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. []

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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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

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  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). []

‘Doing Well, Don’t Worry’: Exhibiting Archives as a Feminist Practice

In 2014, my colleagues at the Cairo-based Women and Memory Forum (WMF) and I decided to establish a women’s museum in Egypt. I was motivated by two things. The first was the absence of feminist narratives in museums in Egypt and across the Arab region. While Egypt hosts more than seventy museums, not a single one is dedicated to women’s history and only a handful of these museums are specialized biographical museums on famous women figures. The second was the expanding collections of archives and objects of material culture housed at WMF.

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The Production of Historical Feminisms, Part Two: Transnational Strategies and the Feminist ‘We’

With this post, Johanna Gehmacher returns to the issues of tradition-building and historicization within women’s movements. Using a book that combined trans-temporal and transnational strategies to legitimise and incite feminist activism in West Germany in the 1970s as a case study, Gehmacher examines the production of meaning within feminist movements and the interconnection between visions and politics of the past, present and future in feminism. Part One of this series can be found here.

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The Production of Historical Feminisms, Part One: Historical Awareness and Political Activism

In the early 1970s, a slim pink book designated as the first issue in a series titled Frauen(raub)druck (Women’s (Bootleg) Print) became a best-seller in the burgeoning women’s movement in German-speaking countries. To categorise the influential publication is, however, a challenging task for more than one reason. Bearing two titles but no year of publication, the book lacks unambiguous and comprehensive bibliographic information.1 Also, the editors remained anonymous, and beyond a connection with the West Berlin Women’s Centre (Frauenzentrum Berlin), it is difficult to ascertain their place in the feminist milieus of the 1970s. But importantly, by linking the movement with two distinct historical and political contexts (early twentieth-century German research on gender roles in ancient societies and 1960s US-American radical feminism), the book raises questions about how to conceptualise historical awareness in 1970s feminism. To better understand the specific relationship between past, present and future the editors imagined, we have to go back to the critical feminist thinking on the production of historical feminisms that has developed since the 1990s.

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  1. For more information on the publication and its historical context, see Johanna Gehmacher, ‘Macht/Lust – Übersetzung und fragmentierte Traditionsbildung als Strategien zur Mobilisierung eines radikalen Feminismus’, in Angelika Schaser et al. (eds.), Erinnern, vergessen, umdeuten? Europäische Frauenbewegungen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt, 2019), 95–123. []

Not your Average National Hero: Scattered Archives and the Women of the Indonesian Anticolonial Movement

In her captivating autobiographical novel Buiten het gareel [Out of Line], the Indonesian author Suwarsih Djojopuspito painted a vivid image of her experiences as an activist teacher during the last few years of Dutch rule in Indonesia. The book, published in Dutch in 1940, tells the story of Sulastri, an idealistic young teacher who runs a non-governmental school for Indonesian children together with her husband, Sugondo.

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The Spaces Between: Interstitial Archives and Childbirth Activism in 1970s West Germany and the United States

Most people who know me will tell you that I enjoy fewer things more than foraging in archives. I have been an archive rat since my days as a researcher on a national historical commission. My love of unusual nuggets (an asbestos sample), dust-encrusted fingers, and the tangible vestiges of previous researchers (documents bedecked in cigarette burns), is even becoming a monograph about one archive and its uses and abuses in the post-World War II era.

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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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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.

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  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. []
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