Mennonites and their many migrations

One winner (best adapted screenplay) in the 2023 Oscars is Women talking, a film adaptation of the novel by the Canadian author Miriam Toews, a fictional response to real events that took place in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. When I first heard about this it prompted me to look into the history of the Mennonites. I was fascinated by the numerous moves groups of them had made during the last 500 years. This blog post will look at some of the main migrations during that time and also consider the Mennonites’ Low German dialect, Plautdietsch, which they have preserved across the world. The UL has a huge number of resources, both print and online, on the Mennonites, showing that their beliefs, culture and language are of great interest to researchers.

Menno Simons, picture by Rijksmuseum via Wikimedia Commons

The name Mennonite was used to refer to Dutch Anabaptists (there were others in Switzerland and Germany) and was derived from Menno Simons, a Catholic priest who turned away from Catholicism and became a leader of the Anabaptist movement in the Low Countries during the time of the Reformation (Anabaptist simply means “one who is baptised again”, referring to the belief that baptism of infants was wrong and that only adults who could knowingly profess their faith should be baptised). Mennonites in the Netherlands were regarded as heretics and were suppressed and persecuted not just by the prevailing Catholics but also by other Protestants. Continue reading

The Schnitzler collection of Jeffrey B. Berlin

Portrait of Schnitzler in F191.b.1.3

In August 2022 we were privileged to receive seven boxes containing several hundred volumes of works by the famous Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler. The books come from the library of the late Professor Jeffrey B. Berlin and were generously offered as a gift to the University Library by his widow, Anne Berlin. We happily accepted the offer as this comprehensive collection of the printed works of Arthur Schnitzler complements our existing renowned collection of Schnitzler manuscripts.

Professor Berlin, who died in 2021, was a highly respected Germanist with a particular interest in the literature of fin de siècle Vienna. He is best known for the extensive edition of Stefan Zweig’s correspondence (749:37.d.95.126-129) published by S. Fischer 1995-2005. Prof. Berlin also published numerous papers on Arthur Schnitzler and was for many years a member of the editorial team of Modern Austrian Literature, the journal of International Arthur Schnitzler Research Association. He was responsible for the annual Schnitzler bibliography published in this journal which inspired him to assemble his collection of Schnitzler’s published works. Continue reading

Marianne Werefkin: a pioneering modernist

Self-portrait on the cover of S950.b.201.5000

I was interested to hear about the Making Modernism exhibition which opened at the Royal Academy in November and continues until 12 February. It is described as “the first major UK exhibition devoted to pioneering women working in Germany in the early 1900s” and highlights four women in particular. Three of these, Kӓthe Kollwitz, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Gabriele Münter, were familiar names to me and indeed have been mentioned previously in our blog post on German Expressionism in Leicester. But I had not heard of Marianne Werefkin (1860-1938) and she seemed worthy of further exploration.

She was born into Russian nobility, and as a young woman her artistic talents were recognised and encouraged, with lessons from the renowned artist Ilya Repin. In the 1890s she moved to Munich with her partner Alexej von Jawlensky who was also an artist. At this time she was probably the more skilled painter of the pair but chose to allow her art to take a back seat for a time in order to support his development. She embraced a more expressionist style of painting in the early 1900s and was one of the founders of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München which was a forerunner of the important Der Blaue Reiter movement. Continue reading

Petra Kelly: an influential Green

Environmental concerns are dominant issues of the 21st century as we grapple with what we can all do to lessen the negative impact of human activities on our planet. But it was not always so, and the topics of concern have also changed over time. Back in the early 1980s my German A-level conversation classes often featured subjects such as acid rain (now largely forgotten) or debates around nuclear power. This reflected a growing interest in environmentalism in Germany where the Green Party (Die Grünen) had been established in 1980, one of the first in Europe. A founder member was Petra Kelly, born on 29 November 1947. 75 years on, and also just over 30 years since her untimely death, this blog post explores her life and legacy. Continue reading

Prinzhorn’s influential book, 100 years on

The idea for this blog post came to me in 2021 when I read a review of an engaging new book, Charlie English’s The gallery of miracles and madness (e-Legal Deposit) in which I first learnt of Hans Prinzhorn’s Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (S400:05.b.9.337). This groundbreaking book analysed the artwork of disturbed psychiatric patients, with just over half of it devoted to detailed descriptions of ten artists, given pseudonyms to protect the reputation of their families. The book was first published 100 years ago in 1922; the University Library copy is a reprint from 1923, demonstrating the book’s popularity. In his The Discovery of the art of the insane (9000.b.1564) John MacGregor describes Prinzhorn’s work as “an unequaled contribution to the study of the art of the mentally ill.”

Cover and title page of our 1923 edition (click on image to see enlarged): Prinzhorn demanded of his publisher that the cover be black with a runic font

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