14 October 2021
Content warning: This blog reproduces an image from a historical publication which is now considered racist
Last week, the Zanzibari writer Abdulrazak Gurnah became the first black African author in 35 years to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Judges from the Swedish Academy highlighted his ‘uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism’ as a key reason for the distinction.
Much of Gurnah’s writing is set in East Africa, and his latest novel, Afterlives, explores the impact of German colonialism on the region. The novel’s protagonists are residents of a coastal town whose lives become shaped by interactions with German soldiers, settlers and missionaries.
Gurnah’s receipt of the Nobel Prize is not only a testament to his literary prowess, but also reflects a long overdue process of engagement by European cultural institutions with the history of colonialism. As part of a three-month PhD placement, I am investigating what the British Library’s collections reveal about German colonialism and its legacies.
Cover of Abdulrazak Gurnah’s latest novel, Afterlives (London, 2021)
By consulting curators in various collections and exploring the Library’s holdings in their full breadth, including sound recordings, maps and postage stamps as well as written material, I hope to identify the potential for interrogating European accounts and locating under-represented, colonised and subaltern voices.
The era of formal German colonialism was short compared to other European empires such as Britain and France. Germany, which did not become a unified state until 1871, expanded into eastern Africa and modern-day Namibia, Cameroon and Togo in the 1880s, and established colonies in China and the Pacific a decade later. After defeat in World War One, Germany lost all of its overseas territories, with Britain taking over most of German East Africa.
The involvement of German speakers in colonial projects, however, has a longer history. In the first half of the 19th century, missionaries from German regions travelled to Africa to propagate Christianity.
One such individual was Johann Ludwig Krapf, whose activities were pointed out to me by Mariam de Haan from the British Library’s Asian and African Studies department. A clergyman from Württemberg, Krapf worked in East Africa between 1837 and 1855, and was one of the first Europeans to document the Swahili, Maasai and other regional languages.
In an account of his travels, available digitally in German on the British Library’s website, Krapf proposed that European nations take charge of different areas of Africa and Asia. Each power would place the indigenous peoples under their tutelage until Christianity had brought them to ‘full maturity’.
Krapf’s geographical findings are shown on W.D. Cooley’s ‘Map of part of Africa, South of the Equator, shewing the discoveries of the Rev. Dr. Krapf and Rev. J. Rebmann' (London, c. 1864) 2.b.14.
Krapf’s life provides an example of the transnational entanglement of European actors in ‘civilising’ projects. He did not travel under a German organisation, but rather as a member of the British Church Missionary Society, and likened his activities to Scottish counterpart David Livingstone’s work in southern Africa. In London, the cartographer William Desborough Colley published a map (shown above) charting the geographical findings of Krapf and fellow German missionary Johannes Rebmann.
In the mid-1880s, the German East Africa Company sought to gain economic and political power in the region. Following heavy local resistance to the company’s administration, the German government took control of the territory in 1891.
The contemporary and retrospective literature published by colonial officers active in East Africa contains racist stereotypes, and frequently masks the brutal realities of German practices. However, the texts occasionally reveal how local resistance undermined imperial authority.
Early opposition came in particular from the Hehe ethnic group. In 1891, Hehe warriors ambushed a German column in what became known as the Battle of Lugalo. The German defeat, with heavy losses, was described as a ‘catastrophe’ in the memoirs of the officer Tom von Prince, who acknowledged admiringly how the Hehe leaders had exploited their enemy’s vulnerability when marching in line.
Cover of Tom von Prince’s Gegen Araber und Wahehe. Erinnerungen aus meiner ostafrikanischen Leutnantszeit, 1890-1895 (Berlin, 1914) 9061.d.35.
Accounts of indigenous resistance in the British Library’s collections are not limited to German perspectives. The Sound and Moving Image catalogue contains interviews recorded by Alison Redmayne, a researcher who conducted fieldwork in Tanzania during the 1960s. Redmayne collected interviewees’ descriptions of the Battle of Lugalo and the Maji-Maji Rebellion, a major uprising between 1905 and 1907.
The uprising began when a spiritual medium, Kinjikitile Ngwale, claimed that a water-based medicine (maji means water in Swahili) would protect rebels from German bullets. After Tanzania became independent in 1961 following British rule, the Maji Maji Rebellion was celebrated as a moment of unity between different ethnic groups.
Ebrahim Hussein’s popular play Kinjeketile, published in 1969, reimagined the leader – who was executed by colonial officers early in the rebellion – as a tragic hero who privately doubted the power of his ‘sacred water’ but kept silent to preserve the newfound solidarity among the rebels.
Cover of the English translation of Ebrahim Hussein’s Kinjeketile (Dar es Salaam, 1970), X.908/26258
Early postcolonial interest in the Maji Maji Rebellion was also reflected in an oral history project at the University of Dar es Salaam in the late 1960s, in which students interviewed individuals who experienced the uprising. A published collection of material from the project, including transcriptions of the interviews in local languages and translations into English, can be found in our holdings.
In recent years, historians have revisited the interviews and highlighted underexplored passages which challenge the notion of the Maji Maji Rebellion as an interethnic struggle against European domination. Thaddeus Sunseri, for example, has pointed to instances of collaboration with the Germans and emphasised the variety of motives behind participation in the revolt.
Introductory page of the University of Dar es Salaam’s Maji Maji research project, 1968. Collected papers (Dar es Salaam, 1969) X.805/195.
Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Afterlives, too, illustrates the complex choices faced by individuals whose lives are disrupted under foreign rule, and Gurnah’s works are a reminder that understandings of the colonial past are constantly evolving. The British Library does not contain everything there is to know about European colonialism: accounts from colonisers and European perspectives are likely to be better represented than the voices of the colonised, which sometimes survive only in mediated form. Nonetheless, the collections offer potential for new insights which can only be realised through dialogue across departments and across source collections.
I have been astounded by the wide range of relevant material which I have found in the library so far, and, when speaking to colleagues, I think they have been surprised too. As my project continues, I look forward to sharing further library resources for investigating colonialism with colleagues and library users.
Rory Hanna, PhD Placement Student, German Collections
References and further reading:
Abdulrazak Gurnah, Afterlives (London, 2021), in order
Abdulrazak Gurnah, Paradise (London, 1994), Nov.1994/631
Sebastian Conrad, German Colonialism: A Short History (Cambridge, 2012) YC.2011.a.17036
Clarissa Vierke (ed.), Johann Ludwig Krapf: the life and work of a missionary and scholar-traveller in nineteenth-century East Africa (Nairobi, 2009) YD.2009.a.6998
Clemens Gutl (ed.), Johann Ludwig Krapf: „Memoir on the East African slave trade“. Ein unveröffentlichtes Dokument aus dem Jahr 1853 (Vienna, 2002) X.0909/1053.(73)
J.L. Krapf, Reisen in Ost-Afrika, ausgeführt in dem Jahren 1837-55, etc (Stuttgart, 1858) 10096.e.30.
J.L. Krapf, Travels, researches and missionary labours, during an eighteen years' residence in Eastern Africa (London, 1860) 010095.gg.34.
Andrew Roberts (ed.), Tanzania Before 1900 (Nairobi, 1968), X.709/15877.
Alison Redmayne, 'The Wahehe people of Tanganyika', PhD thesis (Oxford, 1965)
J.B. Gewald, ‘Colonial Warfare: Hehe and World War I, the Wars Besides Maji Maji in South-Western Tanzania’, African Historical Review 40:2 (2008), pp. 1-27, 0732.493000
Tom von Prince, Gegen Araber und Wahehe. Erinnerungen aus meiner ostafrikanischen Leutnantszeit, 1890-1895 (Berlin, 1914) 9061.d.35.
Carl Peters, Das Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Schutzgebiet (Munich, 1895), 10094.e.29.
Felicitas Becker und Jigal Beez (eds), Der Maji-Maji-Krieg in Deutsch-Ostafrika, 1905-1907 (Berlin, 2005) YF.2006.a.30647
James Giblin and Jamie Monson (eds), Maji Maji: Lifting the Fog of War (Leiden, 2010) 0733.775000 v. 20
Ebrahim Hussein, Kinjeketile (Dar es Salaam, 1970) X.908/26258
University College, Dar es Salaam, Department of History, Maji Maji research project, 1968. Collected papers (Dar es Salaam, 1969) X.805/195.
Thaddeus Sunseri, ‘Statist Narratives and Maji Maji Ellipses’, The International Journal of African Historical Studies 33:3 (2000), pp. 567–84, 4541.580000
Elijah Greenstein, ‘Making History: Historical Narratives of the Maji Maji’, Penn History Review 17:2 (2010), pp. 60-77
Stefan Noack et al (eds), Deutsch-Ostafrika: Dynamiken europäischer Kulturkontakte und Erfahrungshorizonte im kolonialen Raum (Berlin, 2019), YF.2020.a.11433
19 February 2021
Georgia has long been represented in the collections of the British Library and its predecessors. We hold Georgian manuscripts, printed books, maps, sound recordings and visual materials as well as a wide range of publications in Western languages relating to Georgia and the Caucasus. We also hold official publications, periodicals and newspapers.
These materials describe Georgian culture at different times and from different perspectives. They also tell a story about British curiosity and the desire to learn and read about lesser-known countries and cultures.
Georgia had strong links with the Classical and Byzantine worlds. This period of Georgian history is well illustrated in the Library’s collections by seven Georgian medieval manuscripts and early Western cartographic material.
The Georgian flag, among others, appears on this map created in Venice in the 1320s. It is a white rectangle, with a large red cross in its central portion touching all four sides of the flag. In the four corners there are four crosses of the same colour as the large cross.
After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the links between Georgia and Europe were lost. Consequently, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Georgia became trapped between Turkey and Persia in their rivalry for domination over Transcaucasia. The King of Georgia, Teimuraz I, sent his envoy, Niceforo Irbach, to Europe to ask for assistance and to seek allies. His ambassadorial mission had little political success, but it did bring about a significant cultural event: the printing of the earliest Georgian books.
These books, printed in Rome by the Propaganda Fide press in the 17th century, are well represented in the Georgian collections. Indeed, we have several copies of them. They are the earliest printed publications in Georgian and they are also the earliest dictionaries and grammar books printed in Georgian.
Title page and opening of Sefano Paolini, Dittionario giorgiano e italiano (Rome, 1629); 622.e.34.(2.).
The reports of English and European travellers to Georgia stimulated interest in the country in the 17th century. The desire for knowledge of little-known countries and cultures encouraged the publication of their travel accounts and of maps.
The Library has a number of these early accounts, including the works of Sir John Chardin and Sir Robert Ker Porter. These remained the most important sources of information in Europe about life in Georgia until the early 19th century.
‘A Georgian lady’; Add MS 14758/2, fol. 187r.
In the 19th century interest in Georgian culture became more academic. This was linked to a more general interest in Asia. The Royal Asiatic Society was founded in London in 1823. The British and Foreign Bible Society was also encouraging its members to study early Eastern Christian manuscripts including those in Georgian. In 1837 the British Museum purchased two Georgian manuscripts: Add MS 11281 and Add MS 11282.
11th-century Georgian manuscript, ‘Lives of Holy Fathers’. Add MS 11281.
The Library’s collections hold the works of the first British Kartvelologists, researchers on Georgian studies, who initiated the promotion of Georgian language and culture in the second half of the 19th century. They were responsible for the first attempts to introduce Georgian culture to intellectual and research circles in Britain and Continental Europe.
Sir Oliver Wardrop and William Edward David Allen founded the Georgian Historical Society (1930), which published its own journal, Georgica, (1935- ; Ac.8821.e.) dedicated to Kartvelian studies. Several Georgian literary classics were translated by Marjory and Oliver Wardrop and other scholars.
Photograph of Marjory Wardrop in Georgian national dress, 1896. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Various aspects of 20th-century Georgian culture and history are reflected in the Library’s collections:
The first sound recordings made in Georgia and the Caucasus, recorded in Tbilisi, 1901-1914, by the Gramophone Company of London;
A rare copy of H2SO4, the Georgian avant-garde journal, published in 1924 (RB.23.b.6973);
First editions of writings by the avant-garde artist David Kakabadze, published in Paris in 1924;
Avant-garde books designed and written by Ilia and Kiril Zdanevich;
Georgian émigré newspapers published in Europe and the USA after the Russian Revolution.
We also hold two later manuscript collections. The first, Musha (‘The Worker’: a journal of the socialist-revolutionary party in Georgia), was presented to the British Museum in 1898 by Prince Varlaam Cherkezishvili, a remarkable person who obtained a seat in the Constituent Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Georgia.
The second, written in the 1950s, consists of a collection of letters and postcards by Grigol Robakidze, a writer, publicist and public figure (Or 16935).
The Library’s Georgian holdings continue to grow in the 21st century. Contemporary Georgian material is acquired in the mainstream humanities disciplines. The emphasis is on reference books, history, art and culture, as well as literature, language, contemporary politics, ecology, etc.. We collect contemporary fiction in Georgian and also acquire translations via Legal Deposit and by purchase.
In addition to ongoing acquisitions of new material, the collection is supported by donations from the public and partners. Most recently, the collections were significantly strengthened by generous gifts from the Art Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History.
Besides extremely valuable publications from the Art Palace, we have also received a collection of Georgian film posters 1934-1985 and four Georgian contemporary illuminated manuscripts. These manuscripts have been created by contemporary Georgian artists and calligraphers. They are original works but executed in gold ink in traditional Georgian style. The Art Palace commissioned these works specially for the British Library to enrich our Georgian collections.
Manuscript donated by Art Palace; (Awaiting shelfmark).
On Friday 25th and Sunday 27 February the British Library in association with Maya Jaggi and Writers’ House of Georgia will present two days of online events as part of the four-day festival Georgia’s Fantastic Tavern: Where Europe Meets Asia. Some of Georgia’s most celebrated novelists, playwrights and screenwriters will be reflecting on Georgia’s artistic legacy on the centenary of the first Georgian Republic and the 30th anniversary of independence from Soviet rule. Further details and booking information can be found here.
Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections
Anzor Erkʿomaišvili = Anzor Erkosmaisvili. Kʿartʿuli pʿonočʿanacerebi ucʿxoetši = Georgian pohonogram recordings abroad. (HUS 016.7809475)
13 September 2019
Sometimes an opportunity to net a big fish that is irresistible comes along. Last year a title appeared in a dealer’s catalogue that was similar to a title destroyed in the bombing of the British Museum in September 1940. Being able to replace a destroyed copy does not happen often, and I was able to acquire it with the help of funds from the British Library Members.
The book in question is a work on whaling:
Nieuwe beschryving der walvisvangst en haringvisschery.: met veele byzonderheden daar toe betreklyk. (Amsterdam, 1792). RB.23.b.7844.
The book is interesting in quite a few ways. We do not know who the author of this whaling manual is. Joop Schokkenbroek, an expert on Dutch whaling history, believes the author was a whaler himself, who wrote from experience.
The names on the title page refer to the artists who made the engravings: Dirk, or Diederik de Jong, Hendrik Kobell and Matthias de Sallieth.
Of Dirk de Jong we know very little. No date or place of birth is known. All that is certain is that he worked in Rotterdam from 1779-1805. He was an illustrator and engraver, especially of maps. However, none of the maps in the book carry his name, or any name for that matter, so I cannot say whether de Jong made them.
Engraving from the book depicting Spitsbergen, not Greenland. RB.23.b.7844
Hendrik Kobell lived from 1751 to 1779 and worked in London, Paris and Rotterdam. He came from a family of artists and draughtsmen. While some of his relatives specialised in drawing cattle, Hendrik preferred ships, seascapes and sea battles.
The third artist who contributed to the book is Matthias Sallieth (1749-1791). Originally from Prague he settled in the Netherlands in 1778. He copied Dutch artists from the past, such as Willem van de Velde the famous painter who witnessed sea battles first hand and then painted them.
Many of the engravings in the book bear both names: Kobell and Sallieth, indicating a close working relationship. From the names and dates on the engravings it seems likely that Sallieth was the artist and Kobell the engraver.
Engraving by Kobell (engraver) and Sallieth (artist) of a whaling scene. RB.23.b.7844
Sallieth did a nice little sketch of the heads of the four Dutch naval commanders who were involved in the Battle of Medway, in 1667, taken from earlier works. One of them is Michiel Adriaansz de Ruyter (1607-1676), who as a young sailor in 1633 served as pilot on board whaling ship De Groene Leeuw (The Green Lion) , hunting whales near Spitsbergen. He wrote an account of this expedition, a summary of which was re-issued in a collection of six other journals on whaling voyages.
Title page of the summary of the journal by Michiel A. de Ruyter of his expedition to the Isle of Jan Mayen. In: L’ Honoré Naber, Walvischvaarten, overwinteringen en jachtbedrijven in het Hooge Noorden 1633 – 1635 (Utrecht, 1930) Ac.9017.b/8.
De Jong’s work saw two print runs in quick succession, one in 1791 and one in 1792. This copy is from the second issue. The destroyed copy was from 1791, so it is not an exact match, though close enough. The book consists of four parts: the first is about the history of whaling and the manner in which the whales, walruses and seals are caught, and it gives a description of the various species of these animals.
Engraving of a Sperm Whale. In: Nieuwe beschryving der walvisvangst en haringvisschery (Amsterdam, 1792). RB.23.b.7844
The Library holds many more whaling journals, dating as far back as the early 17th Century, describing expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, from the late 16th Century onwards. Adventures and hardships endured by the whalers were very popular with readers back home. Our collections provide ample material for another blog.
De Jong’s book stands out for its attention to the wider context in which whaling took place. Apart from the practical aspects of whaling and herring fishing, it describes not only the seas where fishing occurred, but also the surrounding lands, the people that lived there and the flora and fauna.
Engraving of a Brent Goose and a Puffin. RB.23.b.7844
Engraving of Icelandic woman. RB.23.b.7844
The last chapter discusses the herring fishery, which includes a foldout engraving of the lifting of nets by Kobell and Sallieth. Why is herring fishing included here? I’m not sure. Herring fishing was certainly a major trade for the Netherlands; called the Big Trade.
Engraving of herring fisheries by Sallieth (artist) and Kobell (engraver). RB.23.b.7844
By the year 1800 whaling had declined, due to wars and competition. King William I tried to revive the industry with large subsidies. I wonder whether the King had read De Jong’s book. Schokkenbroek wrote a review of the facsimile edition published in 1992. In it he wonders whether the author’s intention had been to revive interest in the whaling industry once more. On the last page he refers to the glorious history of Dutch whaling “that from the oldest times onwards was held for a goldmine to this Commonwealth, will continue to flourish, and deposits its treasures in the lap of the Netherland’s inhabitants.”
It wasn’t to be. In the early 19th Century the industry collapsed once more. It was only after the Second World War that private companies decided to go out whaling again. There was a lack of foreign currency as well as margarine, so the best way for the Dutch was to get their own oil to make margarine. With help from the Dutch government the ship Willem Barents II completed eighteen expeditions to the Southern hemisphere. When this financial support was stopped whaling became unsustainable. In May 1964 the Willem Barents II returned to port with the very last oil.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (speciality Dutch languages)
22 August 2018
Newsletters can be wonderful things. In March of this year ‘Focus On Belgium’ had an item about father and son Isaac and Jacob Le Maire. Jacob was one of the first Europeans to reach Cape Horn and to find an alternative shipping route to Asia, circumventing the monopoly held by the Dutch East Company, or VOC in Dutch.
This ties well in with our exhibition on James Cook: the Voyages, now in its last week (must end 28 August). As you enter the exhibition you’ll see a very large map hanging off the wall. This forms part of the Klencke Atlas and It shows part of the coastline of Australia and surrounding archipelagoes, such as Papua New Guinea, named ‘Terra dos Papos a Iacobo Le Maire , dicta Nova Guinea.’ Who was this Iacob Le Maire and how had he ended up so close to Australia?
Portrait of Jacob Le Maire form De Ontdekkingsreis van Jacob le Maire en Willem Cornelisz. Schouten in de jaren 1615-1617. Werken uitgegeven door de Linschoten-Vereeniging. dl. 48, 49. (The Hague, 1945). Ac.6095.
Jacob Le Maire had been sent on an expedition by his father Isaac, who was convinced there had to be a different route around South America into the South Pacific and on to South East Asia. He set up a trading company entitled ‘The Australian Compagnie’, and secured funding from wealthy merchants in Hoorn. From the same place he contracted Willem Corneliszoon Schouten to be captain on the expedition.
Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten did find the passage, which Jacob named ‘Cape Horn’ after the city of Hoorn. Mission accomplished? In a way yes, but Jacob then went off script and followed his own plan to find the almost mythical Southern continent Terra Incognita Australis. He passed in between Australia and Papua New Guinea, which is why the strait still carries his name.
Jacob LeMaire’s route from Cape Horn to the north coast of Australia, with inserted maps of Cape Horn and New Guinea, from Joris van Spilbergen, Speculum Orientalis Occidentalisque Indiae Navigationum (Leiden, 1619) 1486.gg.27.
From then on things went downhill for Jacob.
Having arrived in Batavia, they were promptly arrested by the governor, the notorious Jan Pieterszoon Coen for breaking the VOC’s monopoly. They were sent back to the Netherlands. Tragically, Jacob died eight days into the voyage. He received a seaman’s burial.
The VOC had confiscated Lemaire’s ship and all documents on board, including Jacob’s journals. They came back to Hoorn with Schouten but were not given to Isaac Lemaire. This gave Willem Schouten the chance to publish his own account of the voyage, using his own journals. These had also been confiscated, but with the help of Willem Jansz Blaeu, who had connections within the VOC he published the first account of the voyage. Isaac Le Maire tried to stop publication by suing Blaeu. He won the case, but Blaeu appealed on the basis that if he did not publish the journal someone else would. He finally got permission to publish Jacob’s Journal, which appeared in 1618. Willem Schouten takes the credit for the discovery; Jacob Le Maire barely gets a mention.
Title page of Iovrnal ofte beschryvinghe van de wonderlicke reyse ghedaen door Willem Cornelisz Schouten van Hoorn, inde Jaren 1615, 1616 en 1617. (Amsterdam, 1618), reproduced in: De Ontdekkingsreis van Jacob le Maire en Willem Cornelisz. Schouten.
How right Blaeu had been in his protest against the publication ban is shown in the record of the flurry of publications that appeared between 1618 and 1622.
In particular the Leiden printer Nicolaes Van Geelkercken was very active. He issued several translations in 1618, in French, German, and Latin of Oost ende West-Indische Spiegel, which included the journal of Joris (George) Spilbergen’s voyage around the world in 1614-17 and Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten’s explorations as described above. There is a connection here, because LeMaire and Schouten had travelled back to Hoorn on Spilberghen’s ship.
It wasn’t until 1622 that Jacob’s papers were released and a more accurate and balanced account could be published. This has since been reprinted many times, including in 2000 by the Australian National Maritime Museum in a facsimile edition ‘to celebrate the harmonious relationship that exists between the Netherlands and Australia.’
In 1906 the Hakluyt Society published an edition of the various journals of Le Maire and Schouten, as well as Spilbergen, including a bibliography of the various editions over time, running to 17 pages. Interestingly it also includes a list of ‘Works Quoted in this Volume or Bearing on its Subject, with the British Museum Press-marks’. Now that should make life a lot easier for anyone wanting to research the Le Maires further, at least up to 1906. What it won’t include is the lovely find I made in the course of my research for this post, Octave J.A.G. Le Maire’s L’Origine anversoise des célèbres navigateurs Isaac et Jacques le Maire (Antwerp, 1950; 0761.g.41).
In this slender publication, Octave Le Maire, apparently a descendant of the Le Maires, makes a passionate case for Antwerp and not Amsterdam as the origin of the Le Maire family. It has a dedication in it, which roughly translates as: ‘In honour of the Library of the British Museum, where a precious discovery about the I and J Le Maire was made, during the war 1914-1918.’
The discoveries one can make in The British Library without having to go out to sea!
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.
Dirk Jan Barreveld ‘Tegen de Heeren van de VOC : Isaac le Maire en de ontdekking van Kaap Hoorn, (The Hague, 2002) YA.2003.a.31803.
Henk Schoorl, Isaäc Le Maire. Koopman en bedijker. (Haarlem, 1969) X.800/4479.
16 April 2018
For almost two hundred years Montenegro was unknown to the world and, like the rest of what was then European Turkey, a forgotten country without a history. Montenegro was rediscovered in the west in the 19th century during hard and long independence struggles of the peoples living under the Ottoman Empire.
‘The Eastern Question’ was an umbrella term coined in the west for the complexities surrounding the uprisings of the oppressed peoples within the Ottoman Empire, the external wars against the Ottomans, and the rivalries of the European powers for control over the territories of the declining Ottoman Empire.
These events periodically renewed outside interest in the Ottoman Empire, its peoples and European provinces, inspiring the first travel accounts and histories, and establishing Montenegro on the map.
Significant features of some of the early works about Montenegro are their contemporary cultural observations as well as the publication of important historical sources such as international agreements, written records, and the first law-codes of Montenegro. Western accounts were published to inform the public, to mark and celebrate important anniversaries or events, and some of the books were written with scholarly ambition and scientific purpose.
Characteristically the first historical accounts of Montenegro, published in the Serbian language, drew on oral history traditions and on personal memories and experiences. Some early historians were in the service of the ruling prince-bishops of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty and had unfettered access to the archives, which contained official correspondence and documents, chronicles and annals, as well as the first printed history of Montenegro published in St Petersburg in 1754,Vasilije Petrović Njegoš’s Istoriia o Chernoi Gory (9475.b.44.)
The above maps of Montenegro show the geographical and administrative division of 19th-century Montenegro into two main historical regions: Old Montenegro and The Hills. Old Montenegro consisted of four districts (‘Nahija’): Katunska (I), Crmnička (II), Riječka (III), Lješanska (IV). The Hills also consisted of four districts: Bjelopavlići (V), Piperi (VI), Morača (VII), Kuči (VIII). Each nahija in turn consisted of clans, represented on these maps by their individual names. Montenegrin clans comprised extended family groupings (‘Bratstvo’), made up of individual families.
Montenegro was landlocked and surrounded by the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia, Herzegovina and Albania; to the south Montenegro bordered the Kingdom of Dalmatia, part of the Austrian Empire.
Most 19th century history books on Montenegro describe four distinctive periods in the history of Montenegro: the mediaeval period to the end of the 14th century followed by two periods, one from 1516 to 1697, and the other from 1697 to 1850, and then the contemporary period from 1850 onwards.
The first mediaeval state created within the territory of Montenegro was the Principality of Doclea (Duklja), followed by the Principality of Zeta which was an integral part of the mediaeval Serbian kingdom.
The name Montenegro (‘Black Mountain’) probably first appeared during the reign of Ivan Crnojević (1465-90) who moved his residence to the country’s final stronghold, at the foot of the mountain Lovćen, against the invading Ottomans. The period from 1516 to 1697 is the least- known in the history of Montenegro. During this time, while under Turkish domination, the clans of Montenegro were in constant conflict among themselves and against the Ottomans. The clans’ resistance to Turkish rule, however, grew stronger over time, and from 1603 Montenegro became de facto an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire. The historical record of the period from 1516 to 1697 does not provide much more detail beyond the names of the elective metropolitans of Montenegro and the Montenegrins’ participation in the Venetians’ wars against the Ottomans.
From William Denton, Montenegro: its people and their history (London, 1877) 9136.bbb.45.
A turning-point came with the election of Danilo Petrović, from the Njeguši clan in Katunska nahija, as Metropolitan of Montenegro in 1697, a position he held until his death in 1735. His main efforts were directed towards the unification and emancipation of Montenegro, the implementation of the customary law of the country for clans and individuals in conflict, and the establishment of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty, which ruled Montenegro from 1697 to 1918. From his time the politics of Montenegro towards the Ottoman Empire were intertwined with its political and military relations with the far-away Russian Empire, the neighbouring Venetians and the Austrian Empire.
Another defining moment in the history of Montenegro was the union of Old Montenegro with The Hills after decisive victories over the Ottoman forces in 1796.
Maps 43625. (17.). Map of Montenegro and its adjacent territory, coloured to show the changing boundaries in the late 1870s. Blue shading represents Montenegro before the war of 1877-8, green shading the increase of territory accorded by the Treaty of Berlin 1878, and the blue line is the border adopted by the Conference of Ambassadors at Constantinople in April 1880.
In 1850 Montenegro became a secular principality under the patronage of the Russian Empire, which was the long-standing sponsor of the metropolitans of Montenegro and of Montenegrin independence and statehood.
In 1876 Montenegro took part in the Serbian war against Turkey that soon culminated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 in which Montenegro finally acquired its long-fought independence from the Ottoman Empire and an expansion of its territory.
The war of 1877-1878 in Montenegro, presented in Cassell’s Illustrated History of the Russo-Turkish War (London, 1896) 9136.i.2. You can see the map superimposed on one of present-day Montenegro here.
The population grew constantly during this period. In the 16th century the population of Old Montenegro had been between 20,000 and 30,000, rising to around 50,000 in the 18th century, and by 1835 an estimated 100,000 people lived in Old Montenegro and The Hills. In 1864 the first official census counted just over 196,000 people and in 1878, after the territorial expansion, this figure rose to over 200,000.
A collection of 12 history books in five languages (German, Serbian, French, English and Russian), published between 1846 and 1888 and now digitised by the British Library, offers a fascinating perspective into the growth of knowledge about Montenegro in the 19th century. These books, some of them very rare, remain relevant today as invaluable historical sources and important documents on the basis of which our critical knowledge of the history of Montenegro was created over time.
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
Mojsije Pajić, V. Scherb, Cernagora (Zagreb,1846) 10210.b.12.
Milorad Medaković, Povestnica Crnegore (Zemun, 1850) 9136.de.13.(1.)
Cyprien Robert, Les Slaves de Turquie, Serbes, Monténégrins, Bosniaques, Albanais et Bulgares (Paris, 1852) 10125.d.19.
Walerian Krasinski, Montenegro and the Slavonians of Turkey (London, 1853) 1155.g.13.
Aleksandar Andrić, Geschichte des Fürstenthums Montenegro (Vienna, 1853) 9135.d.20.(1.)
Dimitrije Milaković, Istoriia Crne Gore (Zadar, 1856) 9134.bb.13.
Henri Delarue, Le Monténégro. Histoire, description, mœurs, usages, législation (Paris, 1862) 10205.bb.17. Serbian translation: Crna Gora: istorija, opis, naravi, običaji, zakonodavstvo, političko uređenje, zvanična dokumеnta i spisi (Podgorica, 2003) YF.2006.a.35818
François Lenormant, Turcs et Monténégrins (Paris, 1866) 9135.aaa.32. Serbian translation Turci i Crnogorci (Podgorica, 2002) YF.2008.a.30613.
William Carr, Montenegro (Oxford, 1884) 9136.c.40.
Pavel Apollonovich Rovinskiĭ, Chernogoriia v eia proshlom i nastoiashchem (St Petersburg, 1888) 10007.t.1.
Sima Milutinović Sarajlija, Istoriia Cerne - Gore od iskona do noviega vremena (Belgrade, 1835) 9135.g.3. Available online from Matica srpska Digital Library.
Gustav Friedrich Hertzberg, Montenegro und sein Freiheitskampf (Halle, 1853) 10126.a.36.
Zakonik Danila Prvog (Novi Sad, 1855). Available online from Matica srpska Digital Library.
Abdolonyme Ubicini, Les Serbes de Turquie: études historiques, statistiques et politiques sur la principauté de Serbie, le Montenegro et les pays serbes adjacents (Paris, 1865) 10126.aaa.43.
Timoleone Vedovi, Cenni sul Montenegro (Mantova, 1869) 10125.aa.43. Serbian translation Bilješke o Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 2000) YF.2008.a.34135.
Sigfrid Kaper, O Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 1999) YF.2008.a.34150.
Spiridion Gopčević, Montenegro und die Montenegriner (Leipzig, 1877) 10126.f.6.
Đorđe Popović, Recht und Gericht in Montenegro (Zagreb, 1877) 5759.e.32. Serbian: translation Pravo i sud u Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 2003) YF.2006.a.11405.
Giacomo Chiudina, Storia del Montenero-Crnagora-da’ tempi antichi fino a’ nostri (Split, 1882) 9136.ee.1.
Jovan Popović-Lipovac, Crnogorac i Crnogorka (Podgorica, 2001) YF.2008.a.34137.
P. Coquelle, Histoire du Monténégro et de la Bosnie depuis les origins (Paris, 1895). 2392.g.4. Serbian translation: Istorija Crne Gore i Bosne (Podgorica, 1998) YF.2008.a.34225.
Il Montenegro da relazioni dei provveditori veneti, 1687-1735 (Roma, 1896) L.R.37.a.10. Serbian translation: Crna Gora: izvještaji mletačkih providura: 1687-1735 (Podgorica, 1998) YF.2008.b.3078
Đorđe Popović, Istorija Crne Gore (Belgrade, 1896) 9135.de.13. Available online from Belgrade University Digital Repository
William Miller, The Balkans: Roumania, Bulgaria, Servia and Montenegro (London, 1896) 9012.a.1/44.
Ilarion Ruvarac, Montenegrina (Zemun, 1899) 9136.f.31.
Pavel Apollonovich Rovinskiĭ, Zapisi o Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 2001) YF.2009.a.9153.
19 January 2018
This Christmas saw some pretty wet and windy weather, both in the UK and across the North Sea in the Netherlands, where I spent my Christmas holidays. Foul it may have been, but it was nothing compared to the storm that battered vast swathes of the Northern Netherlands, Northern Germany and Denmark for four days over Christmas in 1717.
I must say, that I, like most of my fellow Dutchmen had never heard of this storm. Yet, it caused more casualties than the big flood of 1953. It was the biggest natural disaster in 400 years. The Northern Maritime Museum, located in two beautiful Medieval buildings in the centre of Groningen, is runnning an exhibition on this ‘Midwinterflood’, in collaboration with the Groningen Archives. They are organising a conference about the flood on 20 January.
A prominent place in the exhibition is taken up by images of a map, which is by no means ‘only’ a topographical map, but tells the story of the flood in both cartographic and pictorial images and text. It is beautifully made, but that should not come as a surprise, since it was none other than the master cartographer Johann Baptist Homann who engraved it.
J.B. Homann, Geographische Vorstellung der jämerlichen Wasser-Flutt in Nieder-Teutschland, welche den 25 Dec. Aº 1717 ... einen grossen Theil derer Hertzogth Holstein und Bremen, die Grafsch. Oldenburg, Frislandt, Gröningen und Nort-Holland überschwemet hat. (Nuremberg, [1718?]) Maps * 27095.(6.)
Homann addresses us as ‘reader’ (‘Hochgeneigter Leser!’) instead of ‘viewer’, seemingly emphasising that the map is not just a topographical tool but a text to be read.
Detail from Homann’s map, with his address to the reader.
The most striking thing about the map is the green colouring which indicates the extent of the reach of the water. It immediately brings home the scale and seriousness of the disaster. At one point the water reached the gates of the city of Groningen, which lies 34 km inland from the coastal town Pieterburen. Estimates are that 14,000 people lost their lives across the whole of the northern Netherlands, Germany (10,000!) and Denmark. Homann gives a figure of 18,140 for casualties in Germany. Let’s hope that modern science is more accurate than he was.
Homann’s account (above) and depiction (below) of the flood
The illustrations within the map, such as the water scoop, sluice and inundated village support the story. The putti holding up the banner with the quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are crying, as a sign of the scale of the human tragedy and may-be the feelings of Homann himself.
Water-scoop and sluice (above) and weeping putti (below) from Homann’s map
My first thought when I saw this extraordinary map in the exhibition was: “Is there a copy in the British Library?” As soon as I could I went online to check our catalogue and indeed, I found it at the first attempt. I reserved it immediately to be ready for me to study it as soon as I was back at work. I almost could not wait. Fortunately I had the exhibition to keep me entertained. It gives a fascinating account of what happened, how it could happen, the human, material and financial costs and it also highlights the hero of the story Thomas van Seeratt, who had been appointed provincial commissioner only the year before. At first ridiculed when sounding the alarm on the sorry state of the dikes, he was tragically proven right on Christmas night 1717.
Soon after the event pamphlets such as that by Adriaan Spinneker started to appear, telling of horrible ordeals suffered by people trying to save their lives by clinging on to trees, or roof tops, barely clothed, without any drinking water or food, exposed to bitterly cold and wet weather for hours and sometimes days on end, all the while carrying loved ones on their backs or in their arms. In the end some became so exhausted and stiffened by cold that they had to let go of their children.
Adriaan Spinneker, Gods Gerichten op den aarde vertoond in den ... storm en hoogen waterfloed ... in't 1717de Jaar voorgevallen, aandachtig beschouwd …(Groningen, 1718) 11557.bbb.64
Authorities did initiate a large programme of dike building, based on van Seeratt’s designs, which involved making dikes less steep, so they can absorb the shocks of the waves much better. These days Dutch national authorities and the 22 water boards are responsible for dike maintenance, rather than private landowners. This is just as well, because without dikes to protect it, the Netherlands would look a bit more like this.
The Netherlands compared to sea level. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.
Gerhardus Outhof, Verhaal van alle hooge watervloeden in ... Europa, van Noachs tydt af, tot op den tegenwoordigen tydt toe ... Met eene breede beschryvinge van den zwaaren kersvloedt van 1717 ... (Embden, 1720) 1607/5565.
Johannes Velsen, De hand Gods uitgestrekt tot tugtinge over zommige provintien der vereenigde Nederlanden, bestaende in zes gedigten van de watervloed, in Kersnagt, van 't jaer 1717. (Groningen, 1718), in: Dutch pamphlets 1542-1853 : the Van Alphen collection (Groningen, 1999) Mic.F.977
12 July 2017
The Russian Empire stretched continuously across one-sixth of the world’s landmass, from Poland to the Pacific and from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of Central Asia. According to the data of the General Staff of the Russian Imperial Armed Forces and the Statistical Committee of the Ministry of the Interior, at the beginning of the 20th century Russia’s territory stretched from north to south for nearly 3,000 miles and from east to west for over 6,600 miles. Russian tsars ruled over the second largest territory in the world after the British Empire.
Title-page of Zhivopisnaia Rossia (St Petersburg, 1881-1901) Cup.22.k.1. This multi-volume work described different regions and peoples of the Empire for a general audience and the decorative title-page attempts to depict the range and diversity of Russia’s vast territories in a single image
The Russian Empire was home to some 150 million people divided into around 170 ethno-cultural groups, whose ways of life ranged from nomadic steppe herdsmen and tribute-paying fur trappers to communal agriculturalists, industrial workers and wealthy nobles. Full maps of the Empire were usually published in two sections: European and Asian. The Asian part of Russia beyond the Ural mountains was significantly larger than the European part and occupied nearly two thirds of the entire Russian territory. Most of these territories were industrially and agriculturally underdeveloped compared with the European areas. In some areas of Siberia the population density hardly reached 10 people per square mile, while in the country’s western parts, including Poland and Finland, it was over 100 people per square mile. At the beginning of the 20th century the Asian territories that belonged to the Russian Empire were described as Siberia (including the Far East), nine regions in Central Asia with its population of nearly eight million people, and the so-called Caucasian region or Transcaucasia. The kaleidoscopic diversity of geography, agriculture, industry, culture, ethnicity, religion, history and social structures sustained enduring notions of a land of paradox and unknowable mystery.
It is not surprising that economic modernisation of Russia hugely depended on the transportation system. The vastness of Russia and slowly developing infrastructure could partly explain extreme diversities and difficulties in managing the country.
A fragment of the Map of railways, rivers and road communications in European Russia, 1914.
As demonstrated in the Map of the Development of the Russian Railway Network, 1838-1918, which shows the railway construction in ‘European’ and ‘Asian’ Russia, the railways remained concentrated in Russia’s most industrial western core.
Map of the development of the Russian Railway network, 1838-1918. Maps 35797.(8.)
At the end of the 19th century a journey from Moscow to Sakhalin took about three months. It depended on crossing rivers and was season-bound. In March 1897, on his way to exile Vladimir Ul’ianov, the future leader of the Revolution known as Lenin, wrote in a letter to his mother:
The halt here is a long one and there is nothing to do, and I have decided to write yet another letter en route, my third. I still have two more days’ journey ahead of me. I drove across the Ob [river] in a horse-sleigh and bought tickets to Krasnoyarsk. … The way the trains run here is beyond all bounds. To do that 700 versts [464 miles] we shall crawl for forty-eight hours. Beyond Krasnoyarsk, the railway goes only as far as Kansk, i.e., for 220 versts [145 miles] —and altogether to Irkutsk it is about 1,000 versts [663 miles]. And so I shall have to go on by road—if I have to go at all. Another 24 hours is taken up by those 220 versts on the railway; the further you go, the slower the trains crawl along.
You have to use a horse-sleigh to cross the Ob because the bridge is not ready, although its skeleton has been built. … The country covered by the West-Siberian Railway … is astonishingly monotonous—bare, bleak steppe. No sign of life, no towns, very rarely a village or a patch of forest—and for the rest, all steppe. Snow and sky—and nothing else for the whole three days. They say that further on there will be taiga, and after that, beginning at Achinsk, mountains. The air in the steppe, however, is wonderful; breathing is so easy. There is a hard frost, more than twenty degrees below, but it is easier to bear here than in Russia. It does not seem to me that it is twenty below. The Siberians say it is because the air is ‘soft’, and that makes the frost easier to bear. Quite probably it is so.
Russia’s vast territory lacked infrastructure that could support industrialisation. The building of the Trans-Siberian Railway started in 1891. As minister of transport and later minister of finance, Sergei Witte saw the project as one of the vehicles for economic reforms. 7,000 km was built between 1891 and 1916. However, in 1904 the Trans-Siberian Railway proved slow in carrying troops and supplies over the vast distance which had devastating results on the outcomes of the Russo-Japanese War. After the October Revolution in 1917, the railway became a strategic point, as the Czechoslovak Legion took control over large areas near the railway.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. As part of the accompanying series of events, on 21 July Railway Historian Christian Wolmar will be giving a talk on the Trans-Siberian Railway during the Revolution. You can find more details, including how to book, here.
05 July 2017
The Empire of Austria was created in 1804 when the last of the Holy Roman Emperors assumed the title Emperor of Austria as Francis I. This Empire was made up of heterogeneous political entities: kingdoms, archduchies and duchies, earldoms, and other administrative areas without a common purpose. The Habsburg dynasty ruled over these territories as a sole unifying power.
Ethnographic map of the Austrian Empire which shows the lands of the House of Habsburg according to the constitution of 1849. Maps 27727.(3.)
In 1855 the Austrian Empire held Balkan territories which included the Kingdom of Dalmatia, the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia and the Military Frontier, as a defensive zone along the Ottoman border.
Ethnographic map of the Austrian Monarchy. Detail shows the political structure of the Austrian Empire in 1855. Maps 6.b.53.
The population of the Austrian Empire according to the 1851 census was 36,398.000. The Slavonic peoples constituted 40.6%; Germans 21.6%; Italians and Rhaeto-Romanic speaking peoples 15.3%; Hungarians 13.4%; Romanians 6.8%; and Jewish, Romani and Armenian peoples just over 2% of the total population.
An 1858 Map. Peoples of the Austrian Monarchy: a survey of the nationalities. Maps 27727.(7.)
Slavonic languages were the most spoken languages in the Austrian Empire. Officially there were six Slavonic languages in the Empire: the Czech (spoken by Bohemians, Moravians and Slovaks), Polish, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian (Serbs, Croats and Bosnians), Slovenian and Bulgarian.
An 1867 map of peoples and languages of Austria and lower Danube countries. Maps 27727.(13.)
The Austrian Empire was a multi-national and linguistically diverse Monarchy. At least 17 nations and minority groups were represented in it. In 1868 according to individual languages most people spoke German (25.2%) followed by the Czech, Hungarian and Romanian, among other national languages spoken in the Monarchy.
A 1868 ethnographic map of the Austrian Monarchy gives detailed statistics of the national and linguistic diversity. Maps 27727.(16.)
After the defeat in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Austrian Empire looked towards East for consolidation and imperial expansion. The Habsburg Monarchy was reshaped in 1867 as Austria-Hungary and in 1878 was allowed to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina.
An 1888 map of languages of Austria-Hungary (above, Maps 27727.(29.)) shows the addition of Bosnia and Herzegovina with a population of 1,336.091 according to the census of 1885, which increased the number of the Serbo-Croatian language speakers in the Monarchy. The map includes the statistical data in numbers and percentage of the nine languages spoken in the individual crown lands.
Austrian map showing peoples and languages of the Central Europe in 1893. Upper and Lower Sorbian designed as Wenden on the map in the area south of Berlin and Kashubian in the area south of the city of Danzig (now Gdańsk in Poland). The map also displays Slovak as a distinctive language from Czech. Maps 1065.(35.)
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
European studies blog recent posts
- Investigating German colonialism in the British Library’s collections
- Georgian Collections in the British Library
- How to Catch a Whale? (And Some Herring, Too)
- The two Belgians who were the first Europeans to reach Cape Horn
- Montenegro in 19th-century Maps and History Books
- Mapping the Christmas Flood of 1717
- The Trans-Siberian Railway
- Peoples and Languages of the Austrian Empire in 19th-Century Ethnographic Maps