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
05 February 2021
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.
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.
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 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
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, ) 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, ) 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, ) 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, ) YF.2015.a.8530
Fabienne Amlinger, Im Vorzimmer der Macht? : die Frauenorganisationen der SPS, FDP und CVP, 1971-1995 (Zürich, ) 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, ) 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
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
30 October 2020
When we think of early modern Spain as a mediator between East and West it’s normally with reference to Muslim-Christian relations.
But Juan González de Mendoza (1545-1618) was responsible for supplying Europe with information about the Far East. Like many an early modern travel writer, he was a member of a religious order (in his case the Augustinians) engaged in missionary work. And like some travel writers (Marco Polo, anyone?) he never went to the country involved.
He was selected by Philip II for an ambassadorial mission to China. He set off from Spain in 1580, and got as far as Mexico with the intention of proceeding via the Philippines to China. The journey was aborted by unrest in the Philippines and González de Mendoza returned to Spain in 1583 and thence to Rome, where Pope Gregory XIII commissioned his account of China, published in Rome in Spanish in 1585.
He therefore based his book on other travellers’s accounts, including that of the Francisan friar Martín Ignacio.
Title-page of La historia de las cosas más notables, ritos y costumbres del gran reyno de China (Valencia, 1585), 1434.a.19
La historia de las cosas más notables, ritos y costumbres del gran reyno de China describes the geography, produce, religion, politics and maritime activities of the Chinese. Christian missions are to the fore, a typical emphasis from a cleric of his time.
After the appearance of the Spanish edition of 1585, it was quickly translated into Italian in 1586 (146.a.16), French in 1588 (1313.c.3), English in 1588 (583.c.21), German from the Italian in 1589 (583.c.24(2)), and Latin from the German in 1589 (804.a.43(1)).
The speed of translation demonstrates the hunger in Europe for news of China.
Curiously, Hakluyt didn’t include it his Voyages as he avoided reprinting already known works and Robert Parkes’s English version had been issued in 1588 (Quinn, I, 215).
Charles Boxer praises González de Mendoza to the skies:
One of the outstanding ‘best-sellers’ of the sixteenth century … It is probably no exaggeration to say that Mendoza’s book had been read by the majority of well-educated Europeans at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Its influence was naturally enormous, and it is not surprising to find that men like Francis Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh derived their notions of China and the Chinese primarily, if not exclusively, from this work’ (Boxer, p. xvii).
So here is a field of knowledge to which Spain’s contribution was hugely influential in its time, shaping western views of China for decades to come.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
C. R. Boxer, South China in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1953) Ac.6172/148.
Frances Wood, Did Marco Polo Go to China? (London, 1995) YC.1996.a.647
David B. Quinn, The Hakluyt Handbook (London, 1974) HLR 910.92
Diccionario biográfico español (Madrid, 2009- ) HLR 920.046
03 October 2020
On 3 October 1990, after over 40 years of division, East and West Germany became a single state. The breaching of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and the opening of borders between the two states that followed had brought the question of a possible unification to the fore, but many assumed it would be a slow process over several years. However, the replacement of East Germany’s ruling Socialist party by a pro-unification coalition after the country’s first free elections, and the near-collapse of the East German economy, hastened the process, and the two states became one within less than a year.
The British Library’s holdings of material on the question of German reunification go back far further than the early 1990s. On its foundation in 1949 the West German Federal Republic established the Ministerium für gesamtdeutsche Beziehungen (Ministry for all-German Relations; the word ‘gesamtdeutsche’ was later replaced by ‘innendeutsche’ (Intra-German’) to avoid accusations that the Ministry advocated a return to pre-1937 borders). Part of the Ministry’s remit was to manage formal relations with the East German Democratic Republic, since the Federal Republic refused to recognise it as a legitimate state and therefore could not handle relations through the Foreign Office. But the Ministry also published material on the East German state and on the prospects and practicalities of a potential reunification, such as a collection of documents reflecting the Federal republic’s efforts to restore German Unity.
As well as official government publications on the issue, individuals also published thoughts and reflections. We have several works by the politician and writer Wilhelm Wolfgang Schütz, starting with Die Stunde Deutschlands: Möglichkeiten einer Politik der Wiedervereinigung (‘Germany’s Hour: Possibilities for a Policy of Reunification’; Stuttgart, 1955; 8030.aa.28.). One of his later works, Reform der Deutschlandpolitik (Cologne, 1965; X.709/3138.) was translated into English as Rethinking German Policy: New Approaches to Reunification (New York, 1967; X.709/6290). A pamphlet edited by Klaus Otto Skibowski, a close adviser to the first Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, sets out what he sees as the moral case for reunification, but also considers practical issues around the process, not least the financial implications. Interestingly, the map on the cover shows a jigsaw-image of Germany including areas within its pre-1937 borders. The question of what territory would be included in a united Germany was not fully settled until 1970 when West Germany formally recognised the Oder-Neisse Line as the border with Poland, and reiterated in the 1990 reunification treaty.
Although most of the literature from the 1950s and 60s in our collections takes the West German line that East Germany is Soviet-occupied territory, there are some exceptions, such as a, Programm der nationalen Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands (Programme for German National Reunification; Stuttgart, 1952; 08074.f.12. The text is available online here), issued by the West German Communist Party, which depicts West Germany as a slave state of American, British and French imperialists, and an expansion of the East German system to the west as the most desirable form of reunification.
In the 1960s, the Federal Republic began to establish more formal and co-operative relations with the states of Eastern Europe, and in 1972 finally formalised relations with the German Democratic Republic. While the question of reunification did not go away, our collections contain fewer publications on the issue from the 1970s and 80s. But following the actual reunification, the number of publications naturally increases, from the formal reunification treaty signed on 31 August 1990 (S.F.583/476) to academic studies and political reflections.
Not all of these are positive. The Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass was one of the most prominent voices expressing concern and dismay at the way the West German Federal Republic effectively absorbed the former German Democratic Republic. Similar concerns are expressed in satirical form in a collection of sketches and cartoons, Das letzte Ende, from the East German Cabaret Distel (‘Thistle’), and find a poignant echo in the popular film Good Bye Lenin where the main character, having tried to keep the truth about the events of 1989-90 from his ailing mother, a former East German party activist, fakes a broadcast announcing the end of the German Democratic Republic in a way that he himself finds more acceptable and relatable than the reality.
It is certainly true that after initial euphoria, Germans on both sides of the former divide found it difficult to adapt. Many East Germans lost their jobs as the infrastructure of their former state crumbled and was rebuilt according to capitalist principles, while some westerners resented the large amounts of money pumped into the east to tackle these problems. The concept of the ‘Mauer im Kopf’ (‘wall in the head’) was coined to describe lingering mistrust and misunderstanding among the citizens of the different former republics. Reunification also saw a rise in right-wing nationalist groups which identified and attacked immigrant workers as a scapegoat for their own dissatifactions (the website zweiteroktober90 examines the roots and early manifestations of this violence).
The many books – from Germany, Britain and beyond – in our collection published since 1990 examine these problems and contradictions, and examine the history of reunification and the new Germany since 1990. A search in our online catalogue using the keyword ‘Wiedervereinigung’ or, for more recent material, the subject heading ‘Unification of Germany (1990)’ is a good way in to exploring the collections.
Despite the challenges and problems around reunification, for most who remember the days of a divided nation it is hard to see it as anything other than a positive step, and a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that ‘around nine-in-ten Germans living in both the West and East say that German unification was a good thing for Germany’ and that ‘life satisfaction in East Germany has skyrocketed since 1991’. Although today’s 30th anniversary celebrations will be muted due to the Covid pandemic, there is still every reason to celebrate.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies
24 August 2020
The date of 24 August is often claimed as the anniversary of the Gutenberg Bible, the first European book printed with moveable type. The date is not in fact the anniversary of the printing being completed, but is based on a rubricator’s inscription of 24 August 1456 in a copy of the Bible held by the French National Library. It’s the earliest dated evidence of a complete copy being in existence, but obviously made when the rubrication was completed rather than the printing (thought to be the previous year). But it’s become well established as a date to commemorate the Bible’s completion.
In fact this is not the only anniversary date connected with Gutenberg that is somewhat tenuous. Few exact dates in Gutenberg’s life (and little precise chronology of the Bible’s printing) are definitely known. However, since the 16th century, various years have been chosen and commemorated as Gutenberg anniversaries, and the two most common (1400 and 1440) are based on guesswork.
The most frequently commemorated Gutenberg date is 1440, claimed as the anniversary of the invention of the printing press. This is based on documents from a legal case brought against Gutenberg in 1439 in Strasbourg, which implied that he was working on some new innovation and used terminology similar to that later used to describe parts of the printing process. But it is not until the early 1450s that we have any evidence of Gutenberg, back in his native Mainz, actually producing printed texts.
Nonetheless, 1440 was the anniversary date that stuck. As early as 1540 the printer Hans Lufft of Wittenberg is said to have held a commemorative feast, although no primary evidence of this survives. A Latin poem published in 1541 has been described as the first Gutenberg centenary publication, but can only claim the title by default since the author, Johannes Arnoldus doesn’t actually mention an anniversary, stating that a visit to Mainz inspired his work. He calls the printing press a new wonder of the world, and praises Gutenberg and his colleagues Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer as divinely inspired.
In 1640 a handful of scholars and printers produced celebratory publications for the bicentenary of printing. One such was Bernardus Mallinckrodt, apparently the first writer to use the term ‘incunabula’, from the Latin word for cradle, to refer to books from the ‘infancy’ of printing’, now used for western books printed before 1501.
Mallinckrodt’s chief aim was to defend Gutenberg’s reputation as the inventor of printing against Dutch claims that Laurens Janszoon Coster of Haarlem had first perfected the art. This debate continued for generations, becoming particularly fierce in the 19th century. It even inspired a play, staged in London in 1856, which depicted Gutenberg’s ‘theft’ of Coster’s idea.
Playbill advertising The First Printer, a play by Tom Taylor and Charles Reade, as performed at the Princess’s Theatre in March 1856 (Playbills 161)
In the Netherlands Coster was long celebrated as the inventor of printing, with 1428 commemorated as the date of his breakthrough. The modern consensus has come down in favour of Gutenberg, and contemporary debates focus more on whether or not knowledge of older East Asian printing technologies influenced developments in Europe.
Laurier-krans geflogten om’t hoofd van Laurens Koster, eerste uitvinder der boekdrukkunst binnen Haarlem (Haarlem, 1726.) Koning. 13. The scroll superimposed on the church spire may be intended to reflect the shape of an early press
1740 saw anniversary festivities in many German towns, usually organised by local printers and booksellers, but also involving scholars and clerics, whose lectures, speeches and sermons accompanied more entertaining events such as processions and firework displays. These celebrations often emphasised the role of printing in spreading Christianity. In a work commemorating the celebrations in Wernigerode, the printer Michael Anton Struck proudly claims to have printed 50,000 Bibles in 40 years.
Decorative title page of Michael Anton Struck, Wernigerodisches Danck- und Jubel-Fest, welches wegen der vor 300 Jahren 1440 erfundenen Buchdrucker-Kunst … celebriret worden ([Wernigerode, 1740]) 9930.ccc.59.(5.)
In the 16th-18th centuries, Gutenberg commemorations emphasised the invention of printing more than the inventor. Gutenberg was praised, but there was little interest in his character or motivation. 19th-century Romantic notions of the hero were among the factors that helped move Gutenberg himself into the limelight in 1840. For the first time, fictional and dramatic portrayals of his life and work were presented, as well as biographies aimed at a wider popular audience.
A tormented Gutenberg confronts the spirit of the past. From Franz Dingelstedt, Sechs Jahrhunderte aus Gutenbergs Leben: kleine Gabe zum grossen Feste (Kassel, 1840) 839.m.11.
The Gutenberg of 1840 appeared in many different guises, often with a particular political colour. To some he was still the man who had brought God’s word to the masses and facilitated the Reformation. To others, and particularly to radicals who used the anniversary to call for freedom of the press, he was a more secular apostle of enlightenment, pushing aside mediaeval darkness and superstition, and creating a technology to unite the peoples of the world.
Printing unites the peoples of the world. From Heinrich Meyer (ed.) 1840: Gutenbergs-Album (Braunschweig, 1840). 819.l.15
1900 saw the first major celebrations of Gutenberg’s supposed birth date (as determined in the previous decade) of 1400. By this time Germany had become a strong unified state and the emphasis was more on Gutenberg as national hero. A spectacular pageant in Mainz placed him and his achievement in the specific context of German culture and history alongside figures such as Luther, Goethe, Schiller and Frederick the Great.
Frederick the Great and his army as depicted in the 1900 celebration pageant, marching past the Gutenberg Statue in Mainz. From, Gutenberg-Feier, Mainz 1900: Offizielle Darstellung des historischen Festzuges ... (Mainz, 1900) 1858.a.6.
With the advent of cheap mass-production, popular souvenirs such as postcards, ornaments and pictures were another feature of the 1900 celebrations. However, the anniversary also gave rise to a number of serious scholarly publications on the early history of printing which had become an important area of research in the previous century.
The idea of celebrating Gutenberg as a German hero was, of course, taken to extremes by the National Socialist regime, which instituted annual ‘Gutenberg Celebration Weeks’ in Mainz. However, with the country at war, plans for grandiose celebrations in 1940 were replaced by more modest events. It was among academics and bibliographers in the USA that the anniversary received perhaps the most attention. Their serious studies of early printing were complemented by humorous offerings such as M.B. Cary’s The Missing Gutenberg Wood Blocks (New York, 1940; 12332.bb.15.), purporting to be newly-discovered 15th-century illustrations of Gutenberg’s early life and work, and A.W. Rushmore’s ‘The Mainz Diary’, which portrays Gutenberg’s wife as the true inventor of the press.
Mrs Gutenberg at work. From: A.W. Rushmore, ‘The Mainz Diary: 1437-1440. In which new light is shed upon the cradle days of the art and mystery of printing.’, in Print: a quarterly journal of the graphic arts, Vol. 1 no.3 (December 1940). PP.1622.bfg.
It was not until 1968 that Gutenberg was commemorated on a verifiable historical date: the 500th anniversary of his death. Wider commemorations were held for his ‘600th birthday’ in 2000, again with a mixture of scholarly and more frivolous activities. Alongside exhibitions, conferences, and printed and digital facsimiles, there were new fictional retellings of Gutenberg’s life, and such souvenirs as Gutenberg chocolates and candles.
It will be interesting to see if 2040 is marked as the 600th anniversary of western printing. It wouldn’t necessarily be historically accurate, but it would continue centuries of tradition. As for today, 24 August, surely even the most hard-nosed pedant can at least say, ‘Happy anniversary of a Gutenberg Bible rubricator laying down his pen’. After all, he too was making history in his own way.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies
19 August 2020
Rijeka (Croatia) and Galway (Ireland) are the joint European Capitals of Culture in 2020. Rijeka (in Italian Fiume) is one of the most important cities in Croatia, the largest port, and a cultural, educational and scientific centre. It is a major Croatian publishing centre and the seat of the University founded in 1973. Geographically and culturally Rijeka and the Bay of Kvarner connect the Istrian peninsula with mainland Croatia.
To mark the first Croatian European Capital of Culture, and to showcase some rare items from the British Library Croatian collections, we team up with a Library user, Marko Grba a poet and PhD student at the University of Rijeka. Coincidentally, he has the same surname and initials as the curator of Southeast European collections in the Library.
Rijeka’s cultural programme motto is “Port of Diversity”, and in this blog post we will try to revive the memory of the people, events, tradition, identity and culture that created the city and this region. To highlight a succession of eras in this beautiful city and the surrounding Bay of Kvarner we are presenting, in addition to the selected collection items, a poem in Croatian and in its English translation by the poet, together with a selection of personal photographs taken recently.
This book is a translation from Miracoli della gloriosa Vergine Maria and other popular religious works of the period. It is the last of at least seven Glagolitic books from the Senj press, printed there between 1494 and 1508. A digital copy is available from the Digital Library of the Croatian Academy in Zagreb.
The printer of this early Glagolitic book was Grgur Senjanin, the first known printer in Croatia, who printed the Glagolitic Missal (1494), among other books, in the Senj printing press founded by Silvestar Bedričić. The British Library copy is one of the five known copies in existence worldwide.
Only six Glagolitic books have been identified so far from the Glagolitic printing house in Rijeka founded by Šimun Kožičić Benja, Bishop of Modruš, and the Croatian Missal of 1531 is regarded as the most beautiful work of the press. The book is printed in Church Slavonic, in Croatian Glagolitic script in two columns, in liturgical black and red letters, and decorated with woodcuts and initials in Gothic and Glagolitic uncial fonts. Bartolomeo Zanétti (b.ca. 1487), a typographer, is named as the printer of the book. The British Library copy is one of 15 copies identified in libraries around the world. A digital copy is available from the Digital Library of the National and University Library in Zagreb.
Alfred Fest, Fiume zur Zeit der Uskokenwirren (Fiume, 1893). 10210.ff.9. A History of Rijeka in the 16th and early 17th centuries in the time of Uskoks, Christian rebels against the Ottomans who operated from the Habsburg border garrison in Senj and the Croatian Military Frontier in the Habsburg Monarchy.
Giovanni Kobler, Memorie per la storia della liburnica città di Fiume (Fiume, 1896) 10201.ff.7. A history of Rijeka in three volumes, with two appendices: chronological notes on the history of Rijeka from the year 395 to 1875, and a register of useful historical records from 803 to 1839. The author, Giovanni Kobler (1811-1893), was a lawyer and historian from Rijeka and the work was posthumously published by the city of Rijeka in 1896.
Facsimile of the emblem granted to the city of Rijeka by Emperor Leopold I on 6 June 1659. From Memorie per la storia della liburnica città di Fiume.
We turn now to some images of Rijeka and the Bay of Kvarner past and present. In one such a photograph (below) the memory of old tradition of fishing is preserved. Tuna-fishing was an important source of income in the city and the ‘tunera’ – wooden poles used as observation points for spotting the schools of tuna fish coming up the coast of the Bay of Kvarner – used to be a familiar sight, but are now long gone, as reflected in Marko Grba’s poem.
Stare tunere kod Bakarca
(Prema razglednici M. Clementa Crnčića)
Od Kostrene, malog mjesta velikih obitelji kapetana,
Uokrug zaljeva Bakra,
Mjesta škole kapetana,
Koji je i Halley od kometa
Premjeravao za potrebe brodova Kraljevske mornarice,
Pa do tunera bakaračkih,
I još dalje prema Kraljevici,
Gdje se kovala urota zrinsko-frankopanska,
Plivale su, do ne tako davno, tune:
Moć i ponos Jadrana.
Ne plove više –
I ne vrijede više tunere,
Spomen zanosu Jadrana.
Old Tunera poles near Bakarac, Kvarner Bay
(After a motive by M. Clement Crnčić*)
From Kostrena, a small town with widely known families of seafarers,
Around the Bay of Bakar,
The place of a well known school of seafarers,
Which bay the famed Halley of the Comet
Gauged for the needs of the Royal Navy fleet,
All the way to the old Tunera poles of Bakarac,
And farther still, towards Kraljevica,
Where the plot of Zrinski and Frankopan was forged,
Until not so long ago, tuna were swimming:
The pride and might of the Adriatic.
They sail no more –
And the Tunera poles are of no worth any more,
But as a memory to the rapture that once was the Adriatic.
(Poem and translation © Marko Grba)
* Menci Clement Crnčić (1865-1930), Croatian painter, graphic artist and co-founder of the Academy of Fine Arts
The Rijeka City Library, housed in Palace Modello built in 1885 (photograph by Marko Grba)
Rijeka University Library, housed in the former School for Young Ladies built in 1887 and converted first into the Scientific Library in 1948, then into the University Library in 1979 (photograph by Marko Grba)
Korzo, Rijeka’s main promenade decorated with red and white ‘Rijeka 2020 European Capital of Culture’ flags (photograph by Marko Grba)
A view of Rijeka in the distance across the Bay of Kvarner from Ičići a popular beach near Opatija (photograph by Marko Grba)
Milan Grba, Lead Curator of South East European Collections & Marko Grba, poet and PhD student at the University of Rijeka
Jakša Ravlić, Rijeka. Geografija, etnologija, ekonomija, saobraćaj, povijest, kultura. (Zagreb, 1953). Ac.8967/23
Günther Tutschke, Die glagolitische Druckerei von Rijeka und ihr historiographisches Werk (Munich, 1983) 11879.aa.2/169
Wendy Bracewell, The Uskoks of Senj (London, 1992) YA.1994.b.2298. (Limited preview available from Google Books)
07 July 2020
This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us. This week, Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager, explains her two choices.
My job as team manager to the West European cataloguers focuses on the languages I’ve studied the longest and spoken most often, but my personal interests extend much further across the collections. In common, I suspect, with my colleagues, I had a real struggle to come up with just two items for this blog, and the “inherited” one proved especially difficult.
Cover of Jon and Rumer Godden, Two under the Indian Sun (London, 1966) X.809/2495
I could have chosen any one of a number of children’s books that inspired a love of reading or a curiosity about certain themes. I could have picked an obscure primary source I have used in my own research, and of which the Library holds the only copy. In the end, however, I opted for a commercially published, Legal Deposit item that made a mark on me very early in life, although it’s not a children’s book: Two under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden.
This book is the sister novelists’ memoir of their childhood in India during the First World War. Growing up as an expatriate child in Sudan in the 1970s and 80s, I recognised many elements of their experience, from the annoyance of prickly heat behind the knees, through the whir of electric fans, to the surreptitious pleasure of a cold bottle of a fizzy soft drink, stolen from parents’ supplies while they took their rest in the heat of the afternoon and the wakeful children sneaked around engaging in forbidden pleasures. The sights and smells of the market, the curious nostalgia for a UK that could never live up to expectation when one returned, and the colonial grandeur of the “Club” whose library furnished so much of the available reading material – all were familiar to me. It was Khartoum’s Sudan Club (actually the British Club) which provided me with the first copy I knew of this book, along with much more mildly old-fashioned reading matter – and of course the BL has one too. From a world in which new and needed books were quite hard to come by, I moved eventually to a job that allowed me easy access to the whole of the world’s knowledge. What remained was an enduring pleasure in travel literature and rich description of hot places and times past.
Cover of Janet Ashton and Greg King, A life for the Tsar (East Richmond Heights, 2016) YD.2016.b.891.
The item I’m pleased to pass on is one that draws hugely on the BL’s resources, and for that reason I make no apology for mentioning my own book, co-written with my friend Greg King: A life for the Tsar. This is a US publication, not eligible for legal deposit, so I donated a copy – another one of the most usual routes by which items arrive at the BL. It’s the story of the disastrous coronation of Russia’s last Emperor, at which several thousand peasants were killed or seriously injured while queuing for coronation mugs, permanently damaging the image of both Tsar and regime. The tragic event seemed an inversion of Glinka’s classic coronation opera, in which a peasant willingly dies to save his future Tsar, leading to a reign of glory, and for that reason and others we chose re-use Glinka’s title. We based the book on innumerable British Library resources, from the official coronation albums (works of extraordinary detail and sumptuousness that were presented to all official guests) through well-known studies of the reign and contemporary newspaper accounts to obscure self-published memoirs written by those who attended. And then of course we supplemented these with manuscript and other material from other archives too. Our publisher supplied some remarkable photographs to complement our own personal collections, and worked them into a format that sought to echo that of the original album, with page decorations and inset images. The resulting book has all of our favourite things: it’s very pretty as an object, and it is full of accounts of wonderful architecture and costume, cultural history (especially of travel and of the press), real farce and in-fighting among the great and good, with a deeply serious dose of high politics as well. We are proud to have a copy in the Library for perpetuity and hope that readers enjoy it as much as they find it useful.
03 April 2020
During the revolutionary year of 1848 printed placards and broadsides were a vital means of communication, both official and unofficial. The British Library holds collections of such material and other ephemera of the period from various European cities, including four volumes from Berlin (1851.c.4-7). Obviously such placards – particularly the official proclamations – were intended for posting on walls for public information, but they were also sold in the street.
In Berlin the ‘flying booksellers’, boys who hawked broadsides along with newspapers, journals and pamphlets around the city, became a familiar sight, detested by some, but viewed by others with affection. The writer Robert Springer later described them as:
Boys of the lower class, who used to sell cakes, flowers or matches, or simply to beg … would surround the printing-shops … in order to deliver the fresh goods as quickly as possible. … Thus the refined spirit of the Berlin street-urchins came into close contact with ephemeral literature, and it was not uninteresting to see the little good-for-nothings now, out of political and commercial enthusiasm, using their wares to practise the reading that they had never settled to at school before selling them in the most original way.
A verse parody of the flying bookseller’s ‘most original’ selling technique suggests the mixture of advertising, patter and exaggerated claims that the boys might have used.
Parody of a flying bookseller, Berlin 1848. Reproduced in Ruth-Esther Geiger, Zeitschriften 1848 in Berlin: die Zeitschrift als Medium bürgerlicher Öffentlichkeit und ihr erweiterter Funktionszusammenhang in den Berliner Revolutionsmonaten von 1848 (Berlin, 1980) X.808/35196
In translation: ‘Manifestos to our voters / Ewige Lampe und Krakehler / The Pope has taken a wife / Kladderadatsch – the Russians are coming / Open letter to the Mayor / Duke Johann’s Imperial Regent / Menagerie of bloodthirsty beasts / Monecke, a high traitor / Neuer Berliner Struwwelpeter / Löwinsohn, Korn, Urban, Sigrist / Civic guardsman, see what you’re like / New extra edition of the Vossische / The cholera’s raging, for one groschen / One groschen, hand it over!’ / That’s what they call: flying bookseller.
As well as the tall stories about the Pope’s marriage and a Russian invasion, the verse reflects real events and can be dated from these to sometime in the first half of July 1848. The Austrian Archduke Johann was appointed ‘Reichsverweser’ (Imperial Regent, i.e. the provisional head of the new government to be created by the Frankfurt Parliament), on 29 June. Eduard Monecke, a student, was imprisoned for lèse-majesté on 30 June, while Löwinsohn (or Lövinsohn), Korn, Urban and Siegrist (or Siegerist) were tried in early July for instigating the previous month’s attack on the Berlin Arsenal, with sentences passed on the 15th. The verse also quotes the titles of genuine political or satirical journals: Die ewige Lampe, [Berliner] Krakehler, Kladderadatsch, Freie Blätter and Neuer Berliner Struwwelpeter, and the ‘Voss’schen’ refers to the venerable Vossische Zeitung, the oldest newspaper in Berlin. There are even references to two broadsides Grosse Menagerie blutdürstiger Thiere and Bürjerwehreken, siehste wie De bist? The first is a satire depicting European monarchs as ‘bloodthirsty beasts’ on display in a zoo, and the second is a comic ‘curtain lecture’ in Berlin dialect, supposedly addressed to a member of the recently-formed Civic Guard (Bürgerwehr) by his wife, who is unimpressed with his new status.
Masthead of a satirical broadside, General-Versammlung der fliegenden Buchhändler Berlins (Berlin, 1848) 1851.c.4.(68.). Digitised copy available from the Kujawsko-Pomorska Digital Library
The life of the flying bookseller was not an easy one. As some of the material they distributed could be classed as seditious, the boys risked being stopped by the police and having their wares confiscated. In a satire imagining a meeting of flying booksellers to discuss their rights, one of the speakers calls the police ‘our greatest enemy’. Another satire, this time on the daily life of a policeman, shows two constables accosting a flying bookseller as he leaves a stall carrying broadsides to sell: however, the constable who narrates this tale in a supposed letter to his sweetheart says that he is enclosing some of the confiscated literature for her as it is ‘very nice to read.’
Two policemen stop a flying bookseller, detail from Adalbert Salomo Cohnfeld, Constablers Leiden und Freuden, geschildert in einem Briefe an seine Jelübte (Berlin, 1848) 1851.c.5.(293.) Digitised version available from the Library of the Humboldt University, Berlin
When the revolution was defeated in November 1848, the number of satirical and overtly anti-government broadsides and journals fell sharply. A cartoon published the following year in the satirical weekly Kladderadatsch, one of the few such titles to survive, shows a figure representing the journal in a graveyard among the tombs of his deceased contemporaries. Three other titles named in the verse quoted above are among them: Freie Blätter, Die ewige Lampe and Berliner Krakehler.
‘Kladderadatsch in der Sylvesternacht’, cartoon from Kladderadatsch, 23 December 1849, P.P.4736.h. (The entire run of the journal is available online via the University of Heidelberg.)
With the vibrant print culture of the revolution quashed, the flying booksellers no doubt returned to selling their previous wares, but perhaps with a raised political conscience and a greater enthusiasm for reading.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Robert Springer, Berlin’s Strassen, Kneipen und Clubs im Jahre 1848 (Berlin, 1850) 9385.a.10 and available online
Die ewige Lampe, no. 1-48 (Berlin, 1848) P.P.3378.e.
Berliner Krakehler (Berlin, 1848) LOU.FMISC307
Freie Blätter: illustrierte politisch-humoristische Zeitung. No. 9 (Berlin, 1848). 1851.c.7.(117)
Der Neue Berliner Struwwelpeter: ein politisches Bilderbuch für Reactionaire und Revolutionaire und solche, die es werden wollen. No 1. (Berlin, 1848) 1851.c.7.(123)
Grosse Menagerie blutdürstiger Thiere (Berlin, 1848) 1851.c.4.(151), and a variant at 1851.c.4.(152)
Adalbert Salomo Cohnfeld, Bürjerwehreken, siehste wie Du bist? Eine Gardinen-Predigt, ihrem Gatten Ludewig bein Schlafengehen gehalten von Madame Bullrichen (Berlin, 1848) 1851.c.7.(42)
Susan Reed, ‘Printing the Revolution: Berlin Broadsides from 1848’, in The Book in Germany, edited by M.C. Fischer and W.A. Kelly (Edinburgh, 2010) YC.2011.a.8954
Major collections of broadsides, pamphlets and other ephemera from the 1848 Revolution in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany are available online from the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin and the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
13 March 2020
It is believed that during the early medieval period Slavonic tribes settled on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea and named the territory Kashubia, part of a larger region, Pomerania. Over the centuries Pomerania was predominantly under German or Polish rule. Originally, the Kashubs populated the area between the lower Oder to the west and lower Vistula to the east. Once the only inhabitants and rulers of this land, in the 14th century they became one of its ethnic components. As a result of German colonisation and the Christianisation of West Pomerania, the Kashubs became second-class citizens and were later subject to Germanisation. Consequently, the ethnic Kashubian population was shifted to East Pomerania which, with its capital town Gdańsk (Danzig), was affiliated to the Kingdom of Poland. However, in the 14th century it came under the control of the Teutonic Knights for over 150 years.
Map of Kashubia based on a map of Pomeranian duchies c. 1200. In Gerard Labuda, Historia Kaszubów w dziejach Pomorza (Gdańsk, 2006) ZF.9.a.5856
The Reformation had a great influence on West Pomerania, which was quickly converted to Protestantism and subsequently became German. In East Pomerania, which became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Reformation made slower progress. The new faith became popular in towns with a high German population and among the nobility, including those of Kashubian-Polish descent. However, the Counter-Reformation later reinstated Catholicism in most areas of East Pomerania.
A significant number of the Kashubian nobility identified themselves with Poland because of their active involvement in the country’s politics. Some were even granted the positions of Polish senators and governors. Nonetheless, they attempted to preserve their distinctive culture within the Commonwealth.
Map of Kashubia from 1963 in Ziemia Kaszubska (Warszawa, 1963) X.808/836
The Commonwealth ceased to exist as an independent country following its partitions between Russia, Prussia and Austria at the end of the 18th century. In consequence, the lands of East Pomerania, part of Royal Prussia, were seized by the King of Prussia, who had ruled in West Pomerania since the 17th century. Thus, all Pomerania came to be part of the Kingdom of Prussia. Protestantism became the official religion and played a crucial role in the Germanisation of the native Kashubian and Polish populations. Frederick the Great regarded Pomerania as a recruiting base for the Prussian army. For this purpose he established the Corps of Cadets in Stolp (Słupsk) in 1769 to train sons of the Kashubian nobility together with other Pomeranians. The school was also instrumental in the process of Germanisation.
The economic and social reforms in the 19th century carried out in Pomerania by the Prussian authorities had a negative impact on Kashubian identity. The reforms favoured the local Germans, and only those Kashubs who gave in to Germanisation were granted privileges. The national awakening came in the mid-19th century with the activities of an ardent advocate for the Kashubian cause, Florian Ceynowa. He is the author of the first grammar book of the Kashubian language Xążeczka dlo Kaszebov (Gdansk, 1850; 4410.g.54(2)) and editor of the first journal in Kashubian, Skorb Kaszëbskoslovjnskje movë (‘Treasure of the Kashubian-Slavonic language’; Svjecè, 1866-68; 12304.g.32)
The first grammar book of the Kashubian language, Xążeczka dlo Kaszebov (Gdansk, 1850) 4410.g.54(2)
After the First World War, the major part of Kashubia was incorporated into the newly-created Polish Republic. However, the Polish authorities treated the local population with suspicion as to their nationality. During the Second World War, the Kashubs were subject to the extermination policy of the German State. Many were killed, some deported to concentration camps, and others resettled. Further suffering was imposed by the Red Army in 1945 since soldiers could not distinguish Kashubians from Germans.
The sad plight of the surviving Kashubian population continued in post-war Poland. The authorities suspected them of having pro-German sentiments and only tolerated them for the cultivation of folk art. The political thaw of 1956 led to the foundation of the Kashubian Association, but its activities were soon to be curtailed as the communist regime gathered strength again. Despite the authorities’ hostile attitude, the Kashubs preserved their culture and ethnic uniqueness until the fall of communism in 1989. Since then they have been free to cultivate their cultural identity. In 2005, Kashubian was recognised as a regional language, and in some communities it is the second official language. According to the 2011 census, 233,000 people in Poland declared their identity as Kashubian.
Traditional Kashubian designs in Bożena Stelmachowska, Sztuka ludowa na Kaszubach (Poznań, 1937) J/07857.d.25.
Among notable Kashubs are Günter Grass, the Nobel Prize-winning German author of Kashubian descent, and Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland (2007-2014) and President of the European Council (2014-2019).
Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections
Cezary Obracht-Prondzyński and Tomasz Wicherkiewicz (eds), The Kashubs: past and present (Bern, 2011) YD.2012.a.593
Józef Borzyszkowski, Historia Kaszubów (Gdańsk, 2014) YF.2017.a.2237
K. Tymieniecki (ed.), History of Polish Pomerania (Poznań, 1929) W25/3477
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