THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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13 posts categorized "Slovenia"

29 June 2018

Gӧrz, Gorizia, Gorica: digital scholarship brings a city’s history to life again

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How to turn 47,000 pages of old newspapers into meaningful information?

For a research group at the University of Bristol, the answer is: big computers and historical context.

Led by Nello Cristianini,  Professor of Artificial Intelligence, the group digitised 47,000 pages of two Italian-speaking local newspapers from the city of Gorizia, using the facilities of FindMyPast, based at British Library in Boston Spa. Then they used optical character recognition (OCR) software to extract digital text, and finally compared it with the digital text of three Slovenian newspapers from the same place and time, to provide context.

Gorizia Corriere Corriere de Gorizia, an Italian newspaper from the city.

Gorizia lies at the crossroads of the Latin, Germanic and Slavic-speaking worlds, and its population reflects this. Until 1918, it was known as Görz, and was part of the Habsburg Empire, though latterly coveted by the young Kingdom of Italy. These last years before World War One were particularly notable, as the political and ethnic tensions within the empire and over its borders played out in the city itself. The two main linguistic communities, Italian and Slovenian, published their own newspapers, and the latter have been digitised by the Slovenian Digital Library. But until the Bristol University group started work, the Italian ones were preserved on microform alone in the Biblioteca Statale Isontina,  which first collected the paper versions.

Gorizia postcard YF.2007.a.13615The Corso Giuseppe Verdi in Gorizia, early 20th-century postcard, reproduced in Srečko Gombač, Brata Edvard in Josip Rusjan iz Gorice: začetki motornega letenja med Slovenci (Ljubljana, 2004) YF.2007.a.13615

The team, including computer scientists and a historian, carried out statistical analysis on the newspapers, looking at the frequency of different words or phrases. This process revealed the individual stories of thousands of people, but also the collective trends of a population in the years leading up to the War and the final days of Empire. As the city lies in a quiet corner of central Europe, now divided between Italy and Slovenia, many of these stories and trends had been forgotten until now.

Gorizia Cathedral (JA) Gorizia cathedral today (Photograph: Janet Ashton)

Professor Cristianini says: “In the space of a few decades, the town embraced new ways to communicate, such as the cinema and the telephone, along with new modes of transportation, like the car, the airplane, the bicycle and the train. Far from being a backwater in a decaying empire, this was a city with an eye on the future and an interest in new ideas – including political ones. It was, however, also a time in which new tensions emerged along ethnic lines and a time of rapid change, with problems and anxieties that sound very familiar to the modern ear. It is incredibly fortunate that the collection of newspapers in the Biblioteca Isontina library survived so many threats. We get a glimpse of the last years of a world heading towards a new chapter in its history during a period that transformed it beyond recognition. We see new technologies, new ideas, new economic opportunities, new cultural challenges and problems.”

Among the patterns the team extracted are timelines that pinpoint such significant events as the arrival of Halley’s Comet, the visits of the Emperor Franz Joseph, or the devastating 1895 earthquake in Ljubljana (then Laibach, capital of the Habsburg county of Carniola). Fascinatingly, they found that the earthquake was more noted in the Slovenian-speaking community than the Italian, since Ljubljana was already predominantly Slovenian-speaking itself and had less significance to the Empire’s Italians as a regional centre.

Gorizia bridge The Solkan Bridge, carrying the railway over the Soča river at Gorizia – revolutionary in its day as the largest stone arch ever used for a railway bridge (Photograph: Janet Ashton)

Other ground-breaking events in the city at the time included the construction of the new Transalpina/Bohinj railway, which carried tourists from Vienna to Lake Bled and further, but was also to be used for more prosaic reasons. Then, most glamorous of all, two local brothers named Edvard and Josip Rusjan  were among the first aviators in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

  Gorizia Rusjans
Edvard and Josip Rusjan adjusting the propeller on their aeroplane. Reproduced in Srečko Gombač, Brata Edvard in Josip Rusjan iz Gorice.

The team’s findings also highlight how the war transformed the city and its surrounding county into something entirely different. During the war the front lines crossed through Gorizia itself and the urban population was largely relocated. In 1918, Italy annexed it, and twenty years of fascism and then another war followed. After 1947, the border between Italy and Yugoslavia ran right through the former county, partly separating the city centre from some of its neighbourhoods. Until Slovenia joined Schengen in 2007, this border had real impact, leading to the growth of a “replacement” city, Nova Gorica, on the Yugoslav/Slovenian side, while historic Gorizia became something of a backwater, isolated from its hinterland and feeling neglected by Rome.

Gorizia 1917 9084.aaa.10

Above: View of the Castle in Gorizia in 1917, showing First World War bomb damage, from Enrico Galante, Gorizia e i campi di battaglia dell'Isonzo et del Carso (Gorizia, [1929]) 9084.aaa.10. Below: Gorizia Castle today (Photograph Janet Ashton)

Gorizia Castle (JA)

The project, from scanning and indexing to in-depth analysis, combined methodologies from both library science and historical research, as well as employing mathematical expertise, and illustrates how digital humanities is bridging the traditional boundaries between disciplines. A full study of the project’s methods and its findings, “Large scale content analysis of historical newspapers in the town of Gorizia, 1873-1914”, by N. Cristianini et al., has recently been published in the journal Historical Methods.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

08 June 2018

The Zagreb magazine ‘Nova Evropa’

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The magazine Nova Evropa (New Europe) was published in Zagreb from 1920 until 1941. Initially it was a weekly periodical, then for 10 years Nova Evropa was issued as a 10-day and bimonthly magazine, and from 1930 as a monthly publication. The founder and editor of Nova Evropa over the whole period was Milan Ćurčin

Exceptionally and almost uniquely in interwar Yugoslavia, Nova Evropa was printed in the two scripts of the Serbo-Croatian language, Roman and Cyrillic. Contributions were either published in the original script or were transliterated into the other at the editor’s discretion, regardless of the contributor’s manuscript, nationality or background. This was done not only for commercial reasons but also with the aim of bringing together different literatures in the newly-created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia).

I Mestrovicev Hrist

Christ (detail) by Ivan Meštrović. Nova Evropa, 23 December 1920. P.P.4839.fid.

The Yugoslav Nova Evropa was modelled on a British political and current affairs journal, Robert William Seton-Watson’s weekly review The New Europe (1916-20; P.P.3611.abk.). Ćurčin was equally inspired by Seton-Watson’s engaged, informed and critical journalism as by the British press and journalism in general, whose traditions and values he adopted while working in London during the First World War. The liberal, open and progressive political journalism that Nova Evropa had as its high ideal was subsequently promoted in a multicultural society whose traditions, however, were different to British ones.

Like its London predecessor, the Zagreb Nova Evropa advocated the revival of a new Europe in accordance with the League of Nations’ proposals for international cooperation and collective security; reduction of armaments and open diplomacy; an international court and economic, social and cultural cooperation between nations. Nova Evropa was against isolation and provincialism in Yugoslavia and argued for close cooperation with the neighbouring countries as well as for constructive and peaceful international policy, for national self-determination, and the equality of nations in a post-war Europe.

II Marko Marulic Splicanin

 Marko Marulić by Meštrović. Nova Evropa of 1 July 1924.

While following Seton-Watson’s advice on political journalism, Nova Evropa diversified its editorial concept by welcoming contributions on social, economic and cultural life in the country, neighbouring countries and the rest of Europe. Nova Evropa developed the complex structure of a journal that was open to various topics in any discipline of social sciences, arts, humanities and sciences, and that scrutinized society, economy and politics in high-quality contributions. For example, special thematic issues were dedicated to various domestic topics from the geography and anthropology of the country to the life of immigrants inside and outside the country, and to broader international and current affairs topics such as the Ukrainian question, conditions in Russia, national minorities, prominent public figures, etc.

III Njegoseva grobnicaNjegoš’s mausoleum on Mount Lovćen by Meštrović, Nova Evropa, 1 January 1925

 The central political and cultural concept discussed in Nova Evropa was the Yugoslav question. This political concept was seen in Nova Evropa as an agreement of peoples united by their own will, equal and free in a common national state. Some researchers argue, not quite rightly, that Nova Evropa advocated integral Yugoslav pan-nationalism (Yugoslavness) despite the different ethnic groups and minorities in the country. For Nova Evropa the creation of the Yugoslav state was the irreversible final achievement of all Yugoslavs, but in the cultural sense, however, Yugoslavness was presented as a mosaic of colours and variations, as a celebration of diversity. Nova Evropa of 26 February 1927 pronounces:

Therefore: Yugoslav civilization is one and properly bound together; and Yugoslav culture - mosaic, contrast, diversity. Civilization is a unification and equivalence of segments, culture is a federation of untouched and free elements, according to their programme and their will.

Nova Evropa argued for a concept of ‘Open Yugoslavness’ which was closely related to the idea of social justice, equality, tolerance and ethics. This vision of Yugoslavia and a new Europe bore a close resemblance to the vision of Tomáš Masaryk whose ideas Nova Evropa promoted and celebrated.

IV Goethe
Goethe by Meštrović, Nova Evropa, double issue of 22 March 1932 dedicated to Goethe’s centenary 

This ideology of open Yugoslavness was also advanced through the visual arts and the works of the leading Yugoslav artist Ivan Meštrović, a Croatian sculptor and one of the founders of Nova Evropa. Other prominent Yugoslavs and founders of Nova Evropa were Ćurčin’s magazine co-editors Laza Popović and Marko Kostrenčić, and well-known Yugoslav scholars and writers such as Jovan Cvijić, Josip Smodlaka, Milan Rešetar, Ivan Prijatelj, Tihomir Ostojić, Julije Benešić, Miodrag Ibrovac and Milan Grol among others. In 22 years about 1000 authors published over 3450 contributions in the magazine.

V Mestrovic autoportretMeštrović’s self-portrait. Nova Evropa, 15 August 1933 dedicated to Meštrović’s 50th birthday.

In addition to the magazine, special editions of Nova Evropa were published as offprints or separate publications;  in total 19 such editions were produced and at least two editions remained unpublished.

VI Izdanja NE Advertisement for Nova Evropa books, Nova Evropa, 26 January 1939..

The British Library holds a full set of Nova Evropa: 426 issues, in total about 10,000 pages, bound in 34 volumes.

VII Nova Evropa
The British Library collection of Nova Evropa acquired in 1951

In the interwar period Nova Evropa fostered constructive criticism of the dominant political culture and made an important contribution to the growth of critical and independent thought in Yugoslav society. It worked tirelessly in bringing peoples and communities closer together by understanding and celebrating their cultural differences. It had a distinctive mission to inform the public about events at home and abroad and to collect information and sources about the recent past for future historians. Nova Evropa is not only a useful source for a student of Yugoslav history and culture today; it is a critically important archive for the understanding of the fundamental cultural and political questions of interwar Yugoslavia.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References:

Ljubomir Petrović, Jugoslovenska država i društvo u periodici 1920-1941 (Belgrade, 2000) YF.2010.a.24536.

Jovo Bakić, Ideologije jugoslovenstva između srpskog i hrvatskog nacionalizma: 1914-1941 (Zrenjanin, 2004) YF.2006.a.37642.

Marija Cindori-Šinković, Nova Evropa:1920-1941: bibliografija (Belgrade, 2010) YF.2012.a.15665

Marko Nedić, Vesna Matović (editors), Nova Evropa 1920-1941: zbornik radova (Belgrade, 2010) YF.2012.a.18758.

 

11 January 2018

An Arthurian castle in Slovenia: the history, legends and future of Castle Borl

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“I rode at my best pace into the broad Gandine, after which your grandfather Gandin is named. The place lies where the Grajena flows into the Drau, a river that bears gold.”

Thus Parzifal/Sir Perceval learns of his family roots in the province of Styria, according to Wolfram von Eschenbach’s version of his story. The town identified as his father’s namesake is today named Hajdina, a suburb of the city of Ptuj in eastern Slovenia.

20 kilometres to the east, a castle stands on a headland overlooking the Drava/Drau river, commanding a sweeping view of the valley and of the wine-growing Haloze hills around. Its Slovenian name is Borl, derived from the Hungarian word for a river crossing, and it is also known in German as Ankenstein. Its heraldic crest is an inverted anchor, the symbol in the legend of Parzifal’s Grail family.

Borl_KolaricDarko1View of Grad Borl today (Photo by by Darko Kolarič)

Borl’s true origins are poorly documented, and the Grail legend is just one of the many evocative tales associated with it. It dates from at least the 11th century and probably occupies the site of an older settlement. Reflecting its situation close to the old border between the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary/Croatia, it changed hands many times before becoming an established part of the Habsburg Duchy of Styria, with a series of different aristocratic owners who lived well on the vineyards and farmlands surrounding it.

In 1681, Georg Matthäus Vischer (1628-1696) recorded Grad Borl in three images as part of his Topographia Ducatus Stiriae. Visher was one of the pre-eminent cartographers and engravers of his day. His work documenting the castles and towns of the core Habsburg lands is still widely used as a reference source, and has been reprinted frequently. It is the sole known source for the 17th-century appearance of many of the castles. For some of them, it is the only source we have at all. That Borl appeared in three illustrations marks it as one of the more important castles: less significant ones had a single image apiece.

Borl Vischer 1

Above and below: Views of Grad Borl (here called “Ankchenstein”) from  Georg Matthäus Vischer, Topographia Ducatus Stiriae (Graz, 1681) Maps C.22.a.17.

Borl Vischer 2

In 1918, Lower Styria and Borl became part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, subject to land reforms that proved controversial in the Habsburg successor states. Its disgruntled owner sold it to a local stock company. During the Second World War, the Nazis occupied the area, incorporating it into the Reich and issuing an arrest warrant for Borl’s Jewish owner, Zora Weiss, who fled, as did her co-owner, Vuk von Vuchetich. Borl became an internment camp for Slovenes who were being deported from Styria for resisting Germanization, and the occupiers looted any of the contents that were not nailed down.

This grim war-time story makes what happened next the more remarkable to me. In 1946, the new socialist government of Yugoslavia nationalised the castle, using it consecutively as a children’s convalescent home, a refugee centre for people fleeing the Soviet invasion of Hungary, and finally a successful hotel. During the latter period, it acquired a swimming pool high on the ledge above the river, and furnished many people with very happy memories.

Sadly, this happy phase did not last. The hotel closed down, and although the castle was still used for events some of the remaining treasures were stolen during the 1990s. Since 2010, for safety reasons, the gate has been locked and a poignant notice forbids entry without the permission of the Republic of Slovenia. On a recent visit, even the Prime Minister was obliged to respect this no-entry rule. But Borl still captures the imagination. There are re-enactments of events in its past and films of its history made every year. A voluntary society, the Društvo za oživitev gradu Borl, composed of local historians and other enthusiasts, campaigns to raise funds and awareness, and maintains the grounds during summer. Random hikers, cyclists and other explorers post their videos on Youtube. Miha Pogačnik, violinist, inspirational speaker and Slovenian cultural ambassador, has a protective interest in the Castle, where he held arts and business conferences for several years before 2010. Inspired by the Parzifal connection, he believes it could become a centre for the formation of a pan-European identity and European spiritual revival.

In 2018, work is due to take place to restore the main courtyard of the castle and shore up the hillside below it. What happens beyond that is sadly unclear, but it is not through shortage of ideas or enthusiasm about this beloved and dramatic building and a surrounding landscape full of cultural monuments.

BorlAshtonPhoto by Janet Ashton. 

 Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager (With particular thanks to Sonja Golc, Mira Petrovič and Branko Vnuk)

References/Further reading:

Ivan Stopar, Razvoj srednjevške grajske arhitekture na Slovenskem Štajerskem (Ljubljana, 1977) X.421/9913

Vnuk, Branko and two others. Grad Borl : gradbenozgodovinski oris in prispevek k zgodovini rodbine Sauer. (Ptuj, 2010). https://www.dlib.si/details/URN:NBN:SI:DOC-IHU7ORVJ/

Wolfram, von Eschenbach, Parzifal, translated by A.T. Hatto. (Harmondsworth, 1980) X.909/45081

 

09 May 2016

Our May Acronym Heaven: EU, EL, EUPL, ELIT, ELF, ELN, ACE & BL

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As European Literature Festival 2016 begins, we welcome back journalist and broadcaster Rosie Goldsmith to our blog as she introduces the events and gives a hint of what to look forward to at the Writers’ Showcase event on Wednesday 11th

For European Literature (EL) lovers, the month of May is the equivalent of Christmas, Hanukkah or Eid – it’s the festive highlight of our year when we celebrate our year-round efforts to publish and promote our beloved EL. Time to polish the champagne glasses (Boyd Tonkin), buy a new T-shirt (Daniel Hahn) and get out those red shoes (Rosie Goldsmith). This May we have an embarrassment of international literary riches: our first ever European Literature Festival and the first ever annual Man Booker International Prize (MBI)  in conjunction with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP: RIP) .

Eight years ago we had a dream, that we could gather together the best writers from the rest of Europe to London for a one-night-only special event. It had never been done before. Thanks to the mass collaboration of sponsors and partners, our dream became reality. The event became European Literature Night (ELN), initiated by EUNIC London, the Czech Centre and the British Library, and taking place in London and cities all over the continent. Over these eight years our ELN evening has become a week, then a month and this May it is the showcase event in our first European Literature Festival (ELF), embracing more than 30 countries, 60 writers and including poetry, graphic novels, literary fiction, non-fiction, crime thrillers and translation workshops. This year we also have some real British celebrities to boost the brand – Kate Mosse, Mark Lawson and Ian McMillan – and not just cut-price slebs like me and Danny Hahn. EL in the UK has itself become a celebrity. Next year maybe the cover of Vogue? Although we’ll have to do something about our acronyms.

  ELN 2015 Rosie Goldsmith
Rosie Goldsmith at the podium on European Literature Night 2015 (photo (c) MELA)

Here’s the full, fabulous programme: www.europeanliteraturefestival.org.uk and congratulations to ELF’s Artistic Director Jon Slack for making it happen.

As chair of the judges, Director of European Literature Network (ELNet) and host of ELN (keep up!), May is my personal merriest, busiest month. And I can guarantee that we have pulled it off again: the best of contemporary European literature (ok, EL!) is coming your way. British Library (BL – of course!), Wednesday 11th May.

Our six ‘winning’ writers are all literary celebrities ‘back home,’ magnificently translated and selected by us, the judges, from a pool of 65 European writers submitted by publishers and cultural organisations last November. Joining me on stage will be: Burhan Sönmez (Turkey), Dorthe Nors (Denmark), Gabriela Babnik (Slovenia), Peter Verhelst (Belgium), Jaap Robben (Netherlands) and Alek Popov (Bulgaria). They are all outstanding - unique, original, mind-expanding and fun. I love ELN and my two hours on stage, vicariously bathing in the reflected glory of our stars, conducting the equivalent of a BBC Live broadcast. (British Broadcasting Corporation!)

As our ELF Publicity promises: “The discussion will travel from the Turkish prison cells of Burhan Sönmez’s Istanbul, Istanbul to the turned upside-down-lives in Dorthe Nors’  twisted and imaginatively-realised streets of Copenhagen; to Slovenian writer Gabriela Babnik’s  seductive tale of forbidden love on the dusty plains of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; via Peter Verhelst’s deadpan Belgian humour in his Gorilla-narrated fable about the story of human civilisation (and its collapse). There is a tormented relationship unfolding between widow and son on Dutch-writer Jaap Robben’s remote and stormy island (located somewhere between Scotland and Norway); and we finish in Alek Popov’s strange and comic novel that moves between Bulgaria and New York, where two brothers question whether their long-deceased father is, in fact, dead.”

ELF-Writers-FB-Photos
This year's ELN line-up

As our ELF superstar-host Kate Mosse says: “At a time when the countless shared histories and stories from our many friends and strangers in Europe are danger of being lost in the politics of the EU debate, an initiative like the European Literature Festival is more important than ever.” Who needs supermodel Kate Moss on a Vogue cover when you have superstar novelist Kate Mosse?

On behalf of ELNet & EUPL & with thanks 2 ACE & ELIT I’ll c u 4 ELN @BL! LoL RGx

11 August 2015

A Scotsman abroad: Walter Leslie in the Habsburg lands

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I am always interested in the connections between different people, places, things - so my trips abroad can be like a game of “Six Degrees of Separation” in history!  Very boring for travelling companions, possibly, but it helps me place and understand the things I see. Recently, a friend’s Facebook posts on the fabulous Czech castle Nove Mesto nad Metuji  got me excited. It wasn’t just the beautiful interiors with painted ceilings and art deco bathrooms, or the circular tower room with windows on all sides and views for miles around. It wasn’t just the covered walkway in the perfectly-kept gardens. What caught my interest was the fact that the castle had once belonged to a Scot named Walter Leslie. 

Walter Leslie 1048.b22  Walter Leslie, towards the end of his life, from Paul Tafferner, Caesarea legatio ... Walterus S.R.I. Comes De Leslie ... Succincta narratione exposita ...  (Vienna, 1672) British Library 1048.b.22

I have “met” Walter Leslie before. He was a Scottish aristocrat who crossed the Channel as a young man to become a mercenary in assorted continental armies. This was a popular choice of career for younger sons with few expectations of inheritance, and the rewards, as far as young Walter was concerned, were phenomenal.  By 1630, he was in the entourage of the Habsburg generalissimo, Albrecht von Wallenstein, fighting the Thirty Years’ War across Bohemia.  There was no chance of Leslie feeling isolated: entire regiments of Scots and Irishmen surrounded Wallenstein, and when his motivation and loyalty became suspect to the Emperor Ferdinand II, they decided to prove their own loyalty by murdering their boss. Walter Leslie did not issue the fatal blow, but he admitted to killing the bogyguard, allowing an Irishman named Devereux to kill the now-defenceless Wallenstein. The dramatic event gave rise to countless rumours and speculation about what exactly had happened and about the motives of the foreign killers. It is possibly best known as the subject of a play by Schiller, which, ironically, fails to name Leslie, alone among the ringleaders.

Death of Wallenstein 1853.e.5.(34.)
The murder of Wallenstein, from a contemporary broadside (ca. 1634)  1853.e.5.(34)

Leslie set off for Vienna to report, and was richly rewarded for his efforts. He became an imperial chamberlain and subsequently a count (Reichsgraf), receiving the estate at Nove Mesto (then Neustadt an der Mettau) and other lands around Hradec Kralove (Koeniggratz).  He engaged in much diplomatic work involving his native Britain, with a particular interest in promoting Stuart interests on the continent (he was involved with the so-called “Winter King”, Friedrich of Bohemia, and his wife Elizabeth Stuart, as well as with their famous son Rupert of the Rhine), and continued to work as a Habsburg commander, eventually taking charge of troops on the Military Frontier  against the Ottoman Empire. Leslie bought himself new lands convenient to his posting, in the Styrian cities of Graz and Ptuj (Pettau), and married Anna Franziska von Dietrichstein, a daughter of one of the Holy Roman Empire’s most powerful families.

It was at Ptuj castle in present-day Slovenia that I first encountered Walter Leslie’s name. Built on and around a hill overlooking the wide sweep of the Drava/Drau river and its plain, Ptuj occupies a prime defensive and trading position, and it was there in Roman times. The Romans left some interesting archaeological remains, including several Mithras shrines, and one particular legacy of continuing economic importance: miles and miles of vines, covering the rolling green hills all around the city and across eastern Slovenia. Later, Ptuj belonged to the Archbishops of Salzburg, and was as important in the Emperor’s internal power struggles with them as with the Ottoman invaders to the east. Leslie’s family would live there for two centuries, and are today the castle’s most “visible” owners, for they remodelled it extensively and left an art gallery full of their portraits of Habsburgs and Stuarts. The building is now part of Ptuj's regional museum. They continued to intermarry with the highest Habsburg nobility, and acquired several more castles in the Ptuj area (there were certainly plenty to go around, and all of them are highly evocative).

Ptuj
Ptuj Castle (photo, Janet Ashton)

I’ve also encountered Leslie family history in Moravia, at Mikulov, his wife’s family seat, for the Dietrichsteins eventually inherited the Leslie lands and titles as collateral descendants. This is yet another small, charming central European town built around a castle, and the terrain here is remarkably similar to Ptuj: rolling green hills covered in vines. What this says about the family’s tastes I am not quite sure!

Mikulov
Mikulov Castle (photo, Janet Ashton)

Walter Leslie was not particularly popular with contemporaries, who derided him as a boastful foreigner, but his story appeals to me as an instance of Britons’ cosmopolitan connections to Europe several hundred years ago. His castles aren’t too bad, either. Nor, it must be said, is the wine.

Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager

References:

David Worthington, Scots in Habsburg service, 1618-1648 (Leiden, 2004). ZA.9.a.9590

Polona Vidmar, ‘Under the Habsburgs and the Stuarts: the Leslies’ portrait gallery in Ptuj Castle, Slovenia’, in British and Irish emigrants and exiles in Europe, edited by David Worthington (Leiden, 2010). 6151.340000

 

27 May 2015

Looking back at European Literature Night

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In out last post marking European Literature Night 2015, Slovenian author Evald Flisar, who took part in this year’s event, looks back at the evening. 

I had been chosen (apparently there were 55 nominees) to appear at the widely publicised event European Literature Night at the British Library on 13 May as one of the six best European writers. I felt honoured, of course, as well as mildly surprised and modestly pleased. It just wouldn’t be right to jump up and down, shouting,  “Look at me, look at me!” Certainly not at the age of 70, when one is supposed to have put away childish things. Besides (let’s indulge in a little arithmetic), in the next ten years 60 more  “best European writers” will appear at this grand event (presuming that authors cannot be recalled for a repeat performance). And so, with the passing of years, the importance of my attendance will gradually be diluted to the point of astonishment at the fact that the continent of Europe, however small, can boast such a great number of “best writers”.

That may well be true, and we (inside and outside EU) may be unforgivably ignorant of the quality   Front-my-fathers-dreams-3_53fc653aca024_250x800r
of our neighbours’ writing (publishers please note!), but surely ... the best? Well, never mind. Perhaps this year’s  “six of the best” are justified in believing that their writing warrants the inclusion in this exclusive club (after all, 49 authors among the 55 nominees didn’t make it), and most certainly I should be grateful for the invitation to attend the event that has brought one of my books to the attention of many (generating, among other things, a glowing review in The Irish Times). 

Evald Flisar’s novel My Father's Dreams, published in the author’s own translation by Istros books and presented at European Literature Night 2015

I am grateful, of course. Not only grateful but also glad that the event is over and that (by some miracle) I have avoided making a fool of myself. I have even (not intentionally, of course) succeeded in amusing the audience. All in all, my impressions (of the event and even, to a lesser degree, my performance) are considerably better than good, and I am delighted to have been invited (delighted in spite of 144 translations into 36 languages, or the fact that I have so far attended over 50 similar events round the world). I have read from my work in Washington, New York, Milwaukee, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Sao Paolo, Frankfurt, Prague, Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Wrocław, Brno, Cairo, Alexandria Library, New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Tokyo, Taipei ... that’ll do, the line between facts and self-praise is perilously blurred.

Rosie Goldsmith and Evald Flisar (ELN2015)
ELN host Rosie Goldsmith interviewing Ewald Flisar at European Literature Night 2015. (Photo © Metaphoto. 
There are other photos - and drawings - of the event at: http://eurolitnetwork.com/european-literature-night/)

However, not one of these guest appearances (with the possible exception of Mumbai’s Literature Live Festival)  can compare with the faultless organisation of the European Literature Night in London. Not to mention the publicity it has generated. It may well be that I am slightly biased. Having lived in London for almost 20 years, being (even after a 20-year absence) still English at heart (not to say in the mind), I may be tempted to give any literary event in London some extra (subjective) points. But that is not so. Appearing at the British Library really was one of the highlights of my long literary career. And all thanks to my publishers, the ambitious Istros Books, for whom quality, far from being a mere promotional phrase, is in fact their raison d'être. Long may they prosper!

Evald Flisar

24 May 2015

The War Poet who wasn’t: Simon Gregorčič and the Soča Front

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May 24th marks the centenary of Italy’s entry into the Great War. In previous blog entries related to this event, I have focussed on the Isonzo/Soča Front, which bore the brunt of the first Italian military operations.  For today’s entry, I return there again, to write about a character who played a significant role in that action, but who had died almost a decade before war broke out.

Simon Gregorcic (X989-6888)Portrait of Simon Gregorčič from Anton Burgar, Simon Gregorčič: življenjepis (Ljubljana, 1907) British Library X.989/6888.

Simon Gregorčič is one of Slovenia’s best-loved poets, and a significant figure in the 19th-century struggle for national rights. He was born in 1844 in the village of Vrsno, nestling beneath Mount Krn very close to the then Austro-Italian border, and the local landscape and lifestyle imprinted itself profoundly on his work. His family were peasant farmers who raised sheep in the pastures of the Soča valley, but young Simon had been born at a time of fast-rising literacy. He went to the grammar school in the regional capital Görz/Gorica (now Gorizia, in Italy), and then studied to become a priest; yet, apart from a brief period at the University of Vienna, he never really went far from his beloved Valley.

He worked as a chaplain in Kobarid, not far from his birthplace, where he had a formative love affair with a young teacher and promoted the cultural life of the little town. During subsequent appointments, Gregorčič began to publish poetry, each of his four books called “Poezije”, with its number. For these, which he promoted in public readings, he became a local celebrity in his own lifetime. His style was profoundly musical, full of feeling and even sensuality – for this Catholic priest had quite a number of intense relationships with women.  He wrote about social injustice, Slovene rights, the landscape that surrounded him. Among his best-known poems – and one of the few which have been translated into English - was  ‘Ash Wednesday Eve’, in which he warned the rich and proud among his congregation of their mortality while inviting the poor and dispossessed, including his relatives, to take their place in the Church and celebrate “Resurrection morn.” Its theme may sound gloomy and didactic, but the poem is so beautifully written that it evokes the twilight falling over his native Valley, its little churches lit up amid the dark peaks, spilling smells of incense into the night air as the people hurry in from near and far.

Gregorčič’s most famous poem of all is ‘Soči’ – ‘To the Soča’- describing the river’s progress from its mountain source to the plains of Trieste. At the beginning the turquoise water (it really is!) is fast and vigorous, “like the walk of the highland girls”, and its refrain runs, “You are splendid, daughter of the heights!” (“Krasnà si, hči planin!”). But when the river reaches the exposed plain it grows sluggish, sensing its vulnerability. Gregorčič foresaw a day when it would be filled with blood, surrounded by a “hail of lead”, and would need to burst its own banks to “draw the foreigners ravenous for lands to the bottom of your foaming waves.”  

SocaPostcard, reproduced in Mihael Glavan, Simon Gregorčič na Soški fronti (Nova Gorica, 2012) YF.2014.a.12826

Simon Gregorčič suffered lifelong ill-health (probably tuberculosis) and died in Gorizia in 1906. His funeral procession from the city to his grave in the village Smast was a huge public event. Nine years later, Gorizia, along with Trieste and the whole Soča Valley, would be among Italy’s chief targets in its attack on the Austrian Empire. Simon Gregorčič  was summoned from the grave to spur on the Slovene troops in defence of their homeland: he was shown on postcards greeting the Emperors Franz Joseph or Karl when they visited the battle-torn region, or looking protectively down upon the river with the military commanders Archduke Eugen or Svetozar Boroević von Bojna alongside him in the sky (pictures above). Sadly prophetic, the words of ‘Soči’ featured widely, particularly the verse urging the river to drown the foreign invader.

LIBUNJ~1SIMONGREGORCICFUNERAL

Funeral of  Simon Gregorčič un 1906 (From Wikimedia Commons)

Austria’s one major victory in the awful stalemate was 1917’s infamous Caporetto (the Italian name for Kobarid). The town which lay so close to the poet’s heart was symbolically the site of a total rout of the Italian invaders. A bust of his friend, the composer Hraboslav Volarić, symbolically watched from a corner of the square.

They would, however, return victorious a year later, and Kobarid stayed under Italian rule until 1945. Volarić’s bust, along with other symbols of Slovene culture, was badly damaged by fascists, but in 1945 the town became part of Yugoslavia. The bust was replaced, and a full-length statue to Gregorčič  erected in 1959 on the opposite side of the main square.

Naturally, Simon Gregorčič’s birthplace is now a tourist site, and hikers can follow his route and inspiration through the villages and meadows around.


With particular thanks to Jože Šerbec of the Kobarid Museum.

Bibliography:

Mihail Glavan. Simon Gregorčič na Soški fronti. (Nova Gorica , 2012). YF.2014.a.12826

Simon Gregorčič. Poezije. (Ljubljana, 1885-1908). 11530.a.26

W.A. Morison (translator). “Ash Wednesday Eve”, in The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 23, No. 62 (Jan., 1945), pp. 23-25, Ac.2669.e.  (also available online via  JSTOR).  

Translation of Soči by an unknown author at http://spinnet.eu/wiki-anthology/index.php/Soca_River

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

 

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

 

20 March 2015

Visions in the sky: a 17th-century eclipse

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Today people in some parts of northern Europe will see a total solar eclipse. Others, including those here in London, will see the sun partially obscured.

Eclipses are a source of excitement in our age. Hotels in the regions where today’s eclipse is total were no doubt booked up months ago by keen eclipse-hunters, as happened in 1999 when a total eclipse was visible in many parts of Europe. But although the science behind eclipses has been understood since ancient times, in the pre-modern age knowledge could be tempered with superstition even among scholars. For the less learned, eclipses, like other celestial phenomena, were sources of amazement and terror, interpreted as portents or omens of disaster. Perhaps this is why early witnesses claimed to see in such phenomena exaggerated images of mythical, divine or demonic figures.

The seven Capuchin monks who set out walk from Ober-Laibach (modern-day Vrhnika in Slovenia) to Loitsch (Logatec) on 28 January 1664 would not have been uneducated men, but when they witnessed that day’s partial solar eclipse, they saw in it a series of bizarre visions. They left an account of these, which the British Library holds in two different broadside versions.

Eclipse 1875.d.4(26)
1) Aigentliche Beschreibung der erschröcklichen Wunderzeichen, so seyn gesehen worden ... über ... Laibach ... den 28. Januarij 1664. Jahrs. (s.l., [1664]) British Library 1875.d.4.(26)

 Eclipse 1875.d.4(29)
2) Warhaffter und glaubwürdiger Bericht, eines erschrecklichen Wunderzeichen, so sich ... bey Ober-Laybach ... ist gesehen worden ... (Nuremberg, [1664]) 1875.d.4.(29)

On their journey the monks were alerted by a traveller coming towards them to the fact that the sun looked strange. Looking up, they saw on the sun’s face a tall, thin man followed by three smaller figures. Next a troop of infantry appeared, which gave way to two church towers. These were replaced by “two mighty black men on horseback” and a host of other riders, all shooting. At this the monks “began to sigh, pray and cry fervently to God for help” until the riders disappeared. Finally another rider appeared, this one “all white and light”, stronger and more terrifying than the first two, also leading a host of riders who almost covered the sun. These fought for a quarter of an hour, while the monks redoubled their prayers. After they vanished the sun “was blue in the centre and bloody all around the edges” and did not shine for some two hours.

Eclipse 1875.d.4(29) detail 2
Detail of 1875.c.4.(29) showing the sequence of visions described

After his dramatic account, we might expect the writer to offer some kind of interpretation of these fearsome visions, but he simply says “This was the moon which became lost in the sun” and ends his account. Clearly he understood the basic nature of the event the party had seen, yet he is no more interested in giving a scientific explanation than an allegorical one. The account thus seems caught between the worlds of belief in signs and wonders and of rational scientific knowledge.

But there is perhaps a rational explanation for the visions which the monks saw. Today we are always issued with firm instructions about how to view an eclipse safely, but our 17th-century travellers would have been looking directly at the sun, risking serious damage to their eyes, and certainly causing them to see spots which imagination could turn into visions.

  Eclipse 1875.d.4(29) detail
Don’t try this at home: the monks’ highly dangerous eclipse-viewing technique. Detail from 1875.d.4.(29)

So if you are watching today’s eclipse, watch safely, and enjoy the reality of one of the sky’s most fascinating sights without the terrifying and harmful visions.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

 

06 February 2015

Love it or hate it!

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Across much of Europe it is carnival time.  Another year of sheer fun and exuberance.  Although its exact timing varies from place to place, the main events usually take place during February. The old, pagan tradition was for evil spirits to be shooed away in anticipation of the new spring cycle.  In later times these rituals were frowned upon by the Christian Church but tolerated when they took place in the period before the beginning of Lent.  A central feature has always been masks and masquerading.  They provided a way for people to try to understand and exert influence on their natural surroundings.  Some also believed that masks had magical powers allowing wearers to connect with their ancestors and with the spirit world. 

Carnival Čoroje Image 1802
Čoroje, a carnival character from the Dubrovnik region in the early 19th century From Notizie istorico-critiche sulle antichità, storia e letteratura de' Ragusei (Ragusa, 1802) British Library 10129.ee.18.

Slovenia and Croatia are two countries where the traditions are preserved and interest remains strong.  Slovenia’s major event is the festival Kurentovanje, held in Ptuj, its oldest city.  Here the central carnival figure in the parades is the Kurent, a high-spirited demon, dressed in sheepskin.  The leather masks of Kurents from different villages will have their own individual features but most are decorated with colourful flowers and ribbons, and with prominent long red tongues.   Attached to the costumes are cow bells and as the Kurents pass through the streets they shake their bodies to sound the bells.

  Carnival Kurentovanje Ptuj 2014
Kurents at the 2014 Kurentovanje in Ptuj.

They also carry sticks with hedgehog skins attached to the tips.  The origin of the Kurent is not completely understood but its purpose appears to have been to chase away winter and bring good fortune to the countryside for the season ahead.  As well as participating in the parades, groups of Kurents visit houses and farms in the area.  Where they are welcomed they will bring good luck, where they are not, they roll themselves on the ground and this means bad luck will follow.  The Kurent has inspired authors and artists alike. 

Carnival France Mihelič Book cover
France Mihelič’s painting of a Kurent. From Milček Komelj, Miheličev Kurent : zgodba o živem mitu. (Ljubljana, 2002.) LF.31.b.6232

For those who cannot attend the carnival itself, the museum in Ptuj castle has an excellent permanent display of masks and costumes. 

In Croatia in more recent times the festive season of carnival has become punctuated by masked balls and parades like the one in the city of Rijeka.  Of its older customs, the best preserved are the Zvončari, the bell men, now included in UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Croatian town of Kastav and its surrounding area are home to the Zvončari.  The rich ethnographic history of this area is somewhat comically described in Ivo Jardas’s Kastavština, written in Chakavian dialect.  The Zvončari are best known as performers of pagan carnival magic. 

Carnival Zvončari from village of Veli Brgud2
Zvončari from village of Veli Brgud. © Larisa Afrić

On their visits to neighbouring villages they move in rows of two or three, merging towards each other, sounding their huge bells.  The sound is overwhelming and leaves one with a mixture of feelings, from excitement and fear, to curiosity and thrills.  On their backs they wear long sheep fur while their hats, klobuk or krabujosnica, are the real sign of the spring to come.  Abundantly colourful displays of hand-made, paper flowers are interspersed with fir tree or asparagus branches, and ribbons.  The hats were first introduced after the First World War, when one half of the Kastav region fell under Italian rule and animal-like masks were banned.  This explains why today Zvončari from the west wear hats and Zvončari from the east wear the masks.  Although over the years the nuances of costume went through many a transformation, the custom itself looks like it’s here to stay.   

  Carnival Petar Kurschner Photography
Carnival. © Petar Kürschner Photography, reproduced with permission

Lora Afric, Cataloguer Southern Slavonic Langauges, and Barbara Hawes, Curator Scandinavian Studies

Further Reading:

Niko Kuret, Maske slovenskih pokrajin. (Ljubljana, 1984.)  X.421/27014

O pustu, maskah in maskiranju: razprave in gradiva. (Ljubljana, 2003.)  YF.2011.a.21529

Ivo Jardas, Kastavština: građa o narodnom životu i običajima u kastavskom govoru, in Zbornik za narodni život i običaje, knj. 39. (Zagreb, 1957.) Ac.741/15

Lidija Nikočević, Zvončari i njihovi odjeci. (Novi Vinodolski, Zagreb, Pazin, 2014.) YF.2015.a.2654

Gary Edson, Masks and masking: faces of tradition and belief worldwide. (London, 2005.)  YC.2006.b.904

Masque et carnaval dans la litterature europeenne,  ed. Edward Welch. (Paris, 2002.)  YA.2003.a.11995. 

21 November 2014

The Death of a Countess and the Draw of Local History

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Some time ago, in my blog post about the Austro-Italian Front of the First World War, I mentioned the accidental death of Lucy Christalnigg, which occurred in the tense months before war broke out, and rather presaged it.

Shortly after my post was published, I was contacted by the author of a new book about Lucy, who then kindly donated a copy to the Library (The Last Summer: the story of Lucy Christalnigg and the end of a world, by Nello Cristianini, now at YK.2014.a.19718).

Dr Cristianini gave us the English version, since we’re the British national library, but it is also available in Italian, German and Slovene, reflecting the complicated history of the borderland area in which Lucy’s story took place. My colleagues tell me that mine is the first European Studies blog entry which has led to a donation, and, to me, this illustrates the symbiotic relationship between the Library and authors. The BL is eligible to receive a copy of all books published annually in the UK and Ireland, and uses many acquisition processes for tracing and claiming these books. Overseas publications come to staff attention through publisher catalogues, approval plans and other means, but there are always books which slip through the net, whether they be UK or overseas publications. These are often items from small publishers, whose output is not listed as systematically as that of the big ones. We are still reliant on authors to contact us and let us know about these books. Even in this day and age, the computer cannot completely replace interpersonal contact, in-depth collection knowledge, or the ability to acquire it.

I had assumed, finding her story in newspapers on the centenary of her death, that Lucy Christalnigg’s story was quite well-known. In fact, although known along the Italian-Slovenian border where she died, it had never been fully researched until Dr. Cristianini, who was born in Gorizia himself, went to search the archives of three countries for this piece of his local history. Lucy’s story is a snapshot of her time and place. As an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat, she represented a class which did not survive the War, yet she was also a thoroughly modern woman, a racing driver who won many prizes and had apparently taken her own car at great speed around the hairpin bends of pitch-black mountain passes the night she died.  Ironically, it was on the straight valley road where she was shot that she probably least expected to die.

Lucy-for_BL
Lucy Christalnigg at the wheel of her car. (Photo courtesy of Dr Nello Cristianini)

Lucy’s husband, Oskar Christalnigg von und zu Gillenstein, was a scion of a Carinthian family who were apparently of Slovene blood. Count Christalnigg was active in the Slovenian publishing society, the Slovenska Matica, and encouraged education in the Slovene language. His close political contacts included Ivan Hribar the Liberal mayor of Ljubljana and a renowned pan-Slav.  Count Christalnigg is likely to have been of a less radical inclination than Hribar, like the many other Austro-Hungarian aristocrats who sponsored “national revivals” in their local areas, expecting these to reinforce the empire. However, the awakening of local patriotism had unintended consequences, and after 1918 the old, trans-national Habsburg aristocracy found itself living in a variety of brand new states, some of which suspected their loyalty. The best-known case is that of the Bohemian nobility, which had to learn to be Czech, with mixed results (a substantial number later aligned with the Sudeten German cause and then became Nazis), but others faced similar dilemmas.

Oskar Christalnigg’s family seat lay in a part of north-east Carinthia that in 1919 was substantially Slovene-speaking. As the empire split apart and reformed as new states, it was claimed by both German Austria and Yugoslavia, to which the majority of Slovene lands had already been assigned (though the western-most lands were occupied by Italy as a consequence of the War). The resulting plebiscite left his main home just inside Austria, but his properties to the south were now in Yugoslavia and Italy, and Yugoslavia quickly embarked on land reforms which aimed to break up the old Austro-Hungarian landed estates, with compensation to landowners as long as they were not members of the Habsburg dynasty. Oskar Christalnigg quietly retired to his Austrian castle   with his second wife, no doubt relieved that the Austrian Republic had stripped him of only his title.

800px-Eberstein_Schloss_Eberstein_10092012_322
Schloss Erverstein, Oskar Christalnigg’s Austrian Castle (picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Local history books seem to me to be rooted in the same enthusiasm for particular places that motivated “national revivals” and their patrons. It is this enthusiasm and sense of place which brings the past to life through hunting down information on obscure or forgotten tales, and gives it a human face.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager