European studies blog

275 posts categorized "History"

14 October 2021

Investigating German colonialism in the British Library’s collections

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 Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah

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’.

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'

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

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

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

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

08 October 2021

1848 Revolutions: the Czech perspective

‘With the sudden onset of the 2011 “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and North Africa, the phenomenon of revolution has new life in the social sciences’. This opening sentence of the article ‘The Structure of Comparison in the Study of Revolution’ by Colin J.Beck (Sociological Theory, 2018. Volume: 36 issue: 2, page(s): 134-161) indicates a growing interest in the phenomenon of revolution in social sciences. The author conceptualizes ‘comparison as a network of cases, suited for the tools of social network analysis’, as ‘in comparative studies, cases do not just exist as independent units—rather, they lie in interdependent webs of comparison’.

Such an approach might work very well in relation to sources that researchers are studying. The primary focus for information professionals is to help researchers in creating webs and networks of sources. Having checked recently the British Library Flickr account, I noticed a significant number of illustrations from the same book - Na úsvitě nové doby. Dějiny roku 1848. v zemích českých (‘At the dawn of a new age. History of 1848 in the Czech lands’) by Josef Jakub Toužimský  and was surprised how well it fits with other parts of our collections.

Cover of Na úsvitě nové doby with a 'Liberty' figure and lion

Cover of  Josef Jakub Toužimský, Na úsvitě nové doby. Dějiny roku 1848. v zemích českých (Prague, 1898) 09315.ee.17 

One of our online collections guides – 1848 Revolutions – provides an overview of the British Library highlights. Toužimský’s book, with its 101 illustrations and 272 facsimiles of documents and other contemporary materials gives the Czech perspective on the events of 1848.

Caricature of March 1848: Metternich’s March panic

Chapter 5: The Fall of Metternich. Caricature of March 1848: Metternich’s March panic

Josef Toužimský was born in the year of the revolution, and published his book by its 50th anniversary. He was one of the leading Czech journalists of his time, who was interested in and focused on national liberation movements, especially in the Balkans. In 1875-76, during the Serbo-Turkish War, he worked as a correspondent for the newspaper Národní listy. After the war, he continued to work in this newspaper together with another famous Czech journalist and writer Josef Holeček.

Toužimský’s book on the Revolution of 1848 combines the author’s historic research with a unique collection of illustrations that, apart from portraits of historical figures and politicians traditional for historical books, include reproductions of caricatures from the Czech press and artistic representations of the scenes.

Portrait of Adolf Fischhof

Medical doctor Fischhof [Adolf Fischhof, a Hungarian-Austrian writer and politician], a fighter for the rights of the peoples of Austria, contemporary portrait [by Jan Vilímek]

Metternich, a great state bloodsucker; caricature of 1848

Metternich, a great state bloodsucker; caricature of 1848

Administrator (locking the door): So – it’s just the right time for me to disappear too; caricature of 1848.

The last job. Administrator (locking the door): So – it’s just the right time for me to disappear too; caricature of 1848.

‘Slovanka’, a female leader on the barricades during the bloody days of the 1848 Pentecost

‘Slovanka’, a female leader on the barricades during the bloody days of the 1848 Pentecost.

Fathers Franciscans on the barricades.

Franciscan Fathers on the barricades.

Symbolic drawings play a decorative function and open every chapter. The drawings most likely were created by Jan Vilímek (1860-1938), who is known as a painter of many portraits of famous Bohemians and other Slavs and a prolific illustrator for popular magazines, such as Humoristické Listy, Zlatá Praha and Světozor.

Drawing of a crowned figure and birds

Drawing from Na úsvitě nové doby

Drawing of a figure holding a flag and sword

 Drawing from Na úsvitě nové doby

I hope that highlighting this book might contribute to creating wider networks of sources for researchers in history, social sciences, history of art and other subjects.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

27 September 2021

Angela Merkel - a leadership in books

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.

Book cover with a photo of Angela Merkel at a press conference

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’).

Cover of a book about Merkel for young readers

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.

Die Protestantin

Volker Resing, Angela Merkel, die Protestantin: ein Portät (Leipzig, [2009])  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”.

Book cover with a photo of Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel YF.2016.a.15938

Nicolas Barotte, François et Angela: Hollande contre Merkel: histoire secrète d'un couple en crise (Paris, [2015])

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.

Book cover with a cartoon of Angela Merkel and a pug

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

References/Further reading

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

18 August 2021

Bears of Bern – Fictional and Real

To coincide with the British Library's exhibition Paddington: The Story of a Bear, we've put together a series of blog posts about a few other bears (fictional and real) from the collections. 

Our current Paddington Bear exhibition made me think of one of his forebears in British children’s literature, Mary Plain. Mary appeared in a series of 14 books by the Welsh author Gwynedd Rae published between 1930 and 1965. Like Paddington, Mary is sufficiently anthropomorphic to talk to and interact with humans. She is taken under the wing of the ‘Owl Man’, named for his round spectacles, and the ‘Fur Coat Lady’, who accompany her on various ‘svisits’ as Mary calls them, in and beyond her native Bern, venturing as far afield as the USA.

Cover of 'Mostly Mary', with a picture of three bears' heads
Cover of the first edition of the Gwynedd Rae’s first Mary Plain book, Mostly Mary (London, 1930) 12803.p.40

In her ‘very important’ introduction to the first book, Rae says that she was inspired by a stay in Bern where she regularly visited the city’s historic bear pit and started to make up stories about its inhabitants. Mary’s original home is in this pit, and the first book presents a pretty accurate map of it at the time when Rae visited. It was Bern’s fourth bear pit, and although it had been developed and extended over the years, it was still an unnatural and inadequate place for bears to be kept.

A sketch-plan of the bear pit in Bern as it was in the 1930s

Plan of the Bear Pit, from Gwynedd Rae, Mostly Mary (London, 1930) 12803.p.40. The names of Rae’s bear characters are given in the sections where they live.

Although Rae portrays the bears’ keeper, Job, as a kind man and gives her anthropomorphised bears an autonomous and happy life within their captive world, she also makes her readers see how they beg for food thrown by visitors, and mentions that the only real tree in the enclosure is given over to the older bears who most need its shade. It’s no wonder that Mary prefers her travels and adventures with her human friends, even if these would be an equally unnatural life for a real bear.

But why was there a bear pit in Bern? The clue is in the city’s name. According to legend, its founder, Duke Berthold V von Zähringen, vowed to name the city after the first animal he successfully killed in a hunt there. This turned out to be a bear, which became the city’s namesake and emblem. (I wonder if Berthold would have been so keen if he’d caught a rabbit?)

The first record of live bears being kept in Bern dates from 1513, when, according to contemporary chronicler Valerius Anselm, Bernese troops brought one back as a trophy from the Battle of Novara, and the bears were soon familiar enough to be the subjects of patriotic local poems.

Title-pages of two 16th-century poems, with woodcuts of bears
Poems in praise of the ‘noble bear of Bern’ printed in the 1540s by Mathias Apiarius. Facsimile editions from Dreißig Volkslieder aus den ersten Pressen der Apiarius (Bern, 1937) Ac.9586.b/4.

The first bear pit was in a central square, called Bärenplatz today, although the name is first recorded in the 19th century when the bears had long since moved. The current site by the River Aare dates back to 1857 and until the early 21st century still consisted of the rather bleak enclosure depicted in Rae’s books.

19th-century engraving of the bear pit in Bern
The bear pit opened in 1857, reproduced as endpapers in Emil Hänni, Ein Leben für die Bären (Bern, [1975])

A memoir by Emil Hänni, the city’s Bear-Keeper from the 1950s to the 1970s, gives an impression of the pits at that time and of the life led by the bears. Although Hänni’s genuine devotion to his charges is obvious, his book is something of a window into another time in terms of attitudes to animal welfare. When he took the job, his only formal experience working with animals was as a sheepdog trainer, and he received only two days’ training from his predecessor. He expresses anger at tourists who throw glass bottles of milk or unsuitable foodstuffs into the pit, but never questions the very fact of them feeding the bears for their own entertainment, or the suitability of the pit for housing large animals. The book ends with the bears returning to the pit following restoration work in 1976, after which Hänni’s son, also called Emil, took over the job.

Two bears in the pit, surrounded by tourists
Bears and spectators during Emil Hänni senior’s time as Bear-Keeper. From Ein Leben für die Bären

Emil junior would be Bern’s last official Bear-Keeper, retiring in 2003. From the 1970s onwards, both animal rights groups and public opinion became increasingly vocal in calling for a more natural environment for the bears. In the mid-1990s major renovations were carried out, providing more shade and water, and covering the concrete base of the pit with a thick floor of sand and gravel, but the pit was still inadequate by modern animal welfare standards. In 2001 a competition was announced to design a more suitable home, and in 2009 the new enclosure opened, housing fewer bears in a larger space. Now known as a park rather than a pit, it comprises a landscaped area along a stretch of the Aare. Part of the old pit is joined to it, the other part has become a shop and exhibition area.

Given their symbolic importance to the people of Bern, it is good to know that bears now have a more suitable home in the city. I hope Gwynedd Rae and Mary Plain would have approved.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections 

More bear-themed posts from the European Studies blog:

British Intellectuals and Russian Bears

‘Ill scratches the bear’, an endangered proverbial species

Paddington exhibition banner

 

18 June 2021

Portuguese liberal exiles in Plymouth

England has a proud history of taking in political refugees, as readers of the British Libray's publication Foreign-Language Printing in London will know.

London was the focus of foreign-language printing in Britain, but we have cases of Dutch refugees in Norwich (see Anna Simoni in FLPIL) and Portuguese in Plymouth.

Dom Pedro IV granted a constitutional charter in 1826 and renounced the throne of Portugal (he remained Emperor of Brazil) in favour of Dona Maria da Glória (Maria II), his seven-year-old daughter. On 13 March 1828 Pedro’s reactionary brother Dom Miguel seized power and abolished the constitutional charter, causing the flight of at least 2000 liberals into exile. They sailed from the Peninsula at Corunna and El Ferrol, landing at Falmouth, Portsmouth and Plymouth.

Dom Pedro had sent Dona Maria from Rio to Porto, but when it was learned that Dom Miguel was in control she changed course for England. She landed at Falmouth on 24 September 1828 and travelled to London, where she was presented with a copy of the Constitution and a sceptre.

Title page of a London edition of the Portuguese Carta Constitucional
Title-page of Carta constitucional da Monarchia Portugueza (London, 1828) 1572/1061

The exiles lived in squalor in a refugee camp in Plymouth, the so-called Depósito Geral, but they managed to build a stage at their own expense. The camp’s governor closed the theatre down, and the actors decamped to the Theatre Royal. This was probably the theatre built in 1813 in the city, although da Sousa says that it was based in Saltram House  in nearby Plympton, owned by the first Earl of Morley, a supporter of the liberal cause.

The arrival of the princess in England was the occasion for a production of Catão, by the major liberal literary figure, Almeida Garrett, imitated from Addison’s Cato. (It had previously been staged in Lisbon.) It was played four times at the Theatre Royal in October and December 1828.

During the performance of 24 October 1828 the death of Dom Miguel was announced, and the Portuguese Constitutional Hymn and God Save the King were sung with “frantic excitement and vivas etc.” The announcement was, however, premature, and civil war dragged on in Portugal until 1834, with the liberals triumphant and the exiles repatriated.

The BL has a number of small publications printed for the exiles on the south coast of England:

Aviso aos portuguezes, leaes defensores da Augusta Rainha a Senhora D. Maria Segunda, da carta constitucional, e gloria da sua patria (Plymouth: Law, Saunders e Heydon, [1828?]) HS.74/2237(38)

C. Xavier, No: 28. Plymouth, 24 de Setembro de 1828 (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, [1828]) HS.74/2237(39)

A Few words on the subject of the “Denominated Act” of the three estates of the Kingdom of Portugal, assembled in Cortes, in Lisbon, on the 11th of July, 1828. Translated from the Portuguese (Plymouth, 1828) 1141.i.18.(2.)

Marcos Pinto Soares Vaz Preto, Sermão pregado na Capella Catholica de Stonehouse… = Sermon on the birthday of Pedro IV., Emperor of the Brazils, in thanksgiving for the arrival of Dona Maria 2nd, Queen of Portugal. (Plymouth: W. W. Arliss, 1828) 1358.i.20

Acaba de receber-se a seguinte Proclamação, pelo Paquete Lord Hobart vindo do Rio de Janeiro, e chegado hontem ao Porto de Falmouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, 1828) RB.31.b.151/3

José Pinto Rebelo de Carvalho, Hymno dos emigrados portuguezes, em Plymouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, [1828] HS.74/2237(37)

Refutação dos sofismas empregados por alguns jornalistas ingleses sobre Dom Miguel em Portugal e os Portuguezes em Plymouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, [1829?] 8042.cc.22.(2.)

Requirimento feito pelos Voluntarios Academicos de Coimbra, existentes em Plymouth, e dirigida á Junta encarregada da Administração, fiscalisação, distribuição dos subsidios applicados aos emigrados portuguezes, installada em Londres; a sua informação, e despacho (Plymouth: W. W. Arliss, 1829) RB.23.a.20687

José Bento Said, Remedio d’amor, e queixumes de Dido contra Eneas: traducções livres das obras de Ovidio. Tres sonetos, e garantias dos direitis civiz e politicos dos cidadåos portuguezes, outorgados na Carta Constitucional de 1826 (Angra: Imprensa do Governo, 1831) Includes: Descripção das tres magnificas Cidades Plymouth, Ston-House, e Devonporth, a qual o Auctor offerece gratuita aos Illms. Snrs. Academicos, Officiaes Militaes, Ecclesiasticos, e mais Snrs. que subscerevêrão. RB.23.a.17999(1)

The three shown below have recently been added to the collection:

Opening of 'Duas palavras ácerca da Carta de José Fidelis da Boa Morte'
Satiro Mariano Leitao, Duas palavras ácerca da Carta de José Fidelis da Boa Morte (Plymouth: Na Imprensa de Law e Co., 1829) RB.23.a.39288

 

Opening of 'Aos honorados portuguezes'
Aos honrados Portuguezes da emigraçaõ
(Plymouth, 1832) RB.23.a.39287

 

First page of 'Carta de José Fidelis da Boa Morte
Antonio Pereira dos Reis, Carta de José Fidelis da Boa Morte a seu compadre e amigo José da Vestia (Plymouth: Nettleton,  1828.) RB.23.a.39289

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References

Barry Taylor, ‘Un-Spanish practices: Spanish and Portuguese protestants, Jews and liberals, 1500-1900’ , in Foreign-language printing in London 1500-1900, ed. Barry Taylor (London: British Library, 2003), pp. 183-202. 2708.h.1059

João Baptista da Sousa, ‘Catão em Plymouth: controvérsias acerca da representação da tragédia em Inglaterra – 1829’, in De Garrett ao Neo-Garrettismo: actas do colóquio ([Maia?], 1999), pp. 75-90. YA.2001.a.41366

04 June 2021

Translating the French Revolution: Italian printing culture during the revolutionary Triennio, 1796-1799

The British Library holds the largest collection of printed material on the French Revolution outside of France. As we know the French revolution was not limited to France but affected the historical trajectory of numerous countries in Europe and around the world. One of the first European areas where French revolutionary ideals found a fertile soil was the Italian peninsula. In 1796 the French Army, led by the young general Napoleon Bonaparte, defeated Austrian and Sardinian troops. On 15 May 1796 Bonaparte entered Milan, which rapidly became the most active political laboratory of the peninsula.

Plans for the Foro Buonaparte in Milan

Giovanni Antonio Antolini, plans for the Foro Buonaparte in Milan, city side, c. 1801. Part of Napoleon’s ambitious but unfulfilled plan for remodelling the city of Milan (Image from Wikimedia Commons 

During the revolutionary Triennio, the period between the arrival of the French troops led by Bonaparte and the French defeat in 1799, there was a veritable explosion of print culture: 40 new periodicals in Milan, ten newspapers printed in Venice in 1797 alone; 20 serial publications in Genoa, and smaller centres such as Brescia or Ferrara also produced their own revolutionary newspapers. The British Library holds two periodicals that are exemplary of this Italian revolutionary press: the Giornale della società degli amici della libertà e dell’eguaglianza (‘Journal of the Society of Friends of Liberty and Equality’) and the Osservator piemontese (‘Piedmont Observer’).

Giornale della società degli amici della libertà e dell’eguaglianza

Giornale della società degli amici della libertà e dell’eguaglianza (Milan 23 May 1796) [PENP.NT309]

The first newspaper was the work of the physician Giovanni Rasori, a vocal supporter of a democratic republic. Rasori had travelled to Britain and France, and his newspaper reflected his familiarity with the two countries. Translations of French or English works appeared frequently, such as Volney’s Ruines or tracts by radicals, such as William Morgan’s Facts Addressed to the Serious Attention of the People of Great Britain Respecting the Expence [sic] of the War and the State of the National Debt (London, 1796; RB.23.b.7561). In a similar vein the Osservatore piemontese published long extracts from Joseph Priestley’s Lectures on History and General Policy (Birmingham, 1788; 580.h.16).

Both newspapers presented the Italian translations of British works through the intermediary of a recent French translation. Rasori translated Morgan’s work as it appeared on the columns of the Parisian Moniteur Universel (Gazette nationale, ou, le Moniteur universel France, Paris, 1789-1810; MFM.MF17), while the authors of the Piedmontese newspaper commented and published large excerpts of Priestley’s work which had been translated into French in 1798.

First issue of Osservator Piemontese

First issue of Osservator Piemontese (Turin 1798) P.P.4175

The arrival of the French armies in the Italian peninsula favoured the publication of works that were previously forbidden. The translations of these texts appeared in periodical publications thus making more difficult for researchers to find them. These texts were partially reprinted in periodical publications, as those presented above, or were collected in anthologies such as the Biblioteca dell’uomo repubblicano. The British Library holds the prospectus for this anthology published in 1797 in Venice (awaiting shelfmark). The ambitious plan was to print 15 volumes containing the main works of philosophers like Rousseau, Voltaire and Mably. However the Peace of Campo Formio (27 October 1797), when France ceded Venice to the Austrian Empire, put an end to this effort of creating a first comprehensive compilation of political thinkers crucial to understanding the political basis of the French revolution.

The brief interlude of the Italian republics was not an ephemeral season in the Italian history. On the contrary the last years of the 18th century served as the basis of the development of new kinds of Italian political thinking, rooted in a lively exchange with other European traditions such as the French Enlightenment and the British radical movement.

Niccolò Valmori, Postdoctoral research associate at King’s College, London, working on the AHRC funded project ‘Radical Translations: The Transfer of Revolutionary Culture between Britain, France and Italy (1789-1815)’

Further reading:

Radical Translations Project website

Valerio Castronovo, Giuseppe Ricuperati, Carlo Capra (ed.), La stampa italiana dal Cinquecento all’Ottocento (Rome, 1976). X.989/90090(1)

Giorgio Cosmacini, Scienza medica e giacobinismo in Italia: l'impresa politico-culturale di Giovanni Rasori (1796-1799) (Milano, 1982). X.329/20279

Katia Visconti, L’ultimo Direttorio: la lotta politica nella repubblica cisalpina tra guerra rivoluzionaria e ascesa di Bonaparte, 1799-1800 (Milano, 2011). YF.2012.a.13963

Carlo Zaghi, Il Direttorio francese e la repubblica Cisalpina (Rome, 1992). YA.1992.b.2989

 

12 March 2021

New Slavonic e-resources at the British Library

With the tentative but hopeful news that the British Library Reading Rooms will be able to re-open after 12 April, we wanted to highlight some new Slavonic e-resources. Like the Library's other subscribed resources, the following Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian-language digital collections and archives will be available to access onsite in the St Pancras and Boston Spa Reading Rooms. To view the full list of databases and to access them in the Reading Rooms, please use this link.

We are working on making these resources available remotely to all registered readers, but – bear with us – it is a mammoth job. In the meantime, you can find a number of (mostly) free digital resources via our blog and collection guide.

Cover of 30 Dnei from 1925 with an illustration of a steam train in a station

Cover of 30 Dnei from September 1925. Credit: East View

30 Dnei Digital Archive

Founded in 1925 in Moscow 30 Dnei (30 Days) was an illustrated Soviet literary journal famous for the serialised publications of works such as Il’f and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf. It was also known for its visually striking covers designed by famous Soviet artists and photojournalists, including Aleksandr Rodchenko. After falling foul of the central government in later years, the journal ceased publication soon after Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR in June 1941.

30 Dnei originally appeared as a literary supplement to Gudok (The Whistle), the daily newspaper of Soviet railway workers. In the 1920s, Gudok became known for its satirical sketches, to which Il’f and Petrov were regular contributors. The Library holds imperfect runs of Gudok from 1921 and 1922 on microfilm (MFM.MF1284V).

 

Belarus anti-fascist resistance leaflet, 1942 

Belarusian anti-fascist resistance leaflet, 1942. Credit: East View

Belarus Anti-Fascist Resistance Leaflets and Press

These two collections consist of 97 World War II leaflets produced during the period of German occupation of Belarus in 1941–1944, as well as 30 newspaper titles published between 1942 and 1945. Most of the leaflets were published clandestinely by the multiple Soviet guerilla (partisan) detachments, as well as by the scores of underground resistance groups which operated in German-occupied cities and villages. The majority of the newspapers were printed by underground resistance groups in secret printing press facilities operating in small Belarusian towns in the territories occupied by the Germans, while others were distributed by Belarusian partisan detachments operating from remote areas of Belarus. The materials are in Belarusian and Russian.

 

Front page of Prapor peremohy from 1 January 1987

Front page of Prapor peremohy from 1 January 1987. Credit: East View

Chernobyl Newspapers Collection

Following the Library’s recent purchase of the digital archive, The Chernobyl Files, we have acquired an additional electronic collection of newspapers published in towns in the exclusion zone and its immediate vicinity. They include three previously unavailable local newspapers, Prapor peremohy, Tribuna energetika, and Tribuna pratsi, and cover the period 1979–1990.

 

Cover of Nedelia with a photograph of people sledging

Cover of Nedelia, 28 December 1963 - 4 January 1964. Credit: East View

Nedelia Digital Archive

Founded in 1960, Nedelia (Week) was a popular illustrated Soviet weekly newspaper that began as a Sunday supplement to Izvestiia under the editorship of Aleksey Adzhubey, the son-in-law of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It was one of the very few Soviet periodicals that kept the official Communist Party propaganda to a minimum, covering instead cultural, social, and political happenings with a certain degree of light-heartedness, which perhaps was the main reason behind its popularity.

 

Ogonek title page from 1903 with an Art Nouveau illustration of a woman reading

Ogonek, no. 1, 1903. Credit: East View

Ogonek (St. Petersburg) Digital Archive

Established in 1899 and in continuous print until 1918, Ogonek started as a weekly illustrated supplement to the influential St. Petersburg-based newspaper Birzhevye Vedomosti (British Library: Mic.B.1089). Ogonek later became a separate entity, attracting some of the most notable journalists, photographers and critics of the period.

Russia in Transition

This digital collection contains primary source materials, ranging from samizdat newspapers to flyers to posters to booklets and brochures from 1989 to 1993, encompassing a period of unprecedented social and political activism in Russia. In addition to this new collection, the British Library also has access to a large number of digitised election related materials from the countries of the former Soviet Union (see Social Movements, Elections, Ephemera).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, and Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Materials republished from products originally made available by East View Information Services

04 March 2021

Rosa Luxemburg: a brief glimpse in five items

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.

Cover of 'Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens'
Rosa Luxemburg, Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens (Leipzig, 1898) 8282.ff.14. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Cover of 'Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie'
‘Junius’, Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (Berlin, [1916]) 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.

Cover of 'Rosa Luxemburg', with photographs of Luxemburg and the actress who portrayed her in the 1986 film
Margarethe von Trotta and Christiane Ensslin, Rosa (Nördlingen, 1986) YA.1987.b.6118

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.

Cover of 'Red Rosa' with an stylised picture of Rosa Luxemburg surrounded by images of war
Kate Evans, Red Rosa (London, 2015) YC.2017.b.584

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

05 February 2021

Women's Suffrage in Switzerland

In 1971 Switzerland became one of the last countries in Europe to grant women the vote at national level; only the small neighbouring principality of Liechtenstein was later in doing so, in 1984. It may seem surprising that a country that was an early republic, that became in the 20th century the home of several international and humanitarian organisations, and that is often seen as a model of stability and good social order, should have lagged so far behind in such a key area of human rights.

Switzerland had not been without a women’s rights movement, and there had been formal calls and campaigns for female suffrage from the 1860s onwards. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, writers such as Meta von Salis and Emilie Gourd, to name but two, argued for women’s rights in various spheres, and several women’s organisations were founded. A ‘Swiss Congress for the Interests of Women’ was held in Geneva in 1896, and campaigners also had male allies such as the jurists Louis Bidel and Carl Hilty, who both published articles in favour of women’s right to vote.

Cover of the Proceedings of the 1896 Women’s Congress in Geneva
Proceedings of the 1896 Women’s Congress in Geneva, Bericht über die Verhandlungen des Schweizerischen Kongresses für die Interessen der Frau  = Actes du Congrès suisse des intérêts féminins ... ( Bern, 1897.) 8416.h.26. (Image from Zurich University Library)

A Swiss general strike in November 1918 included women’s suffrage among its demands but was short-lived and came to nothing. Two formal parliamentary motions on the subject in the same year were effectively ignored, and various petitions to Parliament were equally unsuccessful. From 1920 onwards, some Swiss cantons held referendums on allowing women to vote at cantonal level, but none of the motions were passed.

The central role of the popular referendum in Swiss politics offers one clue to why Switzerland took so long to grant women the vote. Major constitutional change, whether at national of cantonal level, can only be brought about by a referendum rather than by parliamentary vote alone as in other European countries. And of course, the voters in these referendums were all men! It was also argued that the constitution defined a Swiss citizen with full rights in clearly masculine terms (‘un suisse’, ‘ein Schweizer’). As early as 1886 Emilie Kempin-Spyri, the first Swiss woman to gain a doctorate in law, had argued that this was a generic masculine rather than being intended specifically to restrict citizenship to males. However, this argument was rejected by the Swiss Federal Court, as it would be again over 40 years later, when put forward by jurist Léonard Jenni.

Cover of a French-language edition of the Swiss Constitution
A 19th-century edition of the Swiss Constitution (Fribourg, 1856) 8073.d.74.

Swiss citizenship also became linked in many people’s minds with the compulsory military service performed by Swiss men. In fact it was an attempt in 1957 to extend this obligation to civil defence work to be undertaken by women that provided part of the impetus for the first national referendum on female suffrage in 1959. Although the civil defence proposal had not been passed, it had opened debate on whether women could be asked to perform national service when they lacked full political rights.

The arguments for and against women’s suffrage in the 1959 referendum, as in earlier cantonal votes, were familiar ones, as reflected in pro- and anti-suffrage posters. Opponents argued that political debate was beyond women’s understanding and too dirty a business for them to sully themselves with, and that political rights would make them neglect domestic and maternal duties or turn them into de-feminised harridans. Supporters countered that women deserved to have their voices heard in a free and modern society, that anti-suffragists were selfish reactionaries seeking to reserve power for themselves, and that a ‘yes’ vote would win male voters the gratitude of women.

Posters showing a baby's pacifier with a fly crawling over it, and a man casting a 'yes' vote for women's suffrage
Posters from the 1950s against and in favour of female suffrage (images from swissinfo.ch)

In 1959 the anti-suffrage voices were more successful, and the motion to grant women the vote was defeated by a two-thirds majority. However, in three Cantons – Vaud, Neuchâtel and Geneva – there was a majority in favour of women’s suffrage, leading all three to give women the vote at local and cantonal level. Other cantons followed suit in the next decade, and by 1970 nine of Switzerland’s 25 cantons had universal local and cantonal suffrage. This development was a factor in the decision to hold a new national referendum, which took place on 7 February 1971 and saw the 1959 result reversed, with a two-thirds majority in favour of women’s right to vote in national elections. By the end of the following year, most cantons had also granted full suffrage at local and cantonal level.

The run-up to the 1971 referendum forms the background to the 2017 Swiss film Die göttliche Ordnung (The Divine Order), in which the women of a Swiss village go on strike from domestic duties to persuade the local men to acknowledge their rights. They succeed, and at the end we see the main protagonist standing proudly beside her husband as he casts his vote for women’s suffrage. However, in the kind of community depicted, the reality would probably have been rather different. Even in 1971 the rural north-eastern cantons voted overwhelmingly ‘no’ to women's suffrage, and two of them held out at cantonal level for almost two more decades. Appenzell Ausserhoden granted women cantonal voting rights only in 1989, and it took a Federal Court ruling the following year to force neighbouring Appenzell Innerrhoden to do the same. Willingly or not, Europe’s last bastion of electoral inequality had finally fallen, and all Swiss women could enjoy equal voting rights.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Marie Boehlen, Eine kleine Geschichte des Frauenstimmrechts in der Schweiz, 2nd ed.. (Zurich, 1955.) 8418.a.2.

Verena Bodmer-Gessner, Bibliographie zur Geschichte der Schweizer Frau im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert ... 2nd ed. (Zurich, 1968.) 2745.g.5.

Frauengeschichte(n) : Dokumente aus zwei Jahrhunderten zur Situation der Frauen in der Schweiz (Zürich, 1986.) YA.1990.b.7138

Louis Adolphe Bridel, Le Mouvement féministe et le droit des femmes (Geneva, 1893) 8416.h.21.(3.)

Carl Hilty, De senectute. Frauenstimmrecht (Bern, 1900.) YA.1993.a.25223

Werner Kaegi, Der Anspruch der Schweizerfrau auf politische Gleichberechtigung. Gutachten ... ( Zurich, [1956]) 8418.fff.2. (French edition, tr. Bernard Hofstetter, Le Droit de la femme suisse à l'égalité politique … ( Geneva, 1956.) 8418.ff.39.)

Iris von Roten, Frauenstimmrechtsbrevier. Vom schweizerischen Patentmittel gegen das Frauenstimmrecht, den Mitteln gegen das Patentmittel, und wie es mit oder ohne doch noch kommt (Basel, [1959]) 8298.a.25.

Nehmen Sie Platz, Madame : die politische Repräsentation der Frauen in der Schweiz (Bern], 1990.) YA.1994.b.533

Frauen und Politik = Femmes et politiques (Bern, 1994) 34 1073.498000

Sibylle Hardmeier, Frühe Frauenstimmrechts-Bewegung in der Schweiz (1890- 1930): Argumente, Strategien, Netzwerk und Gegenbewegung (Zürich, 1997.) YA.2002.a.1466

Daniele Lenzin, Die Sache der Frauen: OFRA und die Frauenbewegung in der Schweiz (Zürich, 2000) YA.2002.a.18725

Beatrix Mesmer, Staatsbürgerinnen ohne Stimmrecht : die Politik der schweizerischen Frauenverbände 1914-1971 ( Zürich, 2007.)

Susanna Woodtli, Gleichberechtigung: der Kampf um die politischen Rechte der Frau in der Schweiz. (Frauenfeld, [1975]) X:100/15476

Der Kampf um gleiche Rechte (Basel, 2009.) YF.2010.a.9729

Schulz, Kristina. Frauenbewegung, die Schweiz seit 1968 : Analysen, Dokumente, Archive (Baden, [2014]) YF.2015.a.8530

Fabienne Amlinger, Im Vorzimmer der Macht? : die Frauenorganisationen der SPS, FDP und CVP, 1971-1995 (Zürich, [2017]) YF.2019.a.23260

Claire Torracinta-Pache, Le pouvoir est pour demain : les femmes dans la politique suisse ([Lausanne], 1984.) YA.1986.a.9986

Doris Stump, Sie töten uns, nicht unsere Ideen: Meta von Salis-Marschlins, 1855-1929, Schweizer Schriftstellerin und Frauenrechtskämpferin (Thalwil/Zürich, 1986.) YA.1988.a.7520

Doris Brodbeck, Hunger nach Gerechtigkeit : Helene von Mülinen (1850-1924), eine Wegbereiterin der Frauenemanzipation ( Zurich, 2000) YA.2001.a.23815

Marianne Jehle-Wildberger, “Wo bleibt die Rechtsgleichheit?” Dora Rittmeyer-Iselin (1902-1974) und ihr Einsatz für Flüchtlinge und Frauen (Zürich; St. Gallen, [2018]) YF.2020.a.10618

Marianne Delfosse, Emilie Kempin-Spyri (1853-1901): das Wirken der ersten Schweizer Juristin : unter besonderer Berücksichtigung ihres Einsatzes für die Rechte der Frau im schweizerischen und deutschen Privatrecht (Zürich, c1994.) YA.1996.a.20102

28 November 2020

Friedrich Engels: politics and paradoxes

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.

Lage der arbeitenden Klasse
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!’

Green paper cover of 'Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei'
Cover of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto (London, 1849) C.194.b.289

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).


Half-length photograph of Engels
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. 

Hand-written inscription in a copy of 'Kapital'
Inscription in volume 2 of the Russian translation of Das Kapital presented to the British Museum Library by Engels and Eleanor Marx (St Petersburg, 1885). C.185.b.12.

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

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