Project: Esperanto & Internationalism, c. 1880s-1930

Blog written by Dr Bernhard Struck. Dr Struck is a Reader in Modern European History and founding director of of the Institute for Transnational and Spatial History at St Andrews. His research interests include the history of Germany, Poland and France in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, transnational and comparative history, the history of travel and cartography, and now Esperanto.

Ču vi parolas Esperanton aŭ vi estas muglo? Do you speak Esperanto or are you a muggler? (AKA a non Esperanto-speaker) Esperanto is an easy language to learn. Its grammatical rules are simple and few—in fact, there are only sixteen in total! It can be learned in 30 minutes (seriously, compare that to Czech or Russian). The vocabulary is built on a blend of Romance and Germanic languages (mainly), some Slavic and a logical structure of Latin-based suffices and affixes. Linguists say the effort to learn and converse in Esperanto is about 1/5 compared to French. So why not learn Esperanto?

The Aberdeen Esperanto Society, 1919
Part of University of St Andrews Special Collections

That question may have been on the mind of some 40 Esperantists that we see in a photo taken in Craibstone near Aberdeen in 1919. We do not know much about these 40 individuals, yet the photo is a microscopic lens into the fascinating and multi-faceted Esperanto world in the early twentieth century and into a new interdisciplinary and collaborative project “Esperanto and Internationalism, c.1880-1930”.

The Esperanto society in Aberdeen was founded in October 1904 at a time when clubs mushroomed across Europe: in Dundee, Montrose (and elsewhere in Scotland), in Pardubice, Kutné Hoře, and Prague in Bohemia, in Saxony, in Warsaw and western Tsarist Russia, in Finland, Catalonia, in the English Midlands, and rural Bavaria, as well as in the US, in China and Japan. The movement bridged generations, it brought together women and men, it attracted Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Free Thinkers. It attracted teachers, scientists, engineers, doctors, and later on workers and civil servants.

The language was created by the Polish-Jewish doctor, Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof (1859-1917). He grew up in Bialystok (today’s Poland) in Tsarist Russia. In the 1870s in Bialystok, with a large Jewish population, he would have heard Polish, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew along with another handful of languages and dialects. As a young medical student in Warsaw the young Zamenhof witnessed the anti-Jewish pogroms in 1882/83 that raged across the region. It was against this backdrop of rising ethno-nationalist tensions, at a time of globalisation, internationalism, and nationalism, that Zamenhof published his first two Esperanto manuals, Unua Libro and Dua Libro in 1887/88, first in Russian, and swiftly translated into other languages. With Esperanto, Zamenhof and his many followers hoped (Esperanto translates as “the one who hopes”) to give the world a neutral, non-national communication ground for a better, peaceful future of mankind.

The photo of the Esperanto group from Aberdeen provides the backdrop to the research questions for our new project hosted in the School of History and at the Institute for Transnational and Spatial History (ITSH): How did the movement spread? Who learned the language? How was Esperanto lived and organised at a local, regional, and transnational level? How did Esperantists live and communicate in Esperantoland a far-reaching, organised, yet non-territorial language community as teachers, engineers, and doctors, as Scots, Bohemians, Germans, Fins, and French? Were they internationalist, affiliated with other international organisation and attending the Universal Esperanto Congresses, or were they rather local-internationalists who did not attend congresses, but preferred to exchange postcards in Esperanto between Dundee, Bohemia, India, and Oslo?

The Esperanto project group. From left to right: Marcel Koschek, Manuela Burghelea, Pilar Requejo De Lamo, and Dr Bernhard Struck

Currently, the projects brings together four researchers with distinct, yet interrelated topics. Marcel Koschek joined us in September 2019 with degrees in History and Political & Social Sciences from the University of Würzburg and Bonn. He is working a PhD project “Local Internationalists. Polish and Central European Esperantist Networks between the local, national and global, 1880-1920s”. The projects aims to showcase how Polish Esperantists interacted in different spheres and examines their personal backgrounds, professions and interest.

Pilar Requejo De Lamo came to St Andrews in 2018 for an MLitt in Intellectual History and with a degree in International Relations from King Juan Carlos University in Madrid. Her PhD is entitled “Early Esperanto Communities in Spain: Tensions between Local, Regional and National Organisations”. The aim of this PhD is to bring into discussion the development of the artificial language in 20th-century Spain, and particularly in Catalonia.

Manuela Burghelea joined the Esperanto-Project at St Andrews as a continuation of her Master research on Esperanto between universal ideals and local cultural practices. She holds a joint MA degree in Intercultural Mediation (Lille) and a Bachelor degree in Philology (Bucureşti). Manuela conducted European volunteer work in Esperanto associations in France and in the Netherlands and is currently administrating the online citizen media translation community Global Voices Esperanto. Her project is entitled “Wandering Language: Senses of Place and Belonging among Esperanto Millenials”. In a socioanthropological and historical perspective, the project analyses motivations, aspirations, and agendas of young Esperanto speakers in current day Rio de Janeiro.

Working on a monograph on Modern Europe. A Transnational History, 1760s-2000s (Bloomsbury) Bernhard Struck started reading around the Esperanto movement and fell in love (academically). Taking an explicit local and regional starting point, his own research focuses on Scotland, the Midlands, Saxony, and Bohemia in the early twentieth century. Beyond the transregional focus around these four Esperanto regions, his current interests revolve around Esperanto experts as ‘epistemic communities’ by looking at doctors, architects, city planners in the Esperanto movement.

QGIS map of all international congress visitors across Europe 1904-1913.
Photo courtesy of the Esperanto project

While research on Esperanto exists, the movement as such has never been studied as what it truly was: a cross-border, translocal, transregional, and, in fact, global community. While all of our projects follow discrete questions and local and national particularities, they follow an explicit transnational perspective: a spatial and scalar perspective that starts from the local and individual and builds outwards to the regional, national, and transnational. The project builds on a complex linguistic and far-spread archival base from local and private archives, to city archives, museums, and national archives. It has a spatial and Digital History component by data mining of sources and visualisation of local memberships, journal publications, and international congress participation.

We would like to thank a number of sponsors of the project: the University of St Andrews, the German Academic Exchange Service, (DAAD) the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the CEDIES (Luxembourg), ESF (Esperantic Studies Foundation).

‘Prisoners or Patients? Criminal Insanity in Victorian Scotland’: an exhibition by Professor Rab Houston

Blog written by Professor Rab Houston. Professor Houston has worked at the University of St Andrews since 1983 and is Professor of Modern History, specialising in British social history.

Professor Rab Houston

‘Prisoners or Patients?’ is the latest part of a major project I began in 2016 to use the lessons of history to stimulate awareness of mental health issues in the modern world.

Using free podcasts, social media, public talks, and photo exhibitions of asylum and prison patients I tried to reach out to sufferers and those close to them, medical professionals, and anyone with an interest in what is the fastest growing diagnostic category in global healthcare. I did this using history because it is, I think, uniquely useful for enabling empathetic engagement.

William Porter, convicted of housebreaking and theft.
Image: National Records of Scotland

People a century or more ago seem very different to us. The rationale behind the photo exhibitions is that the further you get from an event or a person, the harder it is to know what they were actually like. The more you can keep of the physical reality, the more you keep of the mental reality. Seeing someone’s face engages us straight away, and then you begin to question why their image was taken. In this case it was because of a crime. What were their family circumstances? How did those around them see their mental state? Did they get a bad break or make a bad choice? How did the justice system deal with those who were not responsible because they were insane? What therapies were available to treat someone who went mad? All these steps draw us into a material world that is different to our own – but a mental world that is more familiar than we might think, because the combination of genetic predisposition and life-stresses that produce mental disorders was almost certainly the same in the past as in the present.

Britain’s present-day prison system was created by the Victorians. They built not only penitentiaries, some still housing prisoners, but also a national system of administration. What were called ‘criminal lunatics’ became part of an integrated system during Victorian times, rather than anomalies in both justice and health care. Perth Prison’s Criminal Lunatic Department was created to house the most seriously disturbed offenders from across Scotland, and it was the only facility of its kind until what is now The State Hospital, Carstairs, opened in 1948. 

Margaret Hunter or Beaton, convicted of killing her young son
Image: National Records of Scotland

The problems the justice system faced then were similar to today. How to identify whether someone really was mad or feigning insanity in hope of more favourable treatment? Where to put criminal lunatics to prevent them from harming themselves and others? How to balance the needs of society with the rights of individuals? How to help prisoner-patients recover and re-enter the community? Prison communities of all kinds had much higher levels of mental disorder than the general population in Victorian times, something which remains true today.

There are differences too. Victorians thought that institutions were the key to most social problems, whereas their successors today prefer smaller scale solutions. Most of the drugs now used to manage mental problems have only been available since the mid-20th century; Victorians had only sedatives and hypnotics. We have different ideas about the status of women and children, and the acceptability of violence in interpersonal relations. But the difference is not as crude as we might think. The Victorians knew about social issues and mental disorders, dealing with them as best they could by the standards of their times. The past really is another country, where they do things differently. We should respect their efforts, even if, ultimately, we ourselves choose to do things differently.

What does all this mean? The famous British historian G. M. Trevelyan once wrote movingly:

‘The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact, that once, on this earth, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing after another; gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at dawn.’

A body belt used to restrain a prisoner’s arms and hands. Restraints like this were used in all UK prisons in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Image: National Records of Scotland

The exhibition helps us to reach out to them across time and to see ourselves and those around us in a different, more sympathetic light. It allows us to learn more about mental health through the lessons of history. Because we are all migrants through time.

The exhibition showed at the National Records of Scotland during the Edinburgh Festival (August 2019) and was part of the official Fringe program. Between now and the end of 2019 it will be in various Scottish prisons, The State Hospital Carstairs, and on display at a UK forensic psychiatry conference. The project runs until the end of July 2020.

From Dakar to Aix: the struggle with researching imperial histories

Blog post written by Dr Sarah Frank


V-P-HIST-03440-05, Guerre 1939-1945. Châlons-sur-Marne. Dulag Ob West. Camp de prisonniers de guerre. Homme de confiance des détenus coloniaux français.

Reconstructing the stories of colonized peoples presents a certain number of challenges. One struggle for historians of imperialism is how to draw out the voices of marginalized peoples when the archival trace places a euro-centric filter on their experiences. The research for my book, Hostages of Empire: Colonial Prisoners of War and Vichy France, took me on what sometimes felt like a wild goose chase hoping for memoirs and first-person accounts of captivity and finding mostly administrative documents. My first research trip as a young, hopeful PhD student took me to Paris for the French National Archives and the French Military Archives. These are the first ports of call for anyone studying the Second World War in France. I quickly realized that finding prisonnier de guerre in an inventory most likely referred to white, metropolitan prisoners of war, and not the approximately 85,000 men from across the French empire who were also captured in the Battle for France.

Evidence was there, it just needed to be found. Digging through correspondence between the French and German armistice commissions revealed intense negotiations between Georges Scapini, the half-blind veteran of the First World War placed in charge of all POW affairs, and his German counterpart over where the colonial prisoners should be interned. Once prisoners were settled into camps, international inspectors from the Swiss International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), or the American Young Man’s Christian Association (YMCA) started visiting colonial and white prisoners and reporting on their mental and physical conditions. While white prisoners sometimes left memoirs most colonial prisoners did not leave written records of their captivity. Luckily there are a few notable exceptions such as Léopold Sédar Senghor (first president of Senegal, poet, a brilliant intellectual), Ahmed Rafa (who became one of the first Algerian generals in the French army) and Michel Gnimagnon (a teacher from Dahomey). Still, much of the information about the colonial prisoners’ captivity was filtered through a white European lens – even when colonial prisoners were asked about their own experiences.

V-P-HIST-03440-35, Guerre 1939-1945. Melun. Camp de prisonniers de guerre français et sénégalais. Groupe de détenus sénégalais.

For a variety of reasons, the French authorities interviewed most of the colonial prisoners who escaped from captivity. Summaries of these interviews were submitted to the French military authorities interested in German propaganda, morale in the camps, and relations with French civilians. These testimonies constitute the largest records of colonial prisoners’ captivity experience, containing first-person narratives from surrender, capture, through to camp life and escape. So this is a fantastic source where we can finally hear from the prisoners themselves. But it of course remains problematic. One of the challenges is then, how to draw out the voices of those people whose every interactions with the French, who represented the colonial authority, was impacted by hierarchies of race and citizenship. Questions of sex and gender are inherently important for POWs, but do not exist in the source material. No colonial soldier would ever think of reporting sexual relations with a white French woman to a French military officer.


V-P-HIST-03440-36, Guerre 1939-1945. Melun. Camp de prisonniers de guerre français et sénégalais. Groupe de détenus sénégalais.

One method I found useful when working with problematic written sources was to expand my research to include as many different perspectives as possible. To do so, I travelled to the German Military archives in Frieburg, French Overseas Archives in Aix, Kew in London, the Senegalese National Archives and seventeen departmental archives in France hoping to find traces of colonial prisoners who had worked locally. Being an underfunded PhD student, these archival trips were somewhat dire – 5am trains to Vesoul, low-budget hotel rooms, and archival staff confused as to ‘what I wanted’. I quickly learnt that material on the colonial prisoners was rarely in a box labeled ‘colonial prisoners of war’, and that one should never travel without tea bags.  Surprisingly, the presence of a large POW camp, like that in Epinal which held up to 10,000 prisoners, did not guarantee that information about its colonial prisoners would be found in the departmental archives. In many departments school children were encouraged to collect clothes and scrapes of fabric to send to the ‘suffering populations in North Africa’ while ignoring the North African prisoners located in their towns. Other archives had a wealth of material, like in Mayenne, a rural department, where many small towns were forced to hire colonial prisoners to work on public works. As costs increased, so did the number of complaints which were kept in the archive, revealing the multitude of attitudes of French civilians towards the colonial prisoners.

Eventually, the diverse material from different actors allowed me to reconstruct the colonial prisoners’ experiences of life in captivity, relationships they formed, and how they survived until their return home. Reading widely allowed me to identify and challenge the assumptions of the documents’ writers, my own assumptions, and those of previous historians. Most importantly, thinking outside the box (and visiting as many archives as possible!) helped reveal the voices and agency of the people I was researching.

LGBT History Month Poster: The Indian Penal Code (Section 377)

An LGBT activist dances during the celebration after the Supreme Court verdict which decriminalizes consensual gay sex on September 06, 2018 in Calcutta, India. Photo attrib. Saikat Paul, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

On 6th September 2018, the Supreme Court in New Delhi pronounced a landmark verdict decriminalising consensual gay sex in India. The ruling concerned Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, legislation first drafted in the colonial era which still criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature.’  Five Supreme Court judges declared that the law as it applied to consenting adults was unconstitutional, marking the end of a tortuous legal campaign by LGBT activists dating back to the 1990s. 

Supporters of anti-gay legislation in India argue that it protects traditional culture from ‘Western’ influences. However, many historians refute this, drawing attention to the ‘queerness’ of pre-colonial India and viewing Section 377 as an attempt by the British Raj to impose Victorian values on its colonial subjects.  Although Section 377 no longer applies to homosexuality in a legal sense, it may be argued that the attitudes that informed it persist and this question, amongst others, continues to fuel debate amongst historians about the impact of colonial rule. 

Sources: 

Section 377 – Supreme Court of India – WP(C) NO. 76 OF 2016 Judgement 06-Sep-2018, https://www.sci.gov.in, accessed 24thJanuary 2018.

Vanita, Ruth (ed.), Queering India. Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society (Abingdon, Oxon; Routledge, 2002).

Further reading:

Arondekar, Anjali, For the record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India (Durham: Duke University Press).

Ballhatchet, Kenneth, Race, Sex and Class Under the Raj (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980).

Chatterjee, Partha, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993).

Menon, Nivedita, Sexualities (New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2007).

Sinha, Mrinalini, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly Englishman’ and the ‘Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University, 1995).

Vanita, Ruth and Saleem Kidwai, Same Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New Delhi: Macmillan, 2000).

LGBT History Month Poster: The Well of Loneliness (1928) by Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall, Wikimedia Commons

A novel, The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyff (John) Hall, was first published by Jonathan Cape in an initially short print run in 1928.  Its protagonist is a female lesbian character, Stephen Gordon, and the plot follows her intimate encounters and relationships, which present the lesbian characters’ “inversion” – a contemporary term that Hall appropriated in her writing – as biologically-driven, and depict a complex picture of what life for lesbian women in interwar Britain could be like, setting experiences of personal, intimate happiness alongside wider social ostracism and rejection.

The context in which the novel appeared is important to consider. Published during a period in which the British parliament debated introducing legislation to outlaw sexual relationships between women, the novel was seized upon by the then editor of the Sunday Express, James Douglas, as “an intolerable outrage”.  The controversy manufactured by Douglas led to an obscenity trial in November 1928, in which magistrate Sir Chartres Biron upheld the Hinkley test to rule that the book had the potential to ‘deprave and corrupt’ and ordered the book destroyed. The Well of Loneliness was of course not the only book depicting homosexual love and relationships to be put on trial around this time; what was novel in this case was that the book was judged obscene and suppressed not for any particular explicit content but for “the subject itself” and for the fact, according to magistrate Biron, that it was well written and thus constituted a ”palatable poison”. The Well of Loneliness was not published in Britain again until 1949; in 1974 it was serialised as a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime.

Source: Joseph Bristow, “Homosexual writing on trial: from Fanny Hill to Gay News’ in Hugh Stevens ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gay and Lesbian Writing (Cambridge: CUP, 2010) 17-33.

Further reading:

Deborah Cohler, Citizen, Invert, Queer: lesbianism and war in early twentieth-century Britain (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).

Laura Doan, Fashioning Sapphism. The Origins of a Modern English Lesbian Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001)

Laura Doan, Disturbing Practices:  history, sexuality and women’s experiences of modern war (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Rebecca Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Women since 1600 (Oxford: Greenwood World Publishing, 2007).

Lesley Hall, ‘”Sentimental follies” or ‘Instruments of Tremendous Uplift’? Reconsidering women’s same-sex relationships in interwar Britain’ in Women’s History Review vol. 25.1, 2016.

Alison Oram, Her Husband Was A Woman! Women gender-crossing in modern British popular culture (London: Routledge, 2007)

Martha Vicinus, Intimate Friends: women who loved women (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004)

LGBT History Month Poster: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Wikimedia Commons

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, born in Saxony in 1825, was a writer who used his words and actions to publicly defend homosexuality (a term that came into usage in the German lands in the late 1860s, although Ulrichs himself preferred the term he coined, ‘Urning’) and to denounce the criminalisation of individuals accused of having engaged in same-sex sexual activity. Between 1864 and 1879 Ulrichs published twelve volumes of essays discussing Researches on the Riddle of Love between Men [Forschungen über das Rätsel der mann-männlichen Liebe], which elaborated his theory of homosexuality as anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa [a feminine soul confined by a masculine body]. This theory appears problematic to contemporary ears, and was shaped by Ulrichs’ interest in the then developing scientific branch of embryology as well as by contemporary societal-cultural assumptions that “love directed towards a man must be a woman’s love”.

Whilst the concept of ‘coming out’ is a 20th century one, Ulrichs effectively did this, consciously, first to his family and then publicly in 1868 when he stopped publishing under the pseudonym ‘Numa Numantius’ and began publishing his works discussing homosexuality and codifying different sexual orientations under his own name. Ulrich was also a political activist, speaking out against both the legal restrictions placed on homosexual activity and against the Prussian-dominated unification of Germany; the two combined in his (justified) fears that the extension of Prussian rule would lead to the extension of its strict anti-homosexuality laws.

Since his death in the Italian city of L’Aquila in 1895, to where he had fled in exile in 1880, Ulrichs has been claimed as a pioneering hero of the gay emancipation movement in Germany and beyond. Several German cities have named streets in his honour, his tomb in L’Aquila has been the site of an annual commemoration on Ulrich’s birthday since 1988, and the city was the major venue, along with Munich, where Ulrichs also lived for a time, for the ceremonies that in 2000 celebrated the 175th anniversary of Ulrich’s birth.

Source: Hubert Kennedy, Ulrichs: The life and works of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, pioneer of the modern gay movement (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1988)

Further reading:

Robert Beachy, Gay Berlin: birthplace of a modern identity (Knopf, 2015)

Hubert Kennedy, ‘Karl Heinrich Ulrichs First Theorist of Homosexuality’, Science and Homosexualities (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 26–45.

LGBT History Month Poster: ‘Taste in High Life’, William Hogarth, 1746

Taste in High Life, Metropolitan Museum, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Eighteenth century Britons did not recognize gay or straight sexualities and identities in the way we do today.  Gay sexual relations were still illegal, though only for men, and could be punished severely. Nevertheless, especially among elites, some men adopted fluid gender identities and maintained romantic relationships with other men.  In art, theatre, and fiction, one could often find such characters depicted, and the era especially saw the emergence of the “macaroni”; a very fashionably-dressed effeminate man who was a trend-setting member of London high society.

 William Hogarth was very famous for his popular portrayals of London life.  This print, like many others, is an engraving of one of his paintings, produced for mass consumption among the middling classes of early modern Britain. Here, Hogarth is satirising the lifestyles of the London elite.  The characters he chooses to do this include an enslaved African servant, a wealthy older woman but also, on the far right, a macaroni-like figure. Known for incorporating rich symbolism into his works, Hogarth here communicates the sexual ambiguity of the macaroni with a number of visual cues.  The man is thin and dressed effeminately.  His cane and pigtail are phallic symbols, and he is wooing a rich older woman who is intended to be viewed as physically unattractive. Finally, he is holding a fur muff in front of his crotch to suggest his gender should be female.  Nevertheless his hand is in the muff, also hinting at heterosexual interest. This man is neither gay nor straight, but he is representative of the fluid gender identities that were highly visible in eighteenth century society.

Source

Further reading:

Jody Greene, ‘Public Secrets: Sodomy and the Pillory in the Eighteenth Century and Beyond’ The Eighteenth Century, vol. 44, 2003, 203-32.

Karen Harvey, ‘The Century of Sex? Gender, Bodies and Sexuality in the Long Eighteenth Century‘ Historical Journal, vol. 45.4, 899-917.

Amelia Rauser, ‘Hair, Authenticity and the Self-Made Macaroni’ Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 38, 2004, 101-17.

Tim Hitchcock, ‘Redefining Sex in Eighteenth-Century England’  History Workshop Journal, vol.  41, 1996, 72-90.

Randolph Trumbach, Sex and the Gender Revolution, vol. 1: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)