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, 6 November 2012

Old News, Nottingham 1862

From the Nottinghamshire Guardian, Friday Nov. 7th, 1862.

GUY FAWKES DAY IN LONDON. - Wednesday being Guy Fawkes Day, collisions were expected between the Garibaldians and the Irish, but the weather being very wet, coupled with a dense fog, no disturbance took place.

ELOPEMENT. - The greatest consternation has been caused in a very small village about three miles east of Market Harborough by the elopement of a young lady with a rustic butcher. An acquaintance had by some means or other sprung up between them, and on Saturday night last the lady, as usual, attended prayers in the family circle, and was with the family between 11 and 12 o'clock. While she was performing her usual household duties the gay Lothario went by train to Rugby, where they arrived in time for the mail train and proceeded to London. By 8 o'clock the "fast knot" was tied. A brother went after them in the evening and found them comfortably housed for the night.

THE DISTRESS IN LANCASHIRE.- The distress in Lancashire has still further extended during the past week. According to the report of the Central Executive Committee, dated Monday, there are now in the twenty-four Unions of the Cotton Districts, 182,401 persons entirely out of employment, and only 58,638 in full work, the remaining 119,712 factory operatives being on short time. The loss in wages to the work-people suffering from the famine is estimated at £136,094 per week. [...] Englishmen in Egypt, Buenos Ayres, and Bengalore have also testified their sympathy with their distressed fellow-countrymen at home by sending handsome subscriptions; and other new sources of aid at home and abroad are also daily springing up. One of the most welcome and seasonable donations is a gift of 2,000 tons of coal, by three firms of colliery proprietors at Pendleton. The Ashton and Oldham colliery proprietors have also promised to contribute 3,500 tons of coal.

A man named George Brown died at Ramsgate a few days ago at the advanced age of 101. For a considerable time past he had been in the habit of taking daily excercise.

J. H. MORGAN THE CONFEDERATE GUERILLA [sic] CAPTAIN.- Morgan as a citizen in times of peace, maintained the reputation of a generous, genial, jolly, horse-loving, and horse-racing Kentuckian. He went into the Rebellion con amore, and pursues it with high enjoyment. He is about thirty-five years of age, six feet in height, well made for strength and agility, and is perfectly master of himself; he has a light complexion, sandy hair, and generally wears a moustache, and a little beard on his chin. His eyes are keen, bluish grey in colour, and when at rest, have a sleepy look, but he sees every one and every thing around him, although apparently unobservant. He is an admirable horseman, and a good shot. As a leader of a battalion of cavalry, he had no superior in the Rebel ranks. His command of his men is supreme. While they admire his generosity and manliness, sharing with them all the hardships of the field, they fear his more than Napoleonic severity for any departure from enjoined duty. [...] Thirteen months in the Rebel Army. By an Impressed New Yorker.

_ _ _ _ _ 

Guy Fawkes Day - I like the term 'collisions' instead of 'clashes'. The burning of effigies on the 5th November seems to have been a focus for religious tribalism and violence for a lot longer than I imagined. At least most of the injuries these days are accidental, unlike what happened to this little girl in 1869.
ElopementAlthough it's a century too late to be a 'fleet marriage', I can't pass up this opportunity to link to John Southerden Burn's 1833 book The Fleet Registers, which is well worth a quick browse. It's a shame we don't know the age of the young lady in question; I wonder at which point newspapers started obsessively providing the age of everyone they report on..?
The Distress - There's a short BBC article here on the riots in Stalybridge, one of the areas worst hit by the Cotton Famine caused by the American Civil War. 

_ _ _ _ _


Sunday, 23 September 2012


Image via tywkiwdbi
This photograph clearly illustrates the feelings of emasculation felt by many soldiers of World War One, as the encroachment of women into traditional male territory quite literally meant that they were no longer 'wearing the trousers' (Hosentragend). The expression on the soldier's face is a mixture of pride and bemusement; something experienced often by troops at the front line as they attempted to come to terms with their role as defenders but also as killers. His pose is carefully arranged, either by himself or the photographer, with bayonet pointing down to pristine black jackboots, most likely in a conscious foreshadowment of the street violence and extreme politics in which many of their comrades were to be embroiled post-1918. The cat - it would be naive to assume that it is by coincidence alone a black cat - is a reference both to fate and to the increasingly fatalistic attitude of the men, as the world they knew was crumbling around them, while the photographer's decision to include the outhouse in the background suggests a subconscious acknowledgement that the world in which they moved at that time, similar to this analysis, was replete with Mist.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Reading for the Reich

This set of advertisements to promote reading was offered to booksellers by the Bund Reichsdeutscher Buchhändler. They're taken from Börsenblatt für den deutschen Buchhandel, February 1936, and I wish I'd taken better photos.

"Your books are your best friends"

"Benefit from the experience of others, read technical literature!"

"Masters: let your apprentices read books!"

"Books help you through life"

"Use your free time, read a book"

Here's that last one as part of a display:

And because no part of 1930s Germany was all sweetness and light, one poster is a quote from Hitler about how he benefitted from extensive reading: " Still, nice tablecloth they've got in that window huh?

Do machines eat people?

"Or are they freeing them from slavery? Walther Kiaulehn's hard-hitting book "The Iron Angel" provides a chronicle of inventions from the antique to the modern age, a moving history of the spirit which created the machines, a cultural history of human work and power, a thoroughly optimistic philosophy of technology."

Book advertisement from "Börsenblatt für den deutschen Buchhandel", January 1936.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The 1920s Office

Office machinery from "Meyers Lexicon" vol. II, 1925.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Monsters! And light bulbs

From "Meyers Lexikon", 7th edition, 1928.
(Follow-up to these.)

Monday, 12 March 2012

Power from Mt. Vesuvius, 1939

The following is a translation of an article from the Deutsche Zeitung in Nordchina (German Newspaper of North China) from 3rd October 1939. I've also found two further articles (here and here) from American newspapers in 1940, which talk about a plan to generate power by heating water over fissures near the summit.

What struck me most about the German article is the way that the technical language seems to take second place to the idea that this powerful giant is being made to bend to man's will, in an impressively futuristic (but suspiciously undetailed) undertaking. I would imagine that the reason for its appearance in a German paper in North China is to show the ingenuity and future self-sufficiency of one of Germany's allies, as well as being an engaging and inspirational piece of "news" in itself.

Many thanks to Tom for his help with the technical bits.

Vesuvius Power Station Planned. Italian Engineers' Bold Project.

By (Engineers) B. and H. Römer, Munich.

Modern science and technology is constantly engaged in the pursuit of new sources of energy and it is therefore not surprising that the question of using volcanic power has come in for consideration. In the country of Italy, which is not rich in coal, people are thinking earnestly about harnessing the gigantic amounts of energy which are stored in Naples' fire-spewing mountain, Vesuvius, energy which for the moment puffs uselessly into the air.

According to this latest project, a power station should be built in Atrio del Cavallo, the valley which extends between the 1186m high Vesuvius and the neighbouring 1120m high Monate Somma, in which the volcanic power can be put to use. From this position, man will attempt to assail the mountain and tame its fantastic, internal powers.

From its flank, a system of pipes made from fire-proof, unmelting material are to be inserted into Vesuvius' depositional cone, to reach the chimney of the volcano. This will divert those highly pressurised gases and vapours which accumulate due to the influx of flowing magma. With the introduction of the appropriate chemical processes, these gases will be made combustible and highly exothermic and will be used to fuel gas engines. It may also be possible to collect the vapours which circulate freely about the inside wall of the crater, to direct these through superheaters, and to use them to power turbines. These turbines will in turn move dynamos, which will generate electricity for a multitude of purposes. Italian researchers have calculated that the quantity of heat Vesuvius releases into the air every year is equivalent to the heat from over 1 million tonnes of coal.

Until now, it was only tourism which gave the famous Vesuvius a certain economic importance. However, through the exploitation of the gigantic, still untamed volcanic power, the mountain could gain the highest significance for Italy's energy industry. The project may today appear utopian, but one day man's ingenuity will make even this bold plan a reality.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Modern Electricity, 1901

I feel there's something wonderful and steampunky to be done with these illustrations, but can't yet think what. They're all taken from "Die Moderne Elektrizität", by engineer O. Multhaupt (Berlin, 1901).

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Hitler wasn't racist either, but...

Having written a bit about the problems of "trivialising" the Nazis last time, I hope I'm not going to come across as too flippant here. On the other hand, I didn't want to shy away from quoting Adolf Hitler directly*, as it's important to know what he said and what effect this might have had on his audience, rather than treating his words as though they'll conjure up demons. I'm not particularly satisfied with this translation, and have included the original at the end of this post for easy reference.

Although I found in difficult to render the crucial sentence (here in bold) in English, I was struck by how similar it is to sentiments expressed quite freely in Britain today; that there is nothing wrong with other races and cultures, but that they should exist seperately and the culture and rules of one should not be forced upon another. In this case, parallels are being drawn between British rule in India and Jewish "imperialism" in Germany. Nowadays, the fact that the European way of doing things was being exported long before the (alleged) attempted introduction of, for example, Sharia Law to European countries, tends to be ignored.
Our attitude towards other races is that of objective disinterest. Just as with the Indian people, the German people is made up of several races and tribes. The Indian people, with its four-thousand-year-old culture, has developed its own racial laws, which cannot easily be translated into a European context. Dr. Goebbels is quite right to say that it is incorrect to speak of races of lesser value. No race is inherently inferior to another; at most, the different races which populate the earth are of differing value. This applies also to the Jewish race. The Jew is not inherently inferior within his own environment, but his outlook is not a good fit for the German people, and can in fact be damaging. For that reason, the Jews must endeavour to live as a separate people. Each race must find within themselves their own world and this is why we are quite right to defend ourselves against another race's attempts to force their peculiarities upon us, as the Jews have done in Germany.
What I want to get across here is that fact that almost nobody wants to admit to being racist. Everyone knows that racism is unacceptable. However, there are many ways to twist the definition of racism so that it happens to exclude the views that you hold and the policies you are advocating. This goes for people even as unashamedly racist as the leaders of the Nazi party, if they were called upon to account for their views: they had nothing against other races, you understand, they merely recognised that different races have different strengths and weaknesses, and will thrive better in their own habitat. They were worried that combining more than one in the same place would inevitably cause damage. Every race has the right to an area which belongs only to them and not to have alien laws and habits forced upon them. If a race such as the Jews have no place where they belong then one can be found for them but really this is their responsibility. And, partly for their own good, they can't be allowed to take up space which belongs to another race. Of course they have nothing but our good wishes, so long as they conform to this natural order, but due to the difficulties involved and their unwillingness to cooperate then if they were to... disappear from this scheme it would greatly benefit the world in years to come. But none of this is "racist"; it's just recognising the nature of things. See?

There are very few self-confessed racists in the world, BUT... people still die purely because they are considered to belong to the wrong race for the bit of earth they're standing on. That fact should be what we reach for, when getting lost among the excuses.

*These words are from official notes taken of an interview between Hitler and Indian journalist Dr. Sinha, 6th December 1935. They are quoted in an article by Johannes H. Voigt: 'Hitler und Indien' in Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte, vol. 19/1 (Jan. 1971) pp.33-63. It is not clear how accurately they record Hitler's specific phrasing.

"Unsere Einstellung zu anderen Rassen sei die einer objektiven Desinteressiertheit. Genau wie das indische setze sich auch das deutsche Volk aus mehreren Rassen und Stammen zusammen. Das indische Volk mit seiner vieltausendjährigen Kultur habe sich eigene Rassengesetze gegeben, die auch nicht ohne weiteres auf europäsche Verhältnisse zu übertragen seien. Dr. Goebbels habe ganz recht, wenn er es als unrichtig bezeichne, von minderwertigen Rassen zu sprechen. Keine Rasse sei an sich minderwertig; die verschiedenen Rassen, die die Erde bevölkern, seien höchstens untereinander anderswertig. Das gelte auch für die jüdische Rasse. Der Jude sei an sich nicht minderwertig in seinen Anlagen, aber seine Auffassungen paßten nicht für das deutsche Volk, sie seien vielmehr geradezu schadlich, und deswegen müsse der Jude dafür sorgen, daß er für sich allein als Volk leben könne. Jede Rasse müsse ihre Welt in sich finden, und darum wehrten wir uns mit Recht dagegen, daß uns eine andere Rasse ihre Eigentümlichkeiten aufzuzwingen suche, wie es die Juden in Deutschland getan hatten."

Friday, 27 January 2012

Holocaust Memorial Day: Thoughts and Complications

I wasn't going to write anything in particular for today because this isn't something I find easy to put into words in a little white box on my computer screen. It's on the one hand too complex a topic to say anything concrete about it at all (we still don't know, as an indisputable historical fact, how many people died, how, and on precisely whose orders*) but on the other hand it can be summed up quite simply: long-running prejudices, left largely unchallenged, led to the systematic murder of millions of people. However, living in Germany and studying Nazi cultural history means I think about this a lot and in connection with many other topics, and I might as well commit some of those thoughts to paper.
  • The Holocaust is not just Nazi history and Nazi history is not just the Holocaust; although neither can you extract one from the other. An accusation often more of less explicitly levelled at historians of "every-day life" in the Third Reich is that we (I guess I'm one of them too) are "trivialising" the Nazis, particularly when trying to trace broader continuities in cultural history. By looking at what people read or cooked or how they spent their days off, we're reducing the crucial question of "how could such evil have come about?" to just one of many sideshows. The counter-accusation is that of fetishising the Holocaust; by studying it only in a certain way, sealed off from other historical currents, we run the risk of draining it of all real meaning. Detaching the events from the physical and cultural worlds in which they took place - denying that they were a product of normal humans, and normal political processes - is to make them intangible and incomprehensible.
  • Related to this is the issue of "learning the lesson", of "never forgetting" and of "the message". If you ask someone what that message is, they will probably say something along to lines of "never again". Probe any deeper, and everything suddenly falls apart. What shouldn't we do again? Give governments control over life and death? Allow them to remove people from next door without paying attention to where they're going? Happily let much of the popular press print story after story, systematically demonising a particular religion or minority group? Vote for a man with a small moustache?
  • Sometimes, it seems that the main "lesson" to be learned is not to dress up in Nazi uniform or have any kind of fun while invoking that particular set of shared associations. I agree with Jennifer Lipman (who wrote this in the Telegraph today) that it would be nicer all round if people didn't do that kind of thing, and that it is a probable indication of a general lack of awareness. However, returning to my first point, the Nazis were not *only* mass-murderers. As a group they were also self-important, deluded, frustrated, crowing, bullying, pathetic... humans. They built themselves up as something greater than everything that had gone before and as the fathers (and mothers) of a new, better world order but, in the end, they were wrong and they were human. They deserve ridicule, not that hushed, fearful awe which so easily morphs into respect. The more people making fun of the mere idea of them, the more they can be kept spinning in their graves, and the less easy it is for groups wanting to emulate them to gain any kind of traction**. I'm not worried about people playing Nazi-themed games on a skiing holiday. I'm worried about people very carefully planning to plant home-made bombs in areas with high immigrant populations and paint neo-Nazi slogans on the resulting headstones. I doubt there's much overlap.
  • The other thing which the above article displays is the emphasis on visits to former concentration camps - primarily Auschwitz - as the best method of "understanding" the Holocaust. There's an assumption that if you haven't been there then you won't "get it", and that making people go will make them somehow "experience" "it" and (as I feel Lipman is implying) change their behaviour in accordance with this increased respect and understanding. I've never visited the Ground Zero of the Holocaust or any of the other former camps. I'd definitely learn something if I went - I'd have a greater understanding of the spaces people moved in, of the numbers, of the lack of privacy, of the dehumanising impact of the surroundings. But the Holocaust was not just in the camps. It was on packed freight trains, station platforms, on trams and on foot; it was in every city, town and village in Germany and occupied Europe. It was in the empty houses the victims left behind and the tragically hopeful letters they sent to their relatives. It was in every aspect of life from the laws which people supported and the brief economic prosperity they enjoyed, down to the desperate fugitives in their neighbour's attic and the second-hand clothes they received when their houses were bombed. The Holocaust was everywhere and in everything, and it certainly can't be "got" by a group of warmly-dressed, well-fed tourists looking at a gas chamber, before putting into practice their legal right and physical ability to turn around and walk away.
I have no way to conclude all of this except to say that I could spend my whole life studying the Holocaust and would still never claim to understand it. Nor would I criticise anyone for spending less time studying it than whatever is generally considered to be sufficient for a historically-aware citizen. Every one of the myriad factors and processes leading to the Holocaust is still in existence today in some form and in many different combinations. They are unavoidable aspects of humanity. We need to constantly be aware of them and prevent them from combining in such a way as to cause discrimination, suffering and death on anything like the same scale. The Holocaust is an example of what can happen; arguably the worst of many examples from history. To those with no personal connection, that's all it ever can be.

*Too many, horrifically and unnecessarily, and on the orders of people whose politics should never, ever be re-adopted.
**Making fun of fascism is not a worrying new trend but has happened for as long as there have been fascists to make fun of. Was Charlie Chaplin or the designer of this poster guilty of trivialising events? It's only wrong when we assume that people are doing it out of ignorance or a lack of empathy, which really isn't for anyone else to judge.