A Brotherhood of Soldiers? Concepts of Comradeship 1914–1938

Whether we watch movies, read novels, play video games, look at paintings, or listen to podcasts about the First World War, we encounter expressions of what we consider to be the comradeship of the trenches. The idea of the soldiers holding fast together through all hardships, living together, and loving each other like brothers, even dying for one another, has become a central part of the collective memory of the ‘Great War’.1 The social relationship we are shown in these media representations is most often that of best friends. By defining the relationship between soldiers in this way, media productions are creating relatability for non-military users as well as avoiding the rather less clearly defined term ‘comradeship’. The most recent example of this is the film 1917 directed by Sam Mendes, which tells the story of the First World War through the eyes of two soldier friends on a special mission. What it does not show is the daily lives the soldiers had to lead with those they did not consider to be their friends, for whom they did not feel sympathy, or were just not emotionally close to. Those people they called ‘comrades’ and this relationship is almost entirely absent from cultural representations of the war. Media productions therefore replace the social relationship of comradeship with the concept of friendship in our cultural memory of the Great War because they only show one kind of relationship at the front.

Continue reading A Brotherhood of Soldiers? Concepts of Comradeship 1914–1938
  1. See Aleida Assmann, Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit (Munich, 2006), 23–6; available in English as Shadows of Trauma: Memory and the Politics of Postwar Identity, trans. Sarah Clift (New York, 2016). []

Recording the Dead in Early Modern London and Munich

Recording the names of the dead has a long tradition in human societies.1 Lists of the dead come in many different forms: as a call to remember the dead, as a reminder of some kind of sacrifice or traumatic event, or as a means to keep track of mortality patterns. In antiquity, we find early examples of lists of those who died in battle, while in the Middle Ages monastic necrologues recorded when a monk or nun died. In both of these cases, however, only the deaths of a select number of individuals were recorded. It is not until the sixteenth century that, at least in Western contexts, more detailed records allow us to gain a better understanding of who died when, and sometimes also where their bodies were buried.2

Continue reading Recording the Dead in Early Modern London and Munich
  1. The third part (363–488) of Thomas W. Laqueur, The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton, 2015) is devoted to the ‘Names of the Dead’. []
  2. On these longer-term developments, see Philip Booth und Elizabeth Tingle (eds.), A Companion to Death, Burial, and Remembrance in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, c.1300–1700 (Leiden, 2021); Thea Tomaini (ed.), Dealing with The Dead: Mortality and Community in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Leiden, 2018). []

Perspectives on Political Parties in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Since the emergence of the first nation states in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, political parties have become one of the most important and influential actors in Western political systems. It is hard to imagine a functioning Western democracy without the presence of political parties, yet they have always been accompanied by criticism and rejection. As parties developed into elementary components of constitutional states and their tasks and responsibilities expanded, an intense theoretical preoccupation with the potential dangers they posed took place, especially in Britain.1 This debate about parties was marked by conflicting views, but the repetition and recurrence of similar lines of argument by authors at different times throughout the nineteenth century is striking.

Continue reading Perspectives on Political Parties in Nineteenth-Century Britain
  1. See, for example, Arthur Aspinall, ‘English Party Organization in the Early Nineteenth Century’, English Historical Review, 41 (1926), 389–411; J. A. W. Gunn, ‘Party before Burke: Shute Barrington’, Government and Opposition, 3/2 (1968), 223–40; id., Factions No More: Attitudes to Party in Government and Opposition in Eighteenth-Century England. Extracts from Contemporary Sources (London, 1972); Paul Webb, ‘Political Partiesand Democracy:The Ambiguous Crisis’, Democratization, 12/5 (2005), 633–50, at 633–4. []

Prophecies and (Hi)Stories: Telling the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453

From a Euro-Mediterranean perspective, the conquest of Constantinople led by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1453 not only marked the end of the Byzantine empire that had lasted more than a millennium, but also the end of the European Middle Ages. Rightly considered a ‘moment of great historical significance’1 by both contemporaries and modern researchers, the conquest of Constantinople ‘had repercussions that went far beyond its walls’2 not only politically and economically, but also culturally and socially.

Continue reading Prophecies and (Hi)Stories: Telling the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453
  1. The Siege of Constantinople 1453: Seven Contemporary Accounts, ed. by John Melville-Jones (Amsterdam, 1972), vii. []
  2. Michael Angold, ‘Turning Points in History: The Fall of Constantinople’, Byzantinoslavica, 71 (2013), 11–30, at 12. []

Britten’s Virtual Mystery

In 1964 the first of composer Benjamin Britten and writer William Plomer’s ‘Church Parables’—Curlew River—was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in St. Bartholomew’s Church in Orford. Britten had been working on the project off and on with his librettist Plomer following Britten’s encounter with Noh theatre during a visit to Japan in 1955. Though the initial intention was simply to set the famous Noh play Sumidagawa to music, it was decided in 1959 that, given that the work was to be premiered in St. Bartholomew’s, it should be ‘a Christian work’ and set in medieval England in the form of a mystery play.1

Continue reading Britten’s Virtual Mystery
  1. Letter to Plomer, 15 April 1959, quoted in: Mervyn Cooke, Britten and the Far East: Asian Influences in the Music of Benjamin Britten (Woodbridge, 1998), 142–143. ‘Christian’ underline in original. []

Vicarious Observation: Conveying Pleasure and Sensory Experience in Eighteenth-Century British Periodicals

The time I spent perusing the British Library’s early modern treasures—thanks to a scholarship from the German Historical Institute London—left me with much to think about for my current research project on the body and pleasure in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century periodicals. First and foremost, my time in London gave me a heightened sense of how newspapers and magazines functioned as a medium for conveying pleasure, not least as a sensory experience.

Continue reading Vicarious Observation: Conveying Pleasure and Sensory Experience in Eighteenth-Century British Periodicals

Days of Betrayal: Violations of Trust and Loyalty in Late Medieval England

Tensions have been running high in what, by any reckoning, has been a challenging year: a raging pandemic, social instability, and political unrest.1 And amidst all this, battle cries are heard from every corner of the political spectrum that threaten to exacerbate the situation: Plotters! Betrayers! Traitors!—the world is full of them if you believe what is written in the comment sections of media outlets.

Continue reading Days of Betrayal: Violations of Trust and Loyalty in Late Medieval England
  1. I would like to thank the German Historical Institute London for supporting my research despite the adverse circumstances, and for giving me the chance to take part in the Institute’s always lively and constructive doctoral colloquium, which helped me to come to a better understanding of my subject and source material. []

An Ancient Church Father and his Victorian Audience: Christian von Bunsen’s Unusual Work on Hippolytus of Rome and its Influence on Nineteenth-Century Debates

[T]he amiable curates were politely requested to dribble out a few drops from the full fountain of their patristic lore, that poor benighted Farmer Giles in his chimney-corner might read, for the first time in his life, the talismanic name of Hippolytus.1

Continue reading An Ancient Church Father and his Victorian Audience: Christian von Bunsen’s Unusual Work on Hippolytus of Rome and its Influence on Nineteenth-Century Debates
  1. [Anon.], ʻHippolytus and his Ageʼ, The Eclectic Review, 8 (1854), 690–8, at 690. []

Germans, the Dutch East India Company, and Early Colonial South Africa

Germans were the largest foreign European group in the Dutch empire during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They worked for the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) in its territories along the Indian Ocean, stretching from present-day South Africa to Sri Lanka, Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Initially serving on temporary labour contracts as officials, sailors, and soldiers, soon Germans began to stay in the Dutch overseas territories for good. Some continued to work for the Company for the rest of their lives, while others applied for citizenship and became farm holders, teachers, ministers, or tradesmen.

Continue reading Germans, the Dutch East India Company, and Early Colonial South Africa