14 October 2021
Content warning: This blog reproduces an image from a historical publication which is now considered racist
Last week, the Zanzibari writer Abdulrazak Gurnah became the first black African author in 35 years to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Judges from the Swedish Academy highlighted his ‘uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism’ as a key reason for the distinction.
Much of Gurnah’s writing is set in East Africa, and his latest novel, Afterlives, explores the impact of German colonialism on the region. The novel’s protagonists are residents of a coastal town whose lives become shaped by interactions with German soldiers, settlers and missionaries.
Gurnah’s receipt of the Nobel Prize is not only a testament to his literary prowess, but also reflects a long overdue process of engagement by European cultural institutions with the history of colonialism. As part of a three-month PhD placement, I am investigating what the British Library’s collections reveal about German colonialism and its legacies.
Cover of Abdulrazak Gurnah’s latest novel, Afterlives (London, 2021)
By consulting curators in various collections and exploring the Library’s holdings in their full breadth, including sound recordings, maps and postage stamps as well as written material, I hope to identify the potential for interrogating European accounts and locating under-represented, colonised and subaltern voices.
The era of formal German colonialism was short compared to other European empires such as Britain and France. Germany, which did not become a unified state until 1871, expanded into eastern Africa and modern-day Namibia, Cameroon and Togo in the 1880s, and established colonies in China and the Pacific a decade later. After defeat in World War One, Germany lost all of its overseas territories, with Britain taking over most of German East Africa.
The involvement of German speakers in colonial projects, however, has a longer history. In the first half of the 19th century, missionaries from German regions travelled to Africa to propagate Christianity.
One such individual was Johann Ludwig Krapf, whose activities were pointed out to me by Mariam de Haan from the British Library’s Asian and African Studies department. A clergyman from Württemberg, Krapf worked in East Africa between 1837 and 1855, and was one of the first Europeans to document the Swahili, Maasai and other regional languages.
In an account of his travels, available digitally in German on the British Library’s website, Krapf proposed that European nations take charge of different areas of Africa and Asia. Each power would place the indigenous peoples under their tutelage until Christianity had brought them to ‘full maturity’.
Krapf’s geographical findings are shown on W.D. Cooley’s ‘Map of part of Africa, South of the Equator, shewing the discoveries of the Rev. Dr. Krapf and Rev. J. Rebmann' (London, c. 1864) 2.b.14.
Krapf’s life provides an example of the transnational entanglement of European actors in ‘civilising’ projects. He did not travel under a German organisation, but rather as a member of the British Church Missionary Society, and likened his activities to Scottish counterpart David Livingstone’s work in southern Africa. In London, the cartographer William Desborough Colley published a map (shown above) charting the geographical findings of Krapf and fellow German missionary Johannes Rebmann.
In the mid-1880s, the German East Africa Company sought to gain economic and political power in the region. Following heavy local resistance to the company’s administration, the German government took control of the territory in 1891.
The contemporary and retrospective literature published by colonial officers active in East Africa contains racist stereotypes, and frequently masks the brutal realities of German practices. However, the texts occasionally reveal how local resistance undermined imperial authority.
Early opposition came in particular from the Hehe ethnic group. In 1891, Hehe warriors ambushed a German column in what became known as the Battle of Lugalo. The German defeat, with heavy losses, was described as a ‘catastrophe’ in the memoirs of the officer Tom von Prince, who acknowledged admiringly how the Hehe leaders had exploited their enemy’s vulnerability when marching in line.
Cover of Tom von Prince’s Gegen Araber und Wahehe. Erinnerungen aus meiner ostafrikanischen Leutnantszeit, 1890-1895 (Berlin, 1914) 9061.d.35.
Accounts of indigenous resistance in the British Library’s collections are not limited to German perspectives. The Sound and Moving Image catalogue contains interviews recorded by Alison Redmayne, a researcher who conducted fieldwork in Tanzania during the 1960s. Redmayne collected interviewees’ descriptions of the Battle of Lugalo and the Maji-Maji Rebellion, a major uprising between 1905 and 1907.
The uprising began when a spiritual medium, Kinjikitile Ngwale, claimed that a water-based medicine (maji means water in Swahili) would protect rebels from German bullets. After Tanzania became independent in 1961 following British rule, the Maji Maji Rebellion was celebrated as a moment of unity between different ethnic groups.
Ebrahim Hussein’s popular play Kinjeketile, published in 1969, reimagined the leader – who was executed by colonial officers early in the rebellion – as a tragic hero who privately doubted the power of his ‘sacred water’ but kept silent to preserve the newfound solidarity among the rebels.
Cover of the English translation of Ebrahim Hussein’s Kinjeketile (Dar es Salaam, 1970), X.908/26258
Early postcolonial interest in the Maji Maji Rebellion was also reflected in an oral history project at the University of Dar es Salaam in the late 1960s, in which students interviewed individuals who experienced the uprising. A published collection of material from the project, including transcriptions of the interviews in local languages and translations into English, can be found in our holdings.
In recent years, historians have revisited the interviews and highlighted underexplored passages which challenge the notion of the Maji Maji Rebellion as an interethnic struggle against European domination. Thaddeus Sunseri, for example, has pointed to instances of collaboration with the Germans and emphasised the variety of motives behind participation in the revolt.
Introductory page of the University of Dar es Salaam’s Maji Maji research project, 1968. Collected papers (Dar es Salaam, 1969) X.805/195.
Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Afterlives, too, illustrates the complex choices faced by individuals whose lives are disrupted under foreign rule, and Gurnah’s works are a reminder that understandings of the colonial past are constantly evolving. The British Library does not contain everything there is to know about European colonialism: accounts from colonisers and European perspectives are likely to be better represented than the voices of the colonised, which sometimes survive only in mediated form. Nonetheless, the collections offer potential for new insights which can only be realised through dialogue across departments and across source collections.
I have been astounded by the wide range of relevant material which I have found in the library so far, and, when speaking to colleagues, I think they have been surprised too. As my project continues, I look forward to sharing further library resources for investigating colonialism with colleagues and library users.
Rory Hanna, PhD Placement Student, German Collections
References and further reading:
Abdulrazak Gurnah, Afterlives (London, 2021), in order
Abdulrazak Gurnah, Paradise (London, 1994), Nov.1994/631
Sebastian Conrad, German Colonialism: A Short History (Cambridge, 2012) YC.2011.a.17036
Clarissa Vierke (ed.), Johann Ludwig Krapf: the life and work of a missionary and scholar-traveller in nineteenth-century East Africa (Nairobi, 2009) YD.2009.a.6998
Clemens Gutl (ed.), Johann Ludwig Krapf: „Memoir on the East African slave trade“. Ein unveröffentlichtes Dokument aus dem Jahr 1853 (Vienna, 2002) X.0909/1053.(73)
J.L. Krapf, Reisen in Ost-Afrika, ausgeführt in dem Jahren 1837-55, etc (Stuttgart, 1858) 10096.e.30.
J.L. Krapf, Travels, researches and missionary labours, during an eighteen years' residence in Eastern Africa (London, 1860) 010095.gg.34.
Andrew Roberts (ed.), Tanzania Before 1900 (Nairobi, 1968), X.709/15877.
Alison Redmayne, 'The Wahehe people of Tanganyika', PhD thesis (Oxford, 1965)
J.B. Gewald, ‘Colonial Warfare: Hehe and World War I, the Wars Besides Maji Maji in South-Western Tanzania’, African Historical Review 40:2 (2008), pp. 1-27, 0732.493000
Tom von Prince, Gegen Araber und Wahehe. Erinnerungen aus meiner ostafrikanischen Leutnantszeit, 1890-1895 (Berlin, 1914) 9061.d.35.
Carl Peters, Das Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Schutzgebiet (Munich, 1895), 10094.e.29.
Felicitas Becker und Jigal Beez (eds), Der Maji-Maji-Krieg in Deutsch-Ostafrika, 1905-1907 (Berlin, 2005) YF.2006.a.30647
James Giblin and Jamie Monson (eds), Maji Maji: Lifting the Fog of War (Leiden, 2010) 0733.775000 v. 20
Ebrahim Hussein, Kinjeketile (Dar es Salaam, 1970) X.908/26258
University College, Dar es Salaam, Department of History, Maji Maji research project, 1968. Collected papers (Dar es Salaam, 1969) X.805/195.
Thaddeus Sunseri, ‘Statist Narratives and Maji Maji Ellipses’, The International Journal of African Historical Studies 33:3 (2000), pp. 567–84, 4541.580000
Elijah Greenstein, ‘Making History: Historical Narratives of the Maji Maji’, Penn History Review 17:2 (2010), pp. 60-77
Stefan Noack et al (eds), Deutsch-Ostafrika: Dynamiken europäischer Kulturkontakte und Erfahrungshorizonte im kolonialen Raum (Berlin, 2019), YF.2020.a.11433
27 September 2021
Last weekend’s German Federal election marked the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel’s 16 years in office as Chancellor. Although she will remain in a caretaker role while the German political parties negotiate to form a ruling coalition, once agreement is reached she will stand down and retire from active political life. As the first woman and the first politician from the former German Democratic Republic in the role, Merkel has been the subject of great interest and many books. The following is an overview of some of the many that the British Library has acquired over the years.
Angela Merkel, In unruhiger Zeit: Reden und Aufsätze aus drei Jahren deutscher Einheit (Düsseldorf, 1994) YA.1995.a.651
Merkel first arrived on our shelves in 1994 via a collection of her speeches and essays, In unruhiger Zeit (‘In Unsettled Times’). The book bears witness to her swift rise in politics: she only became politically active in late 1989, joined the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) the following summer, and was appointed Minister for Women and Young People in the newly-united German government in 1991. As the journalist Fides Krause-Brewe says in her introductory essay, Merkel’s was “a career that only a revolution could produce”. The first ‘political biography’ of Merkel in the BL, by Wolfgang Stock, followed in 2000.
By 2005 we had acquired two more biographies and a book based on interviews with Merkel herself, Mein Weg (‘My Path’). After Merkel became Chancellor that year there was naturally an explosion of interest and publications. A theme often highlighted was the fact of Merkel being a woman, sometimes contrasted with male election rivals such as Gerhard Schröder (2005) and Peer Steinbrück (2013). Merkel is also sometimes compared to other women in positions of power and to contemporary female heads of state, for example in Patricia Lessnerkraus’s Merkel, Macht, Politik (‘Merkel, Power, Politics’).
Clare Throp, Angela Merkel (London, 2014) YKL.2014.a.394
As one of the world’s most powerful women, Merkel is often depicted as a role model. She features as one of the ‘Extraordinary Women’ in an educational series aimed at 9-11 year olds, and Joyce Marie Mushaben’s Becoming Madam Chancellor is “dedicated to girls everywhere looking for positive political role models”. Two of Merkel’s political nicknames show how such role models are still needed. Her mentor, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, called her his ‘Mädchen’ (‘girl’), despite the fact that Merkel was a professional woman in her mid-30s with a doctorate in quantum chemistry. A 2001 study of her background and her rise in the CDU was titled Das Mädchen und die Macht (‘The Girl and Power’). In recent years she has often been referred to as ‘Mutti’ (‘mum’), a title perhaps affectionately meant but which can also be read as patronising: it’s hard to imagine a male politician being referred to by equivalent masculine terms.
Merkel’s GDR background has also been subject to much study and speculation. In a ‘collective biography’ from 2010 Michael Lühmann compares her with two other politicians from the East, Matthias Platzeck and Wolfgang Thierse. He defines all three as ‘Wendepolitiker’ – figures who only became active in politics around the time the Berlin Wall fell but who quickly became familiar and influential in the years that followed. Meanwhile Ralf Georg Reuth and Günther Lachmann go in search of Merkel’s GDR life in Das erste Leben der Angela M. (‘The First Life of Angela M.’). The famously reticent Merkel once said of this period “People know hardly anything about 35 years of my life”, but it is well known that her father was a Lutheran pastor, and her own faith is the focus of a study by Volker Resing, Angela Merkel, die Protestantin (‘Angela Merkel, the Protestant’). Resing later edited a collection of speeches given by Merkel at national church meetings, shedding further light on her beliefs and how they influence her politics.
Volker Resing, Angela Merkel, die Protestantin: ein Portät (Leipzig, ) YF.2012.a.8103
The majority of our holdings about Merkel are in German, but of course she also attracted international attention. We have a biography in French from 2006, but our earliest English-language work, rather surprisingly, dates from as late as 2013, and was written in the context of the 2008 financial crisis and its lasting negative effects in the Eurozone. In the same year a biography by Stefan Kornelius was translated into English, with an additional chapter for a UK audience entitled ‘The British Problem’. The problems in the Eurozone also form the background to Nicolas Barotte’s François & Angela, a study of the relationship between Merkel and French President François Hollande during the period. Despite the affectionate relationship implied by the cover photograph, Barotte highlights the tensions and disagreements between the two, calling them a “couple in crisis”.
Nicolas Barotte, François et Angela: Hollande contre Merkel: histoire secrète d'un couple en crise (Paris, )
Although the Eurozone crisis and then Merkel’s welcoming of Syrian refugees to Germany in 2015 did considerable damage to her popularity at home, most of the publications we hold about her appear even-handed in their allocation of praise or blame. One of the exceptions is a study by Gertrud Köhler, a fierce critic of Merkel. Its title Die Patin (‘The Godmother’) with its mafia overtones gives an idea of Köhler’s opinion. Her latest book on Merkel is described as a ‘requiem’, and claims that Merkel’s leadership has weakened Germany. Another critical voice is Dirk Kurbjuweit, editor of news magazine Der Spiegel whose book Alternativlos (‘No Alternative’ – a term Merkel used to defend her handling of the Eurozone crisis) accuses her of failing to rise to the challenges of office, preferring a reactive to a proactive approach when faced with problems.
Despite this, Merkel’s approval rating in Germany is high as she leaves office, and in a YouGov poll this summer she was rated the most popular world leader by voters in six countries. Furthermore, a sense of affection for the former chancellor in Germany is reflected in the success of the ‘cosy crime novel’, Miss Merkel, by David Safier, which has Merkel retiring to a rural village near her childhood home and solving a murder mystery. And a limited edition commemorative Merkel teddy bear swiftly sold out this year.
David Safier, Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark (Hamburg, 2020) On order
No doubt we will continue to acquire books in coming years about Angela Merkel, her time in office, and her legacy (a collection of her major speeches is on order – and dare we hope for her memoirs?), building on our collections about perhaps the most significant figure in recent German and European history.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Wolfgang Stock, Angela Merkel: eine politische Biographie (Munich, 2000.) YA.2002.a.21061
Mein Weg: Angela Merkel im Gespräch mit Hugo Müller-Vogg (Hamburg, 2004) YF.2005.a.8655
Marcus Maurer [et al.], Schröder gegen Merkel: Wahrnehmung und Wirkung des TV-Duells 2005 im Ost-West-Vergleich (Wiesbaden, 2007) YF.2008.a.4259
Janis Eitner, Macht Macht männlich? Das Bild von Angela Merkel und Gerhard Schröder in der deutschen Tagespresse (Marburg, 2007) YF.2009.a.11222
Merkel gegen Steinbrück : Analysen zum TV-Duell vor der Bundestagswahl 2013 ed. byThorsten Faas, Jürgen Maier, Michaela Maier (Wiesbaden, 2017) YF.2019.a.6423
Florence Absolu, Les femmes politiques dans la presse: mythèmes, biographèmes et archétype : les représentations genrées de Ségolène Royal et Angela Merkel dans la presse française et allemande pendant leurs campagnes électorales = Politikerinnen in der Presse: Mytheme, Biographeme und Archetyp : Die gender-betonte Darstellung von Angela Merkel und Ségolène Royal in den deutschen und französischen Printmedien während ihrer Wahlkampagnen (Würzburg, 2014) YF.2015.a.3012
Regina Richter, Angela Merkel und andere kluge Frauen : Selbst- und Fremdbilder von Frauen in politischen Spitzenpositionen (Saarbrücken, 2007) YF.2010.a.3328
Joyce Marie Mushaben, Becoming Madam Chancellor: Angela Merkel and the Berlin Republic (Cambridge, 2017) YC.2018.a.511
Evelyn Roll, Das Mädchen und die Macht: Angela Merkels demokratischer Aufbruch (Berlin, 2001) YA.2002.a.38421
Michael Lühmann, Der Osten im Westen, oder, Wie viel DDR steckt in Angela Merkel, Matthias Platzeck und Wolfgang Thierse? Versuch einer Kollektivbiographie (Stuttgart, 2010) YF.2011.a.25124
Ralf Georg Reuth & Günther Lachmann, Das erste Leben der Angela M. 2nd ed. (Munich, 2013) YF.2016.a.1155
Angela Merkel, Daran glaube ich: christliche Standpunkte, ed. By Volker Resing (Leipzig, [2013?]) YF.2017.a.14480
Baudouin Bollaert, Angela Merkel (Monaco, 2006) YF.2008.a.25729
Alan Crawford & Tony Czuczka, Angela Merkel: a chancellorship forged in crisis (Chichester, 2013) YC.2013.a.12600
Stefan Kornelius, Angela Merkel: the chancellor and her world, translated by Anthea Bell and Christopher Moncrieff (Richmond, Surrey, 2013) YC.2014.a.7686. Original German edition: Angela Merkel : die Kanzlerin und ihre Welt (Hamburg, 2013) YF.2015.a.20431
Gertrud Höhler, Die Patin: wie Angela Merkel Deutschland umbaut, 2nd ed. (Zurich, 2012) YF.2014.a.8445
Gertrud Höhler, Angela Merkel: das Requiem (Berlin, 2020) Awaiting shelfmark
Dirk Kurbjuweit, Alternativlos: Merkel, die Deutschen und das Ende der Politik (Munich, 2014) YF.2015.a.3659.
Angela Merkel, Die grossen Reden, ed. Caroline Draeger (Munich, 2021) On order
Gerd Langguth, Angela Merkel. 2nd ed. (Munich, 2005) YF.2006.a.16958
Matthew Qvortrup, Angela Merkel: Europe’s most influential leader, Expanded and updated edition. (London, 2017) YK.2018.a.1175
31 August 2021
As we come to the end of Women in Translation Month 2021, this blog post brings together three books by women authors in translation from across Europe.
Mercè Rodoreda, In Diamond Square, translated by Peter Bush (London, ). ELD.DS.1778
Chosen by Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Studies
Written when its author was still living in exile, Mercè Rodoreda’s novel tells the story of a young woman in working-class Barcelona from the early 1930s to the aftermath of Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. At a dance in the Square, the impressionable Natàlia meets a confident young man, Quimet, and soon falls under his spell. He insists that she will be his wife within a year and on giving her the nickname ‘Pidgey’. Inevitably they do marry, and they have two children. However, Quimet now earns little as a carpenter and decides to rear pigeons in their flat. Natàlia takes on work as a cleaner in a middle-class household, adding to the burden of her own housework.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Quimet goes off to fight on the Republican side and is killed. The full impact of the conflict is now conveyed as food and fuel run short. Natàlia loses her job and sends her son away to a camp for refugee boys to ensure he will be fed. After being forced to sell all her possessions to survive, she finally contemplates suicide for herself and her children. However, a providential conversation with a local grocer, who offers her work, saves her. The pair get married and Natàlia achieves an accommodation with the possibilities offered by her new existence.
Rodoreda’s first-person narrative effectively conveys the experiences and reactions of a woman initially unprepared for marriage in a male-dominated society. It also graphically documents the resilience required of ordinary people during war. The final chapters articulate the trauma of coming to terms with the past.
First published in 1962, La plaça del Diamant has now been translated into English three times and into more than twenty other languages. It remains one of the most successful works of Catalan fiction.
Mercè Rodoreda, La plaça del Diamant (Barcelona, 1962) 11303.n.12
Mercè Rodoreda, The Pigeon Girl, trans. Eda O’Shiel (London, 1967) X.909/10529
Mercè Rodoreda, The Time of the Doves, trans. David H. Rosenthal (New York, 1980)
Christine Brückner, Desdemona – if you had only spoken! Eleven uncensored speeches of eleven incensed women, translated by Eleanor Bron (London, 1992) YK.1993.a.5906
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Romance Collections
The prolific and successful German writer Christine Brückner published this collection of dramatic monologues in 1983, giving voices to well-known fictional and historical women, from Clytemnestra to Gudrun Ensslin. Some, like Katharina Luther, address their husbands. Others speak to other women, including Brückner herself criticising the overly-idealistic utopianism of 19th-century reformer Malwida von Meysenbug. In the title monologue, Desdemona’s willingness to confront Othello’s suspicions changes her fate: he listens and they reconcile. In other stories, the women reflect on their lives and situations, speaking as much to themselves as to any imagined interlocutor.
In the introduction to her English translation, the actor Eleanor Bron explains how “during the interval of a dreary play” in Hamburg she saw photographs from a production of the pieces and was immediately intrigued. She bought Brückner’s book and resolved to resurrect the German she had studied at university to prepare a translation, an experience she describes both entertainingly and insightfully.
Daniela Hodrová, Prague. I See a City. Translated by David Short; Foreword by Rajendra Chitnis. 2nd rev. ed. (Folkestone, 2015). Awaiting shelfmark.
Chosen by Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
Have you ever been to Prague? If you have visited this wonderful city, you have probably noticed that Prague radiates some magical gleam that is not always easy to catch. Prague has its own unique charm and opens up to those who care to enquire about its history and character. While wandering through the streets of Prague, which guidebook did you have in your hands: Lonely Planet, Eyewitness Travel, or Rough Guides? Maybe, next time you can take Prague. I See a City by Daniela Hodrová.
Born in 1946 in Prague, Hodrová is one of the most distinct and original authors in contemporary Czech literature. Being a literary scholar by training and working as a researcher, she is very aware of rich literary traditions and techniques, as well as theoretical issues of aesthetics, theology and philosophy. Prague. I See a City is a very stylish and moving description of the city through a woman’s eyes. The author takes her readers through the city of her life. It is full of love and dreams, sounds of music and every-day scenes. Written straight after the November 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia (translated into English in 2011), the book is a poetic meditation on the history of the country and how this is reflected in a woman's life and in the city itself: “City of torment! City of puppets! City of Monsters! In all likelihood I am partly to blame for your awakening, I have brought you to life with words.”
09 August 2021
In August 2020, Belarus was catapulted onto the world stage as a wave of anti-government protests swept the country. Although demonstrations had begun in May after President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, declared his intention to run in the 2020 elections, the protests intensified when the first official results were announced on the evening of 9 August.
Thousands of protesters were arrested in the months that followed, with human rights organisations documenting hundreds of cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees. Local and international journalists covering the events were also arrested and/or stripped of accreditation, internet access was periodically blocked, and an increasing number of books and media channels have been labelled ‘extremist’.
A year on from the elections, this blog post brings together accounts, reflections and creative responses to the protests. Published outside of Belarus – in Germany, Poland and Sweden – they include diaries, photographs, poems, essays and a play.
L. Pirs, Ia vykhozhu, Plakaty belorusskikh protestov (Warsaw, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark
In November 2020, 31-year old artist Raman Bandarenka died in police custody after being arrested at an anti-government protest in Minsk. His last known words, Ia vykhozhu (‘I’m going out’), which he posted on Telegram, became a rallying cry for thousands of protestors in the days following his death. Those words also form the title of this book, which brings together over 350 photographs of posters from the 2020 protests in Belarus. Bold, direct, heartfelt and at times humorous, the posters speak to the creativity of the protestors and the range of issues they are fighting for.
Andrei Kureichik, ‘Insulted. Belarus’, translated by John Freedman, in Plays International & Europe, Vol. 35, Nos 9-12 (Winter 2020), pp. 30-45. P.903/1085
Written by leading Belarusian playwright Andrei Kureichik, Insulted. Belarus (Обиженные. Беларусь(сия)) is a short, powerful play focusing on the days immediately before and after the contested presidential elections on 9 August. Through a series of monologues, we are introduced to seven fictional and non-fictional characters: Oldster, based on long-time president Alexander Lukashenko; Novice, representing opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (Svetlana Tikhanovskaya); Youth, Lukashenko’s video-game obsessed teenage son Kolya; Cheerful, a fictional character who believes in the power of the Universe; Raptor, a storm trooper engaged to Cheerful’s sister; Corpse, a 26-year-old football fan who detests the old regime; and Mentor, a middle-aged teacher involved in rigging the elections.
Kureichik contacted translator John Freedman in early September 2020 with a request to translate the play into English and to bring it to the attention of an international audience. Nearly a year later, it has been translated into more than 20 languages and performed (as readings, productions, videos and films) in more than 25 countries, including the US, Nigeria, Slovakia, Turkey and the UK. Freedman’s English translation was published in the Winter 2020 issue of Plays International & Europe.
You can watch a reading of Insulted. Belarus in English here.
BELARUS! Das weibliche Gesicht der Revolution (Berlin, 2020). YF.2021.a.8763
Much has been written about the central role women have played in the Belarus protests, from opposition figures Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Maria Kalesnikava to the defiant images of women, dressed in white and holding flowers, standing against police brutality.
Published in Germany in late 2020, this book (‘Belarus! The Female Face of the Revolution’) brings together analytical and journalistic texts, poems, essays, and documents by women. Among them are the poets and translators Iulia Tsimafeeva (listen to her contribution ‘My European Poem’) and Volʹha Hapeeva, artist and activist Marina Naprushkina, and Irina Solomatina, Head of the Council for the Belarusian Organization of Working Women and co-author of a 2015 book on women’s activism in Belarus.
Another of the contributors, the philosopher Olga Shparaga, has written a separate book on the topic of women’s participation in the protests, Die Revolution hat ein weibliches Gesicht. Der Fall Belarus (‘The Revolution has a Female Face. The Case of Belarus’).
Parallels have of course been drawn with Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich’s 1985 work The Unwomanly Face of War, which documents the experience and memories of Soviet women who fought during the Second World War. As Shparaga has pointed out, however, a key difference is that women have become visible in Belarus through the protests.
Alexievich recently announced that she is also focusing on the role of women in the pro-democracy movement in Belarus for her new book.
Julia Tsimafejeva, Dagar i Belarus (Stockholm, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark
Iulia Tsimafeeva (Julia Tsimafejeva) also kept a diary during the protests, which was translated into Swedish and published at the end of 2020 as Dagar i Belarus (‘Days in Belarus’). Extracts from Tsimafeeva’s diary appeared in English in the Financial Times, including a passage in which she describes preparing to join the protests:
When we leave the house, we go prepared. First, I dress carefully, in case I end up spending a night or two in the detention centre. Second, I intensively water dozens of my plants. Third, we leave our cat enough food for a few days. (One of my friends says that her cat has become fat with all these Sunday rallies.) Fourth, we take passports and a bottle of water. It’s important, too, to clear the history of your mobile phone, as these are often checked in the detention centres.
Now ready, our small family brigade goes out into the street, into the unknown.
Tsimafeeva’s third poetry collection, ROT, was published in Belarus in July 2020, YF.2021.a.4086.
Vitali Alekseenok, Die weißen Tage von Minsk (Frankfurt am Main, 2021). YF.2021.a.6322
Vitali Alekseenok, the musical director of the Abaco Orchestra of the University of Munich, organised protests in Germany last summer before returning to Belarus in August to support the protest movement there. The conductor documented his experiences during the six weeks he spent in Minsk in a book entitled Die weißen Tage von Minsk (‘The White Days of Minsk’).
A Deutsche Welle article commented that Alekseenok’s book ‘reads like a travelogue dotted throughout with matter-of-fact impressions of war. It combines background information about the country and its people into a kind of "How-to-Belarus" for those who know little about the country and its present problems’.
Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Publications and resources relating to the protests in Belarus:
Vitali Alekseenok, Die weißen Tage von Minsk (Frankfurt am Main, 2021). YF.2021.a.6322
Edyta Banaszkiewicz, Marsz Białorusi Sierpień–grudzień 2020 (Warsaw, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark
Alice Bota, Die Frauen von Belarus. Von Revolution, Mut und dem Drang nach Freiheit (Berlin, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark
Iya Kiva, My prokynemos' inshymy (Chernivtsi, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark
Andrei Kureichik, ‘Insulted. Belarus’, translated by John Freedman, in Plays International & Europe, Vol. 35, Nos 9-12 (Winter 2020), pp. 30-45. P.903/1085
L. Pirs, Ia vykhozhu, Plakaty belorusskikh protestov (Warsaw, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark
Olga Shparaga, Die Revolution hat ein weibliches Gesicht. Der Fall Belarus (Berlin, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark
Maria Stepanova, Brev till en lycklig tid (Stockholm, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark. Stepanova’s essay is in part a response to the open letter written by Svetlana Alexievich in September 2020.
Dmitrij Strotsev, Belarus: motståndets konst (Stockholm, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark. This essay was originally published in Russian by COLTA.RU in December 2020.
Julia Tsimafejeva, Dagar i Belarus (Stockholm, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark
BELARUS! Das weibliche Gesicht der Revolution (Berlin, 2020). YF.2021.a.8763
I’m a Journalist. Why Are You Beating Me? Stories of repressed Belarusian journalists (Open Access e-book published by the Polish Association of Journalists. Available in Polish, English, Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian)
‘The Sociology of Protest in Belarus-Social Dynamics, Ideological Shifts and Demand for Change’, Slavic Review, vol. 80 (Spring 2021)
The British Library has contributed to a collaborative web archiving project to document the events in Belarus
Katerina Andreeva, and Ihor' Il'iash, Belorusskii Donbass (Khar'kov, 2020). YF.2021.a.10548
Stephen White, Elena Korosteleva and John Löwenhardt (eds.), Postcommunist Belarus (Lanham, MD, 2005). m05/.18747
Andrew Wilson, Belarus: The last dictatorship in Europe (New Haven, Conn.; London, 2011). YC.2011.a.14827 (New edition March 2021, Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship. Awaiting shelfmark)
N.B. Many of the books featured in this blog post have recently been acquired by the British Library and are not yet available to Readers. We will update the shelfmark information as soon as they are ready to order.
25 June 2021
With Euro 2020 in full swing, we've come up with a few football-related titles from the collections. First up, the Nordic teams and Germany...
There were initially three teams represented in the Euros from the Nordic region, Denmark, Finland and Sweden (only Denmark and Sweden have made it through to the last-16). Denmark’s game with Finland was marred by Christian Eriksen’s awful cardiac arrest and the Nordic teams – and every other team – have continued to show their support for his recovery above anything else.
A few avenues for Nordic football exploration… Of course, Denmark won the 1992 Euros courtesy of the disputably greatest ever Nordic footballer, Michael Laudrup. That championship-winning experience was made into the film Sommeren ’92. You can read about the legendary but alas trophy-less Danish team of the mid-eighties, the pre-Laudrup era, in Rob Smyth’s Danish dynamite: the story of football's greatest cult team.
Cover of Rob Smyth’s Danish dynamite: the story of football's greatest cult team (London; New York, 2014) ELD.DS.73176
Running Laudrup close in the GOAT-stakes has to be Zlatan Ibrahimović, who’s known universally by his forename alone and for his highly entertaining talent for self-promotion, hence the recent book I am Football (YKL.2019.b.3638). Readers would be wise to go to Zlatan’s autobiography I am Zlatan Ibrahimović (ELD.DS.185859), which gives insight into the challenging upbringing of a second-generation migrant in Malmö. Zlatan unfortunately cannot play this tournament but his understudy, Alexander Isak, raised the literary stakes when he recently revealed a love of reading stoic philosophy, which surely rubbed off on the team in their first gritty outing against Spain.
Zlatan’s autobiography I am Zlatan Ibrahimović translated by Ruth Urbom (London, 2013) ELD.DS.185859
The biggest surprise had to be Finland’s first-time qualification for the Euros. They no doubt channelled their famous pessimism to manage their expectations at the tournament, as The Guardian’s run-down of potential exclamations from Finnish fans implies: “Hävittiin kenelle pitikin”, meaning “We lost against a team we expected to lose against”. Literature around Finnish football is a little harder to come by at the library. Manager Markku Kanerva did however win the annual “Markku of the Year” award in 2009 and the BL is a lot stronger in collections by other worthy Markkus, if environmental economics is your thing.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Masthead of Jedermann sein eigener Fussball: illustrierte Halbmonatsschrift No. 1, 15 February 1919 (the only issue published) P.P.4736.hmd.
Apparently football-related titles in German literature may not always be what they seem. The short-lived magazine Jedermann sein eigenes Fussball (‘Every man his own football’) has nothing to do with the beautiful game. Its surreal title and accompanying vignette of a human-football hybrid are expressions of the Dada movement of the early 20th century. Likewise Peter Handke’s short novel Der Angst des Tormanns vor dem Elfmeter (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick) relates only tangentially to football. The protagonist is a former goalkeeper, but this has little bearing on the story, and the title is a briefly-referenced metaphor for the way he reacts to events rather than initiating them.
Cover of Karl Riha (ed.), Fussball literarisch, oder, Der Ball spielt mit dem Menschen: Erzählungen, Texte, Gedichte, Lieder, Bilder (Frankfurt am Main, 1982) X.958/16256
However, Handke’s short poem ‘Die Aufstellung des 1. FC Nürnberg vom 27.1.1968’ is firmly football focused, consisting entirely of the eponymous line-up (in 5-3-2 formation) of FC Nürnberg for a game against Bayer Leverkusen. This is one of the pieces collected in the anthology Fussball literarisch, which brings together poems, songs, stories, playlets and pictures. Most of the authors are clearly fans, and some, such as Eckhard Henscheid, Ror Wolf and Ludwig Harig, are or were well known for their love of the game and their writing about it. Henschied is a member of Germany’s ‘Academy for Football Culture’, a body that encourages the recognition of football as a ‘cultural and social phenomenon’. This shows how seriously the Germans take their football, as does the existence of their National Writers’ Team, whose members have produced two other footballing anthologies, Titelkampf and Fußball ist unser Lieben.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Peter Handke, Der Angst des Tormanns vor dem Elfmeter (Frankfurt am Main, 1970) X.907/11653. English translation by Michael Roloff, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (London, 1977) Nov.34737
Titelkampf: Fussballgeschichten der deutschen Autorennationalmannschaft, herausgegeben von Ralf Bönt, Albert Ostermaier und Moritz Rinke (Frankfurt am Main, 2008) YF.2009.a.21279
Fussball ist unser Lieben: neue Geschichten der deutschen Autorennationalmannschaft, herausgegeben von Norbert Kron, Albert Ostermaier und Klaus Cäsar Zehrer (Frankfurt am Main, 2011) YF.2011.a.13451
More European Studies blog posts about Euro 2020:
04 March 2021
Rosa Luxemburg, who was born 150 years ago this month, has come to be seen as an iconic figure of socialist and revolutionary thought. Her life and legacy are reflected not only in her own works but in the many works about her that have been written in various genres – biography, academic study, polemical and literary – since her murder in 1919. Below are a handful of examples from the British Library’s collections which illuminate some of the many aspects of her story.
Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens
Luxemburg’s first published monograph was her doctoral thesis, Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens (‘The Industrial Development of Poland’). Although Luxemburg was herself Polish, she gained her doctorate from the University of Zürich, since women were barred from higher education in Poland, where Luxemburg, as a Jew and a Polish speaker in a country under Russian rule, faced additional social and educational challenges. She had sought refuge in Zürich in 1889 to avoid detention for her revolutionary activity at home. The city was something of a centre for socialist exiles, and alongside her university studies, she continued working for the cause, becoming known as a writer, organiser and highly effective public speaker. By the time her thesis was completed and published, her written work was focusing more on these issues, and a plan to write a longer economic history of Poland never came to fruition.
‘Junius’, Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (Berlin, ) YA.1997.a.11594. (Image from the Bavarian State Library)
Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie
Luxemburg strongly believed in the international nature of the struggle for social justice. On the outbreak of war in 1914, she hoped that workers would refuse to fight and would recognise that the ruling classes in their own countries were the true enemy and the workers of other countries their true allies. When the German Socialist Party (SPD) members of the Reichstag gave their support to war, she felt betrayed. Together with Karl Liebknecht, the only SPD representative to remain opposed to the conflict, she founded the Spartacus League, which grew into the German Communist Party. Jailed for her socialist and pacifist activities, Luxemburg continued to write in prison, most notably the pamphlet Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (‘The Crisis of Social Democracy’) in which she set out her views on the war as an imperialist and capitalist project and her despair at the attitude of the SPD, and calls for revolution. Published in 1916 and often referred to as the ‘Junius Pamphlet’ after the pseudonym Luxemburg wrote it under, it is one of her best-known works.
January Fifteenth. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg
Following the brutal murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht by right-wing ‘Freikorps’ militias in the aftermath of the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919, they were seen as martyrs for the socialist cause. Although Luxemburg had often disagreed with fellow-socialists on a range of issues, she was increasingly depicted as a heroine of the left and has sometimes been described as the woman who could have united the different strands of Weimar Germany’s left-wing politics in the face of the growing right-wing threat. In 1924 the Young Communist League of Great Britain published a pamphlet entitled January Fifteenth. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, 1919 (8140.i.4.). The first in a planned series of ‘Manuals for Proletarian Anniversaries’, it suggested ways to commemorate Luxemburg’s and Liebknecht’s murders, an anniversary which still sees still sees parades and acts of remembrance take place today.
Margarethe von Trotta’s biopic of Rosa Luxemburg
As well as eulogies and memoirs, Luxemburg was from early on remembered in poetry, drama and fiction. In 1986 the German director Margarethe von Trotta released her film Rosa, which portrayed Luxemburg in a decidedly feminist context. Luxemburg has often been regarded as uninterested in feminism as she tended to keep at arm’s length from the formal women’s movement of her time. This was partly because she felt that she would be sidelined by being associated purely with women’s issues, but also because she saw the issue of equality as being vital to all workers regardless of nationality or sex. She was also somewhat wary of the way the suffrage movements tended to be predominantly run by and focused around educated middle-class women. Nonetheless, she had close ties with leaders of the women’s movement, particularly her friend Clara Zetkin, and her own determination to live in both the personal and political sphere on an equal footing with male friends, lovers and colleagues is reason enough to celebrate her today as a feminist pioneer.
Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg
A recent publication that depicts the many facets of Luxemburg’s life, work and personality in a compelling and accessible way is Kate Evans’s striking graphic biography Red Rosa, a work originally commissioned by the New York branch of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Evans initially knew little about Luxemburg, but studied in particular her collected letters (London, 2013; ELD.DS.286414), which is perhaps what gives the book such a rounded picture of Luxemburg both as a brilliant thinker and inspirational political figure, and as a very human woman determined to live on her own terms. Kate Evans will be one of the speakers at a British Library online event marking Luxemburg’s 150th birthday on 5 March 2021. Rosa Luxemburg: At Home in the Entire World brings together authors, actors and activists to examine Luxemburg’s revolutionary legacy.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
16 February 2021
It’s Shrove Tuesday, and that means pancakes in Britain, but not everywhere! Today we take a look at some Polish and German carnival traditions.
The last days of the Carnival season start in Poland on Fat Thursday (tłusty czwartek). It is widely celebrated by eating traditional doughnuts called pączki. Filled with rose jam or plum preserve, amongst other flavours, they should be light and fluffy. Around the country, people queue up to buy them from their local bakeries. Statistics show that some 100 million doughnuts are sold on this day. Historically, the reason for making them in large quantities was to use up all the leftover ingredients from the Carnival, particularly fat and eggs, before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, where such food was not allowed to be consumed. Pączki are believed to bring good luck for the whole year and the average Pole eats at least two of them on Fat Thursday. A search for ‘Polish Cooking’ in our catalogue will find a number of cookery books which might inspire readers to try and make their own!
A plate of pączki (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Fat Thursday is followed five days later by Shrove Tuesday, called Ostatki meaning the last day of Carnival. It is also known as the Herring Night or śledzik, because the most favourite dish to consume that evening is pickled herring. Poles exuberantly celebrate Ostatki by indulging themselves in food, drinks, dance and music. A horse-drawn sleigh ride (kulig) through the snow-covered countryside is a popular way to end the happy Carnival season.
Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections
The Shrovetide carnival has a long history in the German-speaking countries There are three broad regional traditions: the Rhineland Karneval, the Alemannic Fasnacht in south-eastern Germany and Switzerland, and Fasching in Bavaria and Austria (the latter two are sometimes grouped together). Within these there are endless local variations, but all involve a spirit of misrule and anarchy which sometimes sits oddly with British perceptions of orderly Germans!
A central organising role is played by the various local Fools’ Guilds (‘Narrenzünfte’) which support and maintain traditional practices, including, especially in the southern regions, the making and wearing of grotesquely carved wooden masks and elaborate costumes. These costumes often represent jesters and fools, but devils, witches, and fantastical figures similar to the ‘Kurents’ of Slovenia’s carnival also feature. Many books are devoted to the history and design of these costumes, and to the traditions of carnival and of the guilds.
In the 19th-century Rhineland, carnival traditions came to be seen as an opportunity to assert local identity and resistance to first French and then Prussian rule. This gave the festivities a more political edge, reflected today in ‘Rose Monday’ processions with floats featuring caricatures of national and international politicians.
But however earnest the political satire or intense the dedication to maintaining local tradition, carnival is primarily about fun, celebration, and a few days when the world is turned upside down.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator German Collections
18 December 2020
With Christmas approaching, European Collections curators introduce some festive songs from the countries they cover.
‘O Tannenbaum’ (‘O Christmas Tree’)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Title page of The Christmas Tree, a present from Germany (London, 1844). 12803.ff.3.
Which Christmas Carol links a student drinking song, a lover’s lament and a socialist anthem? None other than ‘O Tannenbaum’, one of the German-language carols that have gained worldwide popularity.
Originally the song had nothing to do with Christmas. The evergreen fir tree as a symbol of constancy was a familiar poetic motif when, in 1819, August Zarnack used it in a poem about a man betrayed in love, contrasting the tree’s ‘faithful’ branches with the woman’s faithlessness. A few years later, the musician and composer Ernst Anschütz altered Zarnack’s poem, replacing the verses that told the tragic love story with musings on the tree teaching a lesson in constancy, with mention of its bringing pleasure at Christmas. The song was first published in 1824, and its spread around the world probably owed something to the growing popularity of Christmas trees in various countries during the 19th century. Although the German original only briefly references Christmas, metrical necessity caused English translators to use ‘O Christmas Tree’, thus firmly establishing the song’s festive credentials for English-speakers.
The simple yet catchy tune no doubt also contributed to the success of ‘O Tannenbaum’. Originally a folk melody, it became popular in the 18th century as a student drinking song, ‘Lauriger Horatius’ (‘Laurel-crowned Horace’). It has also been used in many other contexts, perhaps most famously for the socialist anthem ‘The Red Flag’. For such a short and simple carol, ‘O Tannenbaum’ certainly has a wide-ranging cultural background and influence!
‘Shchedryk’ and ‘Carol of the Bells’
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Illustration of a swallow from BL Flickr. BL shelfmark 10201.e.12
Chances are you’ve heard of ‘Carol of the Bells’, a Christmas favourite that has appeared in films, TV shows and adverts from Home Alone to The Muppets. What many don’t know, however, is that the music was written by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych and is based on the Ukrainian folk chant ‘Shchedryk’. Dating back to pagan times, the original song tells the story of a swallow flying into a household to predict a prosperous New Year for the family. In pre-Christian Ukraine, the coming of the New Year and spring were celebrated in March but with the move to the Julian calendar, it shifted to 13 January (New Year’s Eve), which is known in Ukrainian as Shchedry Vechir (Bountiful Evening).
Leontovych’s song premiered in Kyiv in December 1916 and was performed as part of the Ukrainian National Chorus’s US tour in the early 1920s. The American composer Peter J. Wilhousky subsequently rearranged the melody and wrote new lyrics around the theme of bells, which is the version we know today as ‘Carol of the Bells’.
You can listen to a recording of Leontovych’s ‘Shchedryk’ here.
Pastorałki (‘Pastorals’) by Tytus Czyżewski
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections
A baby Jesus jumping on his legs in a crib while wearing a highlander’s hat. A shepherd, standing next to him, playing the bagpipes. A stork sitting on top of a nativity stable. That’s the kind of images you will find in Pastorałki by Tytus Czyżewski.
Cover of Pastorałki by Tytus Czyżewski, design by Tadeusz Makowski (Paris, 1925) Ac.9664 Source: Polona
Czyżewski (1880–1945) was a futurist poet, painter and co-founder of the Polish avant-garde “Formist” group, whose aim was to create a new national style in art and literature by combining Futurism, Expressionism and Cubism with traditional folk art. Czyżewski’s volume of Pastorałki [Pastorals], named after the genre of Polish Christmas carols with pastoral motifs, is an intersection of Polish folklore, medieval miracle plays and European avant-garde.
You can listen to a recording of one of these carols, ‘Kolęda w olbrzymim mieście’ (‘A Christmas Carol in a Big City) here.
The book is illustrated by Tadeusz Makowski (1882-1932), a Paris-based Polish artist. His primitivist woodcuts, inspired by folk iconography, reflect the atmosphere of friskiness and humour of Czyżewski’s pastorals.
Illustration from Pastorałki by Tadeusz Makowski, showing shepherds playing highlander instruments to amuse the baby Jesus. Source: Polona
Alicja Baluch, “Wizualność poezji Tytusa Czyżewskiego”, Rocznik naukowo-dydaktyczny 101 (1986), 199-137. Ac.9234.eb.
Czeslaw Milosz, The History of Polish Literature (Berkeley, 1983), 400-401. X.950/37574
Kazimierz Wyka, Rzecz wyobraźni (Warsaw, 1977)
‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ (‘The Shepherds lay by Night’)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ (‘The Shepherds lay by Night’) is a popular Dutch Christmas song. It is thought that it originated in the 17th century when children would sing it in the streets of Utrecht, but it was first written down in its current form by Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm and features in his collection of ‘Old and New Christmas Songs’ of 1852.
‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ from Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm, Oude en nieuwere kerstliederen … (Amsterdam, 1852). B.893.
The song has four verses, but usually only the first one, and sometimes the second one, are sung. Children stick to the first verse, and I cannot remember singing the others. The first verse tells how the shepherds were in the fields, having counted their sheep and then heard the angels sing, ‘clearly and fluently’ of the birth of Jesus upon which they went to Bethlehem to find him. In the second verse they see three beams of light shooting from above and from the crib – they ‘see the light’ and, in the third verse they decide to stay with the Holy Family until the New Year and leave their flock to the angels to look after. The final verse ends with a prayer for salvation.
The Angel appearing to the Shepherds, from a 15th-century Book of Hours Egerton MS 1070, f32v
Alberdingk Thijm was a devout Catholic and an influential figure in the 19th-century Catholic revival in the Netherlands (and also a supporter of the Flemish movement). His faith is reflected particularly in the third verse of the song with its emphasis on Mary and Joseph’s responses, which I don't think would have been found so much in Protestant circles. The last line of the verse differs in Protestant and Catholic versions. The Protestant one has ‘and found the little child there’, and the catholic one ‘it was nearing the new year’, also suggesting that for some this was more of a New Year’s rather than a Christmas song.
‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections
Although it might sound like a very old English Christmas Carol, ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ is the product of several nations – and centuries!
The tune first appeared in the 16th century as a French secular dance tune known under the title ‘Branle de l'Official’ (the branle or brawl was a type of French dance danced by couples in either a line or a circle, and popular throughout Europe). It was recorded in Orchésographie, first published in 1589, and written by the French cleric, composer and writer Thoinot Arbeau, the anagrammatic pen name of French cleric Jehan Tabourot (1519–1593).
Page from Thoinot Arbeau, Orchésographie (Lengres, 1589). C.31.b.3. Image source: Library of Congress
The illustrated Orchésographie provides information on social ballroom behaviour and on the interaction of musicians and dancers. It contains woodcuts of dancers and musicians and includes instructions for the steps lined up next to the musical notes, an innovation in dance notation. The lyrics however are from English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934), and the carol was first published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter, And Other Seasons (E.1485.f.).
28 November 2020
On New Year’s Eve 1857, a Manchester businessman wrote a long letter to a friend in London, ending with a description of an enjoyable day’s foxhunting. He boasted of having been one of the best horsemen in the field, and was excited to have been in at the kill. It might come as a surprise that the writer and recipient were the ‘fathers of communism’, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, but it points to some of the contradictions in the life of Engels, whose 200th birthday we mark today. (The letter can be found vol. 40 of the complete works of Marx and Engels, pp. 233-6)
Engels family background was almost a pattern of early 19th-century German ‘Biedermeier’ rectitude: his parents were devout pietists, and his father’s cotton mill in Barmen (now part of the city of Wuppertal) was part of Germany’s early industrial development. The young Engels soon rejected his parents’ religion, but would be associated with the family business, Ermen & Engels, for significant portions of his life.
It was while studying commerce as an apprentice in Bremen that Engels began to move in radical circles and to write about the harsh life of factory workers that he observed. Although he used a pseudonym to avoid embarrassing his family, they were concerned enough at his political views to send him to England to take up a clerical post in Ermen & Engels mill in Salford in the hope of turning him away from radical ideas. The plan backfired as Engels became more rather than less concerned with the plight of the workers and the need for them to combine against their oppressors. He closely studied the lives of the working people in and around Manchester, not merely researching statistics and studies, but visiting some of the poorest and most wretched districts of the city and meeting the people there.
Title-page of the first edition of Zur Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England (Leipzig, 1845) 1141.d.25
The resulting book, Zur Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England (The Condition of the Working Class in England), published in 1845 after he had left England, remains one of Engels’ best-known works. Although no English translation appeared until 1886, this first German edition has a long dedication in English ‘to the working classes of Great Britain’, ending with an exhortation to them to continue progressing towards a better future. Its ending – ‘be firm, be undaunted – your success is certain and no step you will have to take … will be lost to our common cause, the cause of humanity!’ seem to foreshadow the famous final words of the Communist Manifesto, which Engels wrote with Karl Marx four years later: ‘Workers of all countries, unite!’
Engels and Marx had first met briefly in 1842, but the encounter was not a success. However, during his time in Salford, Engels had published various articles in German radical papers that had interested Marx, and when they met again in Paris in 1844, they found that their thinking had become very similar, and quickly agreed to work together. It was the start of a life-long friendship and collaboration, but one where Engels, by his own willing admission, would play second fiddle to Marx, whose mind and work he considered the more important.
In practice, this meant giving up much of his own revolutionary work to provide both moral and practical support to Marx. After the failure of the revolutions of 1848-9, both men lived as exiles in Britain. While Marx studied and wrote, Engels returned to his clerical job with Ermen & Engels, gradually rising to become a partner in the firm. During the 20 years that he worked there, Engels lived a double life: a middle-class businessman who enjoyed bourgeois pursuits and was a member of prestigious social institutions, yet was dedicated to ending the grip of middle-class businessmen on trade and industry, and a champion of the working classes who was part of the system that exploited them, and who worked in a trade dependent for most of his career on cotton produced by enslaved people in the Americas. This double life took literal form in the two households he maintained, one where he could entertain ‘respectable’ colleagues and friends and one where he could live with Mary Burns, an Irish worker who was his partner from 1842 until her death in 1863 (he later lived with her sister Lizzy, and eventually married her on her deathbed in 1878).
Friedrich Engels during his time in Manchester (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)
As well as juggling these different lives, Engels was sometimes pushed almost too hard by Marx. After Mary’s death, Marx’s letter of condolence also contained an appeal for money couched in joking terms that the grieving Engels found hard to forgive. And when Marx fathered an illegitimate son with the family’s servant, Helene Demuth, it was Engels who claimed paternity of the boy and gave him his name to save Marx’s wife Jenny from discovering the truth. Nonetheless, the bond between the two men remained strong. Their almost daily letters overflow with private jokes and nicknames and scurrilous gossip alongside – sometimes part and parcel of – intense social, political and theoretical debate. Engels was also much loved by Marx’s family and considered by his daughters as a ‘second father’.
In 1869 Engels was at last able to give up his day job, move to London to be near Marx, and return seriously to writing. After Marx’s death, he worked with Marx’s daughter Eleanor to complete the second volume of Das Kapital – as well as understanding his thought better than almost anyone else, Engels was one of the few people who could easily read Marx’s handwriting.
Although Engels was by this time something of a grand old man of revolutionary socialism, he remained and still remains somewhat in Marx’s shadow. He has no massive monument like Marx’s famous grave in Highgate Cemetery (Engels’ ashes were scattered in the sea near Beachey Head), and the commemorations of his bicentenary have been modest in comparison with those for Marx in 2018, and not just because of the Covid pandemic. Perhaps the anniversary will nonetheless offer an opportunity to look again at his work and legacy.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies
12 November 2020
Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the German collections at the British Library. Under the title Interrogating German Collections, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or part-time equivalent) challenging the conventional history of knowledge of German-speaking regions, and to explore under-represented perspectives. Co-supervised with Expanding German Studies, a group seeking to expand and diversify the German Studies curriculum across the UK, the placement offers an opportunity to understand how German culture has constructed categories of racial difference, and how the voices of racialised others (including Jewish, Eastern European, Black, East Asian, Turkish and Middle Eastern people) have been represented within the discipline. The British Library’s German Printed Collections are of worldwide importance and will serve as a comprehensive source.
A selection of books by German authors who feature on the Expanding German Studies interactive bibliography
While the student will be expected to propose a specific focus, the placement will involve researching the collections, writing blog posts on items and on methodologies around collecting and curation, improving catalogue records, presenting to different departments on the results. The student will also have the opportunity to work with Expanding German Studies on teaching resources, and on preparing translations of neglected works for German Studies undergraduates, among other potential outputs.
This placement project offers an opportunity for a PhD student to put their research and critical thinking skills into practice at a major cultural institution through a topic that will be crucial to every aspect of the Library and to the cultural sector more widely in the coming years.
Further information on eligibility, conditions and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is 18 December 2020.
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