Botany in Time and Space: The Chelsea Physic Garden

When I sent a fellow doctoral candidate in the history of botany some pictures from the Chelsea Physic Garden, she asked me if I had encountered any ghosts of the much-admired botanists that shaped this famous institution and its networks. While I had to answer in the negative, I noticed that the paths of many natural historians and horticultural practitioners, whose footsteps I traced during my stay at the German Historical Institute London, had crossed on that patch of land—either physically or at least in writing and through the exchange of plant material. Here, during a journey following his medical studies under Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738) in Leiden, Johann Philipp Breyne (1680–1764), an aspiring botanist from Gdańsk, visited and admired the Lebanese cedars at the entrance of the garden which remained its most significant attractions until the nineteenth century. Crucially for the history of botany, Breyne also met with botanists who would define the history of the garden.

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Promoting German Nazism in the Heart of the British Empire: The London Congress of the ‘Nationalist International’ in July 1935

In July 1935, an unexpected assortment of mostly male European self-proclaimed patriots met for three days at a congress of the Nationalist International in London.1 Alongside ‘conservative’ delegates, including two British Tory MPs and Louis Bertrand, who was a French historian and member of the prestigious Académie française, the guest list also featured more radical and even outright fascist figures, such as Frits Clausen, the leader of a small Danish Nazi party, and Friedrich Grimm, an NSDAP attorney and member of the German Reichstag. According to The Times, most of the delegates were ‘notable European professors’, united not by politics, but by ‘devotion’ to their country.2 Other British newspapers such as the Daily Mirror and the London Evening Telegraph likewise commented on the event in a neutral or even benevolent tone, suggesting that delegates from forty countries met under the auspices of the ‘expert on international law’ Dr Hans Keller (1908–70). Keller was a young and ambitious German jurist who had founded the Nationalist International in Zurich in 1934 with the aim of securing peace and stability by transforming the League of Nations into a ‘parliament of peoples’ corresponding with the ‘racial divisions of Europe’.3 Blinded by a leaflet circulated prior to the conference which claimed that ‘The Nationalist International means world peace’4 and stressed the supposedly neutral and scientific nature of the organization, the British press seemed not to realize the real mission of the congress: to promote German Nazism internationally.

Continue reading Promoting German Nazism in the Heart of the British Empire: The London Congress of the ‘Nationalist International’ in July 1935
  1. This blogpost is based on research conducted for my Ph.D. thesis at the Free University of Berlin entitled ‘Notions and Practices of Fascist Internationalism in the 1930s’. I would like to thank the GHIL for a two-month scholarship, which enabled fruitful research in British archives and libraries. []
  2. The Times, 11 July 1935. Cf. Hans Keller and Akademie für die Rechte der Völker, (eds.), Der Kampf um die Völkerordnung: Forschungs- und Werbebericht der Akademie für die Rechte der Völker (Nationalistische Akademie) und der Internationalen Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten (Berlin, 1939), 97. []
  3. Daily Mirror, 11 July 1935; The Evening Telegraph, 10 July 1935. []
  4. Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten, Organic Nationalism: What the ‘Nationalist International’ Means to the Anglo-Saxon World (Zurich, 1935). []

Conference Report: The Politics of Iconoclasm in the Middle Ages, 1–2 September 2022

Image-making ages always appear to be image-breaking ones as well, as Len Scales (Durham) stressed in his welcome and introduction, referring to current instances of overtly political attacks on images. As such, we would expect the Middle Ages, as a decidedly visual age, to be no different. Yet existing scholarship, Scales continued, suggests that image-breaking was alien to the medieval period. Perhaps because medieval images were so often religious in content and the Middle Ages are so often viewed as an era of faith, the relative (though not absolute) lack of religiously motivated iconoclastic action throughout the Middle Ages is mistaken for proof that there was no noteworthy destruction of visual material, and certainly not for political reasons. Scales thus called for comparative and systematic research to further flesh out the topic.

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Māori Iwi, Quaker Whalers, and Missionaries at the Bay of Islands in Aotearoa/New Zealand (1790–1840)

Among the many records of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) held in the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham are minutes of a meeting of the CMS committee in London. At this meeting on 9 August 1819 the committee learned from a letter sent by the missionary Thomas Kendall that several whaling captains who had anchored in the Bay of Islands in Aotearoa/New Zealand ‘had been very kind to him and his colleagues’. The ‘Officers of the above ships’, Kendall continued, ‘conducted themselves towards them and the Natives in a most friendly manner; and parties of Sailors attended Divine Service, on the Sunday, when the weather would permit’, including one ‘Captain Swaine of the INDIAN’, a whaling ship.1

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  1. Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham, CMS/G/C/4/155, CMS Committee Minutes, 9 Aug. 1819. []

Pastors, Commissaries, Diplomats: Agency and Migration Networks in the Early Modern Period

Confessional migrations, especially Protestant ones, are a defining characteristic of the early modern period.1 Well-known examples include the Huguenots and the Vaudois in the 1690s, the Palatines in 1708, and the Salzburgers in the 1730s. Most of these migrations were structured by networks involving migrants, diplomats, agents, states, and institutions; and just as importantly, money flows, publications, and escape routes. Overall, these migration networks can be seen as power constellations in which diplomats, agents, institutions and state actors were interconnected and influenced each other. But in spite of the plethora of research on early modern confessional migration, the diplomats and agents who acted as intermediaries in these contexts have not yet been thoroughly analysed.2 These intermediaries could be not only diplomats and agents, but also pastors or even migrants themselves. My Ph.D. project therefore aims to fill this void. It focuses on intermediaries and how they were incorporated into migration networks. In addition I analyse what agency intermediaries gained through their involvement in these networks, and probe how they used it for their own advantage and the advancement of their career. The analysis can also show how institutions, migrants, and governmental actors influence and make use of these intermediaries.

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  1. Alexander Schunka, ‘Glaubensflucht als Migrationsoption: Konfessionell motivierte Migrationen in der Frühen Neuzeit’, Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, 56/10 (2005), 547–64. []
  2. Matthias Asche, ‘Christliche Caritas, konfessionelles Kalkül und politische Propaganda: Emigrantennetzwerke, Flüchtlingskommissare und ihre Bedeutung für Logistik und Raumordnung in Alteuropa und im Alten Reich des ausgehenden 17. Jahrhunderts—ein Problemaufriß’, in Joachim Bahlcke, Rainer Leng, and Peter Scholz (eds.), Migration als soziale Herausforderung: Historische Formen solidarischen Handelns von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart 2011). []

Borders and Belonging: Subjects of Current and Historical Significance

Borders and belonging are of immense importance as borders are being (re)defined, strengthened, or weakened all around the globe. Brexit, the proposed wall between the USA and Mexico, the India–Pakistan border—the drawing of social and spatial boundaries is at the heart of many current debates, as is the question of what it means to ‘belong’ somewhere. The featured image illustrates how important the relationship between borders and belonging is and, from the point of view of those involved, how relevant to security considerations. A NASA image taken on board the International Space Station in September 2015, it shows the India-Pakistan border at night. The view is in a northerly direction across the valley of the Indus River. Illuminated by the light of security installations, it represents one of the few cases where an international border can be seen from space, at least at night.

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Anger, Astonishment, and other Reactions: A Medieval King’s Emotional Behaviour

[A]s though he [Henry III] was infected by fury, being unable to contain his anger, he raised his voice in uproar, and ran furiously away from all who were in his chamber.1

Medieval kings such as Henry III (r. 1216–72) are regularly described in chronicles as angry—especially when challenged—and they often expressed their anger in excessive gestures. This particular passage was written by Matthew Paris, a monastic chronicler famous for not holding back his opinion on either kings or popes. Presumably his accounts of these emotional gestures might be shaped by his judgement on the king and a desire for a colourful narrative. But are these the only ways of interpreting such descriptions of royal emotional behaviour? Are they merely a means to an end, removed from reality?

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  1. Matthaei Pariensis Monachi sancti albani, chronica majora, ed. Henry R. Luards, vol. 5 (London, 1880) (Rolls Series 57), 326: ‘quasi furia invectus, nec se prae ira capiens, vocem cum clamore exaltavit, et omnes qui in sua camera fuerunt, velut furiosus aufugavit.’ []

Conference Report: Workshop on Medieval Germany, 6 May 2022

After many months of online-only conferences, one of the first in-person events to take place at the GHIL saw thirteen scholars gather at the beginning of May 2022 for a densely packed day of discussion dedicated to medieval history. What united participants at this workshop—and its previous iterations—was their special interest in the German-speaking lands of the Middle Ages.

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‘Enjoy your bodies!’: Writing the History of Sexuality in Later Life through 1980s British Television

At 15:45 on 11 February 1986, Channel 4’s programme for the elderly Years Ahead turned to sex. This special Valentine’s Day edition conceded that society was oblivious to intimate desire in later life. And yet, change was on the horizon. Marjorie Proops, co-host of that episode, stated that ‘attitudes are changing’, and so Years Ahead set out to guide even more seniors towards ‘sexual freedom’.

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British Migrants in the Kingdom of Saxony and Saxons in London, c.1850–1914

It may seem counter-intuitive that, three months after the outbreak of the First World War, British people were allowed to walk completely free through the streets of Dresden.1 But a look at the history of the British community in Saxony shows that there had been a special relationship between British migrants and the Saxon locals long before this conflict. Only when reports of the arrest of Germans in Britain (and especially of the conditions of imprisonment there) reached Germany did this relationship take a turn for the worse.

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  1. SAoS, 10717 Foreign Ministry, Nr. 2278, Charles Alfred Moore [chaplain of All Saints’ Church Dresden] to police chief Paul Köttig, 24 Oct. 1914: ‘For since the outbreak of hostilities . . . British subjects have been treated with the utmost courtesy and consideration by the Officials who have done all in their power to safeguard us from unpleasantness or any undue restrictions of our liberties. In Dresden . . . men of military service age have been permitted to go about unmoles…’ []
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