21 January 2022
On 21 July 2021, UNESCO added four new cultural sites to its World Heritage List. One of these four was the work of the architect Jože Plečnik on Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana in the years between the world wars, transforming it from a provincial town into a celebrated example of modern, “human centred design” that nevertheless maintained a “dialogue” with the older elements of the city centre.
Portrait of Jože Plečnik by Alenka KhamPičman. Reproduced with kind permission of the artist.
A few months later, the Slovenian government declared that 2022 would be considered “the year of Plečnik”, emphasising this honour and the 150th anniversary of his birth. There will be exhibitions, tours and new publications focusing on his oeuvre, which extends far beyond Ljubljana and can be found in every corner of the country. It will kick off with a series of events in the historic yet industrious town of Kamnik, where among other things he designed a memorial chapel to soldiers of both world wars, renovated the station, and – in the forest nearby – erected a hunting lodge for the first King of Yugoslavia, Alexander.
Hunting lodge in Kamnik designed by Jože Plečnik for the first King of Yugoslavia, Alexander. Photo: Janet Ashton
Slovenia is justly proud of Plečnik as the architect of a very recognisable national style, but he was also a true son of Central Europe, born in 1872 as a subject of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and educated also in Graz and Vienna, where he studied under Otto Wagner. To Vienna he contributed the immediately noticeable Zacherlhaus in the city centre, and enjoyed a certain measure of favour in highest quarters, working on a fountain in honour of the mayor Karl Lueger, and collaborating with Lueger and the ill-fated Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg on building a church in the district of Ottakring, whose working class inhabitants they hoped to inspire with religious feelings that would immure them against radical activities. Plečnik had instinctive sympathy for the Christian Social movement Lueger represented, and throughout his life was interested in popular expressions of Catholicism and their links with national identity.
Given his success and his position in the political mainstream, he even hoped to succeed Wagner as professor of Architecture at the School of Fine Arts, but the style of the Holy Ghost Church fell foul of the heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, whose tastes were far more conservative and who likened the church to a stable crossed with a sauna. Plečnik found his appointment blocked.
Obelisk designed by Plečnik on the Moravian Bastion of Prague Castle. Photo: Janet Ashton
Convinced that his career in Vienna was over, he moved to Prague at the invitation of Jan Kotěra, another of Wagner’s pupils, and took up a post at the college of arts and crafts. He was teaching in Prague when the Habsburg empire split apart and the cities in which he had made his life and career found themselves in three separate countries. On a personal level, this was a traumatic experience for many people, never again sure to which nation they belonged, but for Plečnik it also afforded new opportunities in developing national styles with specific political overtones. His first major project for the successor states was to renovate Prague Castle, transforming the dilapidated and forbidding Habsburg fortress into a “democratic” residence for the new President of the Czechoslovak Republic, a seat and symbol of the liberal, middle class nation its leaders aspired to create. Whereas his contact with hereditary royalty was always awkward, he developed a great rapport with both the President, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, and with Masaryk’s daughter Dr. Alice Masaryková, who shared a profound involvement in the project. Symbolic of their complex national history, he and Alice corresponded in German, the language of the vanished empire, because despite his years in Prague Plečnik lacked confidence in his own Czech-speaking abilities.
Interior of the Sacred Heart Church in Vinohrady designed by Jože Plečnik. Photo: Janet Ashton
In 1921 he was invited to return to Ljubljana and take up a post at the School of Architecture at the new University. He was reluctant at first, fearing that he was moving to a backwater, but he also felt a patriotic obligation to the Slovenian people, and in the end he accepted. This post would lead to his celebrated impact on the whole of the Slovenian capital, where he remodelled bridges, built churches, and designed the national library, city stadium and cemetery. But at the same time, he also worked on projects in far more modest locations, renovating a church in the tiny north-eastern town of Bogojina, for example, simply in the hope of inspiring its townsfolk. He had limited impact on the wider Yugoslavia of which Slovenia was a component part, but did undertake two projects for the Yugoslav royal family for their visits to Slovenia. His relationship with the military-minded King Alexander was as awkward as that with Franz Ferdinand had been, however, and nothing ever came close to the rapport he had enjoyed with Masaryk and Alice.
Drawing of the National/University Library and Napoleon memorial in Ljubljana by Alenka KhamPičman. Reproduced with kind permission of the artist.
Jože Plečnik lived an ascetic and fairly reclusive life according to his own motto, “Minljiv si, le tvoja dela so tvoj spomin” (“only your work will be remembered”) at his home in Ljubljana (which is now a museum). He survived the occupation of the city by first Fascist Italy and then Nazi Germany, and continued to teach until the last days of his life. Alenka KhamPičman, now an artist who often paints her tutor’s buildings, recalls that he came on foot to the University every day and sat all morning marking projects and sketching out ideas for his students to take up. She admired him for his “imagination, knowledge, perseverance and discipline” and for his strict commentary on his pupils’ work.
Plečnik died aged 85 in 1957. Under Communism his architecture was unfashionable and often ignored (“he was pushed away by the modern world” says Alenka KhamPičman sadly), but from 1991 the independence of Slovenia brought a new focus on his work and the national spirit he had tried to embody, elevating him to the status of a national hero and symbol of his country.
Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager
With particular thanks to Alenka KhamPičman for her memories and permission to use her paintings
The British Library holds a very large number of books and journals in various languages that throw light on Plečnik’s life and work. They range from beautifully illustrated city guidebooks and exhibition catalogues to critical academic studies to facsimiles, memoir by associates, and biographies. A mere sample is as follows:
Maja Avguštin, Saša Lavrinc. Plečnik na Domžalskem in Kamniškem, [fotografije Drago Bac]. (Ljubljana, 2010). YF.2012.a.19139
Noah Charney. Eternal architect: the life and art of Jože Plečnik, modernist mystic. (Ljubljana, 2017). LD.31.b.4492
Great immortality: studies on European cultural sainthood, edited by Marijan Dović, Jón Karl Helgason [includes studies on the cultural and Catholic admiration for both Gaudi and Plečnik]. (Leiden, 2019). YD.2019.a.5108
Andrej Hrausky. Plečnik’s architecture in Ljubljana (Ljubljana, 2017). YF.2019.a.8928
Andrej Hrausky. Jože Plečnik: Dunaj, Praga, Ljubljana. (Ljubljana, 2007). LF.31.b.8502
Ivan Margolius. Church of the Sacred Heart. (London, 1995). LB.31.b.24563
Josip Plečnik: an architect of Prague Castle. [compiled by] Zdeněk Lukeš, Damjan Prelovšek, Tomáš Valen. (Prague, 1997). LB.31.b.17345.
O plečniku: prispevki k preučevanju, interpretaciji in popularizaciji njegovega dela. Tomáš Valena ; prevod iz nemščine Marjana Karer, Špela Urbas ; prevod iz češčine Nives Vidrih. (Celje, 2013). LF.31.b.10948
Plečnik na Loškem: Galerija Loškega muzeja Škofja Loka, 8. 6.-31. 10. 2007. besedila Damjan Prelovšek et al.; uvod Jana Mlakar; fotografija Damjan Prelovšek ... et al.. (Skofja Loka, 2007). YF.2011.a.12830.
Jože Plečnik, Jan Kotěra. Jože Plečnik--Jan Kotěra: dopisovanje 1897-1921, uredil, komentiral in prevedel Damjan Prelovšek. (Ljubljana, 2004). YF.2010.b.2359.
Jože Plečnik, Dunajske risbe =The Vienna drawings. text by Peter Krečič. (Ljubljana, 1994). HS.74/1194
Damjan Prelovšek. Josef Plečnik, 1872-1957: architectura perennis, aus dem Slowenischen von Dorothea Apovnik. (Salzburg, 1992). LB.31.b.17818
Lukeš Zdeněk. Jože Plečnik: průvodce po stavbách v České republice; současné fotografie Jiří Podrazil. (Prague, 2012). YF.2013.a.1546
30 September 2020
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 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.
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.
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
10 July 2020
The British Library has joined forces with the Central and Eastern European Online Library to connect to open access electronic resources and preserve ephemeral material about society and health in Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020.
Since 2006 the Central and Eastern European Online Library has provided access for our users to a growing collection of 2,300 humanities and social science journals from Central, East and Southeast Europe. This collection also includes more than 5,500 grey literature items and over 4,200 ebook titles.
A resource ‘Covid-19 in Southeast Europe’ has been created for information and research into the activities of the public health professionals and organisations in the fight against the infection. The resource provides useful data on the provision of public health infrastructure and Covid-19 hospitals, and details of the measures employed in combating the pandemic by country and region within Southeast Europe.
This online resource documents how the appearance of yet another virus from nature, SARS Cov-2, has affected the social, cultural, private and religious life and the health of the peoples of Southeast Europe. The material gathered in one place demonstrates the relativity of any current data comparison, such the one published by Forbes, ‘100 Safest Countries in the World for COVID-19’ , based on the Deep Knowledge Group report, and highlights the importance of locally available data. Some ambiguities and contradictions in publicly available reports demonstrate the lack of world leadership in the pandemic. On the other hand at the local level the data show various attitudes and differences in opinions between experts in advisory roles. These new experiences only serve to show the gravity and uniqueness, scale and complexity of the crisis the world is facing at the moment.
As far as Southeast Europe is concerned, one conclusion that can be drawn is that so far major casualties and the collapse of the healthcare systems have been avoided, and all countries have managed to preserve the functioning of the vital systems of state and society.
“How to protect yourself from a new coronavirus infection” A poster published regularly in the Belgrade daily Politika.
We are grateful to the Serbian public health institute for giving us permission to reuse their open access material, and to the Central and Eastern European Online Library for harvesting and arranging this material for our users.
The symptoms of a new coronavirus. Let us be responsible to ourselves and others.
The new coronavirus - recommendations for children. How to protect yourself against infection
“One - two - three. You too protect yourself".
How to use a mask properly.
Disinfection of the City of Belgrade’s Stari grad borough. Certificate of a building disinfection.
A leaflet from the Sarajevo Institute for Health and Food Safety put in a shop window reads: “Everything will be fine. Follow the prescribed measures and be careful. The coronavirus will pass.”
Other open access content related to research into Covid-19, including scholarly journals, can be located via our Find Electronic Resources pages.
The colleagues and partners in the Central and Eastern European Online Library and the British Library believe that access to e-resources is important, necessary and useful. However, ‘e-only’ – especially in connection with social distancing – cannot and should not replace the real human relations, interactions and encounters, which hopefully will return to our everyday life in the near future.
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
Bea Klotz and Iulian Tanea, Central and Eastern European Online Library
27 May 2020
The British Library is very fortunate to have 12 library partners from Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia, where colleagues are always prepared to help us obtain material for our users. This is usually hard-to-find material: local, regional, small press or rare books. There’s no enquiry about this European region that our colleagues there have not been able to assist us with, their expertise or information adding value to our services to the public. Today we come together to celebrate our partnership and to share experiences of living and working in the pandemic.
Sofia University Library “St. Kliment Ohridski” is the biggest research library in Bulgaria. These days are hard for us. We closed in March and when we returned in May we celebrated a special day for Bulgarian librarians, which is also a national holiday. We commemorated the memory of the saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Cyrillic alphabet, our alphabet.
The cooperation between Sofia University Library and the British Library began in the early 20th century, only 20 years after the establishment of the first Bulgarian university – the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.
Two series in particular represent our historic cooperation, the Godishnik – Sofiiski universitet (‘Yearbook of Sofia University’; Ac.1137.) and the journal Sapostavitelno ezikoznanie (‘Contrastive Linguistics’; ZA.9.a.3462.). We really appreciate the relationship between our libraries.
Bilyana Yavrukova, Deputy Director of Sofia University Library
Drawings by Ivan Variklechkov in Voennomorska istoriia (‘A naval history’) (Varna, 2018) Facsimile edition of Variklechkov’s manuscript. ZF.9.b.2414
The partnership with the British Library, which began in 1961, has played a significant role in the development of our collections.
The National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius” in Sofia has responded swiftly to the COVID-19 challenge by adapting to new realities. The library has introduced a wide range of free online services on its website. Our cultural events are now virtual events and online exhibitions.
The Library hosted a national online forum, “COVID-19: the response of libraries”, with representatives of public libraries and affiliated institutions. We have widely shared experiences of working in a pandemic.
While working in an emergency, the National Library of Bulgaria was temporarily closed to reorganize our activities into teamwork on site and remotely. We used the time to complete the disinfection of the premises, public catalogues and storage areas in the library. We have adapted new areas for our users.
Mihail Valov, Librarian at the National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius”
Pavle Mijović, Umjetnicko blago Crne Gore (‘Artistic treasure of Montenegro’) (Cetinje, 2018) LF.31.b.14221.
The National Library of Montenegro enjoys international partnerships with some 50 libraries with Slavonic collections. The British Library has been our most valuable partner since the 1970s, when we started supplying several long-running Montenegrin journals in exchange for English books and serials for our ‘Montenegrina’ collection.
Librarians are never bored; virtual collections are just a click away. Exchange is an area with vast possibilities and need not be confined to exchanging surplus titles twice a year.
Librarians are used to working from home. I have been doing that for decades. Time spent in isolation has been precious to me and made me contemplate what can be done to improve the service. Yet I am so happy to be back among ‘tangible’ books after several weeks of working online, gardening and dog-walking. Stay healthy and happy, librarians and library users!
Vesna Vučković, Acquisitions and Exchange Librarian at the National Library of Montenegro
Milutin Milanković, Kanon der Erdbestrahlung und seine Anwendung das Eisenten problem (‘Earth radiation canon and its application to the ice age problem’) (Belgrade, 1941). Ac.1131 This very rare book was printed in 500 copies of which a few were saved during the Wehrmacht bombing of Belgrade on 6 April 1941.
The Serbian Academy Library is closed to users, and staff are working from home on reduced hours. The librarians continue to correspond with foreign colleagues during the pandemic. We have evoked some memories from the past.
The Serbian Academy Library has a long-standing cooperation with the British Library and its predecessor, the British Museum Library. Letters from the 1880s have been preserved in which the principal librarian of the British Museum, Edward Bond, thanked the secretary of the Serbian Learned Society for issues of Glasnik (‘Herald’).
After the Second World War, during the period of the systematic exchange of publications between our libraries, one of the first books sent to the British Museum Library in 1949 was the work of the great Serbian scientist Milutin Milanković, which deals with palaeoclimatic problems.
As a result of this partnership, the British Library has full sets of the most important series of the Serbian Academy.
Sanja Stepanović Todorović, Exchange Librarian at the Library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Vesna Crnogorac, Javne biblioteke i demokratija (‘Public libraries and democracy’) (Belgrade, 2018). YF.2020.a.4038.
The National Library of Serbia cherishes its long-standing cooperation with the British Library for more than 50 years. This cooperation is based on good will, mutual support and understanding.
The National Library of Serbia has always been very grateful for many beautiful and useful titles, which have enriched our collections and provided our users with the opportunity to read English books and research without leaving the country.
In the pandemic our library was forced to close, but our services have been maintained remotely.
Faced with various obstacles and attitudes during the pandemic in relation to their work, the librarians have managed to provide support to their communities. We hope that we will remember only solidarity, commitment to work and to our institutions and readers, and the humour with which we encouraged and supported each other throughout this period.
Dragana Milunović, Deputy Director of the National Library of Serbia, and Magdalena Kostić, Acquisitions Librarian
Facsimile edition of Studenicki tipik (‘The Studenica Typikon’) (Studenica Monastery, 2018). Awaiting shelfmark. Acquired for the British Library thanks to The Matica srpska library.
The Matica srpska library in Novi Sad, Serbia is open again after several weeks of closure. Now most of the work is done from home: creating CIP records, answering enquiries, bibliographic and project work, preparing materials for press, editorial work for our annual yearbook, and so on.
For me personally, working from home is quite hard as I have always separated work from home, quite apart from the general anxiety caused by potential infection with the COVID-19 virus. The atmosphere of working in the library is something completely different from the home environment. However, we all try to give our best in these circumstances. Shipments have been suspended, and it is especially hard to be away from the collections.
In Serbia we are used to emergencies but it is fascinating that now practically the whole world is in eager anticipation for life to return to normality. Best regards to all colleagues and readers at the British Library!
Olivera Krivošić, Senior Acquisition and Exchange Librarian
A 1958 letter from Richard Bancroft, Assistant Keeper for Yugoslav, Ukrainian and Modern Greek collections 1946-1959, to Mirko Rupel, Director of the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
When we received the news that the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia was closing for two weeks, everyone took something to work on from home. In the end it turned out to be eight weeks working from home.
We never thought about how much work can be done from home, from processing books and editing bibliographic records to processing articles for the Slovenian National Bibliography to translating regulations and making new ones, having meetings, coordinating various projects, making CIP records for the publishers who worked tirelessly, and much more all online.
We really missed our users and they missed us even more, according to the web statistics.
The relationship with the British Library dates back to the time of the British Museum Library, and this continuity can be traced in two letters from 1958 and 1974 held in the National and University Library Archives.
A 1974 letter from Jaro Dolar, Director of the National and University Library of Slovenia, to Michael Atkins, Assistant Keeper in charge of the Yugoslav section in the Slavonic and East European Branch, 1960-1975.
We are especially happy that the British Library independently selects books from Slovenia, which reflects expert knowledge and a clear collection profile.
Vali Žagar, Librarian at the National and University Library in Ljubljana
22 May 2020
Trieste is a city of writers, and it celebrates them loudly. It was writers who developed the current mythology and image of the city, and it is profoundly grateful to them for creating an atmosphere of pleasant melancholy and regret that draws a certain kind of visitor to the place and fuels an endless series of newspaper articles about an Italian city that is not quite Italian, but which would be much less noticed if it were.
James Joyce statue in Trieste. Photograph: Janet Ashton
At first glance, it seems to be foreign writers who define Trieste. James Joyce is perhaps the most physically obvious, his statue overlooking the Grand Canal and his name emblazoned on the cafes he drank in. But it may be Jan Morris, the Welsh travel writer, who has contributed most to perceptions of Trieste itself in the Anglophone world. It is Morris for whom the city’s name evokes the word “tristesse” and whose travelogue fuses impressions of the gentle backwater that is modern Trieste with the angry, beleaguered city she first visited in the immediate post-war period, and with the grand, cosmopolitan port of the Habsburgs.
Habsburg Trieste. View of the Piazza della Borsa and the Borsa Vecchia, now the Chamber of Commerce of Trieste. Photograph: Janet Ashton
That foreign writers loom large tallies well with Trieste’s cosmopolitan demeanour: it is, after all, a port, a “city of exiles”, as Morris calls it, and one famously situated at the crossing point between Germanic, Slavic and Romance cultures as well.
Yet when it comes to its own native authors, Trieste long seemed to be under the sway of Italian nationalism. Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba – Italophone writers like these were the most noted literary offspring of the city. It was as if the city’s multiculturalism was more a boast than an integrated element of its own identity, and as it drew exiles from other nations it simultaneously exiled many of its own offspring in either a spiritual or a physical sense.
Trieste – along with Trento – was one of the Austrian cities symbolically most coveted by Italy in the years before the first world war. After its annexation in 1918, it became a living memorial to this fact, complete with museums of irredentism and the inevitable array of squares and street names commemorating dates or individuals important to the Italian state. A policy of suppression was adopted towards the German and Slovene languages.
Photograph of Boris Pahor, 2015. © Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons
The best known of the writers who grew up in those years may currently be Boris Pahor, a 106-year-old Triestine Slovene, who is believed to be the oldest living survivor of a concentration camp. Pahor is also undoubtedly the only person alive who can recall the burning of the Slovene National Hall in Trieste in 1920, an event which now seems to mark the beginning of the Fascist period. For his own resistance to fascism, he was sent to internal exile in the city’s grim Risiera di San Sabba concentration camp, and from there to the several death camps he managed to survive. In 1946, Pahor returned to his native city and has remained there for most of his life since, but it is only in the last few years that it has begun to celebrate him as it does its Italian-speaking writers, holding public ceremonies in his honour and flagging his works in bookshops as those of a local author. Pahor is even beginning to be better known in the English-speaking world since appearing in a BBC documentary, though few of his works beside his renowned concentration camp memoir, Nekropola, known in English as Necropolis or Pilgrim among shadows, have yet been translated.
Trieste from the karst. Photograph: Janet Ashton
Jan Morris ruminates on the city’s relationship with the karst that surrounds it, characterising that harsh and stony territory where Slovene is the dominant language as a symbol of the “Slavic” wildness threatening the orderly Habsburg city. Even in the later visits she explores in her book, a border lay between town and countryside – not as impermeable as the Iron Curtain borders further east, but a border with troops and a different ideology on the far side nevertheless. But the image she evokes seems to me almost a reverse of the genuine relationship, in which the neat little farm houses and wineries of the karst provide a calm and safe retreat from the traffic noise and the mildly grubby streets below.
Manuscript of the poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) by Srečko Kosovel, 1926. From the Digital Library of Slovenia
Be this as it may, the city and countryside, with their topographical and linguistic contrasts, have always had an intense relationship that lends itself to literary metaphor. Srečko Kosovel, one of Slovenia’s most treasured national poets, was born in nearby Sežana in 1904 and received his cultural education at the doomed Slovene National Hall in Trieste. During the First World War trenches surrounded his home village Tomaj, marking his mental landscape as indelibly as did the natural features of the karst. After the war, the Treaty of Rapallo assigned the whole area to Italy. Kosovel moved to Ljubljana, now part of the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, where he could at least speak his own language without repression, yet he soon felt alienated from the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia as well. His poetry used the harsh scenery of the karst as a metaphor for his own loneliness and disorientation. His celebrated poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) is often read as a rumination on his need for a specifically Slovenian identity. He was actively associated with the earliest expressions of resistance of fascism, and this too appears in his work.
Kosovel died in 1926 from meningitis at the age of only 22. He has long been honoured in Slovenia, but it took until events marking the 90th anniversary of his death for him to gain much attention in Trieste. In 2019, there was much excitement and pleasure in the Slovene-speaking press when Patti Smith quoted him during her concert there, evoking him alongside Rainer Maria Rilke, whose Duino Elegies are one of the most famous works created there, as an emblem and child of the city.
Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager
Jan Morris, Trieste and the meaning of nowhere (London, 2010). YC.2001.a.15891
Srečko Kosovel, Stano Kosovel, Boris Pahor, Milko Bambič, Srečko Kosovel v Trstu ([Trieste], 1970) YF.2011.a.3347
Boris Pahor, Nekropola (Ljubljana, 2009) YD.2012.a.4385
Necropolis (Edinburgh, 2020) ELD.DS.496000
Tržaški mozaik: izbor občasnih zapiskov (Ljubljana, 1983) YA.1987.a.2951
Trg Oberdan (Ljubljana, 2006) YF.2007.a.34744
Srečko Kosovel, The golden boat: selected poems of Srečko Kosovel, translated by Bert Pribac & David Brooks with the assistance of Teja Brooks Pribac (Cambridge, 2008) YC.2010.a.8821
Srečko Kosovel, Pesmi (Ljubljana, 2004) YF.2005.a.15513
Ana Jelnikar, Universalist hopes in India and Europe: the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Srečko Kosovel (New Delhi, 2006) YC.2017.a.6504
17 April 2020
Recently while cataloguing, amongst donations I came across a Slovenian gay poetry book Tracing the Unspoken by Milan Šelj (2019). I found it so intriguing that I was compelled to read it right through to the end without a break.
This is the first English language translation of the Slovenian original Slediti neizgovorjenemu (2018), translated by Harvey Vincent, a New York director, actor and teacher based in Paris, and a founding member of the American Theater Group of Paris. It is published by the American-based A Midsummer Night’s Press in their Body Language imprint devoted to LGBT voices.
Cover of Milan Šelj, Tracing the Unspoken, (New York, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark
Šelj is an award-winning Slovenian poet and translator. He was born in 1960 and has lived and worked in London since 1992. He is the author of four poetry collections of which the first, Darilo (Gift), published by ŠKUC-Lambda in 2006, was described as ‘one of the most explicitly homoerotic poetry books in Slovenia thus far’. The essence of the book Tracing the Unspoken, as Gregory Woods describes it, is about ‘the individual who tries to make sense of desire’. It is not surprising that it is the unspoken that lures the reader; the emotional and sexual tension created by the universal language of desire, obsession and love. The writing is explicit and virile. Page after page, the compact stream of thoughts captures and guides through fragments of narrative that give meaning to words we would not be able to voice ourselves.
Excerpt from Tracing the Unspoken, p. 45. Awaiting shelfmark
An excerpt that caught my attention and resonates with the current times of lockdown will hopefully offer some comfort or escape in bridging distances with loved ones.
You have no idea how small this town is. Desperation is stifling and centuries old. Why don’t you cut off your shirtsleeves and send them to me? I’ll embrace myself with them when I’m not able to shorten your absence. To save myself, I’ll search for consolation between the scraps of fabric and let your scent linger on the cuffs.
Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager
Milan Šelj, Slediti neizgovorjenemu (Ljubljana, 2018) YF.2019.a.11088
Milan Šelj, Gradim gradove (Ljubljana, 2015) YF.2016.a.15174
05 February 2019
The review Naša reč (‘Our word’) was published in Paris from 1948 to 1958, then in London until 1990. Naša reč was printed in Serbian, initially every six weeks and from 1951 ten times a year. Democratically-oriented Yugoslav emigrants produced this journal for like-minded fellow emigrants in Western Europe and North America who opposed communism at home.
Although Naša reč advocated strongly against the communist political system imposed in 1945, it did not argue for a return to the pre-1941 regime in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Instead, it pleaded for a new democratic country as a community of free nations willing to live together in a federal state which would guarantee human rights and civil, social and religious freedoms to all citizens. Naša reč strongly believed in a western model of parliamentarian multi-party political system with a free press and free vote at its core. Its editors thought that the one-party system could be replaced by compromise and reform in a peaceful democratic transition. Naša reč provided a platform for political debate not only for Serbs but also for all Yugoslavs, and welcomed contributions from outside émigré communities.
As an open, independent, democratic and liberal, often unapologetically Serbian and yet genuinely Yugoslav phenomenon, Naša reč was unique among other South Slavonic emigrant publications published in Britain and in the west in this period.
Permanent columns in Naša reč besides the editorial were Yugoslav and international politics, history and current affairs, topics from emigré life, book reviews, opinions and polemics, and letters to the editorial board as well as useful information about the review and its contributors over time. The review was open to political and cultural contributions in general.
Naša reč was published by an alliance of Serbian political, social and cultural emigrant organisations in Western Europe called cooperatives. The membership of these cooperatives included the Young Democrats, the youth section of the Democratic Party, a major party in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Union Oslobođenje (‘Liberation’) was founded in 1949 as an umbrella organisation for the Western European and North American cooperatives. Naša reč was its official newspaper, funded mainly by the membership, but also by subscriptions, sales and donations.
The majority of Oslobođenje’s members were young people born in the 1920s and 1930s. They belonged to the generation traumatised by enemy occupation and the ensuing civil war in Yugoslavia during the Second World War. Oslobođenje organised biannual conferences and published political programmes abroad, but its ideas, ideology and plans were designed for the country it intended to change. Oslobođenje wholeheartedly supported Yugoslav dissidents and gave them a voice in Naša reč, and over time collaboration was extended to democratically-minded people in Yugoslavia. After the death of the Yugoslav communist leader Tito in 1980, Naša reč began receiving contributions from that country, and by the late 1980s it was being discreetly distributed in Belgrade.
By creating a political model for a future multi-party system in the country, contributors to Naša reč were drawing on free thought, independent information, experience of public debate and critical media reporting in Britain. Between 1952 and 1988 the Union Oslobođenje published 17 books on Yugoslav political, historical, cultural and literary topics in the series Naše delo (Our work). While the review Naša reč was published solely in Roman script, giving the newspaper a Yugoslav character, the series Naše delo enabled authors to publish in both Roman and Cyrillic scripts.
In addition to the review and the series, Naša reč printed 15 special editions as offprints or separate publications between 1964 and 1990. These were mainly works and pamphlets by Yugoslav dissidents and writers such as Milovan Đilas, Mihajlo Mihajlov, Miodrag Ilić, Gojko Đogo and others.
Leading figures of the Union Oslobođenje were behind all its publishing activities. Desimir Tošić was the sole editor of Naša reč and the chief writer of editorials together with Božidar Vlajić, a pre-war politician and prominent member of the Democratic Party.
A major permanent subject of political debate in Naša reč was the national question in Yugoslavia. Naša reč advocated a compromise and sought a solution that would command the support of the majority in each of the Yugoslav nations. The preferred option for Naša reč was a federal multi-party parliamentary state such as Switzerland, but it was also open to a Yugoslav confederation, self-rule or independence for the Yugoslav nations. The standpoint of Naša reč and the Union Oslobođenje in this matter was that the nations of Yugoslavia, not its constituent republics, should decide on the future form of government and state.
In the end Naša reč didn’t find an answer to the key question of the first and the second Yugoslavia, but believed in the future of the ‘Third Yugoslavia’, a democratic country of free and equal nations and citizens. With the renewal of the multi-party system in Yugoslavia in 1990 Naša reč ceased publication, and the Union Oslobođenje was able to transfer its ideas and experiences into the newly-founded Democratic Party in Serbia. In his last editorial Tošić declared that the journal had completed its mission but the struggle for democracy continued at home.
Naša reč is an indispensable source for studying the questions of liberal and totalitarian ideologies during the Cold War, the problems of interwar and post-war politics in Yugoslavia, and the topic of nationalism in general. In 43 years, Naša reč had over 300 hundred contributors and published a total of over 6,000 pages. The British Library holds an almost complete set of Naša reč in 420 issues; the missing issues are 1-3 (1948) and 137 (1963).
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
Dejan Đokić (editor), Nesentimentalni idealisti. Desimir Tošić, Božidar Vlajić i uvodnici časopisa Naša reč (Belgrade, 2013) YF.2014.a.25606.
01 November 2018
Academy and Society in the Balkans is an unique 12-month research librarianship project based at the British Library. The aim of the project is to survey and bibliographically describe the arts, humanities and sciences publications of Balkan academies held in the British Library. These are stored physically together with the Library’s collections from other academies, usually identified by the characteristic pressmark which is a number preceded by the abbreviation Ac.
According to F. J. Hill, a former British Library curator, the pressmark Ac was designed for a new shelving scheme in the library between 1860 and 1870. Academies publications accessioned before 1860 were classified differently and dispersed in the British Library collection. Only a small proportion of these pre-1860 publications was subsequently transferred to the Ac pressmark. The pressmark was discontinued in 1965. After this year new titles were assigned to various pressmarks and only serial continuations are still added to the existing Ac pressmarks to date.
Initially the project will be looking into Balkan academies publications arranged according to the Ac shelving scheme between 1860 and 1965. In the next stage the aim will be to identify relevant pre-1860 publications and post-1965 publications that are not included in the Ac pressmark range. These publications are held in the collection under various pressmarks and therefore not identified as publications of academies.
There are two distinct series in the Ac pressmarking and shelving scheme: the first series is a series of general academies arranged topographically by countries followed by towns in alphabetical order in the pressmark range Ac. 1-1997. The second series has the pressmark range Ac. 1998-9999, and is arranged by subject, which used to be a traditional classification and shelving scheme in the Library since its inception in the 1750s.
The majority of publications, examined in the project, were published by academies and their institutes, by universities and colleges and other cultural, research and educational organisations in the second half of the 19th century. These early publishing activities occurred during the period of national revival in the Balkans. After long periods of foreign dominance and cultural imposition, newly formed Balkan academies initially focused on publishing sources for national history, language and literature. These societies supported early scholarship and research into national culture and identity. They were promoters of sciences and modernisation of Balkan society. The scholarly content of these academies’ publications is of great research value as is the significance of the period in which these publications were produced. Both aspects will be explored as the project will try to assess relationship and significance of Balkan academies publications in the library collection.
The publishing efforts of Balkan academies coincided with the period of increased acquisition and rapid growth of the collections in the then British Museum Library, which began acquiring publications from the Balkans by purchase and gift in the mid-19th century.
The bibliographical side of the Academy and Society in the Balkans project will mainly deal with intricate academies series and subseries, editions and serial parts in their most elaborate forms. The research part of the project will trace the provenance of Balkan academies publications by recording and examining ownership stamps in the collection items. This research should provide an insight and better understanding of the British Library Balkan collections as a whole, their acquisition and development over time.
Publications from academies in nine Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia) will be consulted, in six languages (Albanian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian and Slovenian), and in both Cyrillic and Roman scripts.
A desirable outcome of the project would be an online collection guide and a survey of complementary holdings in other institutions in the UK and in country of origin. On a more practical level the project should gather information for conservation and preservation of these valuable collections. Equally it will allow us to identify gaps in the collections as it would inform possible acquisition of new titles and provide ideas for further collection development in this area.
Finally we should be able to explore and present the content of these collections by creating analytical records or by upgrading the existing historic catalogue records to include subject, language and other useful information for research and discovery.
An Aromanian lady from Moskopole (Voskopojë, Albania). From Th. Capidan, ‘Fărşeroţii. Studiu lingvistic asupra Românilor din Albania’, in Sextil Puşcariu (ed.), Dacoromania. Buletinul Muzeului Limbei Române (Bucharest, 1931), pp. 1-204.
This project is generously supported by the Chevening British Library Fellowship, a collaboration between the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Library.
Makedonski jazik (Macedonian Language). Inscription in red lettering on cover: “An issue dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Macedonian alphabet and orthography”. Issue 5 (1950). Ac.1133.h.
We welcome this opportunity in the British Library and we are looking forward to working with the Chevening Fellow on this exciting project.
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
F.J. Hill, ‘The Shelving and Classification of Printed Books’, in P.R. Harris (ed.), The Library of the British Museum (London, 1991), pp. 1–74.
27 August 2018
August 26 2018 marked the 240th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Triglav, the three-headed mountain that has become a national symbol of Slovenia and a striking part of its flag. This was one of the earliest ascents in the Alps, several years before anyone made it to the peaks of Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn.
Triglav has been a magnet for mountaineers ever since, its relatively modest height of 2,863 metres attracting people of even limited experience – some of whom take unacceptable risks in scaling it.
One of many foreigners who were drawn to the mountain was a Scottish woman, Fanny Susan Copeland (1872-1970), who moved to Ljubljana in 1921. She would climb Triglav several times, including one snowy New Year’s Eve, when she joined a couple of students who had accepted a bet of a stick of chocolate that they dare not do it! Most remarkably, she made her last ascent in 1958 at the age of almost 87.
Fanny Copeland was a linguist, musician and journalist who left an unhappy marriage to become a translator working for the exiled Yugoslav Committee in London during the First World War. Her own early writing echoes the ideology of that body, which was intent on establishing an independent state by uniting the south Slav people of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro, with whom they were currently at war. It had the ear of the liberal Habsburg dissident and future Czechoslovak president, Tomas Masaryk, and greatly influenced Allied attitudes to the future. Copeland delivered lectures on the fate of the besieged “Women of Serbia” and spoke rather crudely of south Slav people as a single entity: “a race which lives in a land which stretches from the Carinthian Alps … to the heart of Macedonia – and from the Danube … to the rock-bound coast of the blue island-studded Adriatic”, attributing to all “but one language … correctly called the Serbo-Croatian tongue … one tradition of the past and one hope for the future.”
Cover of The Women of Serbia (London, 1917) 08415.f.26.
Not long after this, however, she translated Bogumil Vošnjak’s Bulwark against Germany, an in-depth study of the particular position of the Slovenes. When the war was over, she visited the new-minted Yugoslavia for the first time, and settled in Slovenia, drawn by a post teaching English and by mountains which seemed to remind her of Scotland.
Copeland believed strongly in Yugoslavia and was certainly no Slovene separatist, but she soon developed a more subtle knowledge of the distinct culture and language of the country’s most northerly nation, and was one of the first people to write a lot about it for English-speaking audiences, keen to attract visitors to her beloved mountains. In the 19th century, the provinces that became Slovenia were often dismissed by foreign observers and pan-Slavs as “part of the hereditary Habsburg lands” and therefore too complex a case for their future to be considered alongside that of other Slavs. By the 1920s, with the Habsburgs gone, this had been replaced by a tendency to classify the Slovenes as a branch of the “Serbo-Croatian” people, who ought to act according to current notions of what that meant. Generally, the more “Russian” a nation seemed, the more truly Slavic it was deemed by British scholars. The traveller and writer Stephen Graham for example, loved Serbia passionately, but wrote mockingly of Slovenes who spoke German to tourists, claiming they did it not to be understood but “to show they are cultured” and “not barbarians from the Balkan peninsula” like many of their new compatriots. He smelt “the pleasant odour of old Austria” in Slovenia’s resorts, but could not acknowledge the legacy of a thousand years of shared history and culture as anything other than a pretension.
Map of the Julian Alps, from Emile Levasseur, Les Alpes et les grandes ascensions (Paris, 1889) 10026.l.12
Fanny Copeland, however, was amused by and instinctively sympathetic to the differences she soon detected between the south Slavic nations she had previously thought of as “one.” She envisaged the Slovenes as the backbone of the nation, more practical and pragmatic than their southern neighbours. “The Slovene regards the Croat much as a Scot regards the Sassenach,” she wrote: the mountains, in both cases, were a decisive factor. Her Slovenian friends blamed their neighbours for any disarray or damage they found in the mountain huts on their climbs to Triglav, and gently mocked Croats for setting out with pet dogs or in unsuitable footwear.
Fanny Copeland’s writing on the Slovenian Alps is immensely evocative and close to anthropomorphic in places. Love them and take risks with them as she did, she never failed to convey the dangers posed by the mountains. Writing of the Vršič Pass, a former military road built in 1916 by Russian prisoners of war, she spoke of “a fine road, well-built and skilfully laid out, with bridges and culverts, winding, twisting and looping like a snake – and white as dead men’s bones … All along its course, the loveliness of an alpine world unfolds its splendours, each picture fairer than the last … But it is a Sorrowful Road, built by … wretched aliens, driven and starved. Russians, sons of the boundless plains … penned here in the narrow pass between awful mountains … this road was the rack on which they suffered and died… As I walk up it in the dusk, I listen for the sobbing of its stones.”
Over the Pass looms the mountain Prisank or Prisojnik, famous for a round hole in one face. Fanny envisaged this “eye of Prisoinik” peering down, “dead and vacant in its stony socket, with the patch of snow beneath it like a monstrous tear.” Yet she spoke also of Triglav as a “father”, welcoming to those who approached it from the right angle.
Fanny Copeland was interned in Italy by the fascist occupiers of Ljubljana during the Second World War, but returned to Slovenia after 1945, spending the remainder of her long life living mainly in the Hotel Slon in Ljubljana, still writing and translating prolifically. She is buried in the graveyard in the village of Dovje, overlooked by Triglav itself and surrounded by numerous other mountaineers and admirers of the extraordinary alpine scenery that helped give the country its very distinctive character.
Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager
References and further reading:
Stephen Graham, Alexander of Jugoslavia, Strong Man of the Balkans. (London, 1938) 010795.m.8
Bogumil Vošnjak, A Bulwark against Germany: the fight of the Slovenes, the western branch of the Jugo-Slavs, for national existence. Translated by Fanny S. Copeland. (London, 1917) 003817864
29 June 2018
How to turn 47,000 pages of old newspapers into meaningful information?
For a research group at the University of Bristol, the answer is: big computers and historical context.
Led by Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, the group digitised 47,000 pages of two Italian-speaking local newspapers from the city of Gorizia, using the facilities of FindMyPast, based at British Library in Boston Spa. Then they used optical character recognition (OCR) software to extract digital text, and finally compared it with the digital text of three Slovenian newspapers from the same place and time, to provide context.
Gorizia lies at the crossroads of the Latin, Germanic and Slavic-speaking worlds, and its population reflects this. Until 1918, it was known as Görz, and was part of the Habsburg Empire, though latterly coveted by the young Kingdom of Italy. These last years before World War One were particularly notable, as the political and ethnic tensions within the empire and over its borders played out in the city itself. The two main linguistic communities, Italian and Slovenian, published their own newspapers, and the latter have been digitised by the Slovenian Digital Library. But until the Bristol University group started work, the Italian ones were preserved on microform alone in the Biblioteca Statale Isontina, which first collected the paper versions.
The Corso Giuseppe Verdi in Gorizia, early 20th-century postcard, reproduced in Srečko Gombač, Brata Edvard in Josip Rusjan iz Gorice: začetki motornega letenja med Slovenci (Ljubljana, 2004) YF.2007.a.13615
The team, including computer scientists and a historian, carried out statistical analysis on the newspapers, looking at the frequency of different words or phrases. This process revealed the individual stories of thousands of people, but also the collective trends of a population in the years leading up to the War and the final days of Empire. As the city lies in a quiet corner of central Europe, now divided between Italy and Slovenia, many of these stories and trends had been forgotten until now.
Professor Cristianini says: “In the space of a few decades, the town embraced new ways to communicate, such as the cinema and the telephone, along with new modes of transportation, like the car, the airplane, the bicycle and the train. Far from being a backwater in a decaying empire, this was a city with an eye on the future and an interest in new ideas – including political ones. It was, however, also a time in which new tensions emerged along ethnic lines and a time of rapid change, with problems and anxieties that sound very familiar to the modern ear. It is incredibly fortunate that the collection of newspapers in the Biblioteca Isontina library survived so many threats. We get a glimpse of the last years of a world heading towards a new chapter in its history during a period that transformed it beyond recognition. We see new technologies, new ideas, new economic opportunities, new cultural challenges and problems.”
Among the patterns the team extracted are timelines that pinpoint such significant events as the arrival of Halley’s Comet, the visits of the Emperor Franz Joseph, or the devastating 1895 earthquake in Ljubljana (then Laibach, capital of the Habsburg county of Carniola). Fascinatingly, they found that the earthquake was more noted in the Slovenian-speaking community than the Italian, since Ljubljana was already predominantly Slovenian-speaking itself and had less significance to the Empire’s Italians as a regional centre.
Other ground-breaking events in the city at the time included the construction of the new Transalpina/Bohinj railway, which carried tourists from Vienna to Lake Bled and further, but was also to be used for more prosaic reasons. Then, most glamorous of all, two local brothers named Edvard and Josip Rusjan were among the first aviators in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The team’s findings also highlight how the war transformed the city and its surrounding county into something entirely different. During the war the front lines crossed through Gorizia itself and the urban population was largely relocated. In 1918, Italy annexed it, and twenty years of fascism and then another war followed. After 1947, the border between Italy and Yugoslavia ran right through the former county, partly separating the city centre from some of its neighbourhoods. Until Slovenia joined Schengen in 2007, this border had real impact, leading to the growth of a “replacement” city, Nova Gorica, on the Yugoslav/Slovenian side, while historic Gorizia became something of a backwater, isolated from its hinterland and feeling neglected by Rome.
Above: View of the Castle in Gorizia in 1917, showing First World War bomb damage, from Enrico Galante, Gorizia e i campi di battaglia dell'Isonzo et del Carso (Gorizia, ) 9084.aaa.10. Below: Gorizia Castle today (Photograph Janet Ashton)
The project, from scanning and indexing to in-depth analysis, combined methodologies from both library science and historical research, as well as employing mathematical expertise, and illustrates how digital humanities is bridging the traditional boundaries between disciplines. A full study of the project’s methods and its findings, “Large scale content analysis of historical newspapers in the town of Gorizia, 1873-1914”, by N. Cristianini et al., has recently been published in the journal Historical Methods.
Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager
European studies blog recent posts
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- Coronavirus (Covid-19) ephemera material from Southeast Europe
- Libraries and librarians from Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020
- “City of exiles”: Trieste and its authors
- Slovenian gay poetry in translation: Tracing the Unspoken by Milan Šelj
- Against Totalitarianism: the Serbian émigré review ‘Naša reč’, 1948-1990
- Academy and Society in the Balkans
- “Buried at his feet”: Fanny Susan Copeland, Triglav and Slovenia
- Gӧrz, Gorizia, Gorica: digital scholarship brings a city’s history to life again