THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

8 posts from June 2020

29 June 2020

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (Part 2)

This is the second of our blog posts about the Roma community in Europe to mark Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2020

Roma French authors

Our collection of French Roma authors is not, as yet, as developed as it as it could be, but we hold books by some of the most prominent Roma advocates of the Roma culture and way of life in France: Sandra Jayat and Alexandre Romanès.

Sandra Jayat was born in Italy, or France, in 1939. She came from the Roma group called “Manouche” or “Sinti”. At the age of 15, she fled to Paris to escape a forced marriage. She sought refuge with her cousin Django Reinhardt, the jazz musician, taught herself how to read and paint, and soon became the muse of Parisian artists and writers. Herbes Manouches, her first collection of poems, was published in 1961 and illustrated by Jean Cocteau. In 1972, she produced a recording of readings of her poems, accompanied with original music by Reinhardt. In 1978, her semi-autobiographical novel, La longue route d’une zingarina, became a success, selling more than 40,000 copies, and being read in schools. Jayat still lives in France today. Her entire artistic oeuvre is inspired by the world and symbolism of Roma.

Jayat is also a renowned painter, and has always been committed to the recognition of Roma artists. She organised the exhibition ‘Première Mondiale de l’Art Tzigane’, which ran from 6 to 30 May 1985 at the Conciergerie in Paris. We have her Moudravi, où va l'amitié, published in 1966 and illustrated by Marc Chagall (X.908/14070.)

Photograph of books for sale by Alexandre Romanès

Books by Alexandre Romanès, photo by Fabienne Félix, Flickr 

Born in 1951, Alexandre Romanès comes from a famous family of circus artists. Thinking that the circus was losing the values of the Roma, he quit in the 1970s to create his own travelling show. He met the French poet Jean Genet, who became a friend, and Lydie Dattas, who taught him to read and became his first wife. Romanès went on to create his own “Tzigan Circus”, the “Cirque Romanes”, in 1993.

This prompted a writing career, dedicated to poetry and the defense of Roma values and ways of life. After publishing Le Premier Cirque tsigane d’Europe, in 1994, Romanès wrote Un peuple de promeneurs in 1998 (2011 edition, BL YF.2013.a.16398), Paroles perdues, published in 2004, (2010 edition YF.2010.a.32293) and Sur l'épaule de l'ange (Paris, 2010; YF.2011.a.5.). His two latest publications, Les corbeaux sont les Gitans du ciel (2016) and Le luth noir (2017), will soon be at the library.

His style consists of short poems, aphorisms, memories and scenes of Roma life and wisdom:

Si on pouvait noter…
Si on pouvait noter
toutes les phrases magnifiques
qui se disent chaque jour dans le monde,
on pourrait publier chaque matin
un live exceptionnel.

(If one could take note, if one could take note, of all the magnificent sentences, which are said everyday in the world, one could publish, every morning, an exceptional book.)

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

 

Diary of a Young Roma Traveller

Cover of Mykola Burmek-Diuri’s book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka with a drawing of a young man

Cover of Mykola Burmek-Diuri’s book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka (Uzhhorod, 2017) YF.2019.a.9992. The BL’s copy is signed by the author.

Two years ago, the Roma writer Mykola Burmek-Diuri caught the attention of the Ukrainian media following the publication of his book, Shchodennyk molodoho roma-mandrivnyka (‘Diary of a Young Roma Traveller’). Writing in Ukrainian, Burmek-Diuri provides a unique window into the daily life, culture, traditions and history of the Roma community in Zakarpattia, the region in southwestern Ukraine where Burmek-Diuri and the majority of the country’s Romani population live, through a mixture of autobiographical stories, fairytales and ethnographic sketches. Given the rise in violent attacks against Roma communities in the country in recent years, this book is particularly timely and important for its presentation of the world through the eyes of a young Roma writer. Burmek-Diuri has since published two further books: Mama kazaly pravdu (Uzhhorod, 2018; YF.2019.a.7579) and, most recently, a collection of poetry and prose entitled Honir dykoi troiandy. All three were published with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation’s Roma Programme, which works with NGOs and activists in Ukraine to involve ‘representatives of the Roma community in social processes and combating discrimination’.  

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

 

Romani authors in Czechoslovakia

In her foreword to the English edition of the book A False Dawn: My Life as a Gypsy Woman in Slovakia by Elena Lacková, Milena Hübschmannová, one of the founders of the Roma Studies as an academic discipline in Czechoslovakia, wrote: “What can I say about Roma better than the song of a lone Romani woman’s life experience?”. And this is true indeed. This book is available in English, and is a really fascinating account of Romani traditions, customs, ceremonies and superstitions, seen though the life of someone who grew up to become the first Romani author in post-Second World War Czechoslovakia. Elena Lacková (Ilona Lasko, 1921–2003), born in a Roma settlement in Veľký Šariš in eastern Slovakia, was the only girl among the 600 children in the settlement to complete primary education and in her 20s became the first author to give the Romani people a voice in literature. Many consider her to be the Roma equivalent of the writer Božena Němcová, who played a prominent part in the Czech National Revival movement. In her works Lacková transformed and refined original folk tales opening a whole new world of the people who had been almost invisible before. Her first literary work was a play written in Slovak, Horiaci cigánsky tabor (‘The Gypsy Camp is Burning’, 1947) about the local Roma’s collective experience of the Second World War. Later she chose to write in Romani and founded a Romani periodical, Romano L’il (Gypsy News).

Elena Lacková is probably the best-known name, but definitely not the only one in Romani literature. Tera Fabiánová was the first person in the former Czechoslovakia to write poems in Romani. The Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology of the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna recorded her reciting her poems in Romani.

Photograph of four Romani women. Three are sitting on a bench and one is standing

Romani women in Czechoslovakia in 1959, a photo by FOTO:FORTEPAN / Zsanda Zsolt, Wikimedia Commons 

Ľudovít Didi (1931–2013) was a Czechoslovak dissident, chartist and Romani Slovak author. His first book Príbehy svätené vetrom (‘Stories of the Holy Wind’; Bratislava, 2004; YF.2006.a.19867) is considered to be the first ever authentic Roma novel. His other three books Róm Tardek a jeho osud (‘Roma Tardek and his destiny’; Bratislava, 2013; YF.2016.a.3251), Čierny Róm a biela láska (‘Black Roma and white love’, 2011) and Cigánkina veštba (‘The Gypsy Prophesy’; Bratislava,2008; YF.2010.a.8945) also tell the story of the Roma community.

Viťo Staviarský, a well-known name in Slovak literature, is the author of the short story ‘Kivader’ (2007) and the novel ‘Kale topanky’ (2012), which are set in a Romani settlement. In 2014, the publishing house Knihovna Václava Havla in Prague published a book of Romani women authors called Slunce zapadá už ráno (‘The sun sets in the morning’). Irena Eliášová, Jana Hejkrlíková, Iveta Kokyová and Eva Danišova contributed to it. I hope that we will see more of these books translated into English, so that they can get a wider readership.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

Elena Lacková, Narodila jsem se pod šťastnou hvězdou (Prague, 1997) YA.2003.a.9308 (English translation by Carleton Bulkin, A false dawn: my life as a Gypsy woman in Slovakia (Paris; Hatfield, 1999) YC.2000.a.8592

Helena Sadílková, ‘Romani Literature in the Czech and Slovak Republics’. In Countries & Regions. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://www.romarchive.eu/en/literature/literature-countries-and-regions/literature-czechoslovakia/

Jana Horváthová, Roma in the Czech Lands. In Countries & Regions. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://www.romarchive.eu/en/roma-civil-rights-movement/roma-in-the-czech-lands-abstract/

Radka Steklá, Elena Lacková – romská publicistka, spisovatelka o média. Bachelor's thesis. Univerzita Karlova v Praze. 2006. Accessed 11 June 2020: https://is.cuni.cz/webapps/zzp/detail/1444/?lang=en

 

Bódvalenke

How did a tiny settlement of around 230 souls and 60 houses in northeastern Hungary put itself on the map? Bódvalenke, a community of Romani majority, became renowned as the ‘fresco village’ thanks to a remarkable initiative some ten years ago. A charitable organisation started to invite Romani artists, both from Hungary and abroad, to use the dull windowless walls in the neighbourhood as blank canvasses for giant colourful paintings.

Mural on the side of a building by József Ferkovics

Mural by József Ferkovics. A colourful album dedicated to the work of the artist and published recently is among our recent acquisitions. Image by Pásztörperc - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0 

The aim of the project was to pull the village out of deep poverty: each house volunteered by its inhabitants was given new plastering before being decorated, but the community as a whole would also benefit in a variety of ways from any income generated by the arrival of visitors to this unique open-air display. Today, one can see 33 magnificent murals by 18 painters on Romani and Gypsy themes: old legends, traditional life, family, grief and dreams. Sadly however, with the lack of infrastructure it is proving difficult to attract tourists and the village is still struggling economically.

Mural on the side of a building by Rozi Csámpai depicting everyday life in Bódvalenke

Everyday life in Bódvalenke. Mural by Rozi Csámpai. Rozi Csámpai features in a book on Romani women painters in today's Hungary: Színekben oldott életek: cigány festőnők a mai Magyarországon (Budapest, 2011; YF.2011.a.11388). Image by Pásztörperc at Hungarian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ildi Wollner, Curator East & SE European Collections

References:

Ferkovics József festőművész. ([Gencsapáti], 2019). Awaiting shelfmark.

26 June 2020

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (Part 1)

Believed to have left India in the Middle Ages, the Romani people are one of the biggest ethnic minorities in Europe that has traditionally suffered from prosecution and discrimination. Since they often choose not to disclose their ethnic identity, the exact number of Roma in Europe is unknown and is estimated at about 10-14 million. On the occasion of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month, we present a few selections of publications written by or related to members of the Roma community in Europe.

Pieśni Papuszy — The songs of Papusza

Photograph of Bronisława Wajs

Bronisława Wajs, Wikimedia Commons 

Bronisława Wajs (1908 or 1910-1987), most widely known by her Romani name Papusza, was one of the most famous Romani poets of all time. She did not receive any schooling and, as a child, she paid non-Romani villagers with stolen goods in exchange for teaching her to read and write. At the age of 16 she got married off against her will to a man older than her by 24 years. Papusza survived the Second World War by hiding in the woods and became known as a poet in 1949, as a result of her acquaintance with Jerzy Ficowski, a poet and a translator from Romani to Polish. Her poetry, dealing with the subject of yearning and feeling lost, quickly gained her recognition in the Polish literary world.

Ficowski convinced Papusza that by having her poems translated from Romani and published, she would help improving the situation of the Romani community in Poland. However, Ficowski also authored a book about Roma beliefs and rituals, accompanied by a Romani-Polish dictionary of words, which he learned from Papusza. He also officially gave his support to forced settlement imposed on Roma by Polish authorities in 1953. As a result, Papusza was ostracised from the Roma community. Her knowledge sharing with Ficowski was perceived as a betrayal of Roma, breaking the taboo, and a collaboration with the anti-Romani government. Although Papusza claimed that Ficowski misinterpreted her words, she was declared ritually impure and banned from the Roma community. After an eight-month stay in a psychiatric hospital, Papusza spent the rest of her life isolated from her tribe. Ficowski, who genuinely had believed that the forced settlement of Romani people would better their life by eradicating poverty and illiteracy, later regretted endorsing the government’s policy, as the abandonment of nomadic life had profound implications on the Romani community.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

References:

Bronisława Wajs, Jerzy Ficowski, Pieśni Papuszy. Papušakre gila (Wrocław, 1956). 11588.p.45

Angelika Kuźniak, Papusza (Wołowiec, 2013). YF.2017.a.16135

Valentina Glajar and Domnica Radulescu (eds), “Gypsies” in European literature and culture (New York, 2008). YK.2009.a.21165

 

Tzigari: vita di un nomade

Cover of Tzigari: vita di un nomade

Giuseppe Levakovich and Giorgio Ausenda, Tzigari: vita di un nomade (Milano, Bompiani, 1975), X.709/23552

Tzigari: vita di un nomade is an autobiographical account telling about the persecutions of Roma and Sinti in Italy during the Second World War and about the Romani genocide, Porajmos. Tzigari is the nickname of Giuseppe Levakovich. Born in 1908 in Istria, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Levakovich became an Italian citizen after the First World War and joined the fascist army in the invasion of Abyssinia, in 1936. When the Italian racial laws were promulgated, he and his people became discriminated and prosecuted. His wife was sent to a concentration camp in Germany, and Tzigari joined the Italian resistance movement. There aren’t many written accounts shedding light on these events from a Roma perspective, and this book is certainly an early example, published in 1975.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections


Gypsies by Josef Koudelka

A photograph of a Roma man holding a cockrerel

A photograph of a Roma man by Josef Koudelka from Gypsies (New York, 2011) LD.31.b.2995

Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies is an unprecedented documentary photography book on Romanies. Born in 1938 in Moravia, Koudelka is a Magnum photographer still active today. The original Cikáni (Czech for Gypsies) was first prepared by Koudelka and graphic designer Milan Kopriva, in Prague in 1968. The book was not published, because in 1970 Koudelka fled from Czechoslovakia to England to seek political asylum. However, the first edition of Gypsies was subsequently published in 1975 in the United States.

It was Roma music and culture that initially drew Koudelka to start taking photographs of the people. By immersing himself into their lives he managed to capture the intricacies of their everyday existence. Leading a nomadic life, they were like him in a way. “For 17 years I never paid any rent. Even gypsies were sorry for me because they thought I was poorer than them. At night they were in their caravans and I was a guy who was sleeping outside beneath the sky.”

Gypsies offers an unbiased and honest insight into Roma people’s lives. It consists of 109 black and white photographs, taken between 1962 and 1971 in what was then Czechoslovakia (Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia), Romania, Hungary and Spain. During this time, Koudelka lived, travelled with, and documented Europe’s Roma communities. His masterful storytelling is bursting with emotion and the realism of people caught up in everyday situations, from individuals and family portraits to suited musicians, funeral processions or weddings set in rural landscapes. The unfolding candid images draw the viewer in and make them feel as if they are there with them, experiencing their lives. This rich and inspiring source of Roma iconography and self-identity is a timeless document of the community in its heyday.

Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager

References:

Koudelka Josef. Cikáni (Prague, 2011). LF.31.b.8497

Koudelka Josef. Gypsies (London, 1975). LB.37.b.367

Quote taken from: https://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014/01/30/street-photography-book-review-gypsies-by-josef-koudelka/


“Romani, read poems and keep your mother tongue”

Cover of O Devlikano Ramope

O Devlikano Ramope (‘Gospel of Luke’) (Belgrade, 1938) W2/6259.

“Romani, read poems and keep your mother tongue” is a simple and powerful message attributed to Rade Uhlik, a great researcher of the Romani language and culture from Southeast Europe.

Rade Uhlik (1899-1991) was a Bosnian and Herzegovinian linguist and curator at the National Museum in Sarajevo. He was the first Romani scholar in the Balkans and a pioneer in Romani studies. His scholarship was varied and prolific in multiple disciplines: from language and linguistics to history and ethnography and culture in general.

Uhlik was noted for his scholarly study of the Romani language and its many dialects. Most of his research was done away from the office. He devoted his time mainly to fieldwork and to collecting stories, poems and customs of the Romani people from Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, which was his greatest scholarly achievement. His first book published in Prijedor in 1937 was a collection of Romani poems (We hold another edition of his Ciganska poezija (‘Gypsy poetry’; Sarajevo, 1957; 011313.m.48).

Uhlik collected about 1200 Romani stories in 20 volumes of which four have been published, three outside Yugoslavia and only one in Sarajevo in 1957 as Ciganske priče (‘Gypsy stories’; 11397.dd.53). In 1938 Uhlik translated the Gospel of Luke into Romani as O Devlikano Ramope. His Srpskohrvatsko-ciganski rečnik. Romane alava (‘Serbo-Croatian-Gypsy dictionary’) was first published in three sequels in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, with whom Uhlik actively collaborated, and then as an independent edition in Sarajevo in 1947 (012977.b.33. Revised edition (Sarajevo, 1983) YA.1991.a.7953).

The beginning of the Gospel of Luke, printed in two columns

The beginning of the Gospel of Luke, printed in two columns. The printing of the Gospel of Luke in Romani in Belgrade in 1938 was supported by the Bible Society.

Uhlik as a non-Roma did great service to Romani language and culture, passionately committed to the cause, almost independently and with little or no support of the Yugoslav academy and society. To preserve the memory of a great scholar, the Serbian Academy is helping the establishment of an international “Rade Uhlik” institute for the Romani studies under the sponsorship of the European Centre for Peace and Development in Belgrade.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

23 June 2020

Inheritance Books: Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us. This week, Pardaad Chamsaz, responsible for the Nordic collections, shares his selections. 

It’s coming up to three years that I’ve been responsible for the Nordic collections and I learned early on that, while most of what we inherit comes with an explanation, there will always be something unexpected. For me, it was the unmarked acid-free envelopes in the secure cupboard. After finally getting round to an audit, I discovered tied together a set of 18th-century Swedish official orders and privileges. Two of these concerned Sweden’s colonial activity in the Caribbean, something I had not really considered before but was now inspired to dig into further. Sweden’s acquisition of the island of St Barthélemy from France in 1784 featured prominently. The most interesting of these pamphlets was the notification ‘Til hämmande af obetänkte utflyttningar til Ön St Barthelemy’ of 2 May 1786. It effectively rows back on the previous year’s efforts to encourage Swedish traders to travel to the island due to unsustainable living conditions and the harsh uncultivated land, telling aspiring travellers to stay put and think about working the Fatherland. In this brief order we can almost read the whole story of Sweden’s colonizing efforts.

Notification discouraging travel to the Caribbean

Notification discouraging travel to the Caribbean. Awaiting shelfmark.

One thing I’m happy my successors will inherit is a healthy collection of contemporary Nordic comics and graphic novels. After a conversation with the Finnish comics association and artist collective Kuti Kuti, they kindly agreed to send over their back catalogue of comics.

Illustrated covers of Kuti Kuti issues

Kuti Kuti issues, ZF.9.d.403

As a result, we started thinking about doing more work around Nordic comics, culminating in the Nordic Comics Today events. One of the artists who joined us, Kaisa Leka, donated an exquisite copy of her and Christoffer Leka’s Time after Time, which I am very happy to be able to hand down to whoever comes after me!

Cover of Time after Time

Time after Time. Awaiting shelfmark.

18 June 2020

Radio Londres

On June 17, 1940, still reeling from France’s fall to Nazi Germany three days earlier, the recently promoted Brigadier General and Under-Secretary of State for National Defence, Charles de Gaulle, fled to London. The next day, having obtained special permission from Winston Churchill, he broadcast a message to France on the BBC radio from Broadcasting House: “I, General de Gaulle, now in London, call on all French officers and men who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, with or without their arms; I call on all engineers and skilled workmen from the armaments factories who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, to get in touch with me.”

Photograph of de Gaulle recording a speech
Charles de Gaulle broadcasting from the BBC in London in 1941. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

This speech, known as L’Appel du 18 juin (The Appeal of 18 June) is often considered to be the founding step of the French Resistance, and it is extremely famous in France – many streets and squares now bearing that name – up to the point that it is often wrongly quoted: the famous rousing sentence “La France a perdu une bataille! Mais la France n’a pas perdu la guerre” (“France has lost a battle, but France has not lost the war”) is often associated with the Appeal of 18 June, but actually comes from a motivational poster headed “A Tous Les Français”, which was plastered over London on 3 August 1940. (The British Library has a copy of the Bulletin officiel des Forces françaises libres, a journal issued intermittently from 15 August 1940 to 31 August 1944. (SPR.Mic.B.150(2), which reproduces the poster exactly albeit in a smaller size.) Other broadcasts by de Gaulle, on 19 and 22 June reached more people in occupied France.

The first, famous speech, was not actually recorded, but a manuscript for internal use was later found in the archives of the Swiss Intelligence Agencies. The manuscript of the speech, as well as the recording of the 22 June speech, was entered in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register on 18 June 2005.

Following the speech, a daily radio show called Ici la France was launched on 14 July on Radio Londres, a station broadcast from 1940 to 1944 by the BBC in London to occupied France. From 6 September 1940 the title changed to Les Français parlent aux Français. The programme was entirely in French and was operated by the Free French who had escaped from occupied France. It served to send coded messages to the French Resistance, appealed for uprisings, and counterbalanced the propaganda from the authorities in the occupied territory. Radio Londres opened its transmission with: “Ici Londres! Les Français parlent aux Français” (“This is London! The French are speaking to the French”) another quote that has become famous in France. In contrast to the  traditional formal style of French radio stations, some of the announcers introduced personal messages, songs and jokes into the programmes. The first four notes of the theme music, for instance, the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, were stylised to represent the letter “V” in Morse code (…-), standing for the Victory sign.

Radio Londres commemorative plaque featuring the motto 'Les Français parlent aux Français' and a portrait medallion of the station's presenters
Plaque commemorating the work of Radio Londres in the Asnelles cemetery, Calvados, with a medallion showing the profiles of presenters including ‘Jacques Duchesne’ (Michel Saint-Denis) (Photo by Wayne77 from Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-4.0)

Of particular interest to us today is Michel Saint-Denis.

The British Library Manuscripts Department has recently completed the arrangement and cataloguing of the Michel Saint-Denis archive. The archive brings together almost 200 volumes of professional correspondence, papers, and other ephemera relating to Saint-Denis’s work in the theatre, as well as his personal letters and diaries.

The nephew of the famous French actor and theatre director Jacques Copeau, in 1935 Saint-Denis accepted an invitation to London, where he founded the London Theatre Studio, working with actors such as Alec Guinness, Peter Ustinov, Michael Redgrave, John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier. He soon became a renowned director. During the Second World War, he directed the French programme of Radio Londres under the pseudonym of Jacques Duchesne. Section D of the archive contains evidence of Saint-Denis’s service with the French section of the BBC during the Second World War (Add MS 81143-81166) including scripts of radio talks, reports showing uncertainty about what to talk about, what the BBC thinks the French want to hear, and material on Anglo-French relations generally. There are also lots of newspaper clippings and reactions from listeners, including internees in concentration camps asking for help. The Library also holds some audio recordings of Michel Saint-Denis from the 1960s describing how he helped Winston Churchill to make a broadcast in French during the War.

But the most moving memory is actually buried in a pile of other letters and souvenirs and is evidence of the reach of Radio Londres and of De Gaulle’s messages. When the French Curators from the Romance Collections department had the chance to go and visit the archives, we were touched to see this letter from a French family who listened to the programme every day. On paper from a run-of-the-mill French schoolchild’s notebook, such as is still in use today, the young daughter had drawn a heart and cross for the General de Gaulle, with a song titled “Heart of a Free Family” (to be sung on the melody of the Marseillaise)

A handwritten poem entitled 'Coeur d'une famile libre', illustrated with a heart enclosing the Cross of Lorraine
A child’s poem and drawing of a heart with the Cross of Lorraine, created in response to Radio Londres Broadcast 24.3.1, from the Michel Saint-Denis Archive (Add MS 81143-81166).

The verso only had a simple message: “Pass on to General de Gaulle”.

Verso of the poem with a request to pass to General de Gaulle
The verso of the poem with the request to pass it to de Gaulle

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections 

With thanks to Laura Walker, Lead Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1850 1950, and to Jack Taylor, former PhD placement student working on experiences of the Second World War in Britain. 

16 June 2020

Inheritance Books: Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

This post is part of our ‘Inheritance Books’ series, where colleagues choose an ‘inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they’re important to us. Today, Barry Taylor, responsible for our Spanish and Portuguese collections, makes his selection.

I first encountered the book I ‘inherited’ on the reading list for my second year undergraduate course on medieval Spanish literature. The Waning of the Middle Ages: a Study of the Forms of Life, Thought, and Art in France and the Netherlands in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries by Johan Huizinga was translated from the Dutch of 1924 by F. Hopman (BL 09073.d.20.), so well you’d never know it was a translation. The college library copy was sparsely illustrated in black and white, but that was essential to Huizinga’s argument and an added attraction for me. (My Penguin edition (BL X.708/8266), bought years later, doesn’t have any pictures, which leaves me as disappointed as Alice.) The British Library, of course, holds a number of editions both in English and Dutch.

Cover of the 1972 edition of The Waning of the Middle Ages

Cover of the 1972 edition of The Waning of the Middle Ages

Huizinga explained, with plenty of quotations, themes such as courtly love, the attitude to death, and religion. One of his points which stayed with me was that medieval people were so familiar with everyday religious practices that they weren’t offended when these practices were played with by the poets who likened their lady love or the queen to the Virgin Mary.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned that Huizinga (1872-1945) was inspired in his multidisciplinary approach by seeing a big exhibition of medieval art. I also learned that he had been kicked out of his university job by the Nazis.

Why did our far-sighted teachers ask us to read him? After all, he wasn’t going to figure in an exam on medieval Spanish literature, was he? Except that he was everywhere. The glittering display culture of France and Burgundy was the model for court life in Spain. Only later did I read El Victorial, the life of Pero Niño (1378-1453), who attended such festivities in France. And I got a tick in the margin for mentioning in an essay the depiction of St Joseph as ‘Joseph le fou’ when noting the poor figure that the saint cuts in a medieval religious play.

Illustration of a man in medieval clothing

Illustration of a man in medieval clothing from Costumes Historiques de la France..., vol. 1 (Paris, 1852; 2260.f.4.)

People are revisionist (i.e. sniffy) about Huizinga nowadays, and blame him for relying too much on chronicles (always gussied up for propaganda purposes) rather than archival documents (dull but worthy). But his appeal was that he was a cultural historian avant la lettre. Critics are also quick to point out that ‘Waning’ in the English is ‘Autumn’ in the Dutch and pretty much all other translations, signifying autumn fruits.

The Waning of the Middle Ages obviously doesn’t feel now like the book I read at 19, but it made me a medievalist in my heart if not in my tights.

Pages from Diogo de Teive's Epodon siue Ia(m)bicorum carminum libri tres...

Pages from Diogo de Teive’s Epodon siue Ia(m)bicorum carminum libri tres [...] Ad Sebastianum primum, inuictissimum Lusitaniæ Regem (Lisbon, 1565) RB.23.a.23815.

The book I can pass on is a volume of Latin poetry by Diogo de Teive, in Latin Jacobus Tevius (1513 x 1515 – 1565 x 1579). I’d been working on proverbs and sententiae (the more learned type of proverb) and also on bilingual editions. I knew as a frustrated researcher that Tevius’s book included some sententiae of his own devising, with a facing Portuguese translation. There were also epithalamia on the marriages of various noble houses. I also knew it was nowhere to be found in a complete copy, so when this edition appeared in a bookseller’s catalogue I jumped at it. I catalogued it and wrote it up promptly (hem hem) and it was quickly picked up in an Oxford thesis.

Tevius (rather like Huizinga) lived at a turning-point in history. At the beginning of his career the Portuguese universities were recruiting actively all over Europe, bringing in distinguished professors like the Scot George Buchanan. King John III invited Erasmus, but he wouldn’t be tempted. Not long after the tide turned: in came the Jesuits and that was the end of international Latin culture in Portugal.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References:

A digitised version of the first English edition of The Waning of the Middle Ages from the University of Michigan Library is available via the Hathi Trust website 

Peter Arnade [et al.] Rereading Huizinga: Autumn of the Middle Ages, a Century Later (Amsterdam, 2019). Available via JSTOR 

‘Recent acquisitions: a rare work by Jacobus Tevius’, Electronic British Library Journal, 2003, article 5 

Catarina Barcelo Fouto, Edition and study of Teive’s Epithalamium: The Epodon libri tres (1565) and Neo-Latin literature in Counter-Reformation Portugal. Doctoral thesis, University of Oxford, 2012

 

12 June 2020

The Fall of the Berlin Wall from a Child’s Eye View

On the night of 9 November 1989 the Berlin Wall was opened and East Berliners flooded through to visit the western sector of the city. In the following days more crossing points appeared, sections of the wall began to come down, and a city divided for 28 years began the long process of growing back together.

Among the many books in the British Library about the fall of the Wall and its aftermath, there is slim A4 booklet, reproduced from typewriting and illustrated with black-and-white photographs. It contains reactions to the events of 9-12 November 1989 from the children of a West Berlin school, written in the weeks following 9 November. The photographs were taken on a walk along the wall on 28 November, and three days later the children conducted interviews with passers-by, asking their opinion on events; these round off the booklet.

Front cover of the booklet, Mauer 89, with a photograph of a watchtower

Front cover of the booklet, Mauer 89 (Berlin, 1989). YA.1992.b.888

The children’s accounts of the weekend are grouped around different themes. Some just record events, others mention reunions with family members: one, whose East Berlin relatives came to visit, touchingly reveals that “I saw my father cry for the first time”. Two describe the experience of hearing the news when away from home and four children choose to write as if describing things for their own grandchildren forty years on.

Despite these slight differences there are recurring themes. Most of the children mention the 100 Deutschmark ‘Welcome Money’ (‘Begrüßungsgeld’) which the East Berliners received. Some describe the long queues at banks to collect the money, and many talk about what the East Berliners bought. Fruit is the thing most frequently mentioned, especially oranges and bananas. The idea of East Berliners rushing to spend their welcome money on fruit and clearing the shops of bananas has become something of a cliché, so it’s interesting to see that it was already the Westerners’ perception at the time. One piece also mentions that a popular brand of American jeans sold out and that McDonald's almost ran out of hamburgers.

Heavy crowds are another familiar theme, particularly in the West Berlin shopping street Kurfürstendamm or around the Brandenburg Gate. A couple of writers mention visitors going from west to east – through the divided Potsdamer Platz or to visit Alexanderplatz in the east of the city. Another form of congestion was the number of East German Trabant cars suddenly filling the streets of West Berlin. One of the children’s regular interview questions is about what westerners think of the number of ‘Trabbis’ coming through – the cars emitted higher levels of pollution than were permitted in the west, and this was of concern to some.

Back cover of the booklet, Mauer 89, with a photograph of the Berlin Wall and children's signature

Back cover of the booklet

In some interviews the children also ask for opinions about a potential German reunification. The respondents are cautious, thinking that it needs time and, in one case, recognising the economic risks involved, but most are fundamentally in favour of the idea.

The school is named only as ‘KG 71’ and the individual pieces are unsigned. The children’s forenames are reproduced on the back cover, but no surnames. It’s not even clear how old they were, though the handwriting and the style of the pieces suggest between about 10 and 12, and if the G of ‘KG’ stands for ‘Grundschule’ (Primary School), they could have been in their last primary year. If by some remote chance one of them is reading this and remembers making the book, we’d love them to get in touch!

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections 

09 June 2020

Inheritance Books: Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

Listeners to BBC Radio 4s Saturday Live programme will know of its ‘Inheritance Tracks’ feature. For those unfamiliar with the show, this is a segment where a famous person chooses two pieces of music, one which they’ve ‘inherited’ (usually something from their childhood or youth) and one which they would ‘pass on’ to later generations (usually a favourite or significant piece from their adult life), and talk about what the tracks mean to them. We have borrowed this idea for a series of blog posts about our British Library ‘Inheritance Books’. Colleagues choose an ‘inherited’ item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and will explain why theyre important to us. Our first post comes from Zuzanna Krzemien, a curator in our East European collections area.

One of the important books I ‘inherited’ after I joined the library was a Polish edition of George Orwell’s 1984 (Paryż, 1983; X.950/31144), translated by Juliusz Mieroszewski. My first encounter with this translation took place when I was 13 years old. I stood in front of my father’s bookshelf, looking for a good read for the summer holidays. I chose 1984 because it looked small and I knew it was famous. Only when I sat on the beach and opened the book for the first time did I realise my mistake — the book turned out to be an illegal edition printed by the Polish underground movement when Poland was still a communist country. That explained why the book was so small — as with all samizdat publications, it had to be printed cheaply, in a small format and with the smallest possible font. In this particular case, it was clearly intended to be read with a magnifying glass. I didn’t have one, so I read the whole novel squeezing my eyes and holding the book a few centimetres away from my face. Two things happened as a result: firstly, because I had to focus so much, I still have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the book (and I read it almost 20 years ago). Secondly, I had to start wearing glasses after that summer.

Photograph of four Polish samizdat publications

Polish samizdat publications. Image by Julo/Wikimedia Commons 

My second choice, the book that I catalogued after I had started working for the British Library, is Etnografie sociální mobility by Jaroslav Šotola and Mario Rodríguez Polo [(Olomouc, 2016) YF.2019.a.11091]. The book is devoted to the Romanies in Slovakia. The authors felt that Romanies suffered from prejudice, both conscious and subconscious, and so they decided that the only way to approach the subject was for the reader to erase all their existing cognitive schemas related to the Roma. In order to convey this message, the authors overturned the order of the whole book, which was bound upside down and has a reversed sequence of pages. The book has a sentimental value for me, since I used to work with the Roma community myself and I remember how much my world view changed as a result of that job.

Photograph of a Roma settlement in the region of Šariš

A Roma settlement in the region of Šariš. Image by Jozef Kotulič / Wikimedia Commons 

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

05 June 2020

Booktrade and publishing in Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020

The British Library works with eight local suppliers in the procurement of books and serials from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and Romania. This blog post draws on their reports about the book trade since 1990 and the effects of the current Covid-19 Pandemic. It follows a recent post exploring the British Library's historical ties with libraries and librarians in Southeast Europe and the ways in which they are dealing with the pandemic. 

The book trade recovered valiantly from the turbulent times of the 1990s and we are fortunate to have suppliers who are dedicated partners and experts not only in the book trade and publishing but also in the literature, art and scholarship of their respective countries. Together with our library partners, they are credited with procuring up to 3,000 selected titles for the Library annually. Their considerable assistance in building up our collections of south-east European material is highly valued and appreciated.

As we contemplate our past and plan for the future, we would like to shed some light on the background to collection development in this very considerable area and the challenges which it is facing at present.

Pile of books with a transistor radio and sign reading 'music books'

Detail of a bookshop in Tirana. Photo credit: Edvin Bega.

The publishing industry in Albania has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. While in the early 1990s original literature accounted for 75% of all published literary works, by 2019 the figure was less than 20%. In 1997 the Albanian government collapsed and a mass exodus from the country followed, including gifted writers and translators. Albania is yet to recover from it.

The new private publishing houses began to publish the classic works previously denied to readers in the totalitarian state. Undoubtedly this was inspired by the success of Ismail Kadare, and several other writers, translated into more than 100 languages.

Academic publishing has suffered from mismanagement and politicization, and a lot of research remains unpublished.

The earthquake in 2019 and Covid 19 in 2020 have caused several publishing houses to close, and the book trade has come to a halt. At present the number of new titles is very small. Some signs and activity give hope, though. Book sales during the pandemic have not fallen. It is to be hoped that this trend will continue after the reopening of the country.

Photograph of a book launch in Sarajevo City Hall

A book launch in 2019 in Sarajevo City Hall (formerly National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina). Photo credit: Dragan Marković.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina the production and distribution of books and serials in the period from 1992 to 1997 can be characterized as a patriotic publishing period. Commercial and independent publishers, independent bookstores in south-east Europe and one in Bosnia were saved for the future thanks to the support of the Open Society.

However, patriotic publishing has continued to the present day. In recent years about 2,000 original titles have been published in Bosnia and Herzegovina per year, of which about 70% come from commercial publishers.

In 2019 Bosnia and Herzegovina saw a slight upward trajectory in the number of published titles. This year was also marked by the proactive work of the Association of Publishers to improve the status of writers, publishers and books.

Since the pandemic, bookstores have been closed and publishing houses have significantly reduced production. It is a very uncertain situation for the book market, and reminds our supplier of the siege of Sarajevo in 1992 with a notable difference – this time the enemy is invisible. A book supplied to the British Library that stands out is Bosanska knjiga mrtvih ('The Bosnian book of the dead' (Sarajevo, 2012) ZF.9.a.11211) which gives the names of 95,940 victims of war, and presents detailed data analysis of human losses.

Photograph of blossoming Japanese morello cherry-trees in front of the Bulgarian National Library

Blossoming Japanese morello cherry-trees in front of the Bulgarian National Library “Sts. Cyril and Methodius”, a gift from the Japanese Embassy in Sofia. They are celebrated in April at the beginning of the springtime, symbolizing new life and hope. Photo credit: George Asenov.

Publishing and the book trade in Bulgaria have managed to stay afloat in the turbulent sea of the market economy in the last 30 years of transition. The main trends during this period have been an increase in the number of published titles, from 3,000 to 10,000 in recent years, and a significant reduction in print runs.

Literary publishing consists of about 70% original material and 30% translations. Contemporary Bulgarian literature is the bearer of national values and identity, tales of the nation’s joys and pains, and of one’s social outlook and personal experiences.

In the state of emergency, the activities of bookstores have stopped. Literary events have been cancelled. Many publishing projects are on hold. The number of books published in 2020 will be smaller, with a decrease of about 20-30% expected.

A recent selection of Bulgarian books for the British Library included the complete works of classical Bulgarian poets and writers such as Peio Iavorov (7 volumes, Sofia, 2010-2013; ZF.9.a.10476) and Nikolai Khaitov (17 volumes, Sofia, 2009-2015; ZF.9.a.8322). The newly-acquired Zografski subornik (Sofia, 2019; awaiting pressmark) documents research into the archives and library of the Bulgarian Holy Zograf Monastery on Mount Athos.

Interior of a concert hall in the Croatian Music Institute in Zagreb showing damage from the earthquake

Interior of the Croatian Music Institute in Zagreb. Photo credit: Zvonimir Ferin.

Since the independence of Croatia in 1991, the number of publishers and publishing activities has been constantly on the rise. Many publishing houses disappeared in the years following the crisis of 2008, but the situation improved after 2014, bringing better times for the Croatian book trade.

Unfortunately 2020 has brought new challenges, and publishing is currently in a precarious position. Until April it seemed that the pandemic would not affect the book trade in the country or internationally, but all that has now changed. In Croatia printing of new titles has been reduced by almost 80%, bookstores have been closed, and international partners have stopped ordering.

In addition to this, in March a powerful earthquake hit Zagreb, paralysing the economy and causing damage. Among other historic buildings, the Croatian Music Institute, which houses one of the oldest and most important music collections, was affected.

Six volumes from Povijest hrvatskoga jezika (‘History of the Croatian Language’)

Povijest hrvatskoga jezika (Zagreb, 2009-2015) ZF.9.b.1424.

The British Library has been carefully selecting Croatian books for years, building a collection which grows by about 300 titles a year, mostly in the fields of social sciences, arts, humanities and literature. A fine example of this diligent collecting is the major multi-volume Povijest hrvatskoga jezika (‘History of the Croatian Language’).

Panoramic view of Belgrade

Clouds over the bridges and cranes in Belgrade reflect the mood in the city during the pandemic. Photo credit: Bojan Vukmirica.

Publishing in Serbia since 1992 has seen drastic changes caused by political upheavals. With the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the big state publishing houses collapsed. Soon a large number of private publishing houses resumed their role in the market.

In addition to new private publishers, a distribution centre was established in Belgrade in 2002 to offer publishers a single point from which books could be delivered quickly and safely. The distribution of Serbian and Montenegrin books has been growing ever since, reaching bookstores, university and national libraries and international partners.

For many years the British Library has been acquiring books from Serbia and Montenegro in the fields of history, art, linguistics, literary theory, primary sources, literature and books and serials relevant for research. A good example is the series ‘Koreni’ (‘Roots’) a 35-volume anthropological and geographical study of the settlements, population and customs of Serbian lands (Belgrade, 2010-2017; separate shelfmarks starting with YF.2019.a.15009 for volume 1).

After a two-month break caused by the global infection, publishing in Serbia seems to be returning to normal.

Photograph of three books from the Opere fundamentale collection and an orchid

A selection from the Opere fundamentale collection. Photo credit: Ileana Dumitrache.

In Romania publishing and the book trade exploded in 1990 as public demand was huge – everybody wanted to read as much as possible, to buy books and journals, to make up for the void felt in communist times. The growth of this industry has been constant even if the rate is now lower than in the first decade.

The pandemic put a stop to growth in this sector for about three months. Books were still being published, but the book trade suffered tremendously. Fortunately, things now seem to be returning to normal. Our Romanian supplier has continued to collect books for the British Library during this time, so there will be no effect on the quality or quantity of Romanian books supplied once the British Library resumes its activity.

The series supplied to the British Library, which stand out for its research and editorial work are Manuscrisele Mihai Eminescu, a facsimile edition in 24 volumes of Mihail Eminescu’s manuscripts (ZF.9.d.239), Biblia 1688, a facsimile edition in 24 volumes of the Romanian 1688 Bible (ZF.9.d.265), and Opere fundamentale, an ongoing multi-volume collection of the ‘fundamental works’ of the most important Romanian writers (separate shelfmarks for different publishers, starting with ZF.9.a.10739).

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections