European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

4 posts from October 2022

28 October 2022

The spirit of freedom, or an episode in the life of a private person in the time of transformations

28 October is a National holiday in the Czech Republic. Independence Day (Den vzniku samostatného československého státu) marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918. It followed the publication of the Declaration of Independence of the Czechoslovak Nation by Its Provisional Government (Prohlášení nezávislosti československého národa zatímní vládou československou) on 18 October 1918. As soon as military defeat became inevitable, the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire started to disintegrate. The Allies supported the breakaway demands of the minority nations within the Empire. The 1918 ‘Autumn of Nations’ led to fundamental changes in the configuration of Central Europe.

The main author of the Declaration was the first President of Czechoslovakia, Professor Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, sociologist, political scientist and philosopher.

Photograph of the reading of the Declaration

Reading the Declaration (Source: Wikipedia)

Although the whole process of independence revolutions in Central Europe had the American idea of national self-determination as its theoretical basis, the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence or the Washington Declaration, as it is sometimes called, is evidently the most influenced by American political principles and President Woodrow Wilson’s 14-point programme for world peace:

We accept and shall adhere to the ideals of modern democracy, as they have been the ideals of our nation for centuries. We accept the American principles as laid down by President Wilson: the principles of liberated mankind, of actual equality of nations, and of the governments deriving all their jus power from the consent of the governed. We, the nation of Comenius, cannot but accept these principles expressed in the American Declaration of Independence, the principles of Lincoln, and of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. (Digital copy)

Although the British Library is not among the lucky few who own one of only 50 copies of the first edition, the 1933 edition with parallel Czech and English texts is a really fine piece of Czech book culture.

Pages from Declaration of Independence of the Czechoslovak Nation... in Czech and English

Prohlášení nezávislosti československého národa zatímní vládou československou, osmnáctého října, MDCCCCXVIII. (Declaration of Independence of the Czechoslovak Nation by its Provisional Government, October Eighteenth, MDCCCCXVIII). Prague, 1933. 5549.e.44

The links between the two nations and the presidents were promoted and emphasised in Czechoslovak society through imagery, such as, for example, this postcard published on the website of the US Embassy in the Czech Republic.

American political thought was of great importance for building a new nation state. Changing the focus from global political transformations to individuals, I tried to imagine a 30-year-old Czech banker and Doctor of Law, who, while on a state mission to London, came to the British Museum Library to work in its Reading Room. His name was Vladimír Dědek (1889-1941) and he is also known as an editor of research volumes on history and a translator from English. It would be good to learn more about his life, but for now I can only offer you his letter to the British Museum written in clear handwriting, where he thanks colleagues for their help and offers a donation: Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography in his translation into Czech.

Letter from Vladimír Dědek to the British Museum

Letter from Vladimír Dědek to the British Museum

Letter from Vladimír Dědek to the British Museum

BL archives, DH4, vol. 91, 1918-1920.

The book, which is signed by Dědek, is held in our main printed books collection (a digital copy is available through the National Digital Library of the Czech Republic).

Title page of Benjamin Franklin. Vlastní životopis. Přeložil Judr. V. Dědek signed by Dědek

Benjamin Franklin. Vlastní životopis. Přeložil Judr. V. Dědek. (Prague, [1918]). 10884.aaa.6.

In the preface to the book, having cited Franklin’s words about freedom, Dědek concludes that “the spirit of free America, great in the history of mankind, is blowing from these lines” (p. 24). However, in the words of the father of the nation, Tomáš Masaryk, “freedom is a hard responsibility” (Hovory s T.G. Masarykem. Věk mladosti / K.Č.; ZF.9.a.2782).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

26 October 2022

An Encounter between Knowledge Systems: the Work of Snowchange Cooperative

The Nordic Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale has been transformed for the first time into ‘The Sámi Pavilion’. Three Sámi artists, with the guidance of Sámi elders, have created works that ‘celebrate the art and sovereignty of the Indigenous Sámi People’. One of the chosen artists, Pauliina Feodoroff, a ‘Skolt Sámi theatre director, artist and land guardian from Keväjäu’rr (Finland) and Suõ’nnjel (Russia)’, works with Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’. Honoured with the 2021 St Andrews Prize for the Environment, Snowchange, led by its President and leading climate scientist Tero Mustonen, have a long list of publications, most of which have recently been acquired by the Library.

Pauliina Feodoroff  performing 'Matriarchy' 2022
Still from a performance of Pauliina Feodoroff’s ‘Matriarchy’ as part of the Sámi Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2022. Photo: Chen Chen-Lun / Office for Contemporary Art Norway

As the Climate Emergency creeps up the priority list of governments, often reticent to disturb centuries-long systems of global extraction, indigenous and traditional communities at geographical extremes have been experiencing its devastating effects for decades. For hundreds of years, colonising economic powers have exploited the natural resources of the Arctic. That dispossession depended culturally on the imposition of new knowledge systems and languages that would normalise the exploitative relationship to the land. It is ironic and necessary that we now rely on ancient indigenous wisdom to re(dis)cover nature’s balance, beauty, wildness, in order to survive. Snowchange’s work tells us that by protecting the lands of Sápmi, we protect the Sámi peoples, and vice versa. In Pauliina Feodoroff’s words:

Sámi knowledge is knowledge about how to be with your environment, how to have your relationships with humans and with the world. Therefore, the most effective ways of controlling a people involve destroying the things that compromise the reality of that people. In the North this ancient knowledge has been beaten and destroyed for centuries in order to make the Indigenous peoples forget this knowledge. If there is nothing else to do to stop this, at least we can try to prolong things. To buy us a bit more time to survive. We can try to gather traditional knowledge from the elders who are still holding onto it. We can try to create safe havens of ecosystems, which can contain our knowledges – the fjells, forests, and lakes which remain in pristine condition. (The Eastern Sámi Atlas)

Eastern Sami Atlas cover

Cover of The Eastern Sámi Atlas (Awaiting Shelfmark)

Snowchange’s list of publications, many of which are available to read online, comprise not only scientific reports but also personal histories of significant community figures, hunters and fishermen, as well as novels and poems. This eclectic mix reflects the core idea that the environment, thought broadly, can only be changed by bringing together Western science and traditional knowledge, empirical research and storytelling, the intimately personal, the cosmic and the global.

The monumental Eastern Sámi Atlas ‘provides a clear view of the histories, land use and occupancy’ of the perhaps lesser-researched communities in the Kola Peninsula, speakers of Skolt, Kildin, Ter, and, before their recent extinction, Kemi and Akkala Sámi languages. It contains over 60 maps, unique artwork and photography, poems, songs, and chapters outlining the history, geopolitics and environmental developments in the region.

On the ground, Snowchange is involved in major restoration projects such as the Landscape Rewilding Programme, stretching over 52,000 hectares of which Snowchange owns 3100 hectares in five different areas across Finland, with its flagship site in Linnunsuo, North Karelia. Or, up in the Skolt Sámi area, the Näätämö River collaborative management project is described as the first of its kind in Finland, centring indigenous observations on biodiversity in the river basin to develop new models to protect a major Atlantic Salmon spawning site.

Cover of 'Drowning reindeer, drowning homes'

Covers of (above) Drowning Reindeer, Drowning Homes and (below) Kotoperäinen maailma. Kuivasjärven ympäristöhistoriaa, an environmental history of Kuivasjärvi Lake in the Pirkanmaa region (both awaiting shelfmarks).

Cover of 'Kotoperäinen maailma'

While the organisation regularly updates through scientific reports available online, the research often leads to longer form publications, such as the Atlas mentioned above and the significant Life in the Cyclic World: A Compendium of Traditional Knowledge from the Eurasian North. In the latter, Tero and Kaisu Mustonen ground the two-volume collection of Indigenous observations and perspectives on biodiversity in ‘an attempt for a dialogue, a meeting, perhaps an encounter between the knowledge systems’. In acquiring and promoting these books, we hope the library is doing its small part in surfacing traditional knowledge and joining the conversation.

Indeed, while we have to accept that ‘Indigenous societies of the Arctic feel their viewpoints and understanding of their worlds and cultures has not happened’ when it comes to a matter of ‘decisions regarding the North’, cultural organisations in Northern Europe and beyond are recently engaging in more and more projects that bring to the fore the heritage of Europe’s only Indigenous population. Sámi literature was a focus of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2019, when Norway was guest of honour. The British Museum’s exhibition Arctic: Culture and Climate worked closely in collaboration with Arctic communities. And, most relevant to the Library perhaps, the Digital Access to Sámi Heritage Archives project seeks to locate and make available Sámi cultural heritage in archives and collections across Europe on their upcoming platform, Nuohtti.

Cover of 'It is the Sámi who own this land'

Cover of It is the Sámi who own this Land (Awaiting Shelfmark)

Inspired by such projects, we have begun the process of assessing the library’s own Sámi items, identifying our own potential contributions to Nuohtti, and thereby furthering that dialogue between cultural worlds. But that’s the subject of another post. For now, we thank Snowchange for sharing with us their publications and their knowledge, as only when we try to understand those different cultural worlds, can we start to live justly in the world we share.

We were delighted to hear from Tero Mustonen, chair of Snowchange Cooperative, who wanted to comment on this collaboration:

Whilst initially being pleasantly surprised by the contact from the British Library, we responded swiftly to the exchange and deep understanding the Curators saw in our work. Now all publications by the knowledge holders, scientists, reindeer herders, Indigenous women, fishers and Elders are in the esteemed British Library. Acts of kindness, learning and cultural dialogue can only be achieved by individuals who offer the first gesture. This has now happened. We thank the Library and especially Pardaad Chamsaz for being the guiding light in creating a connection between small northern villages and the Library. For these efforts we will dedicate a recovering boreal peatland – a central site in the fight against climate change and maintenance of northern biodiversity – to the British Library in the spring 2023 to mark the dialogue, mark the courage and ultimately, mark the understanding across cultures that the world needs. In this way, this will be remembered and there will be a physical, natural symbol of this act. We thank the Library.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections   

Boreal Peatland Restored

An area of boreal peatland restored by Snowchange (photo: Tero Mustonen)

20 October 2022

Annie Ernaux’s time in London

On 10 October 2022, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the French author Annie Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory.”

A major literary presence in contemporary France, and the author of more than 20 books, Ernaux has been writing since the 1970s, and is no stranger to literary recognition. Her autobiography Les années won both the Prix Marguerite Duras and the Prix Francois Mauriac in 2008 as well as the Italian Premio Strega in 2016; it was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2019 when it was translated into English by Alison L Strayer – on this occasion Ernaux gave an interview to the Institut Francais in London. She had also received the Prix Renaudot for La Place. In 2017, Ernaux was awarded the Marguerite Yourcenar Prize for her life’s work. The British Library holds her books both in French and in English translation, from the earliest, Les armoires vides (1974) to the latest, Le Jeune Homme (2022).

Cover of Annie Ernaux, Ecrire la vie with a portrait of the author

Cover of Annie Ernaux, Ecrire la vie (Paris, 2011). YF.2012.a.18786

As brilliantly demonstrated by Elise Hugueny-Leger in an article from 2018, Ernaux has been the subject of academic publications since the early 1990s, and notably, very early on, in the English-speaking world, via a chapter by Loren Day in Contemporary French Fiction by Women: Feminist Perspectives (1990) and Diana Holmes in French Women's writing 1848-1994 (1996). She has since become an academic subject of study in her own right, while slowly becoming more accessible to the general public, through her becoming more prominent in the media and, also, through a change in her style. She is now a figurehead of contemporary French Women writers, but one of Ernaux’ wishes is that her books “may be read and received by a great number of readers who don’t necessarily have a university background” (E Hugueny-Léger).

Melding the biographical and the sociological, deploying an array of autobiographical novels, illustrated photographic diaries, and biographical narratives, some of her publications are referred by Michel Tournier’s term “Journaux extimes,” because, despite being in the format of a personal journal, they focus on the external and on the observation of the author’s surroundings. Ernaux’s genre is difficult to define in one word, but it is based on and around her life, and her experiences, and what she observes, recounted in a deliberately pared down and at times clinical voice. “Her work is uncompromising and written in plain language, scraped clean,” said Anders Olsson of the Swedish Academy on Thursday as he announced her accolade.

Cover of Annie Ernaux, Le jeune homme

Cover of Annie Ernaux, Le jeune homme (Paris, 2022) YF.2022.a.24142

Annie Ernaux was born in 1940 to working-class parents in Normandy. In 1958, she spent a summer looking after children in a summer camp and her sexual awakening during that time is recounted in Memoire de fille (2016). In 1960, she left home to study in Rouen. In the following years she married, had two sons, and qualified as a secondary school teacher. In 1974 she published Les armoires vides, a fictionalised account of the illegal abortion she had undergone ten years earlier. Ernaux continued to teach until she retired in 2000, and now devotes herself to writing.

In 1960, Annie Ernaux had spent several months as an au pair in London looking after two boys, Jonathan and Brian Portner. During this stay, she started writing her first novel, which remains unpublished. In the anthology Ecrire la vie, a few pages are devoted to this period in Ernaux’s life, with photographs and extracts from her diary.

Annie Ernaux portrait

Annie Ernaux in the 1960s. Photo credit: L’Inventoire 

The following touching and surprising story, which is recounted on the website Annie Ernaux, focuses on the author and her work and, through its largely bilingual construction, attempts to bring her work to the attention of the anglophone world. The site is maintained by Elise Hugueny-Léger (University of St Andrews) and Lyn Thomas (University of Sussex).

I see a miraculous convergence of coincidences. First there is a writer and translator, Anthony Rudolf, who reads Mémoire de fille the year after its publication. He is struck by the mention of the Portners, in Finchley, as among his acquaintances there is a certain Jonathan Portner, a dentist located a few miles away. Informed by Anthony Rudolf, Jonathan Portner tells his daughter Hannah about this discovery. Now Hannah Portner is studying French with Elise Hugueny-Léger, a lecturer at the University of St. Andrews, whose thesis focuses on my work and who has participated in many conferences I have attended. Thanks to Elise Hugueny-Léger, Hannah has read and loved one of my books, Journal du dehors, which inspired her to create a beautiful text about Paris and Madrid: Journal de deux voyages. Observation et mise en mots du réel. Things could not have come full circle in a more wonderful way… From one woman’s writing – it was in the summer of 1960, au pair with the Portner family, that I started a novel – to another woman’s writing… 

Some might say that this observation of life as a wonderful circle might be uncharacteristic. But the impression, the mark left by London on Ernaux is also recorded in her usual clean, sharp and yet somewhat poetic style:

‘L’Angleterre, Londres anesthésiant et doux, eaux éternellement couleur d’étang, maison des Portner, feutrée. Si j’ai eu vingt ans là-bas, je ne m’en suis jamais vraiment aperçue.’ (Mai 1970)

“London, London soft and narcotic, waters eternally the colour of marshes, The Portners’ house, hushed and elegant. If I ever were twenty there, I never realised”. (May 1970)

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further reading

Annie Ernaux, Les armoires vides (Paris, 1974) X.908/29849.

Annie Ernaux, La place (Paris, 1983) X.958/33342

Annie Ernaux & Marie, Marc, L’usage de la photo (Paris, 2005) YF.2006.a.37419

Annie Ernaux, Les années (Paris, 2008) YF.2008.a.14343

Annie Ernaux, Mémoire de fille (Paris, 2016) YF.2016.a.23982

Annie Ernaux, Le jeune homme (Paris, 2022) YF.2022.a.24142

Contemporary French fiction by women: Feminist perspectives, edited by Margaret Atack and Phil Powrie (Manchester, 1990) YC.1991.a.445

Elise Hugueny-Léger, ‘Annie Ernaux’, French Studies: a Quarterly Review, 72 (2018) 256-269. ELD Digital store, doi: 10.1093/fs/kny014 

D. Holmes, French Women’s Writing, 1848–1994 (London, 1996), pp. 246–65. DRT ELD.DS.419322

 

14 October 2022

Vicente Salgado: a new acquisition

Brother Vicente Salgado (1732-1802) was a tertiary, that is, a member of the Third Order of St Francis, set up by the saint to allow admission to married people.

Frei Vicente wrote extensively on antiquities and on the history of his order. Innocêncio Francisco da Silva lists six printed works and 18 works in manuscript. With this new acquisition, the BL now boasts four. One of these is his history of his Order, another a history of the Algarve. His knottiest work of erudition was his study (modestly entitled Conjectures) on a medal found at Setúbal.

Medal from, Conjecturas sobre huma medalha de bronze...

Medal from, Conjecturas sobre huma medalha de bronze com caracteres desconhecidos, e com os latinos VETTO, achada no lugar da Trova defronte da villa de Setubal (Lisboa, 1784) 7758.a.22

He dedicates 72 pages to this medal and comes to some minor conclusions. It’s genuine, and VETTO refers to … the ancient tribe of Vettones. (He doesn’t consider the possibility that the ‘unknown characters’ are just squiggles.)

The Franciscans were a preaching order from their earliest days, speaking to the people in their own languages, and this meant they were also devoted to the learning of languages. In England they’re seen as promotors of literature in English (see Fleming). The majority of early publications featuring the indigenous languages of Latin America were the work of Franciscans (see Ortega Sánchez and Kobayashi).

Title page of Vicente Salgado, Origem, e progresso das linguas orientaes na Congregaçao da Terceira Ordem de Portugal

Title page of Vicente Salgado, Origem, e progresso das linguas orientaes na Congregaçao da Terceira Ordem de Portugal (Lisbon, 1790) RB.23.a.39568

This recent acquisition is an account of the Portuguese Franciscans who studied Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac and the languages of Africa and Asia as early as the 15th century. Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac were of course Biblical languages, but Greek and Arabic also had a practical function as linguae francae.

Special topics are the missionaries who worked in the Congo from 1484 to the early seventeenth century (pp. 10-22) and the programme of study inaugurated under King Joseph I in 1759 (pp. 53-73).

Innocêncio rather damns this work with faint praise:

Although the style, method and language of this book, like all the author’s, are far from being models, it is after all of use for the information – hard to find easily elsewhere -- it gives on this interesting branch of our literary history. (Dicionario bibliographico português, VII 441-2)

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References/further reading:

Vicente Salgado, Memoria ecclesiasticas do reino do Algarve (Lisbon, 1786) 4625.c.4

Vicente Salgado, Conjecturas sobre huma medalha de bronze com caracteres desconhecidos, e com os Latinos Vetto, achada no lugar da Troya defronte a villa de Setuval (Lisbon, 1784) 7758.a.22

Vicente Salgado, Compendio historico da Congregaçao da Terceira Ordem da Portugal (Lisbon, 1793) 4625.c.3

Delfín Ortega Sánchez, La pedagogía de la evangelización franciscana en el Virreinato de Nueva España (siglo XVI) (Saragossa, 2013) YF.2015.a.9942

José María Kobayashi, La educación como conquista (empresa franciscana en México) (México, 1974)
X.529/20940

Fleming, John V., An introduction to the Franciscan literature of the Middle Ages (Chicago 1977)
X:981/21760

Innocêncio Francisco da Silva, Dicionario bibliographico português (Lisbon, 1858-1972) HLR 011.269