Botany in Time and Space: The Chelsea Physic Garden

When I sent a fellow doctoral candidate in the history of botany some pictures from the Chelsea Physic Garden, she asked me if I had encountered any ghosts of the much-admired botanists that shaped this famous institution and its networks. While I had to answer in the negative, I noticed that the paths of many natural historians and horticultural practitioners, whose footsteps I traced during my stay at the German Historical Institute London, had crossed on that patch of land—either physically or at least in writing and through the exchange of plant material. Here, during a journey following his medical studies under Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738) in Leiden, Johann Philipp Breyne (1680–1764), an aspiring botanist from Gdańsk, visited and admired the Lebanese cedars at the entrance of the garden which remained its most significant attractions until the nineteenth century. Crucially for the history of botany, Breyne also met with botanists who would define the history of the garden.

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Promoting German Nazism in the Heart of the British Empire: The London Congress of the ‘Nationalist International’ in July 1935

In July 1935, an unexpected assortment of mostly male European self-proclaimed patriots met for three days at a congress of the Nationalist International in London.1 Alongside ‘conservative’ delegates, including two British Tory MPs and Louis Bertrand, who was a French historian and member of the prestigious Académie française, the guest list also featured more radical and even outright fascist figures, such as Frits Clausen, the leader of a small Danish Nazi party, and Friedrich Grimm, an NSDAP attorney and member of the German Reichstag. According to The Times, most of the delegates were ‘notable European professors’, united not by politics, but by ‘devotion’ to their country.2 Other British newspapers such as the Daily Mirror and the London Evening Telegraph likewise commented on the event in a neutral or even benevolent tone, suggesting that delegates from forty countries met under the auspices of the ‘expert on international law’ Dr Hans Keller (1908–70). Keller was a young and ambitious German jurist who had founded the Nationalist International in Zurich in 1934 with the aim of securing peace and stability by transforming the League of Nations into a ‘parliament of peoples’ corresponding with the ‘racial divisions of Europe’.3 Blinded by a leaflet circulated prior to the conference which claimed that ‘The Nationalist International means world peace’4 and stressed the supposedly neutral and scientific nature of the organization, the British press seemed not to realize the real mission of the congress: to promote German Nazism internationally.

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  1. This blogpost is based on research conducted for my Ph.D. thesis at the Free University of Berlin entitled ‘Notions and Practices of Fascist Internationalism in the 1930s’. I would like to thank the GHIL for a two-month scholarship, which enabled fruitful research in British archives and libraries. []
  2. The Times, 11 July 1935. Cf. Hans Keller and Akademie für die Rechte der Völker, (eds.), Der Kampf um die Völkerordnung: Forschungs- und Werbebericht der Akademie für die Rechte der Völker (Nationalistische Akademie) und der Internationalen Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten (Berlin, 1939), 97. []
  3. Daily Mirror, 11 July 1935; The Evening Telegraph, 10 July 1935. []
  4. Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten, Organic Nationalism: What the ‘Nationalist International’ Means to the Anglo-Saxon World (Zurich, 1935). []
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