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
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.
Continue reading Botany in Time and Space: The Chelsea Physic Garden
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. 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. 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’. Blinded by a leaflet circulated prior to the conference which claimed that ‘The Nationalist International means world peace’ 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.
Continue reading Promoting German Nazism in the Heart of the British Empire: The London Congress of the ‘Nationalist International’ in July 1935
Among the many records of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) held in the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham are minutes of a meeting of the CMS committee in London. At this meeting on 9 August 1819 the committee learned from a letter sent by the missionary Thomas Kendall that several whaling captains who had anchored in the Bay of Islands in Aotearoa/New Zealand ‘had been very kind to him and his colleagues’. The ‘Officers of the above ships’, Kendall continued, ‘conducted themselves towards them and the Natives in a most friendly manner; and parties of Sailors attended Divine Service, on the Sunday, when the weather would permit’, including one ‘Captain Swaine of the INDIAN’, a whaling ship.
Continue reading Māori Iwi, Quaker Whalers, and Missionaries at the Bay of Islands in Aotearoa/New Zealand (1790–1840)
Borders and belonging are of immense importance as borders are being (re)defined, strengthened, or weakened all around the globe. Brexit, the proposed wall between the USA and Mexico, the India–Pakistan border—the drawing of social and spatial boundaries is at the heart of many current debates, as is the question of what it means to ‘belong’ somewhere. The featured image illustrates how important the relationship between borders and belonging is and, from the point of view of those involved, how relevant to security considerations. A NASA image taken on board the International Space Station in September 2015, it shows the India-Pakistan border at night. The view is in a northerly direction across the valley of the Indus River. Illuminated by the light of security installations, it represents one of the few cases where an international border can be seen from space, at least at night.
Continue reading Borders and Belonging: Subjects of Current and Historical Significance
At 15:45 on 11 February 1986, Channel 4’s programme for the elderly Years Ahead turned to sex. This special Valentine’s Day edition conceded that society was oblivious to intimate desire in later life. And yet, change was on the horizon. Marjorie Proops, co-host of that episode, stated that ‘attitudes are changing’, and so Years Ahead set out to guide even more seniors towards ‘sexual freedom’.
Continue reading ‘Enjoy your bodies!’: Writing the History of Sexuality in Later Life through 1980s British Television
It may seem counter-intuitive that, three months after the outbreak of the First World War, British people were allowed to walk completely free through the streets of Dresden. But a look at the history of the British community in Saxony shows that there had been a special relationship between British migrants and the Saxon locals long before this conflict. Only when reports of the arrest of Germans in Britain (and especially of the conditions of imprisonment there) reached Germany did this relationship take a turn for the worse.
Continue reading British Migrants in the Kingdom of Saxony and Saxons in London, c.1850–1914
In a first blog post, I suggested that the figure of Hans Blumenberg can help us to understand one of the major differences between the ‘Cambridge School’ of intellectual history and Begriffsgeschichte, or conceptual history. This difference, I argued, is a disciplinary one: whereas Cambridge School intellectual history operates mainly in the fields of the historiography of political thought and contemporary political theory, conceptual historians intervene in a wider array of discourses and make more diverse use of historical insights. Hans Blumenberg, who is known as a philosopher, and not mainly as a political theorist, exemplifies this polydisciplinary outlook. At the same time, we can learn a lot about Blumenberg’s work if we interpret his early methodological writings in the context of conceptual history debates.
Continue reading Conceptual History as a Philosophical Methodology: The Case of Hans Blumenberg’s Metaphorology
From 2–4 June 2022, the German Association for British Studies will host its annual conference under the title of ‘From Cambridge to Bielefeld—and Back? British and Continental Approaches to Intellectual History’. Two specific—and local—schools of thought and their respective groups of thinkers are thus at the heart of the conference: Cambridge, where intellectual historians in the tradition of J. G. A. Pocock, Quentin Skinner, and John Dunn’s more or less shared outlook still apply linguistic and historical methods to modern political thought; and Bielefeld, where Werner Conze and Reinhart Koselleck edited the monumental lexicon on key historical terminology entitled Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe (GG), and where Koselleck was involved in shaping the institutional and methodological outlook of the now well-known Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF).
Continue reading What Is, and To What End Do We Study, Intellectual History?: A Comparison of Two Approaches: The ‘Cambridge School’ and ‘Conceptual History’
I was grateful and honoured to be jointly awarded the GHIL’s 2021 Ph.D. prize with Jonathan Triffitt this November. As with all such honours, picking the recipients was no doubt a subjective decision. Therefore, I am all the more grateful to the Institute for choosing my thesis ‘Negotiating Violence: Public Discourses about Political Violence in Interwar Britain and Germany’, as it is a piece of historical research in which I chose to acknowledge head-on how it was informed and influenced by present-day concerns along the way.
Continue reading Talking about Political Violence in Interwar Britain and Germany