversially, pursued their chosen forms of art with a passion and intensity which sought to transcend the banalities of everyday life and infuse it, even at its humblest, with a spark of the divine, as may be glimpsed from a few lines of one of Paul Claudel’s poems in the metre that he devised:

Now winter has come in earnest, and St Nicholas trudges again
Through the firs; two sacks on his donkey, full of toys for the young of Lorraine.
There’s an end to mouldering autumn, and the snow is here with good reason;
There’s an end to the autumn and summer, and all the other seasons.
(O all that was still not finished, where this black soaked path, yesterday, went
Under the ragged birch in the mists, and the great oak with its strong scent!)
[…]
But in a white world there are only angels completely at ease;
There is not a living man in all of the diocese,
There is not a soul awake, not even a small boy breathing,
O mighty Bishop of Myra, at the hour of your coming at evening!

‘St. Nicolas’, from Corona benignitatis anni Dei (1915).
This translation © Susan Reynolds, 2011.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

02 August 2018

‘We’re all excited about Brussels!’ – The Atomium at 60

When it comes to iconic buildings, the Atomium in Brussels surely takes top spot.

Towering over Brussels, it is the city’s most popular tourist attraction and never more so than this year, when it celebrates its 60th anniversary. Back in 1958 not many thought it would make it past its first year, let alone to 60.

AtomiumYF.2018.b.843The Atomium under construction, from Katarina Serulus and Javier Gimeno-Matinez Panorama (Brussels, 2017) YF.2018.b.843

It had been built as focus point for the Expo 58, the first World Exhibition after the Second World War. Designer-engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak wanted to send a positive message about nuclear power, one in which nuclear power would be used for the benefit of all mankind. To that end they created three exhibition spaces inside the Atomium, as well as a restaurant in the top sphere for the public to visit. Which they did in their droves. The Atomium attracted over 40,000 visitors per year at one point.

AtomiumdetNachr2 Atomium detail, from Nachrichten aus der Chemie, Bd. 56, Nr. 5 (Weinheim, 2008). (P) JB 00-G(51)

The German magazine Nachrichten aus der Chemie of May 2008, looks at the Atomium from a technical point of view. It would certainly interest chemists to know that the Atomium in fact does not represent an iron atom, but one unit cell of pure iron, as kept under room temperature and under atmospheric pressure, 165 billion times enlarged. The design of the structure deviates from the actual chemical structure of this unit cell of pure iron. The proportions of the spheres and connecting tubes are different as is its position in space. This has everything to do with the practicalities of available space, accessibility (the need for staircases and lifts inside the connecting tubes) and the way in which the building had to be fixed to the ground.

Due to its popularity with the public the Atomium was not demolished, as had been the plan. Unfortunately, the aluminium coating was not meant to last for ever and over time it started to deteriorate. The Atomium literally and figuratively lost its shine and there was again talk of demolishing it. When more damage was discovered in 2003, the Atomium was closed. However, the people of Brussels did not want to lose their beloved Atomium, so renovation started in 2004. The aluminium was replaced by stainless steel; new elevators were fitted and other adjustments were made to make it fit for the 21st Century. In 2006 it re-opened, once more standing in all its shining glory, hopefully for at least another 60 years.

The British Library has a variety of material about the Expo 58. Apart from Nachrichten aus der Chemie, from which I took the technical information for this post, there is the novel Expo 58, by Jonathan Coe, from which I pinched the title of this blog.

  Expo 58 novel

Cover of Jonathan Coe’s Expo 58 (London, 2014) H.2015/.7833

Coe’s novel is a story about love and betrayal, with some espionage thrown in. It is set in the Expo grounds and wider Brussels, as well as Britain. When the protagonist Tom arrives at the Expo his guide drives him around the various pavilions. See if you can track his route on this plan of the Expo 58, held in our Maps collection.

AtomiumMapExpo1Plan Panoramique Expo 58 = Panoramisch Plan Expo 58 = Panoramic Plan Expo 58 = Panoramischer Plan Expo 58. (Brussels, 1958) Maps CC.6.a.74.

Tom’s main task is to look after the pub ‘Britannia’, which was part of the British pavilion, simply because his mother is Belgian and his father ran a pub for 20 years. This is not entirely fiction – there really was a pub called ‘Britannia’ set within the rural, green and pleasant UK pavilion. The panoramic plan of Expo 58 doesn’t show where it was located, but what is clear is the green setting.

AtomiumMapExpoUK Detail of the British pavilion, from the Plan Panoramique

I also looked at the British Newspaper Archive, available in our reading rooms. The Birmingham Daily Post of Friday 18 April 1958 writes glowingly about the flying start the British made, being the only country that finished its displays on time for the official opening!

AtomiumExpoposter

 Poster for the Expo 58 in Brussels, from Serulus and Gimeno-Matinez, Panorama

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.