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). []

Eduard Zander in Ethiopia, 1847–68

Eduard Zander (1813–68), from Saxony-Anhalt, combined the roles of painter and draughtsman, architect and artisan, ethnographer and assistant to the German botanist Georg Wilhelm Schimper in one person.1 What is left of the artist’s output consists to a large degree of drawings in a naturalistic style made in the mid nineteenth century in Ethiopia. Nothing comparable is known by Ethiopian artists of the time. From the beginning of the nineteenth century onwards, European travellers sketched landscapes, spectacular sites like the stelae park in Aksum with its monumental, almost 2,000-year-old obelisks, the country’s eleven thirteenth-century monolithic rock churches in Lalibäla, the palaces in Gondär, and impressive ranges such as the Simän Mountains. Little by little, European explorers drew the life around them, important events like receptions by local dignitaries, and picturesque scenes such as a slave market.2

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  1. See also Dorothea McEwan, (2012), ‘Eduard Zander, sein Leben in Ähiopien, 1847–1868’, in Dessauer Kalender 2013: Heimatliches Jahrbuch für Dessau-Roßlau und Umgebung,vol. 57, 32–51. []
  2. Henry Salt, A Voyage to Abyssinia, and Travels into the Interior of that Country, Executed Under the Orders of the British Government, in the Years 1809 and 1810 (London, 1814). []

Studies on Aby Warburg, Fritz Saxl, and Gertrud Bing

The Studies1 is a collection of articles I originally published in German, Italian and French as the first Archivist of the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London, turned into chapters. I catalogued the entire correspondence of Aby Warburg (1866–1929) held by the archive, some 37,000 letters and postcards dating from the 1880s to Warburg’s death in 1929.2 As an expert in German palaeography and in intellectual history, I set up a database of the Warburg Institute’s large archival holdings. Having worked on other large collections, notably the Gustav Klimt / Emilie Flöge correspondence, large holdings of records of Jewish sthetls, and Austrian archival material from Egypt, the collection in the Warburg Institute allowed for an in-depth examination and understanding of Aby Warburg, Director of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg in Hamburg and his two librarians, Fritz Saxl and Gertrud Bing. Saxl and Bing were instrumental in transferring the entire library to London in 1933, and became directors of the newly established Warburg Institute there and developing it into one of the world’s leading centres of intellectual history, Saxl until his death in 1946 and Bing from 1955 to 1959. In this new volume, which comprises seventeen chapters, I have translated and updated my work originally published as articles in various academic journals on the impact of these three extraordinary scholars.

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  1. Dorothea McEwan, Studies on Aby Warburg, Fritz Saxl, and Gertrud Bing (Abingdon, 2023). []
  2. Database of the Aby Warburg Correspondence in the Warburg Institute Archive (WIA), 37,845 English language abstracts, available online. []

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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New Publication on Manuscript Newsletters around 1700

The new volume Scribal News in Politics and Parliament 1660–1760, which has just been published as a special issue of the journal Parliamentary History, gathers twelve essays by scholars from Britain, Europe, and North America on the role of scribal news in reporting about parliament and politics in Britain between 1660 and 1760. The volume grew out of a one-day conference held between the History of Parliament and the German Historical Institute London (both institutions are neighbours on Bloomsbury Square) in December 2018 to explore a hitherto underinvestigated topic at the intersection of political and media history.

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Directories and the Legibility of Urban Spaces, 1760–1830

It seems like the logical conclusion to a friendly and fruitful relationship that my monograph on town directories of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, entitled Die Stadt lesen: Englische ‘Directories’ als Wissens- und Orientierungsmedien, 1760–1830, has recently been published in the GHIL’s series with De Gruyter Oldenbourg. By far the largest part of my archival research—with most sources relevant to my Ph.D. held by English archives—was made possible by two GHIL scholarships, which also allowed me to discuss my ongoing work with colleagues at the Institute.

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Intervention on Behalf of Foreign Subjects during the Anglo-Spanish War, 1585–1604

It is fitting that my dissertation on the idea of intervention and protection of foreign subjects during the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604) has been published in the GHIL’s series, as it touches on one of the most researched periods of English history: the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the Anglo-Spanish War. My study investigates the conflict-ridden relationship between Protestant England and Catholic Spain in the incipient Age of Confession as reflected in publications and drafts of declarations of war and war manifestos, which scholarship has shown to be sources of vital importance for the history of political thought in the early modern period.

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Ethiopia Illustrated: Manuscripts and Painting in Ethiopia – Examples from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century

The newly published anthology Ethiopia Illustrated: Church Paintings, Maps and Drawings is a result of my appointment as Associate Fellow of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences in 2017. The suggestion was aired to publish a volume with my research articles on Ethiopian manuscripts and paintings, which had previously appeared in a variety of journals accessible to readerships in Europe and North America, but which were not easily accessible in Ethiopia. Such a project necessitated obtaining permission to republish the articles, which fortunately was quickly forthcoming. But it also necessitated obtaining funding to print not only seven articles, but also no fewer than 146 illustrations in one volume. The Ethiopian Academy Press was keen to do so, but asked if financial assistance was available.

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Historiography in Emigration: German Historians in Great Britain after 1933

It is doubly fitting that my book on German-speaking historians who emigrated to Britain after 1933 has now been published in the GHIL’s book series. As the holder of a GHIL scholarship, I had the pleasure to be based at the Institute during two archival research trips to London, and since the majority of sources for my project are in British archives, the chance to visit Britain and consult materials in person was indispensable. The GHIL also provided a highly stimulating intellectual environment, especially when I spoke about my Ph.D. project at the Institute‘s colloquium, which strongly shaped the ultimate direction of my research.

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