The German Revolution of 1918–19 brought an abrupt end to more than a thousand years of monarchical history in Central Europe. The revolution led to a state-of-the-art liberal democracy and the first ever socialist government of an advanced industrial economy. But it is seldom regarded as belonging in the same company of epoch-defining revolutions as those in France (1789), Mexico (1910), Russia (1917), China (1949), or Iran (1979). On the contrary, Germany’s first successful democratic revolution so disappointed generations of historians that they competed to award it negative epithets such as ‘stalled’, ‘aborted’, or ‘betrayed’. The eventful history and disastrous end of the Weimar Republic still cast a long shadow over the revolution that brought it to life. The 1918–19 revolution is examined in a diagnostic mode, with historians searching for ominous pathologies in a newborn democratic patient. This preoccupation with 1918–19 as a possible prefiguration of the Nazi seizure of power in 1933–4 has inescapably come at the cost of attention to the German Revolution as a lived event. Our edited volume Living the German Revolution 1918–19: Expectations, Experiences, Responses, published with Oxford University Press in the series ‘Studies of the German Historical Institute London’, redresses this by focusing on the synchronicity of the revolution and its contemporary construal by a diverse cast of social groups.
Continue reading The German Revolution of 1918–19: Expectations, Experiences, Responses
It is a great source of satisfaction to me to feel that we are taking advantage of the wonderful opportunity which fate has afforded us of getting to know and understand each other better. We are meeting as a family. Family discussions can be pointed, but often that spirit strengthens the family.
This quote stems from a speech given by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, to a group of Continental European financial policymakers and central bankers in London in 1942, including the finance ministers of the Allied governments in exile, their principal advisers and secretaries of state, and the governors of the central banks in exile. What had happened? Why had the leaders of European economic and financial policy come together in the midst of the Second World War, and why did the British Chancellor of the Exchequer speak of a ‘wonderful opportunity’ in this context?
Continue reading A Short Walk through London’s History during the Second World War: Financial Experts in Exile
‘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
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’?
Eduard Zander (1813–68), from Saxony-Anhalt, combined the roles of painter and draughtsman, architect and artisan, ethnographer and assistant to the German botanist Georg Wilhelm Schimper in one person. What is left of the artist’s output consists to a large degree of drawings in a naturalistic style made in the mid nineteenth century in Ethiopia. Nothing comparable is known by Ethiopian artists of the time. From the beginning of the nineteenth century onwards, European travellers sketched landscapes, spectacular sites like the stelae park in Aksum with its monumental, almost 2,000-year-old obelisks, the country’s eleven thirteenth-century monolithic rock churches in Lalibäla, the palaces in Gondär, and impressive ranges such as the Simän Mountains. Little by little, European explorers drew the life around them, important events like receptions by local dignitaries, and picturesque scenes such as a slave market.
Continue reading Eduard Zander in Ethiopia, 1847–68
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