European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

12 November 2020

PhD Placement Opportunity - Interrogating German Collections

Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the German collections at the British Library. Under the title Interrogating German Collections, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or part-time equivalent) challenging the conventional history of knowledge of German-speaking regions, and to explore under-represented perspectives. Co-supervised with Expanding German Studies, a group seeking to expand and diversify the German Studies curriculum across the UK, the placement offers an opportunity to understand how German culture has constructed categories of racial difference, and how the voices of racialised others (including Jewish, Eastern European, Black, East Asian, Turkish and Middle Eastern people) have been represented within the discipline. The British Library’s German Printed Collections are of worldwide importance and will serve as a comprehensive source.

Covers of four German books
A selection of books by German authors who feature on the Expanding German Studies interactive bibliography

While the student will be expected to propose a specific focus, the placement will involve researching the collections, writing blog posts on items and on methodologies around collecting and curation, improving catalogue records, presenting to different departments on the results. The student will also have the opportunity to work with Expanding German Studies on teaching resources, and on preparing translations of neglected works for German Studies undergraduates, among other potential outputs.

This placement project offers an opportunity for a PhD student to put their research and critical thinking skills into practice at a major cultural institution through a topic that will be crucial to every aspect of the Library and to the cultural sector more widely in the coming years.

Further information on eligibility, conditions and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is 18 December 2020.

For informal enquiries, please contact Pardaad.Chamsaz@bl.uk, Susan.Reed@bl.uk, Nicola.Thomas@bristol.ac.uk

05 November 2020

Frederick Cosens, a forgotten Hispanist

Frederick William Cosens (1819-89) began his working life aged 17 when he joined the sherry firm of Pinto Pérez in London as an invoice clerk. It was the start of a highly successful business career. In 1848, he set up his own sherry export-import company, based in London and with bodegas in Jerez and Puerto de Santa María. Then, in 1862, he entered the port wine business in partnership with the London-based firm Da Silva. In 1877, Silva & Cosens merged with the prestigious Dow & Co. Cosens’ income allowed him to build up substantial collections of fine art, printed books and manuscripts. At his death, these were auctioned at five sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s catalogue of Cosens’ printed books highlighted ‘Spanish and Portuguese literature, and numerous publications relating to Cervantes, Calderón, Lope de Vega… standard works by English and foreign writers…’. He also owned books on Spanish painting, Peninsular history, travel accounts and an extensive collection of Spanish chapbooks. Arguably, drama held the greatest attraction for him, notably Shakespeare and the Spanish theatre of the Golden Age. Dickens, Cervantes and Galdós were among his favourite novelists. He also contributed articles and reviews to the Athenaeum and Notes and Queries on a range of Spanish topics, plus not a few on Shakespeare.

Frederick Cosens’ bookplate featuring a lion.

Frederick Cosens’ bookplate. The plate appears in many of Cosens' books acquired by the BL.

Cosens was also active as a translator. He produced English versions of two 17th-century Spanish plays on the legend of Romeo and Juliet: Lope de Vega’s Castelvines y Monteses and Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla’s Los bandos de Verona. These were privately published in 1869 and 1874 respectively. His treatment of the two plays was very different. Cosens translated the whole of Lope’s play into English verse, while of Los bandos he put into verse only ‘such portions … as bear some reference to Shakespeare’s tragedy’. He regarded Lope’s play as superior to Rojas Zorrilla’s and provided only necessary linking passages in prose in the latter.

English translations of the two Spanish plays were among Cosens’ manuscripts auctioned at Sotheby’s in July 1890. The manuscript of Castelvines is held by the library of the University of Pennsylvania, while that of Los bandos is in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. The latter is written in an even copperplate hand and is evidently the fair copy of a close literal translation in prose. The published version, however, is very different, both in the summary passages in prose, and also in the selected passages of verse. The style of the latter is highly poetic.

Title page of the Sotheby sale catalogue of Cosens’ manuscripts

Title page of the Sotheby sale catalogue of Cosens’ manuscripts (1890) SC.Sotheby

Cosens’ library also contained copies of translations into English prose of other Spanish literary works. These included poems by Lope de Vega, Spanish ballads, Gonzalo de Berceo’s life of Santo Domingo de Silos and the medieval Spanish epic, the Poema de Mio Cid. The evidence of the literal prose translation of Los bandos suggests that it was the first step in a process that ended with the published text. Except for a version of a tale from Juan Manuel’s Conde Lucanor, Cosens published no other translations, although he evidently did intend to publish a version of the Poema de Mio Cid, but stopped when John Ormsby’s was published in 1879. His interest in the medieval narrative works has rarely been commented upon and the location of the translation of Berceo’s Vida de Santo Domingo is – as far as I know – unknown. There also remains the question whether Cosens himself was responsible for the prose translations or whether he employed someone to produce them as the basis of potential literary versions.

Cosens’ interest in Spanish literature and art began most probably in Spain in the course of his business career. His collection of Spanish books had begun by 1854 when he sent a list of some 500 books to the Orientalist and scholar, Pascual de Gayangos, who later would catalogue the Spanish-language manuscripts of the British Museum Library. Gayangos commented that Cosens subsequently acquired many more excellent books. Some of these could be those that he purchased at important auction sales, e.g. those of Lord Stuart de Rothesay (1855) and Richard Ford (1861). Gayangos’s role in Cosens’ development should not be underestimated. He continued to advise and assist him in the acquisition of Spanish books, as he did with notable Hispanic scholars including Stirling-Maxwell, Ticknor and William H. Prescott. It was Gayangos who, together with his son-in-law, J.F. Riaño, selected and had transcribed for Cosens documents from the archive of the Conde de Gondomar, Spanish Ambassador to London (1613-18, 1619-22), held at the Archivo General de Simancas.

When Cosens’ library was sold at Sotheby’s in 1890, Gayangos purchased a number of the Spanish manuscripts and considerably more of the printed books. These were acquired for the Spanish national library following Gayangos’ own death in 1897. The British Museum purchased 37 printed books in Spanish, the majority published in the 19th century. Henry Spencer Ashbee purchased 15 items related to Cervantes, all of which came to the British Museum Library with his bequest of 1900. Just one Spanish manuscript – an account of the reign of Felipe V - was purchased, although the transcriptions of Gondomar’s papers were acquired for the Public Record Office.

Geoff West, formerly Lead Curator Hispanic Collections

Further reading:

Santiago Santiño, Pascual de Gayangos. Erudición y cosmopolitismo en la España del siglo XIX (Pamplona, 2018) YF.2018.a.9696

Barry Taylor & Geoffrey West, ‘The Cervantes Collection of Henry Spencer Ashbee in the British Library’, in Studies in Spanish Literature in Honor of Daniel Eisenberg, ed. Tom Lathrop (Newark, DE, 2009), pp. 337-61. YD.2009.a.4481

Geoff West, ‘The Acquisition of Spanish Chapbooks by the British Museum Library in the Nineteenth Century: Owners, Dealers and Donors’, in El libro español en Londres..., ed. Nicolás Bas Martín y Barry Taylor (Valencia, 2016), pp. 61-80. YF.2017.a.19281

 

30 October 2020

The Spanish Friar who “told Europe” about China

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

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

References:

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

 

23 October 2020

Gianni Rodari, the logic of fantasy (part 2)

This is the second blog post in a two-part series to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Italian children’s writer Gianni Rodari (1920-1980). You can read part 1 here.

“Tutti gli usi della parola a tutti”: mi sembra un buon motto, dal bel suono democratico. Non perché tutti siano artisti, ma perché nessuno sia schiavo (G. Rodari, Grammatica della fantasia)

“Words are for everybody to use” seems a good motto to me, with a nice democratic sound. Not so that everyone might be a poet or an artist, but so that nobody might be a slave (author's translation)

Learning through playing with words is one of the most important techniques to foster a meaningful cognitive development of children’s linguistic ability, as many educational approaches have already demonstrated internationally. Gianni Rodari’s pioneering merit was to recognize and reinforce this technique through literature almost 50 years ago, when some Italian educators started to reinvent teaching using modern methodologies. “Power to imagination!” seems the right slogan to summarize Grammatica della fantasia. This captivating essay on imagination serves both as a theoretical exposition and as a textbook offering exercises on the art of storytelling ready to implement in classrooms.

Front cover of Grammatica della fantasia

Front cover of Grammatica della fantasia. Introduzione all’arte di inventare storie, illustrated by Bruno Munari (Turin, 1973) X.907/13373.

Passionate about the mechanisms of language, which deeply shape the human mind and imagination, Rodari had promoted creative writing ever since his first job as a school teacher. According to Rodari, fantastica or fantasy – i.e. the imaginative skill – is not in conflict with logic. On the contrary, it is the key to creatively mastering the logic of language. The power of fantasy lies in the possibility of breaking linguistic rules in order to invent a language that enables children to feel creative, to explore lateral thinking and, most importantly, to enjoy learning. In the logic of fantasy, then, mistakes are opportunities to enhance the children’s linguistic skills. Rodari’s attempt to theorize fantasy as an important cognitive ability in his Grammatica della fantasia aimed consequently to promote the children’s right to be protagonists of their education for the first time in the history of Italian pedagogy.

During the 1960s, Rodari’s dedication and commitment to children’s education increased exponentially. He took part in many collaborations and children’s workshops all over Italy. In the documentary Gianni Rodari, il profeta della fantasia, teachers and educators recall the pleasure and excitement of taking part in Rodari’s 1972 “fantastic” training workshop in Reggio Emilia. From the 1960s, Rodari worked hand in hand with teachers of the Movimento di Cooperazione Educativa (MCE), a movement inspired by Célestin Freinet’s pédagogie populaire. The pillars of MCE education are cooperative learning and learning by doing, democratic and inclusive techniques based on a fair exchange of knowledge between teachers and students. This idea of reinventing education to reinvent society was the backbone of all Rodari’s intellectual activities.

Many conferences dedicated to Grammatica della fantasia have followed since 1973, proving it to be an inspiring milestone in education, still able to produce meaningful thought and criticism today. The British Library holds some of those proceedings that offer not only an insight into Rodari’s revolutionary approach to writing and education, but also some other of his critical writings.

Front cover of Il cane di Magonza

Front cover of Il cane di Magonza (Rome, 1982; YA.1988.a.5756)

In his acceptance speech for the 1970 Hans Christian Andersen Award, Rodari disclosed his passion for fantasy three years before the publication of Grammatica della fantasia:

Occorre una grande fantasia, una forte immaginazione per essere un vero scienziato, per immaginare cose che non esistono ancora e scoprirle, per immaginare un mondo migliore di quello in cui viviamo e mettersi a lavorare per costruirlo.

A great deal of creativity, a strong imagination is necessary to be a true scientist, to imagine things that don’t yet exist and to discover them, to imagine a better world than that in which we live and to start working towards building it (author's translation).

As a summary of Rodari’s extensive advocacy of children’s creativity, Grammatica della fantasia represents his cutting-edge contribution not only to education, but also to creative writing by utterly reshaping the approach to children’s literature in Italy.

Ramona Ciucani, West European Languages Cataloguing Team

Further reading:

A tutto Rodari: tutti gli usi della parola a tutti, a cura di Maria Carmen Sulis e Agnese Onnis (Cagliari, 2003) YF.2017.a.23460

Il cavaliere che ruppe il calamaio: l’attualità di Gianni Rodari: atti del convegno, Ortona 25-26 novembre 2005, a cura di Francesco Lullo e Tito Vezio Viola (Novara, 2007) YF.2008.a.31837

Carmine De Luca, Gianni Rodari: la gaia scienza della fantasia (Catanzaro, 1991) YA.1993.a.15088.

H.M. Fardoun et al., ‘Applying Gianni Rodari Techniques to Develop Creative Educational Environments’, Journal on data semantics, 2014, pp. 388-397; 5180.185000

Maria Grazia Ferraris, Vado via coi gatti…: la voce multiforme e multi sonante di Gianni Rodari: interventi critici (2004-2018) (Francavilla Marittima, 2019) YF.2019.a.16341.

Le provocazioni della fantasia: Gianni Rodari scrittore e educatore, a cura di Marcello Argilli, Carmine De Luca e Lucio Del Cornò (Rome, 1993) YA.1995.a.6443

Gianni Rodari, The Grammar of Fantasy: An Introduction to the Art of Inventing Stories, translated by Jack Zipes. To be published in April 2021

Se la fantasia cavalca con la ragione: prolungamenti degli itinerari suggeriti dall’opera di Gianni Rodari: convegno nel decennale della ‘Grammatica della fantasia’…, a cura di Carmine De Luca (Bergamo, 1983) YA.1990.b.3732. if you are able to add the book cover as Image 10, please take this title out from here.

Un secchiello e il mare: Gianni Rodari, i saperi, la nuova scuola a cura di Mario Piatti (Pisa, 2001) X29/5868.

C. Torriani, ‘Il teatro di Gianni Rodari: la fantasia al servizio dell’apprendimento della lingua’, Tuttitalia: the Italian journal of the Association for Language Learning, no. 39, 2010, pp. 11-17; 9076.178300

15 October 2020

Solidarity in satire

This is the last post in a series of blogs on the Solidarity movement published to commemorate its 40th anniversary. You can read about the 21 Gdánsk demands here, the poet Jadwiga Piątkowska here, and 'Mały Konspirator', a manual to anti-government activity in 1980s Poland, here

The British Library collection of Polish underground ephemeral publications [BL shelf mark Sol. 764] includes a significant number of posters, photographs, cartoons and humorous ephemera created by artists involved in various opposition groups. The ephemeral publications best reflected a rapidly changing reality in 1980s Poland. They were particularly effective in conveying Solidarity ideas, documenting its activities and informing about crucial social and cultural events of the time. Both simple in form and laconic, these visual materials carried powerful and indirect commentaries on the political situation as well as delivering witty, amusing and comforting messages. Most of them were produced anonymously and only some had features that later allowed for identifying their designers.

Lenin with Mohawk punk graffiti

Lenin with Mohawk punk graffiti (1987) designed by Dariusz Paczkowski, a street art and graffiti artist. It was created to mock the leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, whose image was widely used in communist propaganda.

A mock ‘wanted’ poster for General Wojciech Jaruzelski

Arrest warrant – the society hunts a national enemy (ca. 1982). A mock ‘wanted’ poster for General Wojciech Jaruzelski, responsible for proclaiming martial law in Poland in December 1981, with a description and an offer of a reward for his capture.

An image of a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with a police baton; an image of General Jaruzelski and a red star

I love PZPR (the Polish United Workers’ Party) – an image of a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with a police baton; I love the USSR – an image of General Jaruzelski and a red star; I love ZOMO (Motorized Reserves of the Citizens’ Militia) – para-military formations particularly brutal during the period of martial law in 1981-1983.  At the right bottom corner – Solidarity wins!

The next two images are examples of ephemera discouraging Polish citizens from voting in elections and must have been created either in October 1985 for the parliamentary elections, or in June 1988 for the election to the National Councils.

A sticker styled after a telegram

A sticker styled after a telegram: “Stay at home / stop / Gorbachev votes in your place anyway / stop”.

A mock election list with drawings of pigs as candidates

Election List. Candidate no. 1 the Polish United Workers’ Party, Candidate no. 2 the Alliance of Democrats, Candidate no. 3 the United People's Party, Candidate no. 4 the Christian Social Association. *Fill in missing data.”

Drawing of a person sitting on a TV and reading the journal «Solidarność»

A poster advertising the University of Poznań Solidarity journal Serwis Informacyjny Komisji Zakładowej NSZZ «Solidarność» przy UAM w Poznaniu. Created in 1981.

Drawing of Lech Wałęsa with his hand coming through a TV

New Year’s wishes with the image of Lech Wałęsa, the future first democratically elected president of Poland and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Created in the 1980s.

Poster with the logo of A Cappella

The Military Song Festival in Kołobrzeg 88. The festival began in 1969. Part of the official propaganda, it was organised by the Main Political Directorate of the Polish Army and its aim was to instill patriotism and promote the image of a heroic soldier. In 1988 a group of activists from Ruch Wolność i Pokój (Freedom and Peace Movement) planned to disrupt the festival carrying with them 30 posters. Stopped and searched by secret service agents they managed to leave behind this poster which features the logo of A Cappella, a periodical published by Ruch Wolność i Pokój.

Poster with a dove/peace sign

A poster by Ruch Wolność i Pokój advertising an International Seminar on Peace taking place in Warsaw on 7-9 May 1987. Ruch Wolność i Pokój was a peaceful anti-government movement and advocated non-violent resistance. Its programme included support for conscientious objectors, protection of the environment, international cooperation, protection of the rights of minorities, abolition of capital punishment, and withdrawal of the Soviet army from Poland. It carried out numerous protests including hunger strikes, occupational strikes, marches, happenings and public burning of draft cards.

A poster with the logo of A Cappella
 

“A teddy bear is better than a machine gun”. A poster with the logo of A Cappella published by Ruch Wolność i Pokój

Zuzanna Krzemień, Ela Kucharska-Beard and Magda Szkuta, Curators of East European Collections

07 October 2020

Nomen est omen

We’re all too young to remember this joke from ITMA.

Posh lady: ‘There’s nothing my little Jimmy likes better than snuggling up in front of the fire with Enid Blyton.’
Louche voice: ‘Beats reading any day.’

Authors are often conflated with their books, sometimes through ignorance. In the Middle Ages Policraticus/Policratus was often cited as an author rather than the work by John of Salisbury.

Other authors made a point of naming their books after themselves: Orme (the 12th-century Augustinian) called his exegetical work Ormulum

Thiss boc iss nemmnedd. orrmulum; / Forr tha orrm itt wrohhte.
[This book is named Ormulum; for that Orme it wrote.]

Similarly, Emmanuele Tesauro named his biblical compendium the Handy Treasury, so that on the title page it came out as Emmanuelis Thesauri Thesaurus Manualis. Manuel and Manual of course aren’t related. But note that crazy chiasmus.

Title-page of Thesauro Manual en el Conde Manuel Thesauro

Title-page of Thesauro Manual en el Conde Manuel Thesauro … (Madrid, 1674) 4226.dd.33 

When Dutch mapmaker Jacob Aertsz Colom wanted a title for an atlas to guide the seafarer, he thought back to his Bible reading and recalled Exodus 13:21-22. When Pharoah let the Israelites go they went out:

through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea … And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. (King James Bible)

And so Colom called his book De Vyerighe Colom (Amsterdam, 1654; Maps C.8.c.3.), translated into English in 1648 as Upright fyrie colomne … wherein are described and lively portrayed all the coasts of the west, north and east seas.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

03 October 2020

German Reunification - Before and Beyond 1990

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.

Cover of 'Die Bemühungen der Bundesrepublik um Wiederherstellung der Einheit Deutschlands'
Die Bemühungen der Bundesrepublik um Wiederherstellung der Einheit Deutschlands durch gesamtdeutsche Wahlen: Dokumente und Akten 
(Bonn, 1952)  S.F.430/12.(2.)

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.

Cover of 'Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands' with a stylised map of the divided Germany including former German territories in Poland
Cover of Klaus Otto Skibowski (ed.), Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands (Aschaffenburg, 1955) 08073.d.89.

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.

Cover of 'Ein Schnäppchen names DDR' with a drawing of snails
Cover of Günter Grass’s critical take on reunification, Ein Schnäppchen namens DDR (Frankfurt am Main, 1990) YA.1995.a.29449

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.

Cover of 'Das letzte Ende' witj a photograph of one of the Cabaret Distel performers
Cover of Das letzte Ende: gibt es ein Leben nach der Wiedervereinigung (Berlin, 1991) YA.1994.b.4972

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

30 September 2020

“Contested commemoration”: Trieste’s memorials of Fascism, Nazism and World War Two

On 13 July 2020 the city of Trieste marked the centenary of the arson attack on the Slovene National Hall by returning it to the use of the Slovenian-speaking community there. During a day of commemorations for victims of the fascist and war periods attended by the current President of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, the Italian President Sergio Mattarella handed ownership to two Slovenian-speaking associations.

In these troubled times, when stories of the rise of the far right abound in many countries, Trieste seems to be trying to take the opposite route, confronting and coming to terms with its own complicated history. The fate of and attitudes to the Slovenian community there act as a mirror to this history.

Photograph of the Slovene National Hall

Photograph of the Slovene National Hall prior to the arson attack in 1920. Image from the National Library of Slovenia 

The National Hall was a symbol of worldly success in late Habsburg Trieste. It contained a theatre, a library, and a hotel, and was built to the highest modern standards based on plans by the local architect Max Fabiani. Its existence sent the clear message that people need no longer abandon the Slovenian language to attain success: it was the language of some of the most successful citizens, as vital to Trieste as German and Italian, the languages of administration.

When a group of Blackshirts burnt the Hall down, to the apparent passivity of local police, it marked the beginning of a very dark period – and not just for the Slovenes. Trieste, a symbolically crucial site for Italian nationalism, became a laboratory and showcase for fascism, with new buildings erected on a massive scale and fascist agitators shipped in from other parts of the country to encourage the movement’s development there. Fabiani himself joined, just one year after the destruction of his own work on the National Hall. From its university to its lighthouse, the graceful Habsburg port acquired a nationalist and then totalitarian overlay.

Yet, ironically, it took the collapse of the fascist government for things to reach their nadir. In 1943, the successful Allied invasion of southern Italy led to Mussolini’s dismissal and disavowal by the King, and the occupation of the northern half of the country by its Nazi “allies.” Trieste and the province of Fruili became part of the Reich, forcibly tugged back into their pre-1918 alignment with central Europe. It was the Nazis who converted an urban rice processing plant, the Risiera di San Sabba, into a transit camp, with indications that it was also intended from the start as a death camp, the only one actually inside an Italian city, within earshot of the population. Ovens designed for drying rice provided a ready-made infrastructure for a new, grimmer, purpose.

Prisoners held at San Sabba – some to die there, some on their way to other camps across occupied Europe – ranged from local Jews to people with learning disabilities to other members of the area’s resistance to fascism, including the writers Boris Pahor and Giani Stuparich. In charge of the camp was one of Austria’s most notorious Nazis: Odilo Globočnik, the man responsible for the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and the beginning of the ethnic cleansing of Poland, among numerous other appalling crimes.

Globočnik was born in Trieste himself: his name suggests that he was an ethnic Slovene, though his ancestors were from Tržič on the modern border with Austria rather than the Trieste area as such. After returning to his birthplace in 1943, Globočnik oversaw the deaths of up to 5,000 people at the Risiera before fleeing to Carinthia where he committed suicide when captured by Allied troops. Many of his associates, however, escaped without trial or retribution into post-war civilian life.

As Tito’s and other Partisans arrived in the Trieste area, a huge range of reprisals began against locals perceived as collaborators with the Fascist or Nazi regimes. On the Karst above the city, they followed Fascist examples in using natural cracks and chasms in the rock to conceal the bodies of thousands, a grim exercise echoed in many parts of Yugoslavia as the incoming regime rounded on those who had prospered during the war years. Trieste’s own fate was not settled for almost a decade: occupied by Allied troops and argued over by Italy and Yugoslavia, the city was ultimately assigned to Italy again, but lost its Slovene-speaking hinterland, which had been Italian between the wars, to the reconstituted Yugoslavia. Sections of population fled in both directions.

At Basovizza/Basovica, a karst village that is now effectively a suburb of Trieste, the mass grave at the Foiba, the chasm, and the nearby memorial to four young Slovene resistance fighters of the anti-Fascist TIGR movement stood as sad reminders of recent history, and a particular focus for aggrieved locals.

Photograph of the Foiba

The Foiba. Photography by Janet Ashton

For domestic and other reasons, much of Italy’s war history went unexamined in the country more widely. It suited the strong Italian Communist Party not to say much about the various Foibe (some of their own members might, after all, have been perpetrators) and it suited many more to look on Fascist war crimes as somehow “less bad” than those committed by the Nazis, the perennial Teutonic invader of nationalist historiography. In the exhibition at the Risiera, for example, the perpetrators were presented as foreigners who had come in from Poland with the Nazi occupier, ignoring Globočnik’s local roots, the assistance of locals from all ethnic groups, and the racial policies of Mussolini’s government.

After the break-up of Yugoslavia things began to change, and investigations of mass graves from the 1940s took place in both Italy and Slovenia. The Foiba di Bassovizza suddenly became a new focus for Italian national identity and the memory politics of the emergent right, a symbol of “Slavic barbarity” and the dangers that lurked in Communist states. The annual commemoration ceremonies can acquire unpleasant overtones, with nationalists and even neo-fascists taking over what could be a simple remembrance for the dead and underlining it with territorial claims to the Istrian and Dalmatian coasts.

The official text on the walls at the memorial is more conciliatory, setting the massacres into the context of the repressive fascist years and pointing out that the killings were driven as much by politics as ethnicity, some of the victims being Slovenes or Croatians themselves.

Photograph of the TIGR memorial

The TIGR memorial. Photography by Janet Ashton

During the ceremonies to mark the handover of the National Hall, Borut Pahor and Sergio Matterella held hands before both the Foiba and the TIGR memorial, acknowledging and trying to put behind them the political and ethnic complexities of local history. There were decorations from both states for Boris Pahor, the Triestine Slovene who has never seemed fully at home in either country, and who is now, at the age of 106, finally emerging from a relative obscurity that stands in such contrast to the renown of that other Italian holocaust writer, Primo Levi.

Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager

Further reading on the Foibe and San Sabba and their place in Italian memorialisation of World War Two and the Holocaust:

Claudia Cernigoi, Operazione foibe a Trieste: come si crea una mistificazione storica : dalla propaganda nazifascista attraverso la guerra fredda fino al neoirredentismo. (Udine, 1997). YA.2001.a.24080

Dante Fangaresi, Dieci settimano a San Sabba. (Florence, 2003). YF.2007.a.10020

Ferruccio Fölkel, La Risiera di San Sabba: Trieste e il Litorale Adriatico durante l'occupazione nazista (Milan, 1979). X.809/48579

Susanne C. Knittel, The historical uncanny: disability, ethnicity, and the politics of holocaust memory. New York, 2015). m15/.10563

Paolino Nappi, ‘Between memory, didacticism and the Jewish revival: the Holocaust in Italian comic books’, Journal of modern Jewish studies, Vol. 17 No. 1 (2018). 5020.681700

Katia Pizzi, ‘Storia e memoria ai confini nordorientali di Italia'. Italian studies, Vol. 68 No. 3 (2013). P.P.5044.am.

M. Purvis, D. Atkinson, ‘Performing wartime memories: ceremony as contest at the Risiera di San Sabba death camp, Trieste’, Social & cultural geography Vol. 10 No. 3 (2009). 8318.042550

Louise Zamparutti, ‘Foibe literature: documentation or victimhood narrative?’, Human remains and violence, Vol.1 No. 1 (2015). ELD Digital store

Louise Zamparutti, ‘Brava Gente and the Counter (Re)public of Italy: Constructing the Foibe as a National Symbol,’ Romance studies, Vol. 35 No. 1 (2017). ELD Digital store

23 September 2020

Shining a light on Wilkie Collins and the Low Countries

Today is the 131st anniversary of Wilkie Collins’s death.

Portrait of Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins in Hollandsche illustratie, 1 May 1871. Reproduced in P.L. Tissot van Patot, Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations (The Hague, 2017). Awaiting shelfmark

Collins was well known in the Low Countries during his lifetime. His novels and plays were translated and performed widely. A great source of information for anyone interested in Wilkie Collins and his connection to the Low Countries is P.L. Tissot van Patot’s Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations. This gives a comprehensive description of all aspects relating to Wilkie Collins and the Low Countries; which of his works were translated into Dutch, the publishers involved, which theatre companies performed his plays and where and when, even Dutch language books held in his own library.

Front cover of Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations

 Front cover of Wilkie Collins: Bibliographic overview of the Dutch language translations

The Lighthouse is one of Collins’s plays. Written in 1855, it is regarded as one of the first detective stories, together with The Woman in White. Four manuscript versions of The Lighthouse have been preserved: two in Britain and two in the US. One is held by the British Library at Add MS 52967 H; another is held at the V&A and has never been published before. Two translations also appeared as serialisations in French and Flemish newspapers. Tissot van Patot has recently brought all six versions together in a synoptic edition with an introduction.

Front cover of Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document with an image of a lighthouse

Front cover of Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document, ed. by P.L. Tissot van Patot (The Hague, 2018) Awaiting shelfmark

Page from Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document, showing six versions side by side.

Page 7 of Wilkie Collins The Lighthouse: Six versions in one document, showing six versions side by side.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

15 September 2020

Mały konspirator

This post is a part of a series of blogs written on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Solidarity movement. You can read about the 21 Gdánsk demands here and the poet Jadwiga Piątkowska here.

Seeing the British Library’s collection of independent Polish publications from the 1970s-1980s, one cannot fail to be impressed by the range and complexity of the material. Thousands of items – books, periodicals, posters, photographs, leaflets, stamps, etc. – form a very rich, dynamic collection. There is a sense of urgency about it. Almost all of this material was produced illegally and quickly, using various, sometimes unusual, duplicating methods, in response to the changing situation in the country. The aim was to inform and to educate.

Engaging in any anti-government activity involved taking huge risks: the threat of physical violence, loss of job, being expelled from university, imprisonment. It meant crossing a significant psychological threshold. But what do you do once you have made your decision? How do you conspire effectively, and, crucially, safely? With her history of partitions, uprisings and anti-Nazi movements during World War II, Poland had a long tradition of conspiring. Books like Bibuła by Józef Piłsudski offered some advice, but they reflected very different times. There was clearly a need for an updated manual, and it appeared in the form of Mały konspirator, issued by the Agencja Informacyjna Solidarności Walczącej (Information Agency of Fighting Solidarity). This unassuming little book with densely-printed pages went through 10 editions in 1983-1984. For me it is an embodiment of the spirit of the collection.

Cover of Mały konspirator drawn in cartoon style. One figure is painting the title on a wall while four others stand watch

Cover of Mały konspirator (Wrocław, 1983) Sol. 255s

A short introductory note explains that “Mały konspirator is a collection of texts written by people who were temporarily free. If you read the first chapter you may not have to follow the advice given in the next two chapters. Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the second chapter you will know the legal reason why you cannot be prosecuted for reading the third chapter. While reading the third chapter you will realise why it would be better not to mention that you have had this book in your hands”.

Mały konspirator is full of practical advice on plotting. It tells you how to run a cell within an illegal network (links with the centre as loose as possible to avoid detection, meetings in person infrequent for the same reason but frequent enough to sustain a sense of purpose and solidarity between its members. Distributors should be paid well, otherwise they will not do their job properly – don’t trust anyone who offers to do it for free, for ideological reasons – their enthusiasm will wane and you will be left with piles of undistributed material. One should only keep minimal notes, if any at all, e.g. no full addresses, just numbers of houses/ flats; everything should be encrypted, if possible. It tells you how to behave when you suspect that you are being followed, and how to dispose of incriminating material if you think you are just about to be arrested. Crucially, Mały konspirator tells you what your rights are. Let’s say you have received an official-looking letter asking you to come to the militia station / court. Do you turn up? Ignore it if there is no case number on it, the book advises. There is nothing to be gained from appearing so eager to face the authorities.

Page from Mały konspirator. The heading translates as "Interrogation game"

Page from Mały konspirator. The heading translates as "Interrogation game"

Mały konspirator invites you to play a game: imagine a situation when you are arrested and interrogated. The prize is information. What kind of questions will you be asked? What sort of pressure will you be put under? What are your reactions likely to be? Do you know what your weak points are? You’d better find out fast because they will be exposed and mercilessly exploited.

Mały konspirator is a document of its times. Is there anything one can learn from it in the age of WhatsApp, Telegram and Nexta? I think that the main message remains very clear: don’t take democracy for granted. And always know your rights.

Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections