The German Revolution of 1918–19: Expectations, Experiences, Responses

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’.1 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.

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  1. Eberhard Kolb, ‘1918/19: Die steckengebliebene Revolution’, in Carola Stern und Heinrich August Winkler (eds.), Wendepunkte deutscher Geschichte 1848–1945 (Frankfurt am Main, 1979), 87–109; Gordon A. Craig, Germany 1866–1945 (Oxford, 1979), 397–433; Sebastian Haffner, Die verratene Revolution: Deutschland 1918/19 (Frankfurt am Main, 1969). []

A Short Walk through London’s History during the Second World War: Financial Experts in Exile

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.1

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?

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  1. National Archives, T 172/2015, Speech at Lunch to Allied Finance Ministers, 22 Feb. 1942. []

Philip Quaque in Cape Coast 1766–1816

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.1 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.2

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  1. Bayo Holsey, Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana (Chicago and London, 2008), 151–95. []
  2. Ibid. 186–7. []

Sing a Line with Coca Wine: The European Rediscovery of Coca

‘Cocaine flashed like a meteor before the eyes of the medical world.’1

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.2 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.3 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.4 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.

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  1. ‘Cocaine’, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, 3/114 (6 March 1886), 147. []
  2. Joseph Acosta, The Naturall and Morall Historie of the East and West Indies, trans. E. G. (London, 1604), 273; Joseph Kennedy, Coca Exotica. The Illustrated Story of Cocaine (London, 1985), p. x. []
  3. ‘Some Popular Remedies’, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Art, 12/577 (19 January 1895), 44; Kennedy, Coca Exotica, 15, 26, 27. []
  4. J. J. von Tschudi, Travels in Peru, During the Years 1838–1842, on the Coast, in the Sierra, across the Cordilleras and the Andes, into the Primeval Forests, trans. Thomasina Ross (London, 1847), 452, 453, 454. []

The Postcolonial Nation in the Museum: World Appropriation and National Identity at the Humboldt Forum and British Museum

… 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.1

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’,2 as the newly appointed Keeper of the Department Augustus Wollaston Franks had said a little earlier about the central Christy holdings within the collection.

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  1. British Museum Central Archives, CE5/77, 9 March 1866 (Officers’ Reports to General Meetings and Standing Committee, 1805–69), cited in David M. Wilson, The British Museum. A History (London 2002), 142. []
  2. British Museum Central Archives, CE4/84, 7 November 1865, Document C (Officers’ Reports to General Meetings and Standing Committee, 1805–69. []

All Along the Peace Walls – Revisiting 1960s and 1970s Belfast

I had the absolute pleasure of spending a day exploring Northern Ireland’s capital Belfast with Kevin McGlinchey in June 2022.1 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.’2 Kevin was born in 1950 and grew up in Belfast, where he witnessed the beginning of the Troubles as a teenager.3

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  1. I sincerely thank Kevin and his sister Deirdre McGlinchey for their time and willingness to share their youth experiences with me, without which my research would not be possible. I am also grateful to Dr Séan Ó Duibhir for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this article. []
  2. Kevin McGlinchey, email to the author, 3 Nov. 2022. []
  3. ‘The Troubles’ is a euphemism for the Northern Ireland conflict, which lasted from the late 1960s to the 1980s. The Troubles are often considered to be a religious conflict between the Catholic and Protestant populations of Northern Ireland, but were in fact caused by Ireland’s colonial past, which was marked by political and confessional frictions. ‘[T]he Northern Irish conflict is not a religious conflict . . . Although religion has a place—and indeed an important one—in the repertoire of conflict in Northern Ireland, the majority of participants see the situation as primarily concerned with matters of politics and nationalism, not religion.’ Richard Jenkins, Rethinking Ethnicity: Arguments and Explorations (London, 1997), 120. A summary of this view can be found in Claire Mitchell, Religion, Identity and Politics in Northern Ireland: Boundaries of Belonging and Belief (Aldershot, 2006), 5: ‘The central argument is that religion is an ethnic marker, but that it is not generally politically relevant in and of itself. Instead, ethnonationalism lies at the root of the conflict.’ For more background to the conflict, see CAIN Archive: Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland, accessed 20 Feb. 2023. []

A View of Europe through the Prism of the Rhine

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.

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Essays and Reviews: The ‘Greatest Religious Crisis of the Victorian Age’?

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.

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Studia humanitatis in Text and Image: The Liber insularum Archipelagi by Cristoforo Buondelmonti

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.1 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.

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  1. Veronica Della Dora, ‘Mapping a Holy Quasi-Island: Mount Athos in Early Renaissance Isolarii’, Imago Mundi, 60/2 (2008), 139–65, at 155. []

Creating Space and Collection Display in British Gothic Revival Houses (1740–1860)

In a house affecting not only obsolete architecture, but pretending to an observance of the costume even in the furniture, the mixture of modern portraits, and French porcelaine, and Greek and Roman sculpture, may seem heterogeneous. In truth, I did not mean to make my house so Gothic as to exclude convenience, and modern refinements in luxury . . . Would our ancestors, before the reformation of architecture, not have deposited in their gloomy castles antique statues and fine pictures, beautiful vases and ornamental china, if they had possessed them?1

A farther view succeeded; that of exhibiting specimens of Gothic architecture, as collected from standards in cathedrals and chapel-tombs, and showing how they may be applied to chimney pieces, cielings [sic], windows, ballustrades, loggias, &c. The general disuse of Gothic architecture, and the decay and alterations so frequently made in churches, give prints a chance of being the sole preservatives of that style.2

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  1. Horace Walpole, A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole […] Middlesex (Strawberry Hill, 1784), p. iii–iv. []
  2. Ibid. p. i. []
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