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
I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the workingmen at Manchester and in all Europe are called to endure in this crisis. It has been often and studiously represented that the attempt to overthrow this government, which was built upon the foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one which should rest exclusively on the basis of human slavery, was likely to obtain the favor of Europe. Through the actions of our disloyal citizens the workingmen of Europe have been subjected to a severe trial, for the purpose of forcing their sanction to that attempt.
With these words, among others, the American President Lincoln addressed a famous letter to the workers of Manchester in January 1863. What had happened? Manchester and Lancashire suffered from the Cotton Famine from 1862 onwards, which made many workers unemployed and drove them into poverty. Supporting the Confederate States in the American Civil War, as many merchants and members of the upper classes did, could therefore have been an obvious way for the workers to get back to work and earn a crust. Yet under difficult conditions, workers continued to support the northern states and the struggle to end slavery. In Manchester city centre today, a large statue commemorates this contact between sections of the British working class and the American president.
Continue reading Socialism and Slavery within the British and German Socialist Labour Movements, 1830–1890
On 10 January 1547, Thomas Thirlby, first and last bishop of Westminster and Henry VIII’s envoy to Emperor Charles V, informed his master ‘that th[e] Emperour gothe to Ulmes [Ulm], thear to take the diet for the cure of his gowt, and as some hathe said, He well have a Diet there for the cure of Germany.’ In this witty wordplay on the homonymy of the word ‘diet’, Thirlby relayed news about the emperor’s health problems and his issues with the Schmalkaldic League, an association of Protestant Imperial Estates. The solution was represented by the same word ‘diet’ in both cases, albeit with different meanings. What was proof of eloquence and humanist rhetoric in this primary source, however, today presents certain heuristic challenges for historians who encounter the word ‘diet’ in edited sources.
Continue reading The Emperor’s Diet or the Empire’s Reichstag? Sixteenth-Century English Wordplay on the ‘Diet’ and its Heuristic Use