The German Revolution of 1918–19 brought an abrupt end to more than a thousand years of monarchical history in Central Europe. The revolution led to a state-of-the-art liberal democracy and the first ever socialist government of an advanced industrial economy. But it is seldom regarded as belonging in the same company of epoch-defining revolutions as those in France (1789), Mexico (1910), Russia (1917), China (1949), or Iran (1979). On the contrary, Germany’s first successful democratic revolution so disappointed generations of historians that they competed to award it negative epithets such as ‘stalled’, ‘aborted’, or ‘betrayed’. The eventful history and disastrous end of the Weimar Republic still cast a long shadow over the revolution that brought it to life. The 1918–19 revolution is examined in a diagnostic mode, with historians searching for ominous pathologies in a newborn democratic patient. This preoccupation with 1918–19 as a possible prefiguration of the Nazi seizure of power in 1933–4 has inescapably come at the cost of attention to the German Revolution as a lived event. Our edited volume Living the German Revolution 1918–19: Expectations, Experiences, Responses, published with Oxford University Press in the series ‘Studies of the German Historical Institute London’, redresses this by focusing on the synchronicity of the revolution and its contemporary construal by a diverse cast of social groups.
Continue reading The German Revolution of 1918–19: Expectations, Experiences, Responses
It is a great source of satisfaction to me to feel that we are taking advantage of the wonderful opportunity which fate has afforded us of getting to know and understand each other better. We are meeting as a family. Family discussions can be pointed, but often that spirit strengthens the family.
This quote stems from a speech given by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, to a group of Continental European financial policymakers and central bankers in London in 1942, including the finance ministers of the Allied governments in exile, their principal advisers and secretaries of state, and the governors of the central banks in exile. What had happened? Why had the leaders of European economic and financial policy come together in the midst of the Second World War, and why did the British Chancellor of the Exchequer speak of a ‘wonderful opportunity’ in this context?
Continue reading A Short Walk through London’s History during the Second World War: Financial Experts in Exile
Cape Coast Castle is one of more than thirty forts which European trading companies erected on the coast of modern-day Ghana between the fifteenth and the nineteenth century. The castle has long been a symbol of one of the most heinous crimes in history: the Atlantic slave trade. Visitors who tour the building in the twenty-first century often project their feelings of anger, grief, and regret onto the inert structure. Some of them are even convinced that spirits roam the slave dungeons, courtyards, and parapets. One of these spirits is the Reverend Philip Quaque, the first person of African descent to ever be ordained in the Anglican Church. Quaque is buried in the fort’s courtyard under a couple of stone slabs bearing his initials. His story, or at least a version of it, features in every guided tour.
Continue reading Philip Quaque in Cape Coast 1766–1816
‘Cocaine flashed like a meteor before the eyes of the medical world.’
The discovery of cocaine turned out to be an exceptional novelty in the medicinal and pharmaceutical world of the late nineteenth century but the history of the raw material of the drug, however, went far back in the originating countries. For millennia, coca had been the ‘sacred plant of the Inca’, who regarded it as a gift from the gods, and their priests used it first and foremost in ancient rituals. There was a brief caesura in the use of coca when the conquistadores considered coca consumption an indigenous vice, but they soon changed their minds, and the habit spread among all social classes and became a cultural marker for the native population. The drug enjoyed popularity in western South America due to it alleviating altitude sickness in the Andes and suppressing hunger, but it also had pain-relieving properties. Convinced by the plant’s marvellous effects on the human body, the conquistadores contemplated the introduction of coca into the European market, but they failed in their plan because of underdeveloped means of transport and a lack of knowledge about proper storage, which impacted coca’s potency.
Continue reading Sing a Line with Coca Wine: The European Rediscovery of Coca
… the great increase in the medieval and ethnographical collections, and the great interest taken by the public in the British antiquity most especially, render it highly desirable, or rather quite necessary that a separate department should be created for them. The necessity for adopting this course seems self-evident to Mr Panizzi, and he thinks therefore that he need not dwell upon it.
On 9 March 1866, the director of the British Museum, Anthony Panizzi, used these words to appeal to the trustees of the museum for the creation of a ‘Department of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography’. Two months later, the founding of the department was approved. Along with Romano-British antiquities, medieval objects, and the ethnological holdings, it also housed the collection of European prehistory. While the quotation and the department name might initially suggest that the merging of these seemingly disparate holdings was an administrative decision guided by pragmatism, a closer look reveals that the contemporary social penetration of an evolutionist model of human cultural development formed its actual basis: the ethnological collections had been brought together with the British European archaeology collections ‘as materials for reconstructing the lost portions of European history’, as the newly appointed Keeper of the Department Augustus Wollaston Franks had said a little earlier about the central Christy holdings within the collection.
Continue reading The Postcolonial Nation in the Museum: World Appropriation and National Identity at the Humboldt Forum and British Museum
I had the absolute pleasure of spending a day exploring Northern Ireland’s capital Belfast with Kevin McGlinchey in June 2022. Kevin replied to my letter to the editor of the Irish Independent seeking people to share their experiences of growing up on the island of Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s for my Ph.D. project. He instantly agreed to take me on a trip down memory lane, as he ‘valued the opportunity to bring to life an historical, personal, local and community experience of this particular area of Belfast and Belfast as a whole during both good and bad times.’ Kevin was born in 1950 and grew up in Belfast, where he witnessed the beginning of the Troubles as a teenager.
Continue reading All Along the Peace Walls – Revisiting 1960s and 1970s Belfast
Journeying down the river Rhine and diving into its past reveals a new endeavour in European history. The Rhine basin demarcates and crosses the borders of nine European states, creating a need for cooperation, posing an inherent risk of conflict, and calling static ideas of space into question. From its source down to its estuary, it inspires various images and definitions of a Europe on the one hand, and different understandings of water management issues on the other, as well as informing how these two dimensions come together. These ideas about Europe may be geographical, based on organizational structures, or charged with symbolism.
Continue reading A View of Europe through the Prism of the Rhine
One of the best-known controversies in nineteenth-century Britain revolved around the publication of a collection of theological writings in March 1860 titled Essays and Reviews. The book, edited by John William Parker, consisted of seven essays that explored various topics, such as the evidence for Christianity, religious thought in England, and—perhaps most controversially—the interpretation of scripture. The underlying theme behind these essays was theological methodology—namely, the exploration of German-speaking Protestant theological discussions within Anglican theological thought. Essays and Reviews was a cautious, partly implicit acknowledgement of scientific findings and historical–philological methods.
Continue reading Essays and Reviews: The ‘Greatest Religious Crisis of the Victorian Age’?
Around 1400, manuscripts were not just a textual medium for humanists to disseminate their substantive work. Rather, as aesthetic artefacts, they were a tool for visual communication too. Information and knowledge were portrayed in text as well as images because the beneficial learning aid of graphic presentations regained popularity. According to Aristotle, Plato, Quintilian, and other ancient authors, the human memory was predominantly influenced by visual stimuli and was thus dependent to a considerable degree on spatial arrangements in the form of images. Maps thus found their way into humanistic books as an elaboration on the text. But these maps do not just function as visualizations; they create a narrative of their own. In particular, isolarii, or ‘island books’, used the different characteristics of text and maps to shape an alternative history.
Continue reading Studia humanitatis in Text and Image: The Liber insularum Archipelagi by Cristoforo Buondelmonti