The History Woman's Blog

A Museum full of Statues

Posted in exhibitions, History by thehistorywoman on October 2, 2020

 

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Lenin’s head.

As a country that has seen empire, Nazi dictatorship, two world wars, division and reunification, Germany has a lot of experience with unwanted monuments and statues. Some of them are now kept in the former provisions depot on the grounds of the Spandau Citadel in Berlin where you can see, among others, statues of Prussian monarchs, a church bell with a swastika its embarrassed post-war owners were unable to remove, and the famous head of Lenin.*

This giant head lying on its side as if it had rolled off the block on the scaffold belonged to a giant statue of the Russian revolutionary and Soviet leader Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov unveiled in 1970 at Leninplatz, the present Platz der Vereinten Nationen, in the eastern Berlin district of Friedrichshain. The statue was destroyed in the early 1990s after German reunification because the then mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, would not tolerate symbols of a ‘dictatorship in which people were persecuted and murdered’. The parts of the statue were buried in a forest in the south-eastern part of Berlin. However, the head was recovered in 2015 when it found its way into the museum in Spandau, where it is now part of the ‘Unveiled’ exhibition.

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The ‘Hitler bell’.

The church bell has its own inglorious history. Known as one of several ‘Hitler bells’, this bronze bell with Nazi symbolism was made in 1934 – one year after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power – for the evangelical parish church of Wichern-Radeland in Berlin’s Spandau district.

Only in 1962, however, did a new pastor point to the untenable situation that ‘the bell which is calling (the faithful) to the service should still carry the symbols of Third Reich ideology’. It was decided to remove the swastika from the bell, but attempts to do so failed. Some 55 years later, in 2017, the bell was finally silenced for good and another two years later removed to the Citadel. (more…)

Murder in Lausanne: The Death of an English Regicide in Exile

Posted in Early Modern, History, Politics, Religion, Republicanism, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on September 5, 2020

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The Reformed Church of St François in Lausanne in the 19th century.

On Thursday, 11 August 1664 the Englishman John Lisle was shot dead in bright daylight on his way to church in Lausanne. His killers had been observing his moves. They knew his daily habits.

When Lisle went on that fateful day to hear the morning sermon at the Church of St François, several men were hiding nearby. One of them had been waiting for Lisle at a barber’s shop, and then, following him into the churchyard ‘drew a carabine from under his cloak, and shot him into the back.’ After the deed, the men escaped on horseback towards the town of Morges, allegedly shouting ‘vive le roi’.

The suspects in Lisle’s murder were Irish royalists who carried out the deed as agents of the English Crown, though it remains contested how many assassins there were and who of them fired the deadly shot.

The events that led to Lisle’s death had taken their beginning in January 1649 when after the Second Civil War a High Court of Justice tried the English King Charles I for treason and had him executed. As a commissioner of the High Court, Lisle had been a leading regicide who helped to draw up Charles’s death sentence, even though he did not sign the King’s death warrant.

Lisle continued to hold public office during the Commonwealth and Interregnum period. However, when the Stuart monarchy was restored in May 1660, the tables turned. Some of the regicides were tried and executed by the new government. Others went underground or escaped abroad to the American colonies or to the European continent. (more…)

A coaching inn in Augsburg

CUP_coverChoosing a cover image for a book is tricky, especially on an early modern subject. Ideally, the image should relate both to the title and contents of the book and be available on one of the standard image sites. Since my book is entitled The English Republican Exiles in Europe During the Restoration, I should have selected an image showing the three republicans it focuses on.

Alas, while there are contemporary representations of both Algernon Sidney (1623-1683) and Edmund Ludlow (1617-1692), I yet have not come across a likeness of Henry Neville (1619-1694), nevermind an image showing all three of them at once. Therefore, not even a collage would have been an option.

Next I thought I might go for a map of Europe. I love maps of all kinds, especially early modern ones. But there were already too many other books with maps of Europe on their cover, and the book after all was not about Europe, but about people travelling it. I wanted something more lively, more dynamic which showed real human beings in action.

So I started looking for images of early modern travel, ideally showing travellers on horseback or travellers in cities. These images existed, but they often showed the wrong country, wrong city or wrong landscape. Somehow, the context was always wrong. The same was true for city maps, and they only ever showed once city at a time – Geneva, Rotterdam, Paris, Rome – when I wanted to show them all at once.

In the end, I struck on an image that fulfilled most of my criteria. It is a black-and-white image showing a coaching inn in seventeenth-century Augsburg. In front of the inn is a coach and horses, while several men on horseback are arriving from the left. Other men are nearby resting on a fence or barrier or probably just stretching their legs.

I like to imagine that one of the men in the image could have been Algernon Sidney stopping over on his way to Augsburg, where he stayed in 1664, presumably visiting the former lord chief justice Oliver St. John, who had withdrawn to the city following the Restoration. Maybe, just maybe, Sidney could have known that inn.

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How I got to The English Republican Exiles in Europe

Posted in Early Modern, History, Political Thought, Politics, Religion, Republicanism, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on August 18, 2020

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The cover image shows a coaching inn in Augsburg.

The cover image has been selected, the proofs are done, and my new book on The English Republican Exiles in Europe During the Restoration is finally going to press – due out, the content manager tells me, in about five to six weeks’ time.

This book has been a long time in the making, and it has been a labour of love. I have been wanting to write this book ever since I finished my PhD some 15 years ago – mainly because I was surprised at the time that such a volume did not yet exist.

When doing research on the English republican Henry Neville (1619-1694), it proved rather difficult to find out anything about his period of Italian exile during the 1660s. The time between the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy and the publication of his Plato Redivivus in 1681 had been neglected by scholars mainly interested in his relationship to the more prominent thinker James Harrington and his neo-Harringtonian political thought.

But republican minds do not suddenly stop thinking in 1660 only to re-start some twenty years later. Surely, what happened in between must have been of some significance, I thought, and the exiles project was born.

Lack of interest in the exile period?

Unsurprisingly, it turned out, the narrative was not dissimilar for other republican thinkers, even though they were slightly better known and hence better explored. The prime example was Algernon Sidney (1623-1683), the republican firebrand executed for treason in the aftermath of the Rye House Plot in 1683, to whom Jonathan Scott devoted a two-volume intellectual biography.

While Scott did trace Sidney’s moves beyond 1660 and through to 1683, other historians of seventeenth-century political thought did not, partly because they focused on his published writings. This meant primarily his posthumously published Discourses (1698), while Sidney’s Court Maxims, which capture the spirit of his exile thought, were not widely known until they were published in a study edition in 1996. (more…)

Experiencing museums in times of crisis

Posted in exhibitions, History, museums, Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on June 13, 2020

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The little house in Buckow where Brecht and Weigel spent their summers. 

Now that the lockdown is easing in many parts of Germany I thought it would be a good idea to visit a few museums. It was definitely nice to be out and about again  despite the ongoing pandemic, but following social distancing rules in smaller local museums was clearly not easy.

My first trip took me to the Brecht-Weigel-Haus in Buckow close to Berlin, where the German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) and his actress wife and long-term collaborator Helene Weigel (1900-1971) spent their summers from 1952.

The little house by the lake Schermützelsee is a beautiful and quiet place which looks ideal for writing, relaxing and meeting friends. It is very bright and cosy and surrounded by a lovely garden overlooking the lake. Alas, due to the social distancing rules, only two people were allowed into any room at a time, which did not work too well.

Especially the first room after the reception was way too small to cope with even small groups of visitors. The little room contained much of the biographical information on Brecht and Weigel as well as reproductions of original documents from the 1950s, some of them dealing with the East German uprising of 1953, which took some time to read. We could have spent at least an hour in there, but felt we had to move on quickly to let other visitors in.

The second and main room of the house, a large and airy living room was much better, partly because you could walk around and look at the furniture and pictures without colliding with anyone. But there was little information to contextualise what you were seeing. Much of the fun of the visit consisted in imagining how Brecht, Weigel and their friends were sitting on the odd collection of chairs around the big central table smoking, drinking and debating. (more…)

Writing books as an independent scholar

Posted in Academia, higher education, History by thehistorywoman on February 27, 2020

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Here’s one I prepared earlier.

It is possible. You just have to be organised. More easily said than done, I know. But many of us are doing it. Writing books as an independent scholar means that nobody pays you for the time you need to research, read, travel, dig in archives, draft and re-draft your chapters.

You are doing it in your own time and, most of all, you have to find that time. I have spent many an evening after work, an early morning before work or a weekend or holiday to make some progress on my current book.

The annoying thing is, as many of you will know, that it always take a while to get back into the writing process before you actually produce something. I usually have to re-read the last thing I’ve written to remember exactly where I left off, and I frequently get side-tracked reading around and waste an entire session I had set aside for writing only to catch up with what I was doing.

So it is important to find larger chunks of time – to start on a Friday evening when you come home and continue working with appropriate breaks until you need to go back to your day job on Monday morning.

Naturally, this kills any remaining social life you might have, and those of your friends who are not the bookish types might get tired of you and look for better things to do than wait for your excuses why you can’t go out this weekend. (more…)

How not to write women out of history

Posted in Academia, Early Modern, History, literature, Political Thought, Politics, Republicanism, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on January 17, 2020

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The Parliament of Women (1646), on which Neville based his satirical libels.

Admittedly, my headline sounds a bit dramatic. But I am serious about this. Several years ago, I reviewed two books in short succession: one, a collection of essays on Oliver Cromwell, another, a history of gender in the English Revolution. The former barely mentioned any women at all, the latter focused on gender relations during this crucial period of British history.

The two books could not have been more different from each other, and yet, they covered similar issues. This made me think more about the way in which I was treating women in my own writing on seventeenth-century English republicanism.

I had to admit to myself, that I too had written my PhD thesis on a male republican, Henry Neville (1619-94), who was a bit of a misogynist himself. (He married a much younger woman to lay hands on her estate and then largely ignored her for the rest of her short life.)

It had not even occurred to me to look for a female subject to write about, mainly because I was under the naïve impression that – with the possible exception of Lucy Hutchinson – female republicans in the seventeenth century simply did not exist. This impression, no doubt, was based on the existing literature.

Ironically, it was through Neville himself that I came to engage with women in the English Civil War and its aftermath after all. In his Parliament-of-Women satires, Neville had used the image of an all-female assembly to poke fun on the weak and useless male MPs at Westminster in the late 1640s and early 1650s. This led me to investigate the political activities of women during the period from female petitioners to prophetesses and the activist wives of Leveller leaders.

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Frontispiece of Neville’s The Isle of Pines (1669).

Likewise, Neville’s fictional Restoration travel narrative The Isle of Pines had used a particular depiction of gender relations to pose questions about the legitimacy of political patriarchalism and hereditary rule. So I got hooked on the gender theme and promised myself to pay more attention to the female figures and voices that appear like faint shadows in the documents and secondary literature.

When I was writing my forthcoming book on The English Republican Exiles in Europe during the Restoration, for instance, I realised what an important role Elizabeth Ludlow (c 1630-1702) held in the wider republican nexus.

Not only did she facilitate the flight of her regicide husband, Edmund Ludlow (1617-92), into continental exile in 1660, she also maintained a communication network that allowed the fugitive to stay in contact with important allies over many years. (more…)

A small workshop shows why I like the EU and Brexit is a bad idea

Posted in Academia, Comment, Conferences, Early Modern, higher education, History, Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on October 18, 2019

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Our Translating Cultures group in the HAB’s Bibelsaal.

I have just returned from our annual workshop on Translating Cultures at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel (HAB, Germany) which is always a great opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues while discussing the significance of translation for the dissemination of ideas in early modern Europe. The spread of papers was amazing – from translations of the Old Testament Book of Job via the reception of William Robertson in Italy to Montesquieu in Hungarian and new conventions of botany books that created a whole new language for the description of plants. (You can catch up with the live tweets under #tcHAB2019.)

The mix of languages present at the conference was reflected in our conversations as well. While most papers were presented in English, one was presented in French, and French was also often used in discussions around the table or during break times outside of the conference room, where Italian and German could also be heard. Among the participants were an Israeli, a Hungarian, a Russian and a French national who live and work in Germany, while the event was co-organised by a Danish national living in Scotland and a German who had spent almost one third of her life in the UK and Ireland. (more…)

Life in the non-academic world – and what I miss

Posted in Academia, higher education, Journalism by thehistorywoman on June 13, 2019

Prompted by a tweet by Jennifer Polk the other day I started thinking about what I miss about working in an academic environment. Strictly speaking, she asked, ‘What aspects of non-academic employment did you have to learn/ get used to when you moved beyond the professoriate?’ – and I honestly did not have to think long.

One thing I am still finding hard four years after transitioning from a senior lectureship in History at a UK university to an editorial post at a press agency in Berlin is that I no longer have my own office. I like having people around, even though I am a rather private person, and journalism is all about team work.

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But working in an open-plan newsroom is something else. Technically speaking I no longer even have my own desk, even though I try to sit in the same place most days. We usually move around desks wherever we are needed, and people around you talk all the time – on the phone, to each other and to you – while you are trying to focus on whatever you are currently researching, writing or editing.

There is a certain buzz in the office that can be very uplifting. It makes you want to write and play your part in the big orchestra of keyboards, accompanied by a cacophony of ringtones and vocals. But it is very hard to concentrate and you cannot tell people to shut up all the time just because you are trying to focus on your work. So your multitasking skills are seriously challenged. (more…)

Historical monographs without footnotes?

Posted in Academia, Comment, History by thehistorywoman on April 28, 2019

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Yes, my own monograph also has endnotes.

I have long been irritated by the common practice of academic publishers to ban notes from the page they refer to. Many history publishers consolidate notes either at the end of a journal article or a book chapter or, even worse, relegate all notes and references to the back of a book.

There might be sound reasons for doing so, such as making the printed page look tidier or avoiding that overlong footnotes hamper the reading flow. Alas, it means you have to go backwards and forwards all the time, should you actually be interested in finding out which sources the author used or where the information presented comes from.

However, recently, I have also come across several academic monographs without any footnotes at all. These were not popular history books or text books, but actual monographs by a reputable university press, one from the 1980s and another from 2015. The former had a brief bibliographical essay in the back, the other a select bibliography. But no notes. (more…)