What's all this then?

My name is Victoria Stiles and I'm an Early Career Historian currently doing whatever odd research / consulting / outreach / tutoring jobs come my way. I blog here about some of the interesting texts I've found.
My research focusses on books about Britain and the British Empire which were in circulation in Nazi Germany but you'll also find a smattering of school textbooks, witchcraft beliefs, bog drainage, bemused travellers and weird illustrations that caught my eye.
Translations from German are my own. Comments are currently unmoderated and are mostly spam for leather jackets anyway.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Schmidt: Lehrbuch der Englischen Sprache

Here's an English textbook I found on the "Kunstmarkt am 17. Juni" in Berlin. It's from 1905 and has some nice Jugendstil touches:

The first section of the book is a series of "lessons" to be used by teachers. It seems to be following a Berlitz-style approach; target language only, gestures and tone of voice used to convey meaning (so words are associated directly with concepts, not with first language translations), and intensive repetition of new vocabulary in different contexts and grammatical structures. As this explanation of the Berlitz Method puts it, "Teachers would have to constantly encourage students to speak the language being taught, employing a barrage of questions to be answered and a quickly expanding vocabulary. "

One thing I love about this book is the generous detail of the illustrations (although it's a shame more pages aren't illustrated). I find them far more appealing than the rough, cartoonish approach of many modern textbooks.

Further in, the book switches to more typical reading material for self-study. The texts cover the usual range of historical, political and cultural information but there are some surprises. I'm tempted to use this next page on my own classes, for a "guess the gadgets" activity:

Most helpfully of all are the model letters which could be copied and used in a wide variety of situations, from getting out of social engagements without causing offence, to putting tradespeople in their place:

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

"Pleasant English" for unpleasant times

This book needs no long preamble to make it sound interesting. It’s an English textbook for years 7 and 8 of the German Volksschule and it was published in 1939, shortly before the learners were officially at war with the subject matter.

Its condition suggests that it had a similar life history to most schoolbooks. A certain Fräulein Ingelore Giesecke carefully wrote her name in pencil on the inside cover before it fell victim to inkblots, a cracked spine and the violent loss of page 15. The inside pages aren’t dogeared or faded so Miss Giesecke may not have been the most enthusiastic of pupils.

That’s enough whimsical speculation about the owner, it’s the foreword which deserves our full attention. It’s aimed more at teachers than learners and explains how the various features of this book should be used in class. It explains that the exercises, which are provided after each chapter of reading material, are to be given as homework and so they don’t “release teachers from the duty” of finding other ways to practice in the classroom. It explains that a glossary is provided at the end of the book so that students don’t need to waste time looking through a dictionary, and also that the approach to grammar and speaking is functional rather than theoretical. In fact it says roughly the same as the foreword to every textbook I’ve ever taught from. The interesting part deals with the newly-written reading material:

The reading material serves to widen the sphere of experience from domestic life to life in the wider communities involved in day to day life and to the values which determine the behaviour of the Englishman towards these communities. In essence, these values bear a northern-germanic stamp and have enabled Englishmen to achieve great and awe-inspiring works; of which the formation of the British Empire constitutes the greatest. It is necessary that we Germans recognise and appreciate the real, inherent qualities of the English in order to be able to value them as political allies, or so as not to undervalue them as enemies.
However it is even more important that the young German is brought up to be proud of his own national identity and to have confidence in his position in relation to other peoples, so that he does not – as was previously the case, particularly in Hamburg – fall victim to an unworthy idolisation of all that is English. It is the task of English instruction to instill a worthy, self-assured attitude towards other peoples; with the rewriting of this reading material I hope to have given the teacher a useable basis for the fulfilment of this task.
Der Lesestoff bringt die Erweiterung des Erlebniskreises vom häuslichen Leben zum Leben in den größeren Gemeinschaften des täglichen Lebens und zu den Werten, die die Haltung des englischen Menschen diesen Gemeinschaften gegenüber bestimmen. Diese Werte sind im Wesentlichen nordlich-germanische Prägung und haben den englischen Menschen zu großen, achtungsgebietenden Leistungen befähigt, deren größte die Schaffung des britischen Weltreiches bildet. Es ist für und Deutsche nötig, die echten, artgebundenen Werte der Engländers zu kennen und zu achten, um ihn als politischen Freund schätzen zu können oder als Feind nicht zu unterschätzen. Noch wichtiger ist es allerdings, daß der junge deutsche Mensch zu Stolz auf sein eigenes Volkstum und zum Selbstbewußtsein anderen Völkern gegenüber erzogen wird, um nicht, wie das früher und besonders in Hamburg der Fall war, einer unwürdigen Vergötzung des Engländertums zu verfallen. Zu einer würdigen, selbstbewüßten Haltung gegenüber dem Fremdvolk zu erziehen, ist Aufgabe des englischen Unterrichts; mit der Neugestaltung des Lesestoffes hoffe ich dem Lehrer eine brauchbare Grundlage für diese Erziehungsarbeit gegeben zu haben.

Task 1: Compare and contrast these stated aims with the assertions of schoolteacher Agnes Pernitz.

The book contains eighteen chapters, covering largely the same topics as English Life and Thought but from the point of view of a German family, the Petersens, who have moved to England. The two children, Peter and Katie, have things explained to them by various adults and friends, and come across as fairly stupid as a result. There’s information about life at an English school, sights in London, Christmas traditions (no Santa in Germany), typical suburban homes...

...London landmarks...

...and so on and, like with English Life and Thought, some parts are very much of their time. For example, when Peter tells his friend Morris that he will be joining his school, the exchange runs:

“Here is a piece of news for you. I am coming into your class,” said Peter.
“Cheers,” cried Morris, “We shall have great sport.” (p.49)
Although that’s nowhere near as dated as this incident on a day trip to the zoo:
When they came near the elephants, Katie gave a shriek.
“Negroes,” she cried, pointing at two coloured men who were in charge of the elephants. Peter laughed at her, for they were not Negroes, but Hindoos. (p.19)
The grammar exercise which follows their trip to the zoo is also not really suitable for the modern English class:

Then there are the parts which live up to the aims of the foreword. I’ll start off with a fairly mild one, in which Kate asks her teacher about British coins:
“All lawful coins of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are called Sterling which means “good”. And as a little German you may be interested to hear that this word is a compliment to your forefathers. As a matter of fact, early Saxon traders who came to this country from the East, that is to say from Germany, and who, therefore, were called Easterlings, introduced silver coins which were better than any other silver coins. They were honest tradesmen and the English people trusted their money more than anybody else’s and therefore all good money is called Sterling. You must feel proud of this fact, I am sure.”
Kate was a little confused about all she had heard, but, nevertheless, she did feel proud of her forefathers and grateful to Miss Allen for this explanation. (p.56)
As indeed all small children are when a simple question like “Why do you write d for penny?” is answered with a lecture on ancient history.

The Easterling Theory seems to have been around for a good while (at least according to the Wikipedia entry for Sterling Silver), with 'Easterlings' referring to the 12th century Hanseatic League. More on their importance for German nationalist historians when I finally finish some translations from Raubstaat England.

The next extract is from the chapter “Modern Youth”.
Peter explained to Morris that some of his comrades had been sent to Nuremberg during the Party Rally. They were to take part in the displays of the Hitler Youth Movement.
The envelope contained a number of snapshots which one of Peter’s comrades had taken on their march to Nuremberg.
“This is my patrol-leader,” said Peter. “Lucky fellow to be sent there. He is a decent chap, though.”
“They must have had a hard time to walk all that way from Hamburg to Nuremberg,” replied Morris.
“I should not have minded walking,” continued Peter. “Most of us are good walkers, and I like walking very much. By the way, we are trained to exert ourselves, and this march to Nuremberg is a glorious test of what we can do.”
Morris was interested in the uniform and at last asked Peter if he had his uniform with him. Then Peter took Morris to his room, put on his uniform and told Morris about camping, sports, and other activities and entertainments.
“Well,” said Morris at last. “I am going to be a Scout. Mr.Henderson, our gym-master, is a Scoutmaster. He has asked me to join the Scouts. But first I have to be a Tenderfoot. Then I shall have to pass an examination, and after that I’ll become a second-class Scout. It will be great fun, I am sure.”
“I wanted to be a Wolf Cub long ago,” he continued. “Dad said he did not mind. But my mother would not let me. She is always afraid that I may catch a cold. But Mr.Henderson persuaded her to give her permission.” (67-8)
And now for the world domination bit. Morris and Peter’s teacher is demonstrating the range of the British Empire using a globe (mentioning a few German colonies in passing, all of which are explained in footnotes. France doesn’t get a mention, naturally). How does our Average German Kid react to this geography lesson?
Peter was deeply impressed. But at the same time he was thinking of what the Fuehrer had said about the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and saying to himself: “Well, one day we’ll have colonies of our own again, after all.” But he did not say anything about what he was thinking, not even to Morris. He had already learnt to keep his tongue and leave things to those responsible for his country’s welfare.(p.76-7)
This section is followed by a list of “countries and their inhabitants”, including “The Sudetenland”, which is inhabited by “The Sudeten Germans” (and no-one else, apparently).

None of the things I've mentioned so far provoked any emotions in me other than mild amusement at an obsolete view of the world and relief that we've put so much distance between then and now. With the benefit of hindsight however, the last chapter is more than a little poignant. The title of the chapter is “Hero-worship” and the two boys are visiting the Cenotaph in London. It struck me as quite ironic that such an idealised view of integration and multi-culturalism can be combined with references to trench warfare and the Hitler Salute:
Every man who passed on foot, in bus or car, raised his hat, and ladies bowed their heads as they passed the Cenotaph.
Peter was reminded of a similar scene which he had witnessed in Munich when he passed the Feldherrnhalle with his parents and every passer-by raised his arm to greet the Dead of the 9th of November.
77. the boys had stepped on in silence. After a while Morris broke the silence:
“One day I’ll take you to Westminster Abbey where the ‘Unknown Soldier’ is buried.”
Peter did not answer. He was thinking of his uncle who had been killed by an English shell in Flanders and whose body had never been found.
Morris felt that something had risen between them. At last Morris said: “I know, Peter, what you are thinking. You are German, and I am English. We both love our country and worship our heroes. That is no reason why we should not be friends.
[...] We are taught that England expects every man to do his duty, and I suppose you have similar sayings. But I do know that I could not be friends with a boy who is not willing to live up to what the Great Men of his country died for. I hope we shall always remain friends.”
Peter made no reply at first. He just caught Morris’s hand, and said: “Yes, William.” When they parted that night, they felt as they shook hands, that their friendship had strengthened. But they also felt that they were not mere individuals, but members of two great nations.

It's poignant because here we have two boys - fictional but with many real-life counterparts - admirably pledging to remain friends against the odds. The German boy has made every effort to integrate and the English have placed no unreasonable demands upon him. He can be German as well as a member of English society. The boys haven't forgotten the past, nor do they allow themselves to be unfairly constrained by it. They represent healthy skin covering the scars of the First World War, about to be ripped open again by the Second. Whether they survive or not, their friendship almost certainly won't.

The core material of the textbook is followed by a very strange assortment of supplementary texts: songs, poems, Christmas stories and a Punch and Judy script. There's a 25-page glossary at the back, organised according to chapter. There's also 25 pages of grammar notes, including the best diagram for English tenses of any textbook I've ever seen. You can take your 2-D timelines for a short walk off a long pier:

A German's view of America in 1943

(This post originally appeared on one of my other blogs, Violetta Crisis.)

Links for the lazy:

Right then, after a few months of "talking round the hot porridge" as the Germans say, we finally come to the main point of this blog: History. More specifically, old books which grab my interest at fleamarkets, mostly in Hamburg. All my rummaging around really paid off a few weeks ago when I discovered this book. I'd have bought it just for the cover but, fossilised moths excluded, there's enough material inside to keep me occupied for years of research. The title translates roughly as "What is being talked about in America" and it was published by Franz Müller publishers, Dresden, "in the fifth year of the war", 1943.

The book's stated aims

Here are the most informative parts of the blurb and foreword (apologies for the ugly translations):

Tausenden von deutschen Rundfunkhörern ist Kurt G. Sell bekannt, dessen regelmäßige Plaudereien viele jahre lang über die kurzen Wellen aus Washington zu uns kamen und uns ein anschauliches Bild über die für Europäer oft recht komplitzierten Entwicklungen in der USA. vermitteln. Kurt G. Sell war 15 Jahre lang der Vertreter des Deutschen Nachrichtenbüros in der Bundeshauptstadt der Vereinigten Staaten. In den letzten Jahren, als die Intrigen Roosevelts immer intensiver und die Beziehung zur Reichsregierung infolgedessen immer gespannter wurden, war es einzig und allein Kurt G. Sell, der täglich zu den Pressenkonferenzen von Cordell Hull und zweimal wochentlich zum Presseempfang von Franklin D. Roosevelt ging. Er hatte daher wie kein anderer Deutscher die Gelegenheit, amerikanischer Politik zu studieren und sorgfältig zu beobachten, wie Roosevelt in den zehn Jahren seit seinem Amtseintritt seine Ränke schmiedeten. Er kannte Land und Leute schon vorher aus längerem Aufenthalt in New York, Chikago und an der Westküste. Im Auto und Flugzeug hat er das weite Gebiet der USA. oft bereist und viiel Verständnis für die Eigentümlichkeiten des Amerikaners dabei gewonnen. Um so schmerzlicher war es für ihn, der so viele Jahre in Wort und Schrift für freundschaftliche Zusammenarbeit zwischen den beiden Völkern geworben hatte, in den letzten sechs Jahren zusehen zu müssen, wie egoistische und andere Treibe einen immer tieferen Keil zwischen Deutschland und USA. treiben. Seine Stellung in Washington wurde dadurch immer schwieriger, und am Tage nach Pearl Harbor wurde er, obwohl noch Friede zwischen Deutschland und USA. bestand, nachts von der Geheimpolizei Roosevelts aus dem Bett gerissen und verhaftet. Erst im Mai 1942 durfte er die Heimat wiedersehen.

Translation: Kurt G. Sell is known to thousands of German radio listeners via his regular chats which came to us for many years, over the airwaves from Washington, and provided us with a vivid picture of what were for Europeans often very complicated developments in the USA. For 15 years, Kurt G. Sell was a representative of the German News Office [DNB] in the capital of the United States. Over the last few years, when Roosevelt's conspiring became more intensive and, as a consequence, relations with the German government became increasingly strained, Kurt G. Sell alone went to Cordell Hull's daily press conferences, and twice a week to the press reception of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He therefore had more opportunity than any other German to study American politics and to carefully observe how President Roosevelt's plots were hatched in the ten year after his inauguration. He had already got to know the land and people through long stays in New York, Chicago and on the West Coast. He had often travelled the wide expanse of the USA by car and by plane and gained a deep understanding of the peculiarities of Americans. And so it was even more painful for this man, who had been arguing for so many years, in print and radio, for friendly cooperation between the two peoples, to have to stand by and watch over the last six years, as selfish and other urges drove an ever thicker wedge between Germany and the USA. His position in Washington became increasingly difficult and on the day after Pearl Harbor, even though there was still peace between Germany and the USA, he was torn from his bed at night and arrested by Roosevelt's secret police. It was May 1942 before he was allowed to see his home again.

Wenn wir erkennen wollen, was Roosevelts politische Schachzüge für uns bedeuten, so müssen wir schließlich wissen, wer diese Schachfiguren sind, mit denen er spielt und was dahinter steht, sowohl sowohl politisch wie wirtschaftlich, aber auch menschlich und charakterlich.
Das vorliegende Buch soll den Versuch machen, zu diesem Studium einige Beiträge zu liefern. ,,Worüber man in Amerika spricht" [...] soll den deutschen Leser von vornherein darüber berühigen, daß es sich bei diesem Buch nicht um Darlegung hochpolitischer Thesen handelt, auch nicht um ein Quellenwerk über die offiziellen Reden und Akte Roosevelts und seiner Trabanten, auch nicht um tendenziöse Agitation gegen das amerikanische Volk, mit dem wir uns durch die Schuld seines derzeitigen Präsidenten leider im Krieg befinden, sondern um möglichst objektive Betrachtungen über das amerikanische Volk von einem Deutschen, der sehr vieles in Amerika sehr gern mochte und manches sogar bewunderte und der herzlich wünscht, daß unsere beiden Völker eines Tages wieder miteinander in Frieden leben und sich gegenseitig ergänzen können.

Translation: If we are to recognise what Roosevelt's political chess moves mean for us we need to know who these chess figures are with whom he plays and what lies behind the game; politics as much as economics, but also people and characters.
This book is intended to make various contributions towards this study. The title Worüber man in Amerika spricht [...same as the series of radio lectures...] should reassure the reader from the start that this book is not a collection of high-political theses, nor source material such as official speeches or documents from Roosevelt or his staff, nor tendentious agitation against the American people, with whom we are unfortunately at war due to the actions of their current President. Rather it consists of the most objective possible observations, made about the American people by a German who found many aspects of America he liked very much, even some that he admired, and who dearly wishes that one day our two peoples could live in peace again and complement each other.

Kurt G. Sell and his radio series

A few days of internet searches haven't turned up all that much about Sell or his series of radio reports but I did find mentions in two books and an essay (see the links section at the end of this post). The following information is from these three sources and don't necessarily count as verified facts:

Sell lived from 1884 to 1949. He returned to Germany as part of an exchange of German and American diplomats in 1942. A radio series called either Wovon or Woran man in Amerika spricht ran every second Friday from 20.00 to 20.15, starting in September 1931. The US National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) had a "German Hour" every second Sunday, consisting of programmes from the Reichs-Rundfunkgesellschaft (RRG) and in return they offered reports from Sell, who was working for the Wolff Büro (WTB - similar organisation to Reuters) in New York. In one source he's described as Consul, in another as a former diplomat. Some of his work was funded by the Vereinigte Presseabteilung der Reichsregierung (the centralised government press office of the Weimar Republic).

The purpose of Sell's reports seems to have been to provide background information about recent events in the USA, covering subjects such as economics, society, general life, politics and sport and Sell is described as Germany's first foreign correspondent in the USA. The series seems to have be fairly popular, although one person complained that you could get more detailed, up to date information from good newspapers.

German news agencies under investigation

We can get an impression of the man and the world he worked in by looking at some of his colleagues and superiors, who certainly seem to have been in a precarious position, caught between the German and American political and press systems. For example, Sell crops up in a biography of diplomat Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff. According to the extract, Dieckhoff found that a report from "Washington DNB boss" Sell played down American attitudes too much, and so he tried to suppress it by sending it to the authorities, rather than to the newspapers:

Im Gegensatz zu Dieckhoff hatte Sell nicht nur die Ansicht vertreten, ,,daß Roosevelt [bei der kommenden Präsidentschaftswahl 1940] nicht wieder kandidieren wird", sondern zudem gemeldet, daß das amerikanische Volk ,,trotz teilweise sehr scharfen Kriik an Deutschland, bisher jedenfalls fest entschlossen "sei, nicht aktiv am Krieg teilzunehmen". (p.201)

Translation: In contrast to Dieckhoff, Sell not only expressed the opinion "that Roosevelt wouldn't stand for office again [in the upcoming 1940 presidential election]", but also reported that the American people, "despite occasionally very sharp criticism of Germany, have however so far completely made up their minds not to take part actively in the war"

Another important lead on Sell's life and situation comes from the foreword to Worüber man in Amerika spricht, which ends with the following:

Wir danken Herrn Dr. Joseph Hunck, den von 1933 bis zur Internierung im Dezember 1941 als deutscher Schriftleiter in New York tätig war.

Translation: Our thanks go to Dr. Joseph Hunck, who was worked as a German editor in New York from 1933 until his detention in 1941.

A search for the good Dr. Hunck brought me to an archive whose existence was a very pleasant suprise: Investigation Of Un-American Propaganda Activities In The United States Special Committee On Un-American Activities. Amongst the very varied interview transcripts (including one attempting to establish whether a Russian publishing house was paying royalties to Stalin) are several letters and telegrams concerning the Transocean News Service. The following extracts give an impression of their daily business, problems with anti-German sentiment in the US, and their hiring policies. (There were many typos in the original document, most of which I've corrected.)

"Exhibit No. 125 is a letter from Manfred Zapp to the Depeschen-Bureau Europapress in Frankfurt, Germany, suggesting to this organization that he, Zapp, could furnish his publication with news from the United States":

Dear Mr. Nuesgen: Yesterday I received through the Press Attache in the German Embassy in Washington your letter of January 15th addressed to him in which you request him to name a suitable racially pure German editor who could regularly furnish you articles and fillers from the United States.
Inasmuch as there are, unfortunately, only very few German editors in America who are not occupied 150 percent of their time, it is difficult to find an editor who would be available for this work. However, I have made great efforts in this direction. For the duration of the illness of Mr. Tonn, I have asked Dr. Joseph Hunck, who also works in our office here, to send you monthly two articles and one letter with fillers. Dr. Hunck will be glad to take this for the duration of the illness of Dr. Tonn. I have also discussed the matter with Tonn, who is leaving New York today in order to recuperate further in Florida. For the next two months it will be impossible to count on a return of Mr. Tonn.
I assume that you will handle the payments in the same manner as heretofore, and that you will transmit 150 Marks per month to Frau Hertha Hunck, Wilhelm Raabestrasse 12, Hamburg-Grossflottbeck instead of Mr. Tonn. I hope that this will serve you.
With kind regards and Heil Hitler!

"Exhibit No, 128 is a communication from Kreutzenstein to Mr. Tonn, under date of September 27, 1939."
The State Department is taking it upon itself to scare our American people away from us, and does not even stop at threats. Various people who have been recommended to me by Transocean, United Press and others refuse only a few hours later to work for us. Some of them opened up right away and said that one had scared them, and later on I learned through the United Press that Dorcy Fisher and McDermott of the Press Division of the State Department took particular delight in enlightening the people with what a "dangerous" enterprise they had become tied up and that soon it would go tough on them. Mr. Von Strempel is of the opinion that after the experiences which Mr. Sell allegedly already has made, that it would be better for us to have a female secretary for the office, who would also service the teletype while I move on the outside. I have another man in prospect for the beginning of next week but it is highly probable that before that time he will take it on the lam [sic]. By the way, there is a bullmarket for journalists with a little experience, and everybody is turning up their noses when I talk of $30. Just for that reason alone I had preferred to teach somebody the ropes so that afterwards I could be sure of him."

There's a full list of employees of the Transocean News Service but Sell's name does not appear. There are a few mentions of a "Kurt", including one where he speculates about American public opinion (which could be linked to the Dieckhoff argument) but there are rather a lot of "Kurts" mentioned in the archives.


Why am I so interested in this book that I've spent a few weeks of my life scouring the internet for all traces of it's author? Simply because it's a great source to sharpen my history skills on. It's a cultural guide to America, written by a man who spent years in the country and professes a great admiration for it, but who was arrested, imprisoned and shipped off home when the two countries went to war against one another. On the other hand, many sections of the book are strongly influenced by aspects of Nazi ideology. Over the next few weeks I'll post extracts from the book, grouped into rough themes, and (time permitting) discuss to what extent Sell was writing as a man of 1930s America, a supporter of the Nazi regime, or a man trying to get his book approved by the censors in 1940s Germany.

Obviously, any relevant information which is flung my way would be gratefully received.


Meanwhile, over in the States... "Pop Sensation" is a simple but brilliant blog of one man's vintage paperback collection. Bibliophiles rock!

Happy Limbo!

(This post originally appeared on one of my other blogs, Violetta Crisis.)

Yes, Limbo.

Welcome to those weird two weeks when it's too late to wish people a happy new year (in this case because it's already been very unhappy indeed) but new calendars and diaries still aren't half price. Now seems to be an appropriate time to present another fleamarket find - the Jung Siegfried Kalender from 1927.

This little magazine has nothing to do with the mythical Siegfried beyond the stylish dragon slaughter on the cover. Around that time, “Siegfried” seems to have been a by-word for plucky, patriotic youngsters. I haven’t found reference online to the calendar yet but there are annuals of a regular children's magazine with the title Jung-Siegfried on offer.

One interesting point about all things Nibelungen between the wars, particularly Wagner’s use of the older Norse myths to create his Ring Cycle, is that they were so bound up with German nationalism that they became an important step in the assimilation process of middle-class Jewish families. Apparently, names such as Siegfried, Sigmund, Siegbert etc. were given so often to Jewish children that non-Jewish parents started to avoid them. There are certainly a fair few Siegfrieds on the WW1 memorial in the Jewish cemetery at Ohlsdorf, Hamburg.

Jewish war memorial, Ohlsdorf Cemetery, Hamburg

What the Jung Siegfried calendar does contain is short stories (from fairy tales to accounts of arctic exploration), poems, saying and brain teasers, beautifully illustrated with a selection of shadow pictures. It’s written in the typical, slightly suffocating, “learn with father” style (imagine “watch with mother” delivered through a pipe and clipped moustache).

Here's the index:

And here's a double-page spread from January to April and the first page of a fairy tale. It was difficult to choose my favourite illustration but the stag beetle tipped it in the end:

I'll try to get some translations up once the clump of half-written posts has been flushed out of my braintubes.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

English Life and Thought

This post originally appeared on one of my other blogs, Violetta Crisis.

I bought a wonderful book at the Schanze Flea-market a a few weeks ago; Learning English: English Life and Thought, by Dr. Karl Eckermann. It’s “Ein kulturkundliches Lesebuch” (a cultural-studies reader) from 1927 and a rather interesting insight into language teaching in Germany between the wars.

English Life and Thought

It’s written in the traditional children’s book style: quite conversational, very paternal and 100% steadfast in its view of the world, a bit like going on an educational forest walk with a great uncle (in an age when that didn’t suggest anything untoward). It also has that enthusiastic praise of modernity which is so wonderful to look back on 80 years later. Like this passage, in the chapter, “From Berlin to London by Air”:

Our machine rises gently, in spite of a violent west wind. I am not nervous, and I am not sick. We are gliding along with the utmost comfort. Some one says: We are going too slowly,- so I put out my hand to see. The wind bends my fingers back till I fear it will break them. We are really shooting through the air - though we do not notice it.
We are flying against the wind. The pilot has a difficult trip before him. Yet he takes the trouble to write down for me on a card the names of the chief places we pass. I wish I could write as good a hand at my desk as he does in this storm, holding on to his steering wheel. (p.93)

On the one hand, I’m glad that the ‘machines’ no longer have windows you can open. On the other hand, personal service seems to have gone downhill since then.

Dr.Eckermann seems to have a genuine love of England, its customs and history. But he also strikes me as one of the inter-war xenophiles who enthusiastically adopted the some of the more negative aspects of their subject’s character (see Houston Stewart Chamberlain). The chapters on Scotland and Ireland are terrible - this is very much a book in praise of England, not Britain. He includes a passage from Andrew Carnegie, entitled “Why Scotchmen succeed”:

Scotch children are reared right: they are fortunate in being born poor. They have as a guide and model their father, and for their nurse, seamstress, cook and saint, their mother. Oh, how I pity the boy who is born the son of a millionaire! (p.63)

The rest of the passage talks about Scottish pride and other virtues (apparently this theme was also very popular in language textbooks in the late 1930s) but any positive effect is immediately negated by the three “Englishman, Irishman, Scotchman” jokes which follow. And there’s worse to come in “A letter about Ireland”, from a fictional tourist to his friend:
Mr. Mackinder himself is of Scotch descent, and I hear him very often speak of the Irish and especially of the Irish peasants with an undertone of contempt. "If the Irish peasant", Mr Mackinder once said to me, "is so poor, it is in most cases his own fault. It is true, he is clever and witty, but he is awfully backward as regards the tilling of the soil, the use of tools [...] He does not send his children to school, under the pretence that they have no decent clothes to put on [...]". Well, at first I thought Mr. Mackinder's words too sharp, but when I saw the first real old Irish village, I found them true. (p.67)

Again, the passage is followed by a couple of anecdotes, this time about the Irish "reputation for an apt retort". Not only does this show how normal this kind of contempt must have been at the time, it's scary to think that this probably formed countless German children's lasting opinion of Scotland and Ireland. Little wonder that the inferiority complex of both countries has proven difficult to shake off, despite being completely unfounded.

For the sake of completeness, here's the title page and a section from the glossary at the back:


  • If you're interested in the history of language teaching in Germany, this essay gives an interesting overview, complete with some amusing example English dialogue from the early 19th century: "Drink, pray, my love, it grows late and we have half a mile to make."

  • More from Andrew Carnegie here