Visualizing Labour in German East Africa: Photographic Images and their Circulation

Thirty years ago, in 1993, Cambridge University Library acquired a substantial quantity of materials from the Commonwealth and Britain’s former colonial territories. This repository originally came from the Colonial Society, which over the decades became the Royal Colonial Institute, then the Royal Empire Society, and finally the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS).1 This institution had begun collecting and archiving these documents around 1868, when it received funding to rent a suite in the Westminster Palace Hotel, and did so more intensively after 1900, as the collection grew and moved to larger premises. By the time the RCS library was integrated into the special collections of Cambridge University Library, it housed extensive and invaluable archives, including ancient texts in cuneiform script dating back to around 2200 BCE, as well as documents from the twentieth century.2 Among the latter were ten boxes of postcards from different regions of the former British Empire, printed between 1890 and 1969.3

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  1. See the history of the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) collection, (accessed 5 Jan. 2024). []
  2. See the RCS Library, (accessed 5 Jan. 2024). []
  3. Cambridge University Library, GBR/0115/RCS/PC, Postcard Collection. []

Museums Under Construction: On Loss, Disorder, Destruction, and Objects in Storerooms

Archaeological artefacts from the Ottoman Empire have only recently attracted attention in current debates over decolonization and restitution. Mirjam S. Brusius of the German Historical Institute London is researching the excavation of objects, the role of the local population, and why certain items have languished for decades in the storerooms of European museums.

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The Welsh Fasting Girl: A Morbid Spectacle

The story of Sarah Jacob is a tragic one.1 On 17 December 1869, when she was not yet 13 years old, she died of starvation. There was no shortage of food or unwillingness to provide her with food, had she asked for it. Her family, trained nurses, and male doctors were around her when she passed away, but they all quite literally watched her die.

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  1. E.g. ‘The drama of the Welsh fasting girl […] has ended tragically’. Anon., ‘The Week. Topics of the Day’, The Medical Times and Gazette, 25 Dec. 1869, 738 (my emphases); ‘The second act of the Carmarthen Tragedy has been played out’. Anon., No Title, The Western Mail, 27 Dec. 1869, 2. []

‘No Shows’ and Other Forms of Refusal: Reading Missionary Letters about the Loyalty Islands

As part of my PhD study, I am investigating and tracing the history of the island communities of the Ruapuke Mission Station in the Foveaux Strait in southern New Zealand and of the Loyalty Islands north-east of New Caledonia.

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Competition between Profit and Principles: The ‘Natural’ Market Niche in 1980s Britain

Below are findings that are part of my research for my doctoral thesis on the entanglement of commercial business and moral responsibility in the 1970s and 1980s. My access to archives across England, and specifically London, was made possible by the opportunity to stay at the German Historical Institute London in July and August 2023. In particular, the Walgreens Boots Alliance Archive in Nottingham and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London provided me with relevant sources.

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The German Naval Memorial in Laboe

The German Naval Memorial in Laboe, a coastal town in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, is dedicated to those who have lost their lives at sea. It was first envisioned as a national memorial to German sailors who were killed in the line of duty during the First World War and has developed into an international site to commemorate civilians and military personnel alike.

I first heard about it in 2018, when I met the historian Dr Jann M. Witt at a conference hosted jointly by Gateways to the First World War and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Dr Witt kindly offered me work experience at the Naval Memorial, and in 2023 I finally made it to Laboe.

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Trial and Error: The Federal Republic of Germany’s Failed First National Day of Remembrance and Where to Go from There

On 7 September 1950, the improvised West German parliamentary building—the Bundeshaus in Bonn—was packed with people. The Federal Chancellor with his cabinet, the majority of both chambers of parliament, as well as a significant number of honorary guests from high society had come together for the first ‘National Day of Remembrance of the German People’ (Nationaler Gedenktag des deutschen Volkes). Even the Allied High Commissioners were there.1

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  1. See C. E. L., ‘Ein Tag wie jeder andere’, Die Zeit, 7 Sept. 1950, at [https://www.zeit.de/1950/36/ein-tag-wie-jeder-andere], accessed 12 June 2023. []

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. []
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