Durham University History Society Journal, Vol. 8 (2019)

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A C A D E M I C J O U R N A L 2 0 1 8 / 1 9

V o l u m e 1













Deputy Editor

Esmé Gray

Joseph Beaden

The Journal Team

Marlo Avidon

Miles Callaghan

Emma Chai

Max Davies

Lyndsey England

Sarah Ibberson

Sasha Putt

Freddie Vint

Department of History,

43 North Bailey,



The journal team would like to express thanks to Joe Mallon for his permission to use his Grandfather’s, William

Costello’s, fantastic photograph of Durham on the cover of our Journal. It was recently colourised by Joe himself.






Professor Jeremy Black MBE




PART I: 2000 WORDS 10






Hennessy 22


Qian Hui 27


PART II: 4000 WORDS 37



Andrade 38


YEARS’ WAR, C. 1337-1475? David Manchester 46







(1930), Alex Hibberts 67











AUSTRIA-HUNGARY, Meriel Smithson 96


RACE TO MODERNITY, Charlie Steer-Stephenson 103




IN INDIA, Ashley Castelino 113


Clémentine Ducasse 119



A YEAR OF RESEARCH LEAVE, Dr John-Henry Clay 133




Hello, and welcome to the Durham University

History Society’s 2018/19 Journal!

The publication of this journal in Autumn 2019

marks the juncture between the beginning of a

new academic year at Durham, and the end of the

fantastic 2018/19 year: the department retains its

second place position in national league tables,

has welcomed many new members of staff and the

DUHS journal has been relaunched, after a hiatus

spanning several years!

Personally, I like to think that the achievements

and developments listed above – alongside

countless others – illustrate the ambition, talent,

and enthusiasm of historians at Durham, both staff

and students alike. In carefully compiling and

editing this journal, the editorial team and I have

sought to showcase these fantastic qualities, all of

which make reading History here such a privilege.

Although I hope that this journal captures the

ambition, talent and enthusiasm of Durham’s

history undergraduates, I also believe that it

illustrates the breadth of studies undertaken here.

In-line with the theme of last year’s DUHS guest

lectures – that of ‘decolonising the curriculum’ –

this journal aims to survey a range of countries,

cultures and events; although the intention of last

year’s lecture series was to encourage the

department to expand the geographical scope of

its teaching, I hope that the articles that we have

selected do what they can to explore those

countries that are already encompassed by the

curriculum. The editorial team and I have also

sought to include the works of students of varying

aptitudes, ages and interests, thereby showcasing

the variety among DUHS members. Indeed, the

curious, colourful and varied characters of the

History Department dominate the foreword that

Professor Jeremy Black has penned for this

publication, a recollection of the time that he spent

teaching in Durham between 1980 and 1995.

In part one, Josephine Simon and Tom Hennessy

both survey colonial Africa: Josephine

contemplates whether biomedicine in Africa

constituted a ‘colonial project’, whereas Tom

considers the question: ‘how important was

violence in ending colonial rule in Africa?’.

Moving on from African history, however, this

section also sees Yeong Qian Hui explore the

ideological motivations underpinning China’s

Boxer Rebellion, Grant Jones’ delve into

Cistercian theology in medieval Europe, and

Hugo Lunn’s historiographical essay on different

Marxist historians’ interpretations of the term

‘feudalism’, all of which promise to be fantastic


In part two, we encounter three longer, four

thousand-word essays, all of which present more

detailed and complex arguments. Ines Andrade

begins by analysing Benjamin Drew’s ‘The

Refugee, or a North Side View of Slavery’,

assessing the extent to which the text may aid our

understanding of slavery in North America. Later,

David Manchester explores the factors that led to

the ultimate failure of diplomacy in the Hundred

Years’ War. Katsuyuki Karl Omae concludes the

chapter with his investigation of the sociopolitical

landscape of twentieth-century Japan,

with a particular emphasis on ‘Kokutaiism’ and

the denigration of the West.

Diverging somewhat from parts one and two, part

three showcases the broader range of academic

skills that history undergraduates acquire

throughout the course of their degrees here.

Michaela Groundwater opens the section with her

historiographical essay on the Progressive Era in

the USA: Michaela focuses on historians’

documentations of the experiences of both black

and white women during this period, contending

that the existing scholarship would benefit from

incorporating more diverse perspectives. Next,

Alex Hibberts reviews Winston Churchill’s

autobiography: My Early Life: A Roving

Commission (1930), delving into the complexities

of autobiographical sources and Churchill’s

tendency to mythologize his own life story.

Finally, Leah Nuttall presents her analysis of an

Early Modern legal source – that of The Case of

Deborah Greening – exploring the impact of the

source’s provenance, style and context on its

content and overall value.

The penultimate chapter of this journal, Part Four,

comprises a debate that has been kindly

coordinated by Dr Markian Prokopovych.

Markian introduces the premise of the debate – the

question of whether the Hapsburg Empire was

doomed to collapse – in his introduction.

Following this, several finalists give their

interpretations of the downfall of the Hapsburg

Empire, its implications and its underpinnings,

presenting an in-depth discussion of the various

factors, themes and arguments that dominate

studies of Hapsburg history and historiography.

Part Five, the final section of this Journal, is also

the publication’s widest-ranging. Featuring

articles on everything from DUHS’ essay

competition, to our Winter Ball at Lumley Castle,

to guest articles written by the likes of Dr Helen

Roche and Dr John-Henry Clay, there is certainly

something for everyone here!

Of course, resurrecting the DUHS journal has

proven no mean feat, and we have the kindness,

enthusiasm and support of a number of people to

thank for making this possible.

First and foremost, I would like to extend a huge

thanks to the editorial team, without whom none

of this could have happened. Everyone’s

enthusiasm, dedication and intellect have made

this process an absolute joy. I am particularly

indebted to my deputy editor, Joe Beaden, who

kindly led meetings and coordinated edits when I

was unable to. Joe’s hard work and dedication has

proven invaluable, and I wish both Joe and Alex

Hibberts the best of luck next year, when they will

join forces to take up the position of editors-inchief.

I would also like to thank everybody who applied

to be an editor in Epiphany term, regardless of

whether they were successful or not. Since this is

the first year in a while that the journal has been

running, I was overwhelmed by the number of

applications that we received – a really

encouraging start to the entire process!

On a similar note, it also seems fitting to thank

everybody who sent us essays in response to our

two calls for papers. Regardless of whether your

paper was accepted or not, it was certainly

encouraging to see that so many people were keen

to be involved. I hope that the enthusiasm that has

been generated this year will continue well-into

the future.

I would also like to thank the DUHS Executive of

2018/19, who have proven themselves to be

sources both of great support and great company

– I will miss you all when you graduate and wish

you every success for the future!

Finally, I would like to thank the staff in the

department, ranging from the administrative staff

who sent out emails on my behalf, to lecturers and

historians who kindly met with me to offer advice

and encouragement. Particular thanks should be

extended to Dr John-Henry Clay, Dr Helen Roche

and Dr Markian Prokopovych – as well as Exeter

University’s Professor Jeremy Black – all of

whom have kindly given up their time and energy

to write fantastic pieces for the journal, shedding

light on new topics and fresh perspectives.

Ultimately, this past year of compiling, editing

and administering the journal has not been

without the occasional hiccup. The process has,

nonetheless, been great fun; I hope that you get as

much enjoyment from reading it as we got from

making it.






Kristina Novakovich (DUHS President) and Katie Scown (DUHS Social Secretary) at the DUHS Winter Ball (Jessica Wang, 2018)

I have been a member of the History Society

throughout my three years at Durham University,

and have had the wonderful opportunity to act both

as conference co-ordinator in my second year and

as DUHS President in this, my third and final year.

DUHS strives to offer high quality events and

opportunities for our members, both social and

academic, and during my time at Durham I have had

the opportunity to attend three Elizabethan-themed

Winter Banquets and Balls, three conferences, book

fairs, a number of trips to historical sites, and a vast

range of guest lectures. This year, students have

engaged not only in our larger events, the

abovementioned Winter Ball, excursions and

lectures, but the society has also enjoyed an

incredible turnout at our smaller social events.

These have included a ‘staff vs. student’ pub quiz at

the DSU in Epiphany term, and a ‘decades’ themed

bailey bar crawl in Michaelmas term.

This year’s series of academic talks – organised by

our secretary, Sabrina – have ranged from a lecture

on the ‘Monstrous’ in Japanese Art and Culture, to

Aboriginal Australian knowledges and

decolonisation theory, to our most recent guest

lecture: a discussion of the history and significance

of Brazilian Presidential elections. This series of

lectures has not only catered to the varied interests

of our members, but also reflects our efforts to

‘decolonise the curriculum’ here in Durham,

creating a more diverse and inclusive platform for

learning and discussion. This is a theme that has

also been echoed in the journal’s essay competition

– the first of its kind – which created another

opportunity for DUHS members to explore outside

of the History Department’s current curriculum.

These are efforts that we sincerely hope will be a

lasting legacy, something to be continued by the

History Society in years to come.

Furthermore, the relaunch of the DUHS academic

journal, compiled by Esmé Gray and her editorial

team, has proven to be one of the year’s huge

successes. We received an incredible amount of

interest and a large volume of entries. We hope that

this piece will help to open up a dialogue amongst

Durham students, a discussion of how and where

we can improve our curriculum, while also

celebrating the excellent work that is already

undertaken by undergraduates here.











Here Professor Jeremy Black MBE –

prominent Historian and Professor of

History at the University of Exeter –

reminisces on the time that he spent in

Durham, first as a lecturer and then as a

Professor, between 1980 and 1995.

Today, Black is a senior fellow at the

‘Center for the Study of America and the

West’ at the Foreign Policy Research

Institute and has authored over ninety

books, enabling the British to “look at

their past, as well as in representing

British history to foreign audiences”. 1

His research interests primarily involve

post-1500 military history, yet he also

retains a keen interest in eighteenthcentury

British history, international

relations, and the examination of historical

media, with particular emphasis on atlases

and newspapers. More information about

Jeremy, his career, publications and

research interests can be found on his


jeremyblackhistorian.wordpress.com, or

on the Exeter University website.

I was amazed when I first saw Durham.

Arriving for my interview for the Early Modern

European job, I had expected to find a landscape

full of pitheads. Instead, the vista was green. I was

there under false pretences, as, aged 24 and with

no doctorate yet, I did not anticipate success, and

only applied in the hope of getting my expenses

covered en route to reading early-eighteenth

century newspapers in Newcastle Central Library.

Alphabetical order dictated that I got interviewed

first and I then rushed off to Newcastle. When the

result was announced at the end of the day, I was

the only one of the six not present and with no

forwarding details.

Eventually tracked down, I was told I had the job

and invited to lunch at Castle by Paul Harvey.

With great hesitation, he asked me what I would

like to teach. To his clear amazement, I said I

would teach what I had been hired to do, and his

relief was palpable. Apparently the other five

candidates, all older, doctored, and with more

experience, including ‘the Internal,’ had said they

were specialists on France, or Germany, etc, and

would not teach anything else. I had said that, as

a diplomatic historian, I knew a little bit of


There were then about 60 new students a year, and

you could be expected to know all your students

as individuals. My early courses were a first year

Europe 1560-1730 (John Rogister would not let

me go any later as that was ‘his’ turf), a second

year eighteenth-century Britain, and a third-year

special subject on British Foreign Policy in the

Age of Walpole. Teaching style was very much a

matter of individual preference. Probation and

training were a joke, but standards were high,

much more-so than in Cambridge and Oxford

(actually that is no real praise); and the staff were

broader-ranging in their intellectual engagement

than is sometimes the case in the modern age of

specialisation. There was no careers advice for

staff. The Reader in Modern History, Mervyn

James, a tweed-suited Braudelian of much

conceptual engagement, was amazed that I should

want to complete my PhD: he was proud of not

having one. Mervyn had no television and came

over to watch the Charles and Diana wedding


‘Cambridge University Alumni: Professor Jeremy

Black MBE’ [Online]. Available at:


(Accessed 23 September 2019).


which he found fascinating as an anthropological

spectacle. Having a burst tyre while driving on the

A1(M), he had told the Highway Patrol when it

arrived to change his tyre and the police had duly


The Department was very factionalised. The

Medievalists appeared to see themselves as better

and to look down on the Modernists, who were

definitely eclectic. Several of the latter went to the

Shakespeare for a liquid lunch and appeared to

spend the afternoon staring in a rather raffish

Lucky Jim. They did not get on with Reg Ward

who had his own clique. A Northerner with the

teetotal integrity of a Primitive Methodist, and

Lay Preacher, told me on my appointment that

Durham risked going the way of Oxbridge (which

he and I had both attended) – ‘they take good

people and don’t do very much with them,’ but

also held up for approval the example of Sir Lewis

Namier, under whom he had worked at


‘He was the opposite of the standard

academic. They are distant to students,

offhand to junior colleagues, and

oleaginous to those of their own rank.’ [I

had no idea of what oleaginous meant.

Since my spelling was poor, dictionary

elucidation took a while.] Namier was

pleasant to the students, encouraging to

his junior colleagues, and an absolute

swine to those of his own rank.’

An interesting man Reg - very wide-ranging in his

intellectual interests; a very hard worker – he told

me that he could not take seriously anyone who

could not write 5,000 words a day; and, as Barbara

did not like him cooking at home, he kept a Baby

Belling in his office and would cook implausible

dishes and always invite colleagues who did not

get on to share the meal before sharing the


There was a good coverage of history by the

standards of the period and the size of

Department. For example, there were two

Americanists whereas most provincial

Departments had one and I had been taught no

American history at Cambridge. The coverage of

Continental European history was good and

Economic History, a separate Department, added

more talent; notably Frank Spooner and Richard


This system was to be buffeted by change.

Anthony Fletcher who came in to succeed Reg,

made it obvious that he deplored what he found,

and sought to push through a complete syllabus

transformation, including lots of modish topics in

social history (Anthony was very interested in

sexuality), as well as compulsory dissertations. He

and his Medieval counterpart, Michael Prestwich

– who had succeeded Paul after a period of

vacancy, did not get on at all, and this increased

the fissiparous character of the Department.

Talking to students from those years with whom I

have remained friends, it is clear that none of them

discerned these tensions. That, I suppose, is a sign

of staff professionalism, but the row between the

professors led to the VC intervening.

I meanwhile went through some of the

administrative load. The joys of running a

Departmental Library were followed by being

Dissertation Convenor, which was doubtless my

reward for opposing their compulsory character: I

was concerned that so much of the social history

agenda was very much a matter of acquiring a

specialism in a small fragment of English social

history at the expense of broad and significant

topics in national and international history. I

taught a lot, which I enjoyed, especially the

lecturing. I also developed a

teaching/research/writing synergical process that

proved exciting and invigorating. It got me a chair

in 1994, the first time there had been two Modern

History chairs in the Department, but being

promoted over the heads of many colleagues is not

good news, and it was appropriate to move on. I

have remained good friends with former students

from Durham days and have some good

memories. Ron Hutton dismissed the university in

conversation as ‘a frozen rock in the North of

England,’ but he was wrong, and it was so much




(Michael Crilly, 2018)

GRANT JONES: Why was love such a prominent theme in Cistercian thought?

Pages 11-16

HUGO LUNN: Marxian definitions of feudalism in the context of the transition debate:

difficulties resulting from their implications.

Pages 17-21

TOM HENNESSY: How important was violence in ending colonial rule in Africa?

Pages 22-26

YEONG QIAN HUI: To what extent was the Boxer Rebellion a nationalist movement?

Pages 27-31

JOSEPHINE SIMON: Was biomedicine in Africa a colonial project?

Pages 32-36




The writings of certain twelfth-century Benedictine reformers were integral to the growth of the monastic

way of life that would later emerge as the Cistercian Order, a Catholic Order dedicated to the precise

observance of the Rule of St. Benedictine. Traditionally, the three most influential writers associated with the

Order were, in chronological order: William of St. Thierry, Bernard of Clairvaux and Ælred of Rievaulx, all

of whom contributed to a growing corpus of monastic literature that sought to promote manual labour,

modesty and austerity as the central themes of monastic life. In light of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that

caritas (or charity) emerges as a significant theme in the works of the abovementioned reformers.

Furthermore, many such writers also reasoned that demonstrations of Love would be crucial in facilitating an

individual’s quest to imitate Christ; indeed, imitation of Jesus was the very goal of monastic life and had been

a fundamental pillar of the church’s understanding of salvation since the very inception of Christianity. 1

In an attempt to understand the progression of theological thinking, Jean Leclerq has suggested that Cistercian

thought fits into a tri-generational model for theological evolution. This progression, Leclerq asserts,

extended from the late eleventh-century and into the twelfth, beginning with St. Anselm in the eleventhcentury

before progressing to the writings of the second, prominent generation of theological scholars –

Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St. Thierry, Abelard and Hugh of St. Victor. Finally, the progression of

Cistercian thought reached its apex with the emergence of the third and final generation of theologians in the

mid-twelfth century, the most important of whom was Ælred. 2

Although the term ‘Cistercian thought’ is often employed to refer to the writings of these individuals, this

terminology can be as problematic as it is convenient. Indeed, of the three figures with whom this essay is

concerned, only Ælred can be said to have lived in what we would deem to be the Cistercian ‘Order’.

Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge that, in order to differentiate themselves from their

contemporaries, proto-Cistercian communities had to be aware of their Benedictine roots, and use this

particular understanding in order to ‘articulate and defend their particular form of life’. 3 For the Cistercians

then, it would appear that their efforts to establish historic and legitimate justification for the lifestyle that

they promoted ultimately manifested in their continual emphasis on the importance of love and charity, both

of which are deeply historic themes in Christian philosophy.

Ultimately, then, this essay explores why love was such a prominent theme in what we can term to be

‘Cistercian thought’. It will argue that the Cistercians’ emphasis on love drew heavily on both pre-existing

and contemporary themes, and constituted a part of the emergence of increasingly personal experience

evident within the theology of the twelfth century.

This essay explores first why the works of William of St. Thierry have been understated until recently. We

will also analyse the importance of personal experience and love as recurring themes in William’s work, as

well as the underlying sources and inspiration behind these themes – in particular, it is pertinent to note that

there are precedents for these concepts in the writings of Anselm of Canterbury. Similarly, we will then

explore the factors that have enabled the works of Bernard of Clairvaux to dominate Cistercian thought, and


Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Volume 3: The Growth of

Medieval Theology (600-1300), (Chicago, 1978), p. 23.


Jean Leclerq, ‘The Renewal of Theology’, in Robert L. Benson, Giles Constable and Carol D. Lanham (eds.),

Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, (Toronto, 1982), p. 70.


Chrysogonus Waddell, ‘The Reform of the Liturgy from a Renaissance Perspective’, in Robert L. Benson, Giles

Constable and Carol D. Lanham (eds.), Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, (Toronto, 1982), p. 99.

Part I

the extent to which his writings were inspired by William’s. Finally, this essay will assess the impact of these

notable theologians on the work of Ælred of Rievaulx.

Until the latter half of the twentieth century, William of St. Thierry’s theological contributions were largely

overlooked; indeed, such was the scale of scholarly ignorance of his work that William’s texts were, on

occasion, incorrectly attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux. Moreover, it is telling that Charles Haskins – widely

considered to be the Unites States’ first medievalist scholar – failed to acknowledge William at all.

Increasingly, however, William is recognised as one of the most important monastic thinkers of the twelfth

century. 4 For William, the ‘study of love’ was the purpose of the monastery; in what is considered to be one

of his earliest texts – aptly titled On the Nature of Dignity and Love – he described the monastery as ‘charity’s

own school’. 5 Nonetheless, as Patrick Ryan highlights, William’s writings suggest that he considered the

most important feature of love to be the way in which it could be experienced by the individual: indeed,

William firmly believed that one could experience God directly through the perspective of love. 6 Ryan’s

studies are significant in that he examined William's method of looking to God, reflecting on one's own

humanity with love (the love of the person seeking God), and then contemplating God again with the same

desire and love. 7 We see this clearly in William’s Meditation Three, in which his ultimate concern is to be

united with God through love: ‘[the soul] perceives that God is good, by means of love which is its proper

sense … the soul’s sense is love, by love it perceives whatever it perceives’. 8 Notably, this Meditation was

written while William was abbot of the unreformed Benedictine abbey at St. Thierry, and before he entered

the newly-founded Cistercian abbey at Signy. 9 It would seem, then, that it can be problematic to associate a

number of William’s tracts with ‘Cistercian thought’ specifically, as this particular school of theology was

yet to emerge. These themes do, nonetheless, continue to develop in William’s work even after he entered

Signy, suggesting that his earlier writings are significant precisely because they exhibit some likeness to later

Cistercian writings, evidently shaping William’s outlook and underlining his sympathy for the Cistercian

philosophy. Again, we see this in The Mirror of Faith, in which William explains how the “outer senses of

the body” may assist one in actively perceiving God, before progressing to contemplate the greater

importance of the interior senses – here, William proclaims that love is superior to reason, as the former

facilitates a “purer understanding of the soul”. 10

Deliberating the factors that shaped William’s focus on love and experience, Constant Mews – contemporary

Professor of medieval thought – has suggested William was influenced by a wider rekindling of interest in

Ovid’s writing, something that had already begun to emerge in the late eleventh century, as well as

Augustinian concepts that had been neglected by Anselm of Canterbury and William of Champeaux. 11

William of St. Thierry's novel approach to Ovid and Augustinian themes subsequently created what Mews

terms to be an ‘original theological synthesis’, principally relating to the nature of amor: longing and desire

that grows into the virtuous ideal of caritas. 12 Theologians’ awareness that the concept of amor itself had

divine origins was also evident in the preceding works of Baudri of Bourgeuil, a Benedictine abbot closely

linked to Godfrey of Rheims, who, in all likelihood, tutored William during the early 1090s. 13 The renewed

interest in Ovid’s work that is so patently evident in William’s writings, then, appear to have led to a reinterpretation

of amor socialis as ‘the charity practiced in conventual life’. This renewed understanding of

amor socialis was also echoed in Bernard of Clairvaux’s adaption of Cicero’s De amicita, a revision that


Leclerq, ‘Renewal’, p. 71.


William of St. Thierry, On the Nature and Dignity of Love, 8., trans. Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker, (London,



Ibid.: ‘[…] not with the use of reason alone, since the truths of love must be a matter of experience’.


Patrick Ryan, ‘Sensus Amoris: The Sense of Love in Two Texts of William of St. Thierry’, Cistercian Studies

Quarterly, 40 (2005), pp. 163-4.


William of St. Thierry, Meditation Three, cited in Ryan, ‘Sensus Amoris’, p. 166.


Ryan, ‘Sensus Amoris’, p. 167.


William of St. Thierry, Meditation Three, 26., cited in Ryan, ‘Sensus Amoris’, p. 168.


Constant J. Mews, ‘Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter Abelard and Heloise on the Definition of Love’, Revista Portuguesa

de Filosofia, 60 (2004), pp. 640-2.


Ibid., p. 642.; c.f. Writings of Abelard and Heloise on amor and caritas.


Ibid., p. 641.


Why was love such a prominent theme in Cistercian thought? | Grant Jones

emphasised the virtue of Christian unity as well as that of equality, the former being a new addition. 14 Despite

the fact that it is clear that humanism influenced the passages outlined above, however, it is pertinent to

acknowledge that twelfth-century monastic theology would appear to have been impacted by Classical Latin

scholars more in terms of its thought than in terms of its style – the works composed in the monasteries at

this time remain firmly focused on the liturgy and interpretations of Scripture. 15

A fascination with divine love, experience, and reinterpreting the works of preceding Christian writers are all

themes that also emerge in the works of Anselm of Canterbury (1033/4-1109). It would appear that Anselm’s

concept of faith, and the role that it played in the search for understanding and enlightenment, was also rooted

in Augustinian thought: indeed, he acknowledges his indebtedness to Augustine in many of his pieces. 16

Indeed, although Anselm’s revered piece, Cur Deus homo, is essentially a rational argument, it stems from a

position of love; in Eadmer’s The Life of St. Anselm, the author makes clear that Anselm published the Cur

Deus homo because he was fundamentally ‘moved by his love of the Christian faith’. 17 Furthermore, it is not

insignificant that Anselm wrote this particular tome during a period in which he was returning and readjusting

to the monastic routine, a lifestyle akin to the one he led before becoming an abbot. 18 The ‘back-to-basics’

lifestyle that Eadmer highlights in The Life would, indeed, appear to have been beneficial to Anselm’s work,

but was not particularly unique given that it would appear to echoe the approach and reasoning encountered

in many works associated with various twelfth-century Cistercian thinkers. Nonetheless, amongst the detailed

and painstaking reasoning that comprises much of Cur Deus Homo, some striking observations about the

power of love in God can be found. In Book Two, for instance, Anselm asserts that Christ’s life is more

lovable than sins are detestable: to some extent, then, all of the reasoning that surrounds Anselm’s deliberation

over God’s reasons for becoming incarnate in Christ is, at its very core, intended to highlight the potency of

God’s love. 19 It would, furthermore, appear that Anselm was also exceedingly capable of expressing love for

God in more personal, and certainly moving and evocative terms, this is perhaps most notable in his

Meditation on Human Redemption, in which Anselm meditates on the very nature of the human soul and its

relationship to the human experiences of suffering and love. 20

The process of centralising one’s experience of God and of love – evident in much of the works of the twelfthcentury

monastic writers who are also regarded as ‘Cistercian’ – would ultimately appear to be the legacy of

the ideas that Anselm brought to the fore in his writings. Leclerq reiterates this observation: contending that

personal experience was fundamental to medieval monastic theology, and that, to Anselm, God “was not a

problem to be solved, but a reality to be loved and prayed to” – to be directly experienced. 21 The unity of

reason and love was a theme also evident in Bernard’s writing. However, although Bernard’s focus on

experience and introspection regarding love built on the work of William of St. Thierry and Anselm, this

focus was not confined to Cistercians, or even Benedictine monasticism more generally. Richard of St. Victor,

an Augustinian canon regular, further emphasised the central importance of experience to the learning

process. 22 Bernard of Clairvaux, however, remains the most influential of the figures associated with the

Cistercian order; his theological output was in high demand among contemporaries, and its study continues

in the modern period. Yet, as has already been explored, his focus on love is not a property exclusive to his

writing and can be witnessed outside of the contemporary Benedictine reformers who later form the Cistercian

order. Moreover, this tradition of writing about love is evident from the earliest Christian church, through

Augustine, to Anselm and on to William of St. Thierry.


Leclerq, ‘Renewal’, p. 84.


Leclerq, ‘Renewal’, p. 85.; Waddell, ‘Reform of the Liturgy’, pp. 89, 91.


Pelikan, Growth of Medieval Theology, p. 259.


Eadmer, The Life of St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, 30., ed. and trans. R. W. Southern, (London, 1962).




Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo, 2.14., trans. Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson [Online]. Available at:

http://jasper-hopkins.info/CurDeusII.pdf (Accessed 27 November 2018).


Anselm of Canterbury, A Meditation on Human Redemption, trans. Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson [Online].

Available at: http://jasper-hopkins.info/MeditationHR.pdf (Accessed 27 November 2018).


Leclerq, ‘Renewal’, p. 77.


Pelikan, Growth of Medieval Theology, p. 304.


Part I

So why then is ‘Cistercian thought’ seemingly dominated by Bernard’s work? Constance Berman posits that

Bernard’s contribution to Cistercian success stemmed directly from his writings, and not the subsequent

formation of related institutions. 23 Certainly, his influence and charisma would appear to have been essential

to the success and spread of the Cistercian reform movement. 24 Indeed, it would seem, that Bernard influenced

his contemporaries considerably, many of them promoting his charismatic and compassionate virtues. Indeed,

in the first book of the Vita Prima Sancti Bernardi , William of St. Thierry recalls how Bernard insisted on

convalescing alongside him, discussing theology together, and later cared for William. 25 In part thanks to his

seemingly virtuous nature, Bernard’s writings were widely circulated during his lifetime – during the latter

part of his life, he moved in some highly influential secular circles. Historiographically, we have been

encouraged to consider Bernard as the most significant theorist of the love of God, primarily due to his

considerable influence on both contemporary and subsequent theology. 26 Bernard himself portrayed Abelard

as more focused on dialectic and logic than on loving God, setting himself in stark opposition to the scholastic

approach. 27

In Bernard’s writing, we can see the unity of contemporary approaches to love and grace, yet interpreted

within an experience-based monastic environment that placed great worth on spiritual self-examination. For

instance, the concept of rising to higher knowledge through grace built on the works of scholastic theologians,

perhaps most notably those of Anselm of Laon and William of Champeaux. 28 However, Bernard interpreted

these ideas through the lens of the ‘Rule of Benedict’. In his writings, love remains the central tenet of

achieving grace, much as it does in the Cur Deus homo, yet Bernard focused more exclusively on love than

Anselm. Indeed, in Sermon 50 on the Song of Songs, Bernard described love built on reason alone as “arid

but enduring” and proposed that it is improved upon by a higher form of love that is “seasoned with

wisdom”. 29 In the same sermon, Bernard emphasises the importance of love to the ultimate purpose of

monastic life: “he reaches out to the rest of God’s creation with an ordered love”, but this rhetoric becomes

a prayer to Christ, whom the monastic life sought to emulate, demonstrating the integral nature of love to

monasticism. 30 This encouragement of love and charity is also evident in his advice to other monks. In the

Apologia to Abbot William, Bernard sought to encourage caritas by admonishing certain Cistercian monks

for pride, and claiming that they lose the virtue of charity when they ‘trample on others’, meaning criticising

Cluniac monks. 31

Bernard’s best-known works deal very explicitly with love, particularly De diligendo Deo (On Loving God)

and his Sermons on the Song of Songs. De diligendo uses rhetoric to develop the argument that there are

stages to amor, progressing from loving God for one’s own sake, to loving God for God’s sake, and then on

to loving the self only for God’s sake. 32 In this way, it emulates the abovementioned works of William of St.

Thierry, which encouraged a cycle of reflecting on God from a perspective of love and desire alternately.

William, in turn, had developed this concept of love being the "foundation of understanding" from

Augustine's work on the Trinity and the nature of caritas. 33 The ideas evident in De Diligendo are also evident

in Bernard’s letter to Ogier of Mont-Saint-Éloia: that to love for the self and others are profitable and


Constance Hoffman Berman, The Cistercian Evolution: The Invention of a Religious Order in Twelfth-Century

Europe, (Philadelphia, 2000), p. 2.


Pierre-André Burton, ‘The Beginnings of Cistercian Expansion in England: The Socio-Historical Context of the

Foundation of Rievaulx (1132), Cistercian Studies Quarterly, 42 (2007), p. 152.


William of St. Thierry, Vita Prima Sancti Bernardi, 1.XII.60., in The Cistercian World: Monastic Writings of the

Twelfth Century, ed. and trans. Pauline Matarasso, (London, 1993).


Mews, ‘Definition of Love’, pp. 634-5.


Ibid.: Mews argued that these perceptions have also left a legacy of understanding Heloise as an icon of worldly

“profane love”.


Ibid., p. 637.


Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘Three Sermons on the Song of Songs’, 50.4., in The Cistercian World: Monastic Writings of

the Twelfth Century, ed. and trans. Pauline Matarasso, (London, 1993).


Bernard, ‘Sermons’, 50.8.


Bernard of Clairvaux, St Bernard’s Apologia to Abbot William, trans. Michael Casey, (Kalamazoo, 1970), p. 50.


Bernard of Clairvaux, De Diligendo Deo, 8-10. [Online]. Available at:

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bernard/loving_god.x.html (Accessed 28 November 2018).


Mews, ‘Definition of Love’, p. 641.


Why was love such a prominent theme in Cistercian thought? | Grant Jones

beneficial "for we certainly rest in those whom we love, and we prepare in ourselves a resting-place for those

who love us”, but to love in God, or to love for God’s sake, “is to serve charity”. 34

Regarding the Sermons on the Song of Songs, this is perhaps Bernard’s most distinctive contribution to

theology. Bernard approached and developed the works of William of St. Thierry and Augustine, but from

the perspective of the Song of Songs: he interpreted their writings as “the longing of one's soul for the Word

of God'. 35 Certainly, to write about loving God in this specifically desirous way was unprecedented, marking

Bernard out from his predecessors: Pauline Matarasso has subsequently labelled the unfinished sermons

Bernard’s “crowning work”, a “supreme example of monastic theology”. 36 Where William of St. Thierry reinterpreted

Ovid and Augustine, Bernard did likewise for the Song of Songs. In that sense, he was continuing

the ongoing process of re-interpreting Classical, scriptural, and early Christian writing.

The third influential writer associated with the evolution of Cistercian thought is Ælred of Rievaulx. His

principal works regarding love were Spiritual Friendship and The Mirror of Charity; like Bernard, Ælred’s

thinking built on the foundations laid by his predecessors and focused primarily on the question of how love

helps to bring mankind closer to God. In Spiritual Friendship, Ælred drew on the works of Cicero, much in

the same manner that William drew on Ovid. 37 In Book Two, he writes about how true friendship is a ‘path

to the love and knowledge of God’, and in Book Three, writes that love of God is “the foundation upon which

true spiritual friendship must be built”. 38 Here, again, one can observe echoes of William’s interpretation of

Augustine’s argument that love must provide the basis for understanding God. Ælred’s Mirror likewise

echoes Bernard’s De diligendo in its description of the progression of stages of love towards God. Ælred

described the progression from love of self, to love of neighbours, and then love of God: “these three loves

are engendered by one another … they are all brought to perfection together”. 39 Ælred may also be providing

a more practical reason for the promotion of love through friendship, as a monastic community grounded in

friendship would be a much more harmonious and enjoyable environment. 40 In the Mirror, he advised that

love would be restored “by the daily increase of charity”. 41 If a love of God was the aim of monastic life, and

charity the practice of the Cistercian way of life, then this can be taken to mean that abiding by the Rule

would bring one closer to the real purpose of Benedictine monasticism.

We cannot say with certainty that, when William of St. Thierry and Bernard of Clairvaux were writing, there

any singular school-of-thought that could be called ‘Cistercian’. The Cistercian ‘Order’ was, at this time, an

amorphous, though steadily growing, network of similarly reform-minded Benedictine abbeys. Though love

was the overarching theme of the proto-Cistercian texts, the focus on it was neither William nor Bernard’s

innovation: William evidently built on the works ofAnselm of Canterbury, who in-turn owed some debt to

Augustinian thought. William’s influence was evident in Bernard’s works, which, in turn, influenced Ælred

of Rievaulx’s writing. That this thread extends backwards from Ælred to Augustine demonstrates that love

and charity were not new concepts exclusive to Cistercian thinkers, rather that the Cistercian movement was

informed by a network of interconnected writers, who were continually re-evaluating early Christian texts in

light of the contemporsry monastic experience. Indeed, we can attribute the beginning of this process of reevaluation

to Anselm of Canterbury in the late eleventh century. It is notable that the Cur Deus homo was

written during a period in which Anselm had returned to a monastic routine, allowing him time to contemplate


Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘Nine Letters’, 90., in The Cistercian World: Monastic Writings of the Twelfth Century, ed. and

trans. Pauline Matarasso, (London, 1993).


Mews, ‘Definition of Love’, pp. 643-5.


Pauline Matarasso, The Cistercian World: Monastic Writings of the Twelfth Century, ed. and trans. Pauline

Matarasso, (London, 1993), p. 65.


Ælred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, 1.6., trans. Mark. F. Williams, (London, 1994): Ælred sets out early in Book

1 that he is building on Cicero’s treatise, On Friendship.


Ibid., 2.18. and 3.5.


Ibid., 3.2.


Ælred, Mirror, 3.2.: “Love is the source and origin of friendship, for although love can exist without friendship,

friendship can never exist without love”.


Ibid., 1.5.


Part I

God more fully. Ultimately, this was also the goal of the Cistercian reformers: to be able to spend more time

on understanding and loving God.


Ælred of Rievaulx, Elizabeth Connor (trans.), The Mirror of Charity (Kalamazoo, 1990)

Ælred of Rievaulx, Mark F. Williams (trans.), Spiritual Friendship (London, 1994)

Anselm of Canterbury, Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson (trans.), Cur Deus Homo Book II

[Online], Available at: http://jasper-hopkins.info/CurDeusII.pdf (Accessed 27 November 2018)

Anselm of Canterbury, Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson (trans.), A Meditation on Human

Redemption [Online]. Available at: http://jasper-hopkins.info/MeditationHR.pdf (Accessed 27

November 2018)

Bernard of Clairvaux, De Diligendo Deo, [Online], Available at:

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bernard/loving_god.toc.html (Accessed 15 November 2018)

Bernard of Clairvaux, Michael Casey (trans.), St Bernard’s Apologia to Abbot William (Kalamazoo,


Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘Three Sermons on the Song of Songs’, in Pauline Matarasso (ed. and trans.),

The Cistercian World: Monastic Writings of the Twelfth Century (London, 1993)

Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘Nine Letters’, in Pauline Matarasso (ed. And trans.), The Cistercian World:

Monastic Writings of the Twelfth Century (London, 1993)

Eadmer, R.W. Southern (ed. And trans.), The Life of St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (London,


William of St. Thierry, On the Nature and Dignity of Love, trans. Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker,

(London, 1956).

William of St. Thierry ‘Vita Prima Sancti Bernardi: Book 1’, in Pauline Matarasso (ed. And trans.),

The Cistercian World: Monastic Writings of the Twelfth Century (London, 1993)

Berman, Constance Hoffman, The Cistercian Evolution: The Invention of a Religious Order in Twelfth

Century Europe (Philadelphia, 2000)

Burton, Pierre-André, ‘The Beginnings of Cistercian Expansion in England: The Socio-Historical

Context of the Foundation of Rievaulx (1132)’ in Cistercian Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42 (2007)

Constable, Giles, ‘Renewal and Reform in Religious Life: Concepts and Realities’, in Robert L.

Benson, Giles Constable and Carol D. Lanham (eds.), Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth

Century (Toronto, 1982)

Leclerq, Jean, ‘The Renewal of Theology’, in Robert L. Benson, Giles Constable and Carol D.

Lanham (eds.), Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century (Toronto, 1982)

Mews, Constant J., ‘Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter Abelard and Heloise on the Definition of Love’, in

Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia, Vol. 60 (2004)

Pelikan, Jaroslav, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Volume 3: The

Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300) (Chicago, 1978)

Ryan, Patrick, ‘Sensus Amoris: The Sense of Love in Two Texts of William of Saint Thierry’,

Cistercian Studies Quarterly, Vol. 40 (2005)

Waddell, Chrysogonus, ‘The Reform of the Liturgy from a Renaissance Perspective’, in Robert L.

Benson, Giles Constable and Carol D. Lanham (eds.), Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth

Century (Toronto, 1982)








Much has been written on the transition from feudalism to capitalism, yet it remains one of the most

challenging problems of economic history. One would assume that a single group of historians who nominally

belong to one intellectual tradition would, at the very least, have a compatible opinion on the matter, differing

perhaps only in emphasis. Yet, as this essay makes evident, this is far from the case; indeed, the transition

debate has many themes and is the subject of much deliberation. For the sake of clarity and conciseness, this

essay will examine only one dimension of it, the essential question of definition and interpretation. In the

words of Fernand Braudel: 'The word feudalism tries to enter this debate: it carries many problems for Marxist

historians once one tries to define it’. 1 I will focus on the definitions presented by Maurice Dobb, Paul

Sweezy, and Perry Anderson, illustrating the problems that they encounter offering a critique of their

assumptions. As the historians whose opinions I will be examining are all of the Marxian tradition, it is worth

noting that they were concerned with feudalism chiefly as a mode of production, stressing the significance of

socio-economic themes as opposed to socio-political, save perhaps for Anderson. 2 Furthermore, I must also

highlight that the main objective of this essay – though this perhaps will not be explicitly evident throughout

– is to explore the grounds for yet another economy-based definition of feudalism that will allow me to

discuss the transition in more detail in the future.

Maurice Dobb sees feudalism as characterised by the occurrence of non-economic coercion of the producer

to fulfil demands on behalf of a non-producer. 3 Here, it is necessary to note that Dobb’s definition builds on

a pre-existing, even well-established, tradition that denotes the concept of feudalism as a system of ownership

that is primarily based on land tenure in exchange for military service, though J.M.W. Bean argues

convincingly that the formation of feudalism must have been motivated by economic motives as well as

military ones. 4 Combining these two non-Marxian definitions, we arrive at feudalism as a system in which

power stems from ownership of land, as military might and material endowment are both means of acquiring

and accumulating power. Breudel concurs, acknowledging that land in the Middle Ages may be in some

circumstances considered a form of currency. 5

As Paul Sweezy was quick to point out, however, Dobb's definition ties feudalism to serfdom. This poses a

significant problem in the classification of late Middle Ages in particular: this being a period in which

1 Fernand Braudnel, Sian Reynolds(trans.), The identity of France (London, 1991), p. 138.

2 Rodney Hilton, Class Conflict and the Crisis of Feudalism, (London, New York, 1990), p. 13;

Maurice Dobb, Studies in the Development of Capitalism, (London, 1972), p. 35:

“Our definition will characterise feudalism primarily as a mode of production”

3 Ibid.

4 John Bean, The Decline of English Feudalism; 1215-1540 (Manchester, New York, 1968), p. 5.

5 Braudel, Identity of France, p. 117.

Part I

capitalism was yet to develop, yet serfdom was far from dominant. 6 Indeed, even in eighteenth-century France

we see aristocrats continuing to invest their surplus wealth in land and titles, perpetuating feudalism.

Meanwhile, the number of serfs totalled around 140,000 out of a population of about 26 million, comprising

only 0.5 per cent of the population. 7 Evidently, then, there are socio-economic climates in which the feudal

system can operate in absence of serfdom: one cannot assume that the two must coexist. However, it is also

true that one should not neglect evidence to the contrary. George Tylor argues that the aristocracy was

involved in commerce to a more substantial degree than has been previously speculated, although he also

states that the bourgeoisie invested in land and titles themselves. 8 John Mackrell seems to disagree on the

extent to which the aristocracy engaged in commerce, but both historians do not find a capitalist class – at

least, in the Marxist sense of the term – in pre-revolutionary France. 9 This undermines Marx's presentation

of the French Revolution as the final triumph of one mode of production over another, as such a perspective

would require the nobility and bourgeois to be both legally and economically disjunct. Braudel points out that

even during the uncontested Middle Ages, there was little correlation between material position and legal

status. 10 While the aforesaid objections do not challenge Marx's statement that capitalism may emerge only

when the abolition of serfdom has been long affected, they do go some way in proving that Dobb's definition

of feudalism may be somewhat defective. 11

Paul Sweezy, in his apt criticism of Dobbs, proposes the following view: feudalism is system of production

in which serfdom dominates, yet production is motivated by local needs for consumption and not the demands

of trade. 12 Sweezy’s interpretation of feudalism is, nonetheless, also flawed: in particular, Hilton was quick

to point out that the extent to which commodities were produced for sale is grossly underestimated. 13

Characterising feudalism by the significance of localised production (not to mention the ambiguity of the

term 'localised') would also limit the usage of the term to Western Europe, ignoring Eastern and Asian

feudalism, a point that Dobb raises in his reply, accusing Sweezy of bourgeois historiographical practices. 14

Indeed, in the case of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, where a drop in the price of foodstuffs in the

fifthteenth-century caused rent to be abandoned in favour of socage (the practice of permitting a tenant to

hold land in return for non-military labour and services), Sweezy's definition fails to describe a mode of

production that is feudal in character. 15 Furthermore, it is worth noting that socage, while inherently feudal,

was sub-economical: it proved beneficial to the peasantry because their condition did not fluctuate in

accordance with the price of wheat. The transition to socage was only in the interest of the peasantry,

and so its accomplishment can only directly challenge the Marxian narrative regarding the total inability of

the peasant classes to assert their interests. 16 The challenge to Sweezy's theory, then, is embodied by the fact

that, in the sixteenth-century, Polish, Lithuanian, and Ruthenian nobles extended serfdom into a manorial

economy in order to profit from the international corn trade, bringing about production not for consumption,

but for sale in a market that was far from localised. As Banaji notes, feudalism reached its most refined and

6 Paul Sweezy, 'A Critique', in Paul Sweezy, Maurice Dobb et al., The transition from Feudalism to Capitalism,

(London, 1992), p. 46.

7 Estimates by John Mackrell, The attack on "feudalism" in eighteenth-century France, (London, Toronto, 1973), p.


8 George Taylor, 'Noncapitalist Wealth and the Origins of the French Revolution', The American Historical Review,

Vol. 72, No. 2 (January 1967), pp. 487-90.

9 Mackrell, op. cit., p. 78.

10 Braudel Identity of France, p. 138.

11 Karl Marx, Capital; A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. I, transl. Samuel Moore, Edward Aveling, ed. Frederick

Engels, (London, 1970), p. 715.

12 Sweezy, op. cit., p. 35.

13 Rodney Hilton, 'Capitalism- What's in a name?' in: Sweezy, Dobb et al., op. cit., p. 146.

14 Dobb, 'A reply', Ibid., p. 59.

15 Stanisław Szczur, Historia Polski: Średniowiecze, (Kraków, 2008), p. 563.

See also: Witold Kula, Teoria ekonomiczna ustroju feudalnego. Próba modelu, (Warszawa, 1962), passim.

16 For an explanation of peasant assertiveness in 15 th -century, Normandy vide see Guy Bois, The Crisis of Feudalism,

Economy and Society in Eastern Normandy c. 1300-1550, (Cambridge, 2009), p. 330.


Marxian definitions of feudalism in the context of the transition debate | Hugo Lunn

pure form when a feudal economy was confronted with a well-established market and underwent adjustments

to become commodity-producing. 17

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to state that similar outcomes were produced by similar processes and to

attribute the development of feudalism in the West to an impulse for the producer to earn, not simply to

consume and subsist. This is significant as it constitutes one of the two paths to capitalism, as outlined by

Marx, wherein he rejected having a qualitative rather than quantitative impact. The taking-over of the

production process by the capitalist and the creation of purchasable labour. 18 Depending on what is to be

understood by the term 'producer', two options follow. If the term denotes the worker, that is the serf or

peasant, Marx is correct: the peasant class did not become the bourgeoise en masse and subsequently trigger

a mass transition to capitalism, but were, instead, gradually disenfranchised, emerging as the proletariat. If,

however, the term 'producer' signifies a feudal overlord, and the serfs are degraded to the means of production,

playing an integral role in agricultural production, then the processes outlined by Szczur, Banaji and Kula

undermine Marx's assertions. Furthermore, it is econometrically demonstrable that, provided one part of a

group with similar material wealth produces for consumption while the other is less myopic, throughout many

generations wealth will accumulate with the more economically minded. 19 Upon examining these findings,

we see that they are based on the assumption that feudalism was transformed from within itself. This notion

is controversial among Marxians and non-Marxians alike, yet to dwell on it here would be unproductive, as

to differentiate between internal and external factors one would have first to adopt a definition of feudalism.

The Marxist structuralist Perry Anderson takes an unusual approach to the question of defining the economic

aspects of feudalism: “pre-capitalist modes of production cannot be defined except via their political, legal

and ideological superstructures since these are what determine the type of extra-economic coercion that

specifies them”. 20 He goes on to characterise feudalism by what he calls ‘parcelised sovereignty’, thus

supposing that the transition from feudalism to capitalism was due to the centralisation of states, which would

ultimately culminate in the emergence of absolutism. Nonetheless, to present Andersons definition as a

simple duality would be to do him injustice, particularly since he acknowledges that absolutist states are

simply a reorganisation of feudal society and a transitional phase before capitalism. 21 Takahashi, on the other

hand, sees feudalism and absolutism as almost synonymous, pointing towards the establishment of capitalism

in Japan and Prussia by a state that was at once both feudal and absolute. 22 Such a judgement seems valid

when it is considered that the Tsar – a notoriously feudal and despotic ruler – personally commissioned the

trans-Siberian railway, subsequently establishing in Russia a totem of the industrial revolution. Anderson's

view, however, provides reasonable grounds for suggesting that feudalism and capitalism were both regimes

of private property, a view that I cannot help but agree with. Yet, some Marxians, like Katz, reject this

conclusion, going so far as to define capitalism as the regime of private property, a stark contrast to other

interpretations of the feudal system’s collective nature. 23 I believe that both feudalism and medieval statehood

are well elucidated as consequences of privatised property (in this case, land) together [and] with the

population tethered to it by legislation. Such an interpretation is, I believe, valid as it incorporates the vital

notion that land has little value in itself without cultivators who create a surplus from it, as well as the

abovementioned understanding of land as currency and of wealth as a means of acquiring, accumulating and

17 Jairus Banaji, 'The peasantry in the feudal mode of production: Towards an economic model', in The Journal of

Peasant Studies, Vol.3, No.3 (1976), pp. 312-3.

18 Claudio Katz, From Feudalism to Capitalism; Marxian Theories of Class Struggle and Social Change, (New York;

London, 1989), pp. 112-3.

19 Trout Reader, The Economics of Feudalism, (New York, London, Paris, 1971), pp. 31-4.

20 Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State (London, 1974), p. 404.

21 Robert Resh, Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory, (Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford, 1992) p. 150;

John Martin, Feudalism to Capitalism: Peasant and Landlord in English Agrarian Development, (London, 1986),

passim, pp. 104-5.

22 Kohochiro Takahashi, 'A contribution to the discussion', Ibid., pp. 95-6.

23 Katz, op. cit., p. 183.


Part I

retaining power. Naturally, no such grand theory could be convincing without a solid foundation in the history

of political and legal thought, an underdeveloped aspect of Marxian theories. 24

The multitude of approaches to the question of feudalism from the Marxian side alone is staggering,

sufficiently great to defy even a limited coverage. Witold Kula – the author of a monograph on Eastern

European feudalism and refeudalisation, influential because it ultimately caused Marxians to scrutinise

Eastern Europe in greater depth – noted that an accurate theory requires many modifiers, yet these decrease

the number of societies that the theory may be meaningfully applied to. 25 In other words: a universal

definition must lack precision, and a precise one lack universality. The genesis of such Marxian discord lies

to some extent in the writings of Marx himself; we read: “the emancipation of the oppressed class (...) implies

necessarily the creation of a new society”. 26 Moreover, Marx maintains that: “For the oppressed class to be

able to emancipate itself it is necessary that the productive powers already acquired and the existing social

relations should no longer be capable of existing side by side”. 27 The first statement could be understood as

supporting Dobb's definition, the second lending power to Sweezy's argument. While Bois warns of the

futility of attacking the term feudalism itself, it is worth mentioning that it has dominated discourse to such a

degree that its various shortcomings and incongruities cannot be overlooked. 28

“The degree of embarrassment over issues into which narrow fanatics of the past and present and

philosophical construers of history get themselves is their business and affects us little”; Jacob Burckhardt

refers here to many of his contemporaries, historical determinists of one kind or another. 29 One of them was

indubitably Karl Marx, a mere 20 days older than Burckhardt himself. Marx, while a materialist, was a

successor of Hegel's 'spiritual' historiosophy and the enlightenment thought of Concordet and Kant: he

inherited both their notion of progress and their assumption of its benevolent character. 30 'Feudalism', then,

denotes an epoch within the Marxian rhetoric of progression which marks the evolution from more to less

oppressive modes of production and social order. Therefore, most Marxians – indeed, all three historians

examined above – appear to assume the inevitability of the transition from feudalism to a different system

(whatever system that may be), although, as Hobsbawm highlights, such an assumption is not warranted. 31

It was also demonstrated that the definitions of feudalism outlined above have their application limited by

time and geography, and certainly cannot apply to all economic systems that are referred to as ‘feudalist’. On

the basis of what has been shown, it would seem, then, that it would be beneficial to develop a theory of

feudalism that, paradoxically, would not emphasise the separate nature of feudalism, but rather place it

together with capitalism not as a system, but as a set of economic and social conditions within a system, the

system itself being the very condition of mankind after the emergence of the concept of property and private

ownership. After all, the very mechanism of the waning of feudalism appears to have ultimately resembled

that of one product winning over another on a free market. 32

24 Eric Hobsbawm, Karl Marx, Pre-capitalist economic formation, (London, 1964), pp. 16-17.

25 Kula, op. cit., pp. 18, 26.

26 Karl Marx, The poverty of philosophy, (New York, 1971), p. 173.

27 Ibid., pp. 173-4.

28 Kathleen Davies, Periodisation and Sovereignty; How ideas of feudalism and sovereignty govern the politics of time,

(Philadelphia, 2008), p. 69; Bois, op. cit., p. 391.

29 Jacob Burchhardt, Judgements on History and Historians, (New York, London, 2007), p. 70.

30 Gerard Labuda, Rozważania nad teorią i historią kultury i cywilizacji, (Poznań, 2008), pp. 508-10.

31 Eric Hobsbawm, From Feudalism to Capitalism, in, Sweezy, Dobb et al., op. cit., pp. 160-1.

32 Rodney Hilton, The Decline of Serfdom in Medieval England, (London, 1969), p. 58-9.


Marxian definitions of feudalism in the context of the transition debate | Hugo Lunn


Anderson, Perry, Lineages of the Absolutist State (London, 1974)

Banaji, Jairus, 'The peasantry in the feudal mode of production: Towards an economic model', in

The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol.3, No.3 (1976)

Bean, John, The Decline of English Feudalism; 1215-1540 (Manchester, New York, 1968)

Bois, Guy, The Crisis of Feudalism, Economy and Society in Eastern Normandy c. 1300-1550

(Cambridge, 2009)

Braudel, Fernand, Reynolds, Sian (trans.), The identity of France (London, 1991)

Burchhardt, Jacob, Judgements on History and Historians (New York, London, 2007)

Davies, Kathleen, Periodisation and Sovereignty; How ideas of feudalism and sovereignty

govern the politics of time (Philadelphia, 2008)

Dobb, Maurice, Studies in the Development of Capitalism (London, 1972)

Hilton, Rodney, Class Conflict and the Crisis of Feudalism (London, New York, 1990)

Hilton, Rodney, The Decline of Serfdom in Medieval England (London, 1969)

Hobsbawm, Eric, Introduction to, Karl Marx, Pre capitalist economic formation (London, 1964)

Katz, Claudio, From Feudalism to Capitalism; Marxian Theories of Class Struggle and Social

Change, (New York; London, 1989)

Kula,Witold, Teoria ekonomiczna ustroju feudalnego. Próba modelu (Warszawa,1962)

Labuda, Gerard, Rozważania nad teorią i historią kultury i cywilizacji (Poznań, 2008)

Mackrell, John, The attack on "feudalism" in eighteenth-century France (London, Toronto, 1973)

Martin, John, Feudalism to Capitalism: Peasant and Landlord in English Agrarian Development (London,


Marx, Karl, Engels, Frederick (ed.), Moore, Samuel and Aveling, Edwards (trans.), Capital; A Critique of

Political Economy, Vol. I (London, 1970)

Marx, Karl, The poverty of philosophy (New York, 1971)

Reader, Trout, The Economics of Feudalism (New York, London, Paris, 1971)

Resh, Robert, Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory (Oxford, 1992)

Sweezy, Paul, Dobb, Maurice et al., The transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (London, 1999)

Szczur, Stanisław, Historia Polski: Średniowiecze, (Kraków, 2008)

Taylor, George, 'Noncapitalist Wealth and the Origins of the French Revolution', in The American

Historical Review, Vol. 72, No. 2 (1967)





It is apparent that tangible violence did very little to directly encourage European powers to end colonial rule

in Africa in the twentieth-century. Indeed, it was the only the threat of a widespread anti-colonial revolt – the

likes of which even a total war campaign conducted by British and French forces could not have defeated –

that would appear to have been the most impactful form of violence in the entire decolonisation process, and

no such revolts ever actually materialised. The fact that large popular revolts failed to occur here at this time

may be primarily attributed to the structure of colonial development programmes themselves, which were

designed to prevent such occurrences. Nonetheless, these programmes proved costly, and it was eventually

the spiralling costs of their strategies and pressing economic concerns that dictated that the British and French

Imperial states – which encompassed the vast majority of the continent at the time – would end consensually.

This contrasts starkly with the termination of the Portuguese Empire in Africa, which was overthrown in a

violent manner. Whilst it would appear that the economy was the foremost factor in determining the end of

colonial rule in Africa, however, one must also acknowledge that other factors influenced the voluntary nature

of the decolonisation process. Namely, European hopes to secure positive relations with new and

impressionable African states, the emergence of more attractive investment opportunities elsewhere (like the

markets of the European Economic Community), and international pressure from the United States and the

United Nations all played a role in bringing about African decolonisation. Indeed, all of the above factors

were more important than violence in ending colonial rule in Africa.

It is apparent that the biggest driver of decolonisation were the demands of colonised peoples, the majority

of which appear to have stemmed from colonial development programmes themselves: these programmes

aimed to justify imperialism by improving the living standards of imperial subjects, raising the expectations

of African citizens, particularly concerning their material culture and standards of living. This appears to have

been a particularly acute development in the French territories, primarily thanks to their employment of the

rhetoric of ‘citizenship’, which made European standards of living appear more attainable and subsequently

more anticipated. In reality, however, it would appear that the French rhetoric translated only into a

willingness to settle strikes with pay-rises: in the instance of the Senegal General strike of 1946, for example,

unionised African Labour managed to win a pay rise of 296%. 1 A union negotiator made Senegalese

reasoning for the increase patently clear: ‘the evolution of this country, the long contact of the African with

whites has created needs in him… this requires a costly course of life and we need the money that we are

asking from you’. 2 Similar rhetoric – that of progress, development, and westernised material culture – was

also used against other colonial regimes to great effect: at this time, we see similar strikes emerging in

Mombasa and along the West African Railway, both winning substantial financial settlements. Ultimately,

the willingness of colonial governments to settle labour disputes with concessions contributed to the spiralling

costs of imperial rule in Africa, subsequently shaping the withdrawal of colonial powers.

Despite their detrimental impact on colonial powers, these disputes were not supressed with violence,

primarily because western governments were wary of eliciting objection and violence among indigenous

communities. During the West African Railway Strike of 1947, for instance, proposals to conscript workers

were ultimately rejected because French officials were concerned that they would provoke their African

subjects into revolt – here, then, we see the significance of the threat of violence, but not that of violence

itself. Robert Delavignette, the head of political affairs in the Ministry in Paris, proclaimed that: ‘the strong


Frederick Cooper, Decolonisation and African Society: The Labour Question in French and British Africa

(Cambridge, 2010) p. 230.


Ibid., p.229.

How important was violence in ending colonial rule in Africa?| Tom Hennessy

style directed at the strikers will not itself resolve the problem, if the government gives the impression and

…’.Delavinette’s remarks prove exceptionally revealing, as they embody the vulnerability of the French,

ultimately outlining the French government’s reasoning which would go on to shape future policies.

It is worth noting that western powers’ fears of appearing to betray their African subjects – albeit for selfinterested

reasons – illustrates a marked U-turn in the attitude of western foreign policy. Indeed, indigenous

Africans had long been considered inferior and unrefined, mere subjects to be coerced and dictated-to.

Europe’s increasingly conscious and wary approach towards the African continent and its inhabitants is

exemplified in the British Empire’s attitude towards her own colonial possessions: we clearly see such

prudence reflected in some observations made by the Secretary of State, Alfred Lyttelton, in the nineteenthcentury.

Lyttelton – a high-ranking Conservative politician, well-placed to give an instructive insight into the

state of the empire – proclaimed that: ‘we do not have the force to govern without the consent of the

governed’. 3 Moreover, the fact that this particular statement was extracted from Lyttelton’s personal diary

suggests that it represents an accurate reflection of his own, informed opinion, one that is untainted by

contemporaneous public rhetoric in Britain (which tended to emphasise Britain’s immense military strength

and capacity for coercion). It is, then, evident that the threat of unrest and violence – and the fear that this

incited in colonial governments – played a more significant role in encouraging Britain and France to concede

to the socio-economic demands of their African subjects. These concessions subsequently increased the costs

associated with imperial rule in Africa, which – at a time of European post-war reconstruction – proved to be

both an unpopular and damaging reality for European colonial powers. It is, therefore, unsurprising that both

the British and French governments made attempts to lower or limit their costs in Africa.

One way in which colonial powers sought to reduce the costs of governing their African possessions was to

bestow political concessions on certain African organisations. These concessions oft entailed an increase in

the autonomy of local authorities and an expansion of suffrage. The abovementioned allowances would

appear to have been calculated decisions on the part of European colonial powers: European leaders were

indubitably aware of the growing influence of African nationalism and the emergence of a popular political

consciousness; they were subsequently wary of the unrest that these developments threatened to unleash. The

concession of certain political rights, then, appeared to be an effective solution that enabled colonial

governments to limit socio-political turmoil, make African organisations increasingly accountable for the

shortcomings of colonial development schemes, and cost nothing to implement. Indeed, the British Special

Intelligence Report for the Gold Coast, penned in 1951, explicitly outlines the careful calculations that

colonial powers made when granting political concessions: the report itself repeatedly stresses that it would

be unwise, even detrimental, for the British government to continue to imprison Kwame Nkrumah after his

party had dominated recent legislative elections. European governors were, then, acutely aware that

appearing to dismiss both their constitutional obligations and the tide of popular opinion would invigorate

anti-colonial sentiments among Africans, causing ‘widespread agitation’. 4 Therefore, it seems clear that a

certain fear and anxiety of violence shaped the political concessions that European powers granted African

colonies. One of the other, abovementioned benefits of bestowing increased political power to regional

governments in African was that these organisations would then appear to be accountable for the progress of

development programmes, or, as tended to be the case, the lack thereof. The Governor of Nigeria, Pleass,

explicitly underlined this in his somewhat cynical conviction that: ‘inevitably the people are going to be

disillusioned, but it is better that they should be disillusioned as a result of the failure of their own people

than that they should be disillusioned as a result of our actions’. 5

Furthermore, it should also be acknowledged that the fact that such concessions were granted may also

suggest that colonial powers appeared to recognise that Africa’s path to independence was increasingly likely,

even inevitable – these measures subsequently reduced the likelihood of a downfall that was violent and

costly. Indeed, it is certainly telling that, in 1957 – whereupon many such policies had been implemented


Ronald Hyam, Britain's declining empire: the road to decolonisation, 1918-1968 (Cambridge, 2006) p. 170.


Cooper, Decolonisation and African Society, p. 266.


Ibid p. 394.


Part I

throughout British and French Africa – Macmillan described African nationalism as an ideological ‘tidal

wave’ that ‘cannot be driven back’, acknowledging the inexorability of African independence. 6 Certainly, the

fact that colonial powers realised that a revival of imperial control was increasingly unattainable by the mid

twentieth century is significant, as it reduced European foreign policy in Africa down to a case of how long

the British and French were prepared to hold out – a time span that would ultimately be dictated by a balance


The combination of socio-political and economic concessions that Britain and France granted their African

possessions would appear to have been effective in the short term: they reduced the likelihood of violent

revolution and appeared to appease African nationalists, at least temporarily. Nonetheless, another significant

corollary of these concessions was a sharp decline in the power that Europe could exercise over Africa

directly, proving financially costly as the metropole was increasingly unable to extract funds and resources

from these territories. This is particularly significant given that it was through the lens of financial and

budgetry matters that most European leaders ultimately came to regard their colonial property. Ronald Hyam

reiterates this fact in his book: Britain’s Declining Empire, in which the scholar posits that Harold Macmillan

presided over a voluntary decolonisation process in Africa in which violence and unrest played little to no

role, but financial matters were decisive instead. 7 Hyam’s argument appears valid given that it was ultimately

the findings of Macmillan’s ‘profit and loss account’ of the British Empire, composed in 1957, that shaped

the decision to officially decolonise the continent. The economic demands of African citizens – and the

possibility of violence should the demands not be met to a sufficient standard – ultimately meant that colonial

territories in African no longer constituted economic assets, and in some cases were even economic burdens.

This shaped Britain’s alacrity to decolonise certain regions. The French, too, were motivated by similar

concerns, adding to the 1960 wave of independence after having ascertained that all territories except Algeria

did not warrant neither the financial nor military expenses that the process demanded. For many colonies,

then, acts of violence played little to no role in decolonisation compared to growing financial demands.

Nonetheless, the spectre of violence and reactive, preventative measured certainly shaped colonial policy

significantly, ultimately proving costly.

The effect of outbreaks of anti-colonial violence can also be assessed in terms of economic factors and

concerns. Indeed, the fact that war in Algeria did not end in an outright defeat of the French military but was,

instead, a tactical retreat determined by economic factors proves the relevance of this theme to our essay. De

Gaulle himself reiterated the fact that Algerian independence was shaped by fiscal concerns, stating that,

although the war was intended to defend French pride and status, Algeria ultimately ‘costs us- that is the least

one can say – more than it brings us’. 8 This argument is also supported by the fact that similar insurrections

– like the Mau Mau Uprising and the Magalsay Uprising – were defeated because the costs and resources

involved in defeating these causes were deemed to be worthwhile. To some extent, then, the Algerian War

and the two abovementioned uprisings appear to constitute two sides of the same coin, both sides illustrating

the fact that economic resources often played a greater role in determining the fate of indigenous liberation

movements than violence. Perhaps the only exception to this argument is that of the Portuguese Empire, as

the independence of both Mozambique and Angola was principally achieved through the violence of ireful

colonial subjects. Nonetheless, one must acknowledge that the Portuguese military was both economically

and militarily weaker than its British or French equivalents: it would not be outrageous to suggest that these

deficiencies contributed to their ultimate defeat, thereby suggesting that economic factors also played a role

in the decolonisation of Mozambique and Angola, albeit indirectly. The economic decisions and statuses of

colonial powers was, then, clearly influential in the decolonisation of Africa.

Another influential factor driving the decolonisation of Africa in the mid-twentieth century was the

intensifications of European hopes to establish and maintain beneficial relationships with African states. With

the collapse of colonialism on the continent appearing increasingly inevitable, many European colonial


Hyam, Britain's declining empire, p. 243.


Ibid p. 242.


Cooper, Decolonisation and African Society, p. 402.


How important was violence in ending colonial rule in Africa?| Tom Hennessy

powers calculated that it would ultimately prove more fruitful to decolonise African territories as an act of

goodwill – thereby establishing good relations with the newly-independent, malleable states that would ensue

– than to let the situation escalate into one of violent conflict, which would only intensify tensions and

truculence here. Indeed, the creation of organisations like the British Commonwealth and the Communauté

Français, both of which operated to ensure amity between independent states and their former colonial

masters, would proceed to have a tangible influence on former colonies. The inter-state relations that these

communities fostered are sometimes deemed to be something of an equivalent to indirect rule, as they were

primarily designed by European powers to extract economic benefits while saving on the costs of direct

colonial rule. Indeed, it is certainly evident that this cost-benefit calculation remained at the forefront of

European policy-makers’ minds: the British Commonwealth Development report of 1956 explicitly warns

against maintaining colonial rule under ‘strained circumstances’ and advises that ‘co-operation with former

colonies within an enlarged Commonwealth could offer opportunities to enhance Britain’s influence in the

world’. 9 The fact that this was proposed in 1956 – a time when much of Africa was painted red, and as

tensions in the Cold War were escalating rapidly – suggests that the need to ease international tensions and

fortify the global influence of the West was increasingly pertinent, playing a growing role in the decision to

decolonise. To invoke a much-used metaphor, then, we could perceive the promise of improved foreign

relations as the carrot that guided European colonial policy in Africa, whereas the spiralling costs of

colonialism constituted the deterrent, the stick. In addition to the potential for establishing positive trading

relations with young African states, the increasing economic integration of Europe itself also played a role in

shaping the decision to decolonise Africa. The emergence of the European Coal and Steel Community, which

would later evolve into the European Economic Area, certainly offered France opportunities for greater

prosperity, for instance. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, however, the French domestic

economy required substantial development and the investment of metropolitan funds, which necessitated cuts

to colonial development plans. Pierre Mendes-France, an influential French politician of his day, even went

as far as to suggest that economic reform would have to be mutually exclusive with colonialism, as the two

were fundamentally incompatible: he contended that one would have to give in order to fund the other. 10 The

significance of this development in France in particular is twofold, as it both provided a strong economic

argument in favour of decolonisation while clarifying that France would have to play a clear and prominent

role in determining the future of Africa, both of which made decolonisation appear to be an increasingly

appealing and rational option.

As this issue is complex and multi-faceted, one must briefly acknowledge that the influence of the United

States and the United Nations played some role in encouraging Europe’s voluntary decolonisation of Africa,

too. In light of the growing international tensions between the West and the Eastern Bloc, the United States

was increasingly wary of the ideological threat that the USSR posed to her international reputation and those

of her allies. Subsequently, the States increasingly advocated for the voluntary decolonisation of African

territories, concerned that African states would end up under the influence of the Soviet Union should imperial

European superpowers face a violent revolt. Indeed, the fact that this very issue became the central thesis of

a 1959 report by the Africa Committee demonstrates that this was an important consideration for the British

Imperial states in particular, thanks in part to the ‘special relationship’ that Britain maintained with the

States. 11 Although the United States and her ideological concerns evidently shaped the decolonisation of

Africa, so too did the moral concerns voiced by bodies such as the UN. A growing international condemnation

of colonialism put increasing pressure on colonial powers to appear to take the moral high-ground, presenting

themselves as just and munificent. The impact of widespread censure also impacted the attitudes of

indigenous politicians, who became noticeably more self-assured and tenacious, using international arenas

like the UN in order to lobby for the resolution of the moral shortcomings of colonialism. While the growing

influence of the United States and the UN evidently played a role in encouraging the voluntary decolonisation

of the African continent, it is, however, somewhat challenging to establish the precise impact that this factor

had. Indeed, while I consider the roles of the UN and the USA to be noteworthy, I also consider Hyam’s


John Hargreaves, Decolonisation in Africa (London, 1988) p. 173.


Cooper, Decolonisation and African Society, p. 402.


Hyam, Britain's declining empire, p. 256.


Part I

contention that the mounting international pressure was almost the primary reason for decolonisation to be

somewhat excessive. Indeed, it is ultimately impossible to measure exactly how much this factor influenced

demands the decline of colonial power as ideological authority tends to take the form of intangible and

undocumented pressures; it was, nonetheless, clearly more influential than violence.

Ultimately, it is quite evident that tangible violence played little direct role in ending colonial rule in Africa.

Indeed, it was only the threat of violence that had significant impact: this encouraged the consensual rule of

colonial territories, which subsequently led to development initiatives that made imperialism financially

untenable. Economic factors dominated the discussion. Indeed, even the outcome of violent uprisings against

the British and the French were determined primarily by economic concerns: the Magalsay and the Mau Mau

uprisings were crushed because victory was deemed to be worth economic expenditure, while the Algerian

War was abandoned because De Gaulle ruled that it was too costly, not because the French armies had been

defeated or lost control of major population centres. Other factors that contributed to decolonisation to a

greater extent that actual violence was the possibility of post-imperial trading opportunities with new African

states and increasing economic integration in Europe. These made decolonisation more economically

attractive as, in addition to cutting a loss, a clear profit was in sight. Furthermore, international opinion was

firmly against imperialism, thus positive publicity on the international stage and American pressure also aided

the end of empire. It would seem, then, that economic and international political factors played greater roles

in shaping the decolonisation of Africa, rather than outright violence.


Cooper, Frederick, Decolonisation and African Society: The Labour Question in French and British Africa

(Cambridge, 2010)

Hyam, Ronald, Britain's declining empire: the road to decolonisation, 1918-1968 (Cambridge, 2006)

Hargreaves, John, Decolonisation in Africa (London, 1988)






The so-called Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901 witnessed ‘the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists’

(Yihe tuan) lead an uprising in the Shandong and Zhili provinces of northern China, ultimately costing the

Qing state in excess of $300 million in damages. In order to examine the rebellion’s features and underlying

causes, this essay utilises Jonathan Spence’s apt definition of Chinese nationalism in the late-nineteenth

century: that of “a new, urgent awareness of… [China’s] relationship to foreign forces and the Manchus”,

reinforcing the notion that Chinese society would only survive if its citizens rallied to resist foreign influence. 1

This essay ultimately posits that the Boxer Rebellion was, to an extent, a nationalist movement as the conflict

explicitly targeted both Western presence and the alien religion of Christianity, associating both with the evils

of imperialism, which had been an evocative theme since the first Opium War. However, given the fact that

both Chinese citizens and foreigners had long co-existed in China, it would appear that there were other

factors that played a role in transforming this latent animosity into full-blown antagonism. Hence, I will, in

this essay, contend that the rebellion was to a far greater extent the outcome of both the Chinese tradition of

employing of religious logic to rationalise the natural disasters – many of which occurred in the late-1890s –

and the culture of violence that existed in the local context of Northern China.

In order to gain a more complete and nuanced understanding of the rebellion, we will first explore its

nationalistic undercurrents, as these appear to dominate interpretations of the event. The Boxer Rebellion

was, to a certain degree, a nationalist movement as it was ostensibly fuelled by the desire to purge China of

its “foreign devils”. Indeed, touting the slogan: “Support the Qing, destroy the foreign”, the Boxers explicitly

targeted foreign economic interference, people, goods, infrastructure, and religion: demonising Christianity,

missionaries and Chinese Christian converts. 2 R. G. Tiedemann identifies the particularly key role that

missionaries and their Christian converts played in exacerbating the Boxers’ violence: he contends that

Christianity’s growing influence had political origins, deriving from the “unequal treaties” that China signed

with Western powers in the nineteenth-century, which subsequently enabled missionaries to operate with the

support of their respective foreign governments; significantly, this included the ability to intervene in China’s

domestic political and judicial systems. 3 Henrietta Harrison notes, furthermore, that it was not just the actual

power of missionaries that increased, but that their visible presence also grew dramatically, particularly

thanks to the construction of new churches – many of which were distinctly Western in style – and other

highly conspicuous pieces of architecture and infrastructure like railroads. 4 Many missionaries also practised

their religious rituals in public, proselytising widely throughout Shandong. 5 The Boxers attacked these

manifestations of Western influence, resulting both in violent clashes with missionaries, and the growing

dissemination of polemics that sought to demonise Christianity. One pamphlet circulated in the 1890s, for

example, complained that, in Christianity: “Brothers, uncles, and nieces may marry inter-promiscuously” and


Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China, 3rd ed., (New York, 2013), p. 222.


Joseph W. Esherick, The Origins of the Boxer Uprising (Berkeley, 1987), p. 68.


R. G. Tiedemann, ‘The Church Militant: Armed Conflicts between Christians and Boxers in North China’, in Robert

Bickers and R. G. Tiedemann (eds.), The Boxers, China, and the World (Lanham, 2007), p. 26.


Henrietta Harrison, The Missionary's Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village (Berkeley, 2013), pp.



Henrietta Harrison, The Missionary's Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village (Berkeley, 2013), pp.


Part I

urged the Chinese to “unite hands and hearts to keep out [this] evil”. 6 Boxer tracts also utilised puns on the

Mandarin words for “Lord” and “hog”, portraying Christianity as an uncivilised and brutish religion that

worshipped pigs. 7 Using this combination of scare-mongering and entertainment effectively, the Boxers’

exhortations attracted many Chinese citizens who regarded Christianity as a disruptive influence in their daily

lives, or else associated it with China’s struggle against Western imperialism. It would, then, appear that the

Boxer Rebellion was a somewhat nationalistic movement, both motivated-by and promulgating anti-foreign

sentiments that ultimately resulted in targeted attacks on ‘foreign’ and ‘corrupted’ spiritual practices and


Nonetheless, one must acknowledge that, according to Spence’s apt definition of Chinese nationalism, the

Boxers did not constitute a strictly ‘nationalist’ movement: they targeted foreign missionaries and Christianity

almost exclusively, failing to address the issue of the Manchus that Spence also draws attention to. Though

the Boxers came into occasional conflict with Qing troops – criticising them for failing doing enough to

extirpate foreigners – they generally regarded the Qing state as a valid representation of Chinese tradition and

appear to have taken care to avoid direct attacks on Qing officials. 8 Concomitantly, the Qing court’s response

was to tolerate the Boxers rather than to suppress them. Indeed, it would appear that, in the mid-1900s,

Empress Dowager Cixi took this one step further by explicitly expressing sympathy for the cause, ordering

all provincial officials to support the Boxers and declaring war on foreigners. 9 Nonetheless, it would seem

that some provincial Governor-Generals failed to comply with the decree: in Shadong, Yuan Shikai actively

suppressed Boxers with his New Army, indicating that, in practice, the state’s approach to the Boxers was

mixed. 10 Nonetheless, this example serves only to illustrate the fact that the Boxers cannot be considered to

have been a wholly nationalist movement: they had no quarrel with the Qing state itself, and did not strive to

achieve autonomy from it. Indeed, Paul Cohen makes the shrewd observation that it is predominantly Chinese

Marxist historians who portray the Boxer Rebellion as a nationalist movement, praising its patriotic struggle

against corrupting foreign influences. 11 This suggests that the mislabelling of the Rebellion as a purely

nationalistic event serves to benefit a particular historiographical narrative that is driven by ideological

matters: this cannot be considered to be wholly reliable. Furthermore, Cohen also contends that the claims

made by these Marxist thinkers ultimately paved the way for China’s more overtly aggressive nationalist

movements in the early-twentieth century, subsequently having a tangible political influence that cemented

this view of the Boxer Rebellion. 12 To characterise the Boxer Rebellion as a nationalist movement, then, is

to simplify its complex origins and differing relationships with various institutions. This is particularly

significant given that a fear and hatred of foreigners would appear to have been subsumed into the broader

struggle only when an external catalyst acted upon it.

The abovementioned external catalyst was, in this instance, a severe drought that affected the plains of

Northern China between 1899 and 1900. This drought inflicted considerable suffering on the Chinese peoples,

many of whom tried to rationalise their distress through the lens of their orthodox religious beliefs, which

dictated that all occurrences were products of divine agency. Traditionally, these preordained natural disasters

were blamed on the misdeeds and immorality of local officials. 13 However, against the backdrop of China's

mounting tensions with foreign powers in the 1890s – and a growing sense of anxiety, as traditional raininducing

rituals and prayers failed to produce results – the Chinese people began to identify foreigners as the

blameworthy party, their Western corruption and greed upsetting the cosmic balance; Cohen terms this


Pei-kai Cheng, Michael Lestz, and Jonathan D. Spence (eds.), The Search for Modern China: A Documentary

Collection, 2nd ed., (New York; London, 1999), pp. 166-7.


Peter C. Perdue and Ellen Sebring, ‘Boxer Uprising - I: The Gathering Storm in North China (1860-1900)’, MIT

Visualizing Cultures, accessed November 9, 2018.



Esherick, The Origins, pp. 253-4.


William T. Rowe, China's Last Empire: The Great Qing (Cambridge MA, 2009), pp. 244-5.


Thomas D. DuBois, Religion and the Making of Modern East Asia (Cambridge, 2011), p. 149.


Paul A. Cohen, China Unbound: Evolving Perspectives on the Chinese Past (London, 2003), pp. 85-6.




Ibid., p.109.


To what extent was the Boxer Rebellion a nationalist movement??| Yeong Qian Hui

phenomenon “scapegoatism”. 14 The Boxers, perhaps unsurprisingly, took the lead in championing the attack

on foreigners: a pamphlet of 1899 that was, in all likelihood, distributed to Boxer troops outlined their belief

that “No rain fell, the earth became barren, [and] all because their churches only worship one God”. 15 Though

the Boxers’ anti-foreign sentiments advocated the elimination of foreign influences in order to placate the

Heavens may seem inherently nationalistic, it would seem to have been less of a reaction to immigrants

themselves, than a desperate attempt to understand and resolve devastating natural phenomena – less

ideological, more practical.

Furthermore, it is pertinent to note that there are two more factors that help to demonstrate why the rebellion

was not a nationalist movement but was, rather, a reaction to external catalysts; these arguments shall be duly


Firstly, much of the agrarian population in Shandong and Zhili found themselves unemployed after the

drought of 1899-1900, subsequently learning Yihe boxing to pass the time. As the drought persisted, the

number of idle farmers who joined the Boxers began to grow, alongside resentment at rising costs and

unemployment levels. This would appear to have bolstered the Boxers’ numbers, contributing to the

movement’s popularity and reach.

Secondly, the popularity of the practice of ‘spirit possession’ that the Boxers advocated boomed in the late

nineteenth century, as Chinese citizens sought to preserve themselves and gain resistance to everything from

illness and environmental disasters to bullets and conflict, indicating the sense of vulnerability that was

prevalent in Chinese society. As groups of Boxers traversed the countryside, demonstrating the strength of

their fighting-style and spirit-possession rituals, more and more villagers joined the movement in an attempt

to safeguard their wellbeing. This reiterates our understanding of the Boxer rebellion as a reactive and

practical response to a widespread sense of societal vulnerability, rather than the product of ideological,

nationalistic fanaticism. Indeed, the popularity of spirit-possession indicates that self-preservation, rather than

socio-cultural preservation, remained at the forefront of the Boxers’ minds. 16 Cohen himself contends that

the ease with which people could participate in Boxer rituals – thereby ostensibly becoming invulnerable –

was a significant factor that contributed to the growth of the Boxer movement and the ability of Boxers to

rally peasants to their cause. 17 Additionally, many sources, including various official memorials, draw a

causal link between the 1900 drought and the Boxer Rebellion. Overall, this evidence suggests the Boxer

Rebellion was not a nationalist movement, but one that arose in reaction to a disruptive external catalyst and

was a conduit through which the Chinese sought to cope with this disruption.

The origins of the Boxers and the tendency of the northern Chinese populace to sympathise with the Boxer

Rebellion can also be situated within the local conditions of the areas where Boxer activity first began. Indeed,

Joseph Esherick aptly notes the significance of the correlation between the economic and ecological fragility

of a region and its Boxer activity. It is certainly worth noting that the region where the first Boxers originated

– Guan Country, home to the Boxers United in Righteousness and the namesake of the Boxer movement, and

the Yellow River where the practice of spirit possessions first began – were areas characterised by poverty,

banditry, underdeveloped commerce and a susceptibility to natural disasters. 18 Collectively, Shandong and

Zhili had experienced high levels of emigration following the 1877 famine, and those who had remained

suffered from the extortionate price of grain. 19 Furthermore, Guan county and the rest of northwest Shandong

lacked not only in socio-economic resources, but also remained a politically weak area due to the dearth of

local Confucian elites, who tended to ensure peasant propriety and thereby stabilised the local political


Ibid., p.110.


Peter C. Perdue and Ellen Sebring, ‘Boxer Uprising - II: War and Aftermath (1900-1901)’, MIT Visualizing Cultures,

accessed November 9, 2018, https://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/boxer_uprising_02/bx2_essay02.html.


Cohen, China Unbound, p.95.


Ibid., p. 95.


Esherick, The Origins, pp. 137-8.


Henrietta Harrison, ‘Village Politics and National Politics: The Boxer Movement in Central Shanxi’, in Robert

Bickers and R. G. Tiedemann (eds.) The Boxers, China, and the World (Lanham, 2007), p. 4.


Part I

landscape. Hence, many villagers were drawn to militant sects and other unorthodox sources of leadership,

or else were more likely to migrate to other areas in search of better economic opportunities. 20

One must also acknowledge the fact that the population in the Yellow River floodplains tended to be poorlyeducated

or else illiterate: many strongly identified with the Gods who could possess them with qualities and

personalities that were prevalent in novels and popular operas.

Certainly, economic factors were also at play here as the export of machine-spun cotton decreased drastically

during this time. This development proved particularly detrimental to cotton-growing regions like northwest

Shandong, and issues here were only exacerbated by the fact that these regions often lacked the resources to

source alternative incomes. 21 The population in Shandong was subsequently both economically unstable and

volatile; as the Boxers grew in strength and refined the message of their mission, these communities were

increasingly drawn towards the movement. Despite the fact that the targets of their violence were foreigners,

the Boxers were arguably not a nationalist movement as their restiveness stemmed from the instability of

their conditions, not an innate xenophobia.

Tiedemann furthers the argument that local context was a critical factor in the emergence of the rebellion,

noting that Christianity was actually somewhat popular among rural Chinese communities. Many such

communities tended to perceive the Christian faith as an alternative to competitive Civil Service

Examinations: for those who failed the examination or resented the influence of local officials, the

missionaries – who could settle disputes on their behalf and protect them from exploitation – represented an

appealing alternative source of authority. 22 Furthermore, villagers caught-up in factional strife often turned

to churches for assistance in escaping the false accusations levelled at them by local officials. 23 Here, Thomas

DuBois supports Tiedemann’s perspective, observing that missionaries had contributed much to local

Chinese communities since the early-nineteenth century; they had, for instance, built hospitals and

orphanages that functioned as the "Halls of Benevolence" funded by Qing elites. 24 These munificence of these

institutions earned the admiration of the Chinese, suggesting that missionaries – regardless of ethnicity – had

a history of relatively peaceful coexistence. Once contextualised in the factionalised social landscape of rural

China, it is that Christianity’s peaceful and charitable reputation would have some appeal to certain

communities. As Esherick highlights, then, it is clear the Boxer Rebellion could not have merely constituted

an abrupt conflict that was ignited by a Chinese hatred for Christianity, but instead represents the escalation

of a localised culture of violence, a process catalysed by severe drought.

Certainly, the Boxer Rebellion both motivated-by and explicitly targetted the elements of Chinese society

that were perceived to be ‘foreign’, particularly the Christian faith. Despite all appearances, however, the

Rebellion was to a far greater extent a reaction-against and a means of coping with external events, such as

periods of drought or famine, and the product of a local culture of economic instability and violence in

northern China. Perhaps the Boxer Rebellion is often remembered as a nationalist movement because it

fostered broader nationalist stirrings across China, subsequently manifesting in movements like the 1911

Xinhai Revolution, which helped bring about the end of the Qing dynasty. Nonetheless, once one begins to

examine the Rebellion as a movement in and of itself, it becomes clear that the Boxer Rebellion was have

only superficially xenophobic and nationalistic, stirred instead by deep-seated, interrelated and complex

socio-economic factors.


Esherick, The Origins, p. 210.


Ibid., p. 69.


Tiedemann, “The Church Militant”, p. 21.


Ibid., pp. 22-3.


DuBois, Religion, p. 144.


To what extent was the Boxer Rebellion a nationalist movement??| Yeong Qian Hui


Cheng, Pei-kai, Lestz, Michael, and Spence, Jonathan D. (eds.), The Search for Modern China: A

Documentary Collection, 2nd ed., (New York; London, 1999)

Cohen, Paul A., China Unbound: Evolving Perspectives on the Chinese Past (London, 2003)

DuBois, Thomas D., Religion and the Making of Modern East Asia (Cambridge, 2011)

Esherick, Joseph W., The Origins of the Boxer Uprising (Berkeley, 1987)

Harrison, Henrietta, ‘Village Politics and National Politics: The Boxer Movement in Central Shanxi’, in

Robert Bickers and R. G. Tiedemann (eds.) The Boxers, China, and the World (Lanham, 2007)

Harrison, Henrietta, The Missionary's Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village (Berkeley,


Perdue, Peter C. and Sebring, Ellen, ‘Boxer Uprising - I: The Gathering Storm in North China (1860

1900)’, MIT Visualizing Cultures, accessed November 9, 2018.


Perdue, Peter C. and Sebring, Ellen, ‘Boxer Uprising - II: War and Aftermath (1900-1901)’, MIT

Visualizing Cultures, accessed November 9, 2018,


Rowe, William T., China's Last Empire: The Great Qing (Cambridge MA, 2009)

Spence, Jonathan D., The Search for Modern China, 3rd ed., (New York, 2013)

Tiedemann, R. G., ‘The Church Militant: Armed Conflicts between Christians and Boxers in North China’,

in Robert Bickers and R. G. Tiedemann (eds.), The Boxers, China, and the World (Lanham, 2007)





The partitioning and colonisation of Sub-Saharan Africa in the late nineteenth century heralded the first

introduction of Western biomedicine to the region, often with the intention of advancing existing medical

knowledge. In particular, biomedicine shaped the conduct and application of experimental research, with its

results being applied to clinical practice and subsequently shaping the establishment of healthcare systems in

the African colonies.

Before we explore this process and its implications in greater depth, however, we must first define the concept

of biomedicine: this essay considers biomedicine to mean the application of medical knowledge to clinical

practice. Clinical practice, by extension, was ultimately linked to the power that European states wielded over

their colonies and their subjects; scientific knowledge, research, and practice formed a key pillar of the state

and its infrastructure. The goal of advancing scientific knowledge – and subsequently strengthening the

colonial state – was ultimately accomplished through the various colonial projects of medical professionals,

researchers and missionaries, many of whom ultimately acted in the interests of European Empires, be it

intentionally or unintentionally. To describe the application of biomedicine in Africa as a ‘colonial project’,

then, seems somewhat fitting. Indeed, biomedical projects ranged from experimental medical practices and

research, to widespread public health campaigns that sought to prevent the spread of epidemics. Western

missionaries were also significant, with their self-run clinics and religious beliefs driving a strong advocacy

for the improvement of healthcare provisions for indigenous populations. The shift in the application of

medicine throughout the colonial period can be attributed to colonial states’ involvement in providing

healthcare and medical facilities to African populations. Although the extent of medical care provided in

colonial states differed between territories and imperial powers, biomedicine in Africa was the foundation for

several colonial projects: medical practices were used to assert authority over indigenous peoples, and to

shape their perceptions of the changes that colonial powers enacted.

In the late nineteenth-century, European researchers established their authority over African populations by

conducting biomedical experiments on indigenous subjects, testing their medical knowledge and practices.

The colonisation of Africa, which “coincided with the emergence of medical microbiology”, facilitated the

identification of different pathogens and presented new opportunities for scientific discoveries. 1 Medical

researchers ultimately saw Africa as a biomedical laboratory “in which scientific reputations could be made”. 2

The impetus behind these experiments was not, therefore, the prospect of bettering the wellbeing of colonised

populations, but the opportunity to enjoy international acclaim. This process, of gathering participants and

samples to undergo investigation, occurred in many colonial states. This was perhaps most notable in

Tanganyika, where the German-occupied territory underwent “large-scale sample-taking”. 3 Similar

investigative methods continued there even when Britain assumed control of the colony, leading to the

expansion of a system of district hospitals that the Germans had established. Despite the fact that these

institutions offered some degree of medical treatment, they were often overcrowded, with medical personnel

deeming them to be inadequate. 4 As a colonial project then, biomedicine initially aimed at the advancement

of scientific knowledge through experimental research, and did not necessarily strive to provide an effective

public healthcare system. Hawking, a researcher for the Medical Department of the Tanganyika territory,


Patrick Malloy, ‘Research Material and Necromancy: Imagining the Political-Economy of Biomedicine in Colonial

Tanganyika’, in The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 47 (2014), p. 425.


Megan Vaughan, Curing their Ills: Colonial Power and African Illness (Cambridge, 1991), p. 37.


Malloy, ‘Research Material and Necromancy’, pp. 426-427.


Ibid., pp. 427-430.

Was Biomedicine in Africa a Colonial Project? | Josephine Simon

investigated microfilaria infections by taking large scale blood samples and conducting human experiments,

“deliberately expos[ing] these research subjects to microfilaria infection”. 5

Similarly, the experiments performed on African subjects in the German East African Colonies reinforces the

concept of Africa as a laboratory for European biomedicine. 6 The Foreign Ministry received reports of the

first case of sleeping sickness in 1902, leading the German government to send an expedition to its colonies

to study the epidemic. Although there were only 150 cases of sleeping sickness, a second expedition was sent

to Togo in 1908 to investigate the epidemic further. Victims and suspects of the disease were relocated to the

Hausberg camp, where subjects underwent painful procedures and medical isolation. 7 During late nineteenthcentury

colonialism, the projects initiated by authorities and medical scientists were aimed at irresponsibly

applying biomedicine to clinical practice with little focus on the wellbeing of patients. Biomedicine in Africa

was, therefore, an intensely colonial project: researchers asserted their authority over indigenous populations,

using African subjects to further their biomedical knowledge.

In responding to epidemics with medical campaigns and the forced relocation of unaffected populations, the

colonial state established control over indigenous communities by uprooting them from their original social

settings. In the early colonial years, imperial powers promoted medical campaigns to prevent the spread of

epidemic diseases, such as sleeping sickness, as they threatened the states’ economic and political stability.

To contain sleeping sickness “large research expedition[s]” were set up, with the intention of determining the

cause and treatment of the disease. 8 These campaigns experimented on patients, conforming to the “stereotype

of biomedical practice as objectifying and alienating”. 9 This aspect of the medical campaigns further indicates

that early colonial projects aimed to acquire medical knowledge through coercive and controlling means,

instead of providing actual treatment for their subjects. To prevent the spread of epidemic diseases in the

early twentieth century, ‘great campaigns’ initially enforced isolation policies, establishing camps to resettle

those not affected. The relocation of local communities “blurred the distinction between genuine concerns

about health” and the coloniser’s effort to overpower the indigenous population by uprooting them from their

traditional social settings. 10 British sleeping sickness campaigns introduced in 1910 used coercion to relocate,

and assert medical authority over, African communities. The evacuation campaigns coincided with extreme

“brutality during colonial conquest”, indicating that biomedicine served to justify colonial states in the

establishment of military authority over African populations. 11 The movement of people away from epidemic

areas disrupted the social structure of indigenous communities. This “manipulation of space as a means of

social control” enabled colonial authorities to manipulate local societies through their superior medical

knowledge. 12 Medical campaigns, then, reveal the application of biomedicine to clinical practice through

experiments and additionally suggest that colonial authorities employed the concept of ‘biopower’ to assert

their authority over the indigenous communities by relocating them for medical purposes.

Colonial missionaries also attempted to change the minds and attitudes of indigenous populations through

biomedicine and healing. The aforementioned concept of ‘biopower’, controlling people through medical

knowledge and superiority, was applied to convince Africans of the benefits of colonising missions and the

imperial power’s primacy. In early forms of colonialism, missionaries provided more extensive medical care

to the African population than the colonial states. 13 They attempted to combine aspects of Western

biomedicine with spiritual healing methods, providing healthcare to Africans as an “essential aspect of the


Ibid., p. 431.


Wolfgang U. Eckart, ‘The Colony as a Laboratory: German Sleeping Sickness Campaigns in German East Africa and

Togo, 1900-1914’, in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, Vol. 24 (2002), p. 69.


Eckart, ‘The Colony as a Laboratory’, pp. 81-83.


Vaughan, Curing their Ills, pp. 36-37.


Ibid., pp. 51-52.


George Oduor Ndege, Health, State, and Society in Kenya (Woodbridge, 2001), pp. 19-20.


Ndege, Health, State, and Society, pp. 21-24.


Ibid., pp. 31-33.


Vaughan, Curing their Ills, p. 55.


Part I

civilizing mission”. 14 In the late nineteenth century, missionaries set up hospitals and rural clinics across East

and Central Africa, providing medical training to Africans, in order for them to assist in welfare clinics. 15 In

the 1920s African men ‘demanded that the colonial state provide facilities like those established by missions’,

demonstrating the success and importance of welfare clinics to indigenous communities. 16 Missionaries were

far more involved with local African societies than the colonial states, and “any prolonged encounter with

biomedicine was likely to have been an encounter with an explicitly Christian version of it”. 17 Even in the

1930s, missionary doctors continued to cover vast areas to provide African communities with medical

support, as colonial agents did not reach isolated rural communities. 18

Additionally, missionaries combined biomedicine with religion, attempting to convince the indigenous

population to adopt Christianity. The Belgian missionaries, for example, “displayed pictures of the Belgian

King and Queen alongside the Bible in the hospital”, displaying to African patients Belgian political hierarchy

and religion through medical practices. 19 Hunt’s analysis in A Colonial Lexicon examines missionary

medicine in the Belgian Congo; however, it focuses chiefly on the Yakasu British Baptist medical mission.

Although this “microhistory is intended to contribute to the historiographies of medicine, missions, and

gender in the Congo”, the narrow focus on one mission raises the question as to whether it also applies to

other areas of the Congo. 20 Though the investigation is limited to the Yakasu British Baptist medical mission,

Hunt incorporates statistical figures representing the entire colony, depicting the “network of maternities”

and welfare clinics across the Belgian Congo. These figures show that the aims of colonial missionaries, to

improve “maternity care efforts” in the colony, were successful, as in 1935 only one percent of births were

“medically supervised”, whereas in 1958 this figure had increased to forty-three percent. 21 Nonetheless, these

improvements were linked to colonial missionaries’ coupling of biomedicine and religious aims, asserting

their superior medical knowledge over the indigenous population, in order to legitimise the medical and

religious changes introduced by colonialism.

Although biomedicine largely remained a colonial project, the interwar period brought a shift in the medical

aims and approaches of colonial states. Colonial administrators’ focus altered to incorporate both the

advancement of medical knowledge and the development of healthcare for the African population. After the

First World War, several colonial states increased their funding for welfare clinics and the training of medical

personnel. 22 In Kenya, the British colonial state introduced a “deliberate policy” for the medical training of

Africans, establishing an official program in 1926 after being criticised for the limited healthcare provided

and the lack of interest shown by the state in the welfare of its population. 23 The government funding of

medical facilities and officials can therefore be seen as the colonial state’s fulfilment of its moral obligation

to African populations, using biomedicine as a colonial project to benefit society. However, local society and

culture were not covered in these medical programs, as colonial authorities “deliberately omitted” such

studies “based on the projection of western biomedicine as science”. 24 Although the colonial government

funded healthcare systems and the training of medical personnel, it maintained authority over medical

practices by distancing western biomedicine from African society. Power over African people was, therefore,

achieved through Western medicine and the colonialists’ superior medical knowledge. Though colonial

biomedical projects continued in the twentieth century, their aims shifted after the First World War to

accommodate improving African populations’ healthcare systems.


John L Comaroff and Jean Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, Volume 2: The Dialectics of Modernity on a

South African Frontier (Chicago, 1997), p. 325.


Vaughan, Curing their Ills, p. 55.


Ibid., p. 69.


Ibid., p. 55.


Ibid., p. 66.


Nancy Rose Hunt, A Colonial Lexicon of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo (London, 1999), p.



Ibid., pp. 5-6.


Ibid., p. 3.


Ibid., p. 70.


Ndege, Health, State, and Society, pp. 75-81.


Ibid., p. 82.


Was Biomedicine in Africa a Colonial Project? | Josephine Simon

In the Belgian Congo and South Africa, the improvement of healthcare aimed to benefit workers’ health

conditions in order to maintain the quality of labour. In South Africa, the senior epidemiologist for the South

African Medical Research Council suggested that the “physical work capacities” for labourers should be

improved through the establishment of better healthcare and the eradication of diseases. 25 Similarly, the

copper mining company Union Minière du Haut-Katanga in the Congo implemented policies affecting

healthcare and “initiating a pioneering maternal and infant healthcare program”. This encouraged workers

and their families to move to mine compounds. 26 Although the establishment of healthcare programs for

African labourers led to higher birth rates among mining families, the objective of the healthcare programs

for African labourers was for colonial companies to gain greater control over their workers. Biomedicine as

a colonial project in Africa, therefore, allowed the colonial companies to improve working conditions and

consequently receive better quality labour. In the 1920s, the colonial government in the Belgian Congo also

intervened in maternal and infant healthcare, as there was a concern "about the impact of population loss,

infertility, and low birth rates on growing industrial labour requirements". 27 Biomedicine in the later colonial

period was a colonial project, as the imperial powers and colonial companies took initiatives to improve the

medical care for African workers, intending to improve the quality of labour. This was biomedicine at its

most seditious, improving quality of life, but at the cost of total submission to the colonial state and its

economic objectives.

Biomedicine was a prominent feature of various colonial projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from

biomedical research conducted to advance scientific knowledge, to medical campaigns that allowed the

imperial powers to gain control over African populations. Analysis of missionary involvement in local

communities demonstrates their efforts to change minds and attitudes concerning the biomedical and religious

changes introduced by colonial states. Colonial missionaries and imperial powers also expressed this through

the use of biopower, as they used the superiority of Western biomedicine to control African people.

Additionally, the funding of health programs by colonial states in the twentieth century and the improvement

of medical care for African workers by colonial companies show that various colonial projects involved

biomedicine, and that the general aim of these projects was to assert authority over the African population

through the use of medical knowledge and practise. Biomedicine in Africa was, overall, a colonial project

with a complex legacy. More (seemingly) genuine attempts to improve public health in the 20 th century could

be spun as positive, however, biomedicine’s use as a tool of colonial subjugation cannot be overlooked.


Steven Feierman, ‘Struggles for control: The Social Roots of Health and Healing in Modern Africa’, in African

Studies Review 28 (1985), p. 102.


Hunt, A Colonial Lexicon, p. 244.


Nancy Rose Hunt, ‘Le Bebe en Brousse: European Women, African Birth Spacing and Colonial Intervention in

Breast Feeding in the Belgian Congo’, in The International Journal of African Historical Studies 21 (1988), pp. 402-




Comaroff, John L., and Comaroff, Jean, Of Revelation and Revolution, Volume 2: The Dialectics of

Modernity on a South African Frontier (Chicago, 1997)

Eckart, Wolfgang U., ‘The Colony as a Laboratory: German Sleeping Sickness Campaigns in German

East Africa and Togo, 1900-1914’, in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, Vol. 24 (2002)

Feierman, Steven, ‘Struggles for control: The Social Roots of Health and Healing in Modern Africa’,

In African Studies Review, Vol. 28 (1985)

Hunt, Nancy Rose, A Colonial Lexicon of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo

(London, 1999)

Hunt, Nancy Rose, ‘Le Bebe en Brousse: European Women, African Birth Spacing and Colonial

Intervention in Breast Feeding in the Belgian Congo’, in The International Journal of African

Historical Studies, Vol. 21 (1988)

Malloy, Patrick, ‘Research Material and Necromancy: Imagining the Political-Economy of

Biomedicine in Colonial Tanganyika’, in The International Journal of African Historical Studies,

Vol. 47 (2014)

Ndege, George Oduor, Health, State, and Society in Kenya (Woodbridge, 2001)

Vaughan, Megan, Curing their Ills: Colonial Power and African Illness (Cambridge, 1991)


Prebend’s Bridge at Sunset (Adrian Baev, 2018)

INES ANDRADE: To what extent can ‘The Refugee, or A North-side View of Slavery’

(1856) be used to aid our understanding of Slavery?

Pages 38-45

DAVID MANCHESTER: Why was there no successful diplomatic resolution to the

Hundred Years’ War?

Pages 46-53

KATSUYUKI KARL OMAE: Were the political and cultural movements of 20 th century

Japan driven by criticism of the West?

Pages 54-61







Benjamin Drew’s ‘The Refugee, or A North-side View of Slavery’ remains largely unanalysed as a source of

American history. Conflated with other abolitionist-produced accounts, it has been portrayed as merely

presenting Northern fictional tropes. While this notion is partially true, it has been accepted uncritically.

Rather than accepting a portrayal of the work as an abolitionist distortion, we must consider how the work

differs from its counterparts. This may be through its unique context—its disconnection from public pressure,

or its publication in Canada—or what is written in the accounts themselves. Analysing this allows for a more

genuine impression of slavery, as an institution in constant flux; defined by a fundamental insecurity that

belies many of the linear narratives we have come to expect. The result is a more complex image of the slave

experience, which allows for the recognition of interviewees anxieties, and their attempts to autonomously

negotiate their condition. This understanding of the slave experience supports a wider understanding of

slavery itself, by problematizing overgeneralisations, either along contemporary or relating historiographical

lines. In doing this, we at least wipe the sheen from the static fictionalised image of the slave, whose current

pervasiveness obscures those real individuals who “had a life (…) and they could never tell us what it was”. 1

Finding reliable source material is a challenge that haunts the study of Southern Slavery: the Antebellum

South had notoriously low levels of literacy. 2 Thus, our ‘traditional’ information’ mainly comes from court

or plantation records, and the personal writings of Southern white elites. 3 This presents an obvious limitation.

As historians such as Richard Hofstadter criticised in the 1940s, histories based entirely from such records

tend to present an idealised impression of slavery, being limited to “an extremely non-representative

minority” of large planters, who would have an obvious personal interest in defending their right to own

slaves. 4 In essence, they become histories of the impressions of biased white outsiders, rather than genuine

accounts of those who experienced slavery directly. The slave’s experience was therefore recognised as the

missing piece in an incomplete picture of slavery.

During the 1970s, this absence was a great driver of New-Left history, which considered slave-accounts as

essential to filling in these gaps. 5 Sources such as fugitive slave narratives became a central tool in

understanding ‘the institution’. As John W. Blassingame would argue: “It gives a window into the ‘inside

half’ of the slave’s life that never appeared in the commentaries of ‘outsiders’ 6 .


James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (Boston, 1983), p. 28


James M McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: the American Civil War (New York, 2003) pp. 9-10.


William L. Van Deburg, ‘Slave Drivers and Slave Narratives: A New Look at the "Dehumanized Elite” in The

Historian, Vol. 39, No. 4 (1977), p. 720


Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (Chicago, 2013) p. 17; Richard

Hofstadter, “U. B. Phillips and The Plantation Legend." The Journal of Negro History 29, no. 2 (1944), pp. 114-115

5 David Doddington, Conflict, Competition and Courtship in the slave community – Master’s Thesis (Warwick, 2009),



John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community (Oxford, 1980), p. 367

To what extent can Benjamin Drew’s ‘The Refugee, or a North-Side View of Slavery’ (1856) be used to aid our

understanding of slavery? | Ines Andrade

However, Blassingame’s argument proved more contentious than he initially intended. Such accounts are not

entirely infallible in relaying the slave’s experience. Due to aforementioned illiteracy, many surviving

accounts by slaves are orally transcribed, and produced, by white abolitionists. Because abolitionists were

gagged, both literally in congress and metaphorically in the South, they began to take on the rhetorical

techniques of the Christian evangelical movements from which they sprung to mobilise support through

written material. 7 Focusing on Northern audiences, their media quite literally cried “I WILL BE HEARD”. 8

We must consider these slave-accounts then, as part of this wider attempt to be ‘heard’, making them

incredibly vulnerable to distortions designed to appeal to the general public. White editors often exaggerated

elements of the slaves’ experience, particularly themes of Southern brutality and Northern compassion, to

galvanise their audience. 9 Such edification often falls into the genre of Victorian sentimentalism, rendering

these texts more useful as literary, rather than historical, sources. 10 The slave’s voice became codified to align

with the impressions and racial prejudices of the white Northern audience.

Written by a Bostonian abolitionist, The Refugee is not entirely exempted from these critiques. As the editor’s

note recognises, Drew’s interviews become “one of the most effective anti-slavery arguments”: a convincing

appeal intended for an audience. 11 The work in some senses is paradigmatic of pro-Northern, pro-abolitionist

literature. Drew places sectional politics (for instance in the “unconstitutional fugitive-slave law” or “mob of

armed Missourians” in Kansas) at the forefront of his introduction, immediately labelling his interviews as

part of this public debate, rather than as objective reporting. Certainly this intention is clear in the piece,

which was intended as a reaction to the image of paternalistic benevolence presented in ‘A South-Side View

of Slavery”. 12 This implies that Drew would be inclined to skew accounts to advance his ‘argument’.

This skewing does, to a degree, reveal itself within his interviews. While Drew’s voice does not interject

explicitly, his presence is latent. Themes we associate with the abolitionist impression of slavery, for instance

brutal whipping, familial separation, shortage of food and clothing, and an absence of religion among

Southerners, all continually recur; we can imagine Drew encouraging his interviews towards these themes. 13

The extent to which these intentions disfigure these sources is most obvious surrounding the theme of religion,

which clearly shifts into the realm of the fictionalised symbolic. Interviewees continually note that masters

“gave me no religious instruction” or they received such “in a hypocritical way". 14 As James Olney highlights,

this is often used to figuratively indicate the infernal corruption of slavery upon white Southerners. 15 The

South becomes ‘satanical’ compared to the virtues of a Christian North. Such symbology does a lot to

problematize the information we can derive from these sources. For instance, Nancy Howard recalls that her

master “hoped God would damn him” if he did not whip his slaves the next day: only to fall coincidentally

ill after her self-sacrificing prayers. 16 The timing and symbolic weight of this interview particularly seems

“too orderly (…) too melodramatic” to be considered fully as a historical source. 17 The symbolism of a

corrupted South removes some of the humanity of Nancy’s account in itself, as she is reduced to a symbol of

Christ-like suffering.


Richard Hofstadter, The American Political tradition (New York, 1948) p. 144


William Lloyd Garrison, ‘The Salutation’ in The Liberator, 1 January 1831, p.1


Cindy Weinstein, ‘The slave narrative and sentimental literature’ in Audrey Fisch (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to

the African American Slave Narrative (Cambridge, 2007), p. 116


George Elliot Clarke, “This is no hearsay": Reading the Canadian Slave Narratives’ in Papers of The Bibliographical

Society of Canada, vol. 43 no.1, (2005), p. 22


Benjamin Drew, A North-side view of Slavery: The Refugee, or the Narratives of the Fugitives in Canada related by

themselves, with an account of the history and condition of the coloured population of upper Canada (Ohio, 1856) p.iii

– emphasis added by author.


John Ernest, Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History 1794-1861, (South

Carolina, 2004) p. 173


Winfried Siemerling, ‘Slave narratives and hemispheric studies’ in John Earnest (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of the

African American Slave Narrative (Oxford, 2019), p. 335


Drew, A North-Side View, p. 111


James Olney, "I Was Born": Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature." In Callaloo, No. 20

(1984), pp. 50-51


Drew, A North-Side View, p. 52


Blassingame, The Slave community, p. 373


Part II

These limitations must be considered in order to separate the slave’s true experience from their doubled

northern literary ‘character’ and symbolic functions. However, the distortion of slave testimonies is not so

complete as to render slavery "an unrecorded experience, except from the masters' point of view”. 18 Such an

immediate dismissal takes a far too pessimistic view of the limitations of such sources. Negative assumptions

like these—though made in the interest of caution—can even affect the truthfulness of the history produced.

More so than the critiques of its economic theory, the fundamental thesis of Fogel and Engermen’s

controversial Time on the Cross is exemplary of this. The piece infamously argues that the “conventional

knowledge” that slavery was merciless controverts its reality as stable, or even benign. Fogel and Engermen

systematically argued against the aforementioned themes of death and brutality that recur in abolitionistproduced

works. 19 Considering the authors do little to define this ‘conventional knowledge’, it does not seem

implausible to argue that concept was inferred from cursory readings of slave accounts. However, by arguing

against such impressions, Fogel and Engermen’s history becomes a reaction to the abolitionist cannon rather

than a fully sustained investigation into reality. By rallying against such surface-level dichotomies, their work

becomes equally as shallow in its lack of recognition that ‘conventional knowledge’ is not monolithic. For

instance, taking the example of poor nutrition, this does seem to be a point of contention in The Refugee:

interviewees repeatedly talk about this theme in almost every account. But it does not unquestioningly support

“the typical belief that the slave was poorly fed”. 20 While some stress that they were “without sufficient food”,

others accounts conversely describe being “well supplied”. 21

This reinforces Blassingame’s point that slave produced accounts do not present the “simple picture of hell

on earth that most historians have led us to believe”. 22 Assuming a general distortion in all slave produced

accounts, and arguing against that assumption, does not constitute a proper understanding of slavery, so much

as a reaction to an impression that ironically places its most questionable elements at the forefront of its

argument. What this implies is that we must consider accounts beyond—and in spite of—what we know of

their recurring (and distorting) archetypes, lest our histories simply become polarised reactions to

assumptions. Reading a cross-section of slave produced accounts therefore allows the historian to untangle

the distortions from potential truths. The Refugee’s historical validity becomes more discernible if we

consider the ways it diverges from other accounts, based on the differing impetuses for its production, rather

than immediately discounting it on account its distortions.

Considering this, Blassingame may argue that fugitive-narratives have more validity than The Refugee. He

argues that, often being produced by non-abolitionist groups, they would have less distorting influence than

abolitionist accounts. 23 However, Blassingame fails to acknowledge that public pressure was central in

promoting ‘abolitionist’ distortions. As previously noted, the production of these narratives was often

proportional to public demand, and the fugitive-slave narratives were by no means unpopular. ‘Twelve years

a Slave’, for instance, sold an overwhelming 27,000 copies within two years of its publishing. 24 This lead to

public lecture circuits that only emphasised the dramatic elements of the narrative. As John Collins excitedly

pointed out to William-Lloyd Garrison "the public have itching ears to hear a coloured man speak, and

particularly a slave”. 25 Collin’s trivialising tone conveys a sense that the slave narrator themselves had

become almost fictionalised. Certainly, Josiah Henson, whose narrative was published by non-abolitionist

Samuel Atkins Elliot, had become so well recognised as the base for Uncle Tom, that his narrative became


Robert S. Starobin, ‘Privileged Bondsmen and the Process of Accommodation: The Role of Houseservants and

Drivers as Seen in Their Own Letters’ in Journal of Social History, Volume 5, Issue 1 (1971), p. 4


Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, ‘The anatomy of exploitation’ in R. Whaples & D. Betts (eds.) Historical

Perspectives on the American Economy: Selected Readings (Cambridge, 1995), p. 142


Fogel and Engermen, ‘The anatomy of exploitation’, p. 143


Drew, A North-Side View, p.42 and p.52


Blassingame, The Slave Community, p. 371


John W Blassingame, ‘Using the Testimony of Ex-Slaves: Approaches and Problems’ in The Journal of Southern

History, Vol. 41, No. 4, (1975) pp. 475-477


Charles H. Nichols, ‘Who Read the Slave Narratives?’ in The Phylon Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 2 (1959), p. 150


Collins to Garrison, January 18 th 1842, quoted in James Matleck, ‘The Autobiographies of Frederick Douglass’, in

Phylon Vol 40, No.1 (1979), p. 16


To what extent can Benjamin Drew’s ‘The Refugee, or a North-Side View of Slavery’ (1856) be used to aid our

understanding of slavery? | Ines Andrade

“a rather pathetic caricature of himself”. 26 White Northern interest in slave narratives was therefore a driving

cause of their distortion. Indeed, Mill may argue that the white public continually produced a “racial

fantasyland”, or an essentially fictitious slave existence in their realm of their limited racial understanding. 27

This implies that public distortion may have been a stronger impetus in the misrepresentation of slaveaccounts

than is traditionally believed. If such a ‘fantasy land’ has its origins in public perception, then The

Refugee would avoid such an obvious distortion, as it does not appear to have been widely publicised. There

is little mention of it in primary sources, excluding the abolitionist ‘Refugees from Canada West’. 28 This

indicates that it was only known in abolitionist circles. Indeed, excluding some famous examples, Drew’s

refugees did not become public figures with sensationalised accounts, and lecture circuits, which necessitated

fugitive-slave authors. 29 While, as evidenced, this does not exclude it from manipulation, it implies the

pressure to do so would be far smaller. This distinction becomes even sharper when examining accounts

closer in nature to Drew’s than the fugitive-narratives but with increased publicity, such as James Redpath’s

The Roving Editor. Produced only years apart, and similarly collecting slave interviews, Redpath and Drew’s

sources are analogous contextually—the only major difference is that Redpath’s work was produced as part

of a publicised newspaper campaign. In fulfilling this role it becomes a sentimentalised rehash full of static

characters: grieving mothers with faces “wet with heart-sad tears” and slave men with perpetually

“bewildering and cunning expressions”. 30 Due to a lack of such publicity, we do not find such a caricatured

picture in Drew’s accounts. Isaac Riley, for instance, dismisses most of the recurring ‘characters’ the cynic

may associate with northern edification, “I never saw an overseer, nor a negro-trader, nor driver” he admits,

adding “such as is practised in other places”. 31 Redpath’s interviews can be charged of the “overwhelming

sameness” Olney levels of the fugitive-narratives: the slave is malnourished, abused and unhappy in their

condition but can do nothing about it. Even if they contain elements of such a rendering, Drew’s accounts

never descend to this level. Indeed, what is notable about them is their individualism.

Certainly, even if there are recurring elements in The Refugee, we must not be so distrustful as to entirely

label them as literary tropes, rather than a simple commonality of experience. It seems undeniable that some

level of death and brutality would underlie an institution that removed the rights of the subject to themselves

and their conditions. And the differentiation within this commonality appears to reflect more than simple pure

tropes. Interviewees will rarely express a loaded dichotomy, and often compare their experiences with others.

For instance, William Johnson’s account appears to present the motif of the martyr in the form of a slave

“who had recently professed religion”, only to be whipped to death. But there is still a sense of relativity in

the account. “I would sometimes be whipped” he commented of himself, before fate the death of his fellow. 32

This recognition of varying individual treatment indicates that, less than a linearized experience, conditions

appear to differ from place to place: as Henry Atkinson concluded “Sometimes I was well cared for,

sometimes not, according to the man's disposition that employed me”, matching Sam Davis’ assertion that

“sometimes my employers could be good, sometimes bad”. 33

This indication of a slave experience being continually redefined is furthered by interviewees’ recognition of

this. In Redpath’s interviews, any slave who disagrees with the conformity is presented as dissenting. Upon

hearing that a slave said his condition was tolerable, one of Redpath’s nameless interviewees comments “he

war a big fat liar and you ough to hab him slapped”. 34 The divergence of The Refugee from this is notable.

Riley indicates that, while he recognises his treatment happened to be void of “any abuse”, this does not blind


Blassingame, ‘Using the Testimony of Ex-Slaves’, p. 475; Earnest, Liberation histography, p. 173


Charles W Mill, The Racial Contract (New York, 1997), p. 18


Siemerling, ‘Slave narratives and hemispheric studies’, p. 356


Laura. T Murphy, ‘The re-emergence of the slave narrative tradition’, in Sophia A. McClennen, Alexandra Moore

and Schultheis Moore (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Literature and Human Rights (New York, 2018), p. 129


James Redpath, The Roving Editor, or, Talks with slaves in the Southern States (New York, 1859), p. 43 and p. 31


Drew, A North-Side View, p.298


Ibid, p.29


Ibid, p.78 and p.115


Redpath, The Roving Editor, p. 93


Part II

him to generalising it to ‘other places’. 35 As his wife commented, “I see many here who have suffered from

hard treatment and who have seen it practised on others”. 36 This can also be seen in accounts of the opposite

nature, where violence is tangible. “Masters sometimes show respect (…) I have heard of a merciful

disposition” commented Alexander Hemsley, “but I have seen a woman who was in state of pregnancy, tied

up and punished with a keen raw hide”. 37 Combined with the above sense of variation, this indicates a

continual variation of conditions that such recognition places at the centre of the slave experience.

In addition to this, the unstable climate is marked reinforced by the insecurities of Drew’s refugees

themselves. Their recognition that their treatment is in constant flux appears to be a central anxiety, and one

of the main underlying motivations behind absconding from the plantation. For instance, Henry Brant

explained “my mistress being old, I feared that in event of her death, I might be placed on some farm, and be

cruelly used”. 38 Just as the interviews previously mentioned distinguish their individual treatment from that

of others, Brant indicates awareness that his treatment may always be open to sudden change. “I was young,

and they had not treated me badly,” commented James Adams grimly “but I had seen older men treated worse

than a horse”. 39 Adams recognises that his state within slavery is precarious and dependent on his age, as

much as Atkinson, Davis and Brant recognise it was dependent on the master. Certainly, even relatively rare

accounts like Riley’s stress this sort of anxiety: “I looked at my boy and thought if he remained, he would

have to leave us”. 40 This does not appear exaggerated; the anxiety is notably latent. Indeed, this becomes

apparent when considering Riley says that he ‘never saw a negro trader’, but still fears his son potentially

meeting a different fate.

This is significant in improving our understanding of slavery. Firstly, and most obviously, it delineates a slave

experience beyond the traditional narratives. That interviewees are even able to recognise differentiation in

treatment marks them as more genuine, and with far more self-awareness, than the doubtful, homogenised

accounts of Redpath. Less than a static image of the sorts of cruelties that excited northern interest, the idea

of variation in treatment appears more believable. More than this, the anxieties they express in relation to this

treatment may help the historian understand some of the more complex psychological underpinnings of the

slave system. The accounts of Brant or Riley underscore latent concerns about such instability; sharpening

Hemsley’s sense of the intrinsic “state of suspense and anxiety” for Southern slaves. 41 This notion of an

underlying fear indicates that we must understand slavery as a “story not simply of individual oppressors, but

as a system of oppression” whereby the attitude of the master is concurrent to the underlying ‘system’. 42

From this, we can perhaps begin to understand ways in which slaves navigated such variation in their

condition. More than simply recognising these concerns, the slave interviewee directly acts upon them. This

has already been indicated by the motivations of the fugitives mentioned to abscond their plantation. But we

can also see this in other forms that have the potential to be used by slaves who did not successfully escape.

For instance, Harry Thomas noted of one of his masters “At first, Y.'s treatment was fair. I was foreman. He

got rich, and grew mean, and I left him”. 43 Clearly Thomas, as with others mentioned, recognised the

precariousness of his position; his note that Y’s treatment was ‘fair’ is contrasted to the ‘barbarous’ treatment

of previous masters. Yet Thomas articulates his autonomy by noting ‘I left him’. He indicates that leaving

the plantation, even if he was caught (which in Thomas’ case, was multiple times) was a way to navigate

otherwise uncontrollable changes in condition. This is similarly recognised by Dan-Josiah Lockhart, “at one

time (my master) undertook to whip me, and I told him I would leave him if he did”. 44 Lockhart, whose wife


Drew, A North-Side View, p. 298


Ibid, 299


Ibid, p. 39


Ibid, p. 345


Ibid, p. 19


Ibid, p. 298


Ibid, p. 39


Ernest, Liberation Historiography, p. 189


Drew, A North-Side View, p. 26


Ibid, p. 45


To what extent can Benjamin Drew’s ‘The Refugee, or a North-Side View of Slavery’ (1856) be used to aid our

understanding of slavery? | Ines Andrade

was recently sold, uses the threat of flight as a way to try and move closer to her plantation, recognising that

even the threat of leaving would be enough to guarantee some self-sufficiency in his situation.

This sense does much to undermine Tilden Edelstein’s conclusion that Drew’s accounts are “possibly

representative of fugitives, but certainly not of slaves”. 45 Fugitives presented in newspapers are ‘repeat

offenders’, often those who met the worst physical cruelty. 46 This would imply a limitation to Drew’s source

in only presenting a characteristic microcosm of the slave populace. But what this essay already indicates

above derails this; we are not presented with an entirely narrow group. Indeed, it is perhaps worth considering

that such papers would be more inclined to fictionalise fugitives than Drew. Flight from the plantation was

explained away by ‘drapetomania’, a form of insanity that espoused nonconformity. This means that Southern

newspaper advertisements would naturally present fugitives as separate and dissident from the ‘happy’

general slave. 47 As Deburg underlines, this image was so prevalent that even anti-slavery sects were inclined

to believe that the majority of slaves were unable to form resistance 48 . Indeed, Redpath constantly stresses

slaves as dependent on Northern abolitionists, “I hope the abolitionists win de battle and bring us all out of

bondage”. 49 Thus, Edelstein’s separation of ‘fugitive’ and ‘slave’ experience is not entirely natural. The

differentiation, self-awareness, and autonomous reactions of Drew’s interviewees implies that we must be

cautious not to conflate pictures where the slave is static, and unable to recognise their oppression or in any

way resist it, with historical actuality. While fugitives are a minority in the sense that not all slaves managed

to escape, it does not follow that theoretically their experience of slavery would be entirely separate to those

who stayed. Certainly, James. C Scott argues that away from the plantation, the slave is able to express their

‘hidden transcripts’ of experience; the thoughts and feelings related in these accounts “might have been

voiced in the slave quarters”. 50

Continuing from Scott’s notion, it is interviewees’ position as fugitives in Canada further allows articulation

of this; as Leonard Howard claimed, “a man can get more information about slavery in Canada than he can

in the South”. 51 On one hand, this operates on a purely functional level: masters were unlikely to allow their

slaves to be interviewed. This is perhaps another reason for the level of inaccuracy in accounts like Redpath’s,

who questionably climbed over plantation fences to interview slaves, who were in turn perfectly happy to

reveal life-altering information to a stranger. 52 More so, while Howard’s comment is subjective, his belief in

it indicates that nascent African-Canadians felt more able to express their experiences. Interviewees often

impress almost a comfort within Canada that is not within their relayed experiences of the United States. The

prevalence of this must have been fairly substantial for Drew to proclaim indignantly “What circumstances

have led them to prefer a monarchy to a republic?” 53 Again, we must be careful with this association: as

Siemerling underscores, Drew is inclined to present Canada, against the atrocities of the South, as a model

for America. 54 However, there must have been some suggestion of this from interviewees themselves, they

identify themselves as “regular Britishers” or “true British subjects”. 55 This identification plays into Clarke’s

analysis that fugitives “denounced slavery (through) Canadian nationalist” ideologies. 56 This was made

manifest in their abstract representations of potential resistance, anxiety and autonomy on the part of slaves.

Therefore, Drew’s interviewees use the platform of Canada to partially ‘rehumanise’ themselves from the

more distorted elements of his accounts.


Tilden Edelstein, quoted in Frederick Black, ‘Bibliographical Essay: Benjamin Drew's Refugee and the Black

Family’ in The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 57, No. 3 (1972), pp. 285-86


John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (New York, 1999), pp. 216-



Ibid, p. 275


William L. Van Deburg, Slavery and Race in Popular American Culture (Madison, 1984), p. xi.


Redpath, The Roving Editor, p. 32


James. C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, 1990), p. 166


Drew, A North-Side View, p. 340


Redpath, The Roving Editor, see pp.26-8.


Drew, A North-Side View, p. 14


Siemerling, ‘Slave narratives and hemispheric studies’, p. 335


Drew, A North-Side View, p. 39 and p. 86


Clarke, ‘“This is no hearsay”’, p. 28


Part II

This reinterpretation can potentially increase our knowledge of slavery in several ways. It has been indicated

that, while we must consider that Drew’s accounts have elements of the distorted or symbolic, comparing

them with others reveals divergences from traditional narratives that appear to offer a greater amount of truth.

This sense is two-fold; comparing Drew’s accounts with other slave produced sources will help the historian

come to a more astute understanding of slavery, which is perhaps marked by less overgeneralisation. As an

example, U.B Phillips attempts to explore his picture of ‘benevolence’ by presenting the slave’s apparently

familial relationship with their master. Here he deploys the letters of slaves, particularly the request of one

slave to her previous master “I would like to see you and hear you pray one more time before I die” 57 .

Considering this was written voluntarily, it cannot be fully dismissed. However, reading Drew’s accounts

complicates this picture. As shown, the master’s treatment heavily varies; “there was one man who was a

kind man” recalls Atkinson “He treated me well”. But this was inevitably followed by later masters “whose

treatment of me was very bad”. 58 More than implying Phillips has overgeneralised, we must consider accounts

like Brant’s in relation to these statements, to determine how much of her request is genuine, and how much

may be underscored by such anxieties. In this, the link between the letter and the conclusion of benevolence

becomes far from direct.

Secondly, the human element within some of Drew’s interviews implies the slave’s position is not entirely

lost. If we can understand some of the slave’s potential concerns, then we can perhaps start to understand the

full nature of their condition. As well as those physical brutalities abolitionists morbidly stressed, The Refugee

implies that slavery was a condition of constant movement that promoted a psychological oppression which

slaves navigated in different ways. More so than Redpath’s pseudohistorical slaves who question “do you

tink, massa, dat we’ll all get out of bondage soon?”, Drew’s interviewees indicate that African-Americans

were both able to recognise their own oppression and rearticulate their conditions through their own forms of

movement; in the threat or realisation of absconding or (in interviewees case) by later redefining their

experience through the relative stability of Canada. 59 This is not a simple parade of unsubstantiated

stereotypes. Rather it indicates that the understanding and anxieties of slaves were far more than motionless

realisations of their physical conditions of oppression. While Drew’s source can only hint towards this, it

implies the African-American voice is not entirely lost or fabricated. It may be negotiated to an extent.

Thus, The Refugee is far less polarised and distorted than is apparent from a surface analysis, and looking at

it critically may help avoid the generalisations that come with this. When compared and contrasted to other

historical works, we can move past Drew’s ‘argument’ to be shown what in the account indicates reliability,

and what we can learn from the parts that appear reliable. It can both nuance other sources and indicate the

unstable climate slaves were forced to face and their reactions to it. Using Drew’s source in conjunction with

others therefore arguably sustains a history of slavery that is much more complex and, even if not fully, points

towards one “written in large part from the standpoint of the slave”. 60


Baldwin, James, Notes of a Native Son (Boston, 1983)

Black, Frederick, ‘Bibliographical Essay: Benjamin Drew's Refugee and the Black Family’ in The Journal

of Negro History, Vol. 57, No. 3 (1972)

Blassingame, John W., ‘Using the Testimony of Ex-Slaves: Approaches and Problems’ in The Journal of

Southern History, Vol. 41, No. 4, (1975)

Blassingame, John W., The Slave Community (Oxford, 1980)

Bonnell Phillips, Ulrich, Life and Labour in the Old South (Boston, 1963)

Clarke, George Elliot, ‘“This is no hearsay": Reading the Canadian Slave Narratives’ in Papers of The


Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Life and Labour in the Old South (Boston, 1963), p. 213


Drew, A North-Side View, pp.78-79


Redpath, The Roving Editor, p. 28


Hofstadter, ‘U.B Phillips and the Plantation Legend’, p. 124


To what extent can Benjamin Drew’s ‘The Refugee, or a North-Side View of Slavery’ (1856) be used to aid our

understanding of slavery? | Ines Andrade

Bibliographical Society of Canada, Vol. 43, No.1, (2005)

Doddington, David, Conflict, Competition and Courtship in the slave community – Master’s Thesis

(Warwick, 2009)

Drew, Benjamin, A North-side view of Slavery: The Refugee, or the Narratives of the Fugitives in Canada

related by themselves, with an account of the history and condition of the coloured population of

upper Canada (Ohio, 1856)

Elkins, Stanley M., Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (Chicago, 2013)

Ernest, John, Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History 1794

1861, (South Carolina, 2004)

Fogel, Robert W. and Engerman, Stanley L., ‘The anatomy of exploitation’ in R. Whaples & D. Betts (eds.)

Historical Perspectives on the American Economy: Selected Readings (Cambridge, 1995)

Franklin, John Hope and Schweninger, Loren, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (New York,


Garrison, William Lloyd, ‘The Salutation’ in The Liberator, 1 January 1831

Hofstadter, Richard, “U. B. Phillips and The Plantation Legend." In The Journal of Negro History 29, No. 2


Hofstadter, Richard, The American Political tradition (New York, 1948)

Matleck, James, ‘The Autobiographies of Frederick Douglass’, in Phylon Vol 40, No.1 (1979)

McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: the American Civil War (New York, 2003)

Mill, Charles W., The Racial Contract (New York, 1997)

Murphy, Laura T., ‘The re-emergence of the slave narrative tradition’, in Sophia A. McClennen, Alexandra

Moore and Schultheis Moore (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Literature and Human Rights

(New York, 2018)

Nichols, Charles H., ‘Who Read the Slave Narratives?’ in The Phylon Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 2 (1959)

Olney, James, ‘"I Was Born": Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature’, in

Callaloo, No. 20 (1984)

Redpath, James, The Roving Editor, or, Talks with slaves in the Southern States (New York, 1859)

Scott, James C., Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, 1990)

Siemerling, Winfried, ‘Slave narratives and hemispheric studies’ in John Earnest (ed.) The Oxford

Handbook of the African American Slave Narrative (Oxford, 2019)

Starobin, Robert S., ‘Privileged Bondsmen and the Process of Accommodation: The Role of Houseservants

and Drivers as Seen in Their Own Letters’ in Journal of Social History, Volume 5, Issue 1 (1971)

Van Deburg, William L., ‘Slave Drivers and Slave Narratives: A New Look at the "Dehumanized Elite” in

The Historian, Vol. 39, No. 4 (1977)

Van Deburg, William L., Slavery and Race in Popular American Culture (Madison, 1984)

Weinstein, Cindy, ‘The slave narrative and sentimental literature’ in Audrey Fisch (ed.), The Cambridge

Companion to the African American Slave Narrative (Cambridge, 2007)




HUNDRED YEARS’ WAR, C. 1337-1475?


There was no shortage of diplomatic efforts to end the Hundred Years’ War. A series of Anglo-French

conflicts that stretched from 1337 to 1453; the War itself primarily revolved around determining who would

retain the right to rule France. In order to understand the ultimate failure of diplomatic efforts, we must first

appreciate the structural failures of diplomacy and why the short-term solutions that were achieved failed to

develop into long-term settlements. Practical issues played an important role in these failures, but it was the

dispute over who held sovereignty over the English lands in France that ultimately prevented long-term peace.

The English insistence that they would hold land without homage, resort, or sovereignty meant that, despite

coming close to a resolution, no agreement was ever reached. The English claim to the French throne was a

difficult issue, but it was at its most intractable when issues surrounding sovereignty, particularly over

Normandy, were involved. On its own, the claim to the crown itself proved to be a diplomatically soluble


Before we address these crucial points, however, it is neccesary to acknowledge the limits of the assumption

that ‘there was no diplomatic resolution’ to the conflict in question. The artificial nature of the Hundred

Years’ War can disguise the long lulls in the conflict that separated the Edwardian, Caroline, and Lancastrian

wars. These periods of relative peace suggest that diplomacy was, to a degree, successful in creation short

periods of peace, albeit transitory ones. Without the alliance between Charles VII and the Burgundians at

Arras, for instance, French victories in the last decade of the war would not have come as swiftly nor as

easily. Nonetheless, we will see that there were strict limits on the success of these diplomatic efforts and that

no diplomatic resolution that was entirely successful. Nonetheless, these shortcomings should not blind us to

nor mitigate the successes that were achieved, and acknowledgement of this enables us to attain a more

nuanced and exact understanding of the conflict.

Before examining the legal and intellectual problems that were posed by peace, we should first appreciate the

practical problems that the possibility of a diplomatic resolution implied. Namely, the fact that there were

limitations placed on papal arbitration, which ultimately hampered peace efforts. Indeed, England was

particularly suspicious of the Avignon Papacy given its proximity to French power, and these reservations

were only heightened after the Papal Schism of 1378 and the rise of conciliarism. 1 Furthermore, it would

seem that Pope Martin V’s foremost concern was his ability to buttress his own power against the threat of

the Council of Constance, leading him to prioritise the election of his nominations for prelates over the

achievement of Anglo-French peace. 2 Conciliar efforts at peace were also delayed by the English, who

simultaneously caused difficulty over the lands voting rights at the Church Councils, demanded their

recognition as a nation, and insisted that Lancastrian France should represent the French nation. 3 The

combination of the split papacy and the papal conflict with the conciliar movement thus impeded the ability

of Church arbitration to function effectively at several crucial junctures in the Hundred Years’ War.

It is important to acknowledge, however, that papal and conciliar efforts to end the war did still manage to

bring the two sides to conferences – certainly, this was no small feat. Indeed, without the actions of the Roman


P.N.R. Zutshi, ‘The Letters of the Avignon Popes (1305-1378): A Source for the Study of Anglo-Papal Relations and

of Ecclesiastical History’, in Michael Jones and Malcolm Vale (eds.), England and Her Neighbours, 1066-1453: Essays

in Honour of Pierre Chaplais (London, 1989), p. 265.


Margret Harvey, England, Rome and the papacy, 1417-1464: the study of a relationship (Manchester, 1993), pp. 133-



Ibid., pp. 153-4,159.

Why was there no successful diplomatic resolution to the Hundred Years’ War, c.1337-1475? | David Manchester

Catholic prelate Niccolò Albergati – who adeptly moved between the two sides in the years leading up to the

Congress of Arras, attempting bring them closer together – it is unlikely that both would have ever agreed to

meet. Even at conferences like this, however, the form of papal arbitration that was adopted was not always

conducive to peaceful results. Indeed, it would seem that the system by which the two parties communicated

their positions through mediators – who would, unless it was deemed an unhelpful proposal, present their

peace offers to the other side – led both parties to make their proposals more demanding in an effort to exact

greater concessions. 4 The physical separation of the both sides appears to have served to only exacerbate the

guessing, bluffing, and fear that such negotiations inspired. It would also appear that the Cardinals, though

officially arbitrators of the conferences, were primarily informed by their backgrounds in the Catholic

Church’s ecclesiastical courts; this often led them to behave more as judges than arbitrators, subsequently

exacerbating tensions and disunion between the two parties. 5 Despite this, however, the historical scholar

Jocelyne Gledhill Dickinson expresses sympathy for the papal arbitrators, particularly when they pronounced

upon the deadlock that had been caused by the proposals of seven treaties by each side at Arras. 6 It is,

however, certainly challenging to understand how the judgement passed at Arras actually aided the peace

process: the English offer in particular failed to tackle several key issues, but the declaration issued by the

arbitrators – stating that the opposing French offers were superior – did not succeed in easing tensions.

Indeed, this was a poor approach as it failed to address the fundamental problems that weakened the English

offer, and also reveals a lack of effort to understand and ease English concerns about their increasingly fragile

position. This resulted in making the English more defensive and ultimately gave them cause to believe that

Albergati was prejudiced against them. Ultimately, then, it would appear that the incident at Arras

demonstrated a lack of innovation from papal and conciliar arbitrators: their reliance on a procedure that did

not seem conducive to mutual compromise made their diplomatic efforts unsuccesful.

Beyond the issues with the peace talks themselves that are outlined above, it is also important to acknowledge

that several other factors played a role in derailing efforts to establish peace – this was an indubitably complex

and multifaceted situation. Indeed, the Black Prince’s weakened position in Gascony after his failed

intervention in Castile, and the subsequent threat posed by the Castilian fleet, would appear to have

contributed not insignificantly to the abandonment of the Treaty of Brétigny in the late fourteenth-century. 7

The French, furthermore, used Gascony’s failure to extricate themselves from peace deals elsewhere, most

of which seemed to them to be neither necessary nor beneficial. At the Congress of Arras, then, both parties

were more concerned with securing Burgundian support than finding a rapprochement. 8 This demonstrates

the extent to which circumstances beyond relations and issues between England and France could often render

the peace efforts unsuccessful.

The ineffectiveness of the negotiated truces hindered the development of long-term peace, particularly since

their failure postponed the resolution of the central issues whilst simultaneously providing respite for the two

kings, enabling them to relieve the financial burdens of war and replenish their resources, thereby prolonging

the conflict. Even Richard II – the English king who would seem to have been the most committed to the

peace efforts – was drawn into a truce that effectively postponed the difficult decision over who would be

sovereign in Gascony, his hand somewhat forced by a violent Gascon revolt. 9 Indeed, it would seem that

many of the truces agreed over the course of the war were made over Gascony, the majority of which were

clearly ineffective as they did not end the fighting in occupied regions. Both parties, furthermore,

demonstrated an utter lack of ability to restrain their routier captains, many of whom were subsequently able

to claim that they were taking part in local disputes and were subsequently unbound by agreed truces,


Karsten Plöger, England and the Avignon popes: the practice of diplomacy in late medieval Europe (London, 2005),

pp. 505-506.


Joycelyne Gledhill Dickinson, The Congress of Arras, 1435: a study in medieval diplomacy (Oxford, 1955), p. 120.


Ibid., pp. 129-130.


G. P. Cuttino, English medieval diplomacy (Bloomington, 1985), p. 95.


Dickinson, The Congress of Arras, pp. 122-24, 166-69.


J. J. N. Palmer, ‘The Anglo-French Peace Negotiations, 1390-1396: The Alexander Prize Essay’,

Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 16 (1966), pp. 91-94.


Part II

exacerbating conflict. 10 Regardless of whether this was the truth or a mere pretence, mercenary captains were

certainly able to live off of their own Pâtis, suggesting that conflict was profitable and therefore, to some

extent, desirable for these individuals. Indeed, many of these men took their clear indifference to diplomacy

one step further, actively disregarding the conservators who were supposed to facilitate their removal,

indicating once again that deliberately maintaining the status quo served to benefit the routiers and ultimately

rendered diplomatic efforts ineffectual. 11

It would, moreover, appear that both northern and south-western France saw little of the peace offered by the

Treaty of Brétigny, highlighting its ineffectiveness. Routier companies led by both the English and the

Gascons ravaged the French countryside; their old employers, Edward III and the Black Prince, made little

attempt to stop them or disrupt their supply from Bordeaux. The perpetuation of this violence subsequently

made peace conferences and agreements appear to the French to be nothing more than a series of empty

promises, undermining their faith in diplomatic efforts. 12 The Bascot de Mauléon summarises the issue

succinctly to Jean Froissart: ‘though the kings had made peace… [the mercenary captains] had to live

somehow’. 13 Furthermore, while it would seem that some attempt was made to relocate bands of routiers to

Castile – where the Black Prince and Bertrand du Guesclin needed troops to aid in their intervention – the

extent to which this could address the issue was limited: only so many men could realistically be diverted. 14

Instead, the most effective method of solving the routier problem was to reemploy these bands in renewed

warfare, prolonging military violence yet again. Charles VII’s standing army provides a fitting example: his

military employed many routiers and gave the King the force with which to subdue the rest, ultimately

proving more effective than diplomatic attempts to resolve the routier problem. 15 Even when peace

settlements had been reached, the temptation to employ militaristic strategies to solve peacetime problems

remained too strong for a lasting settlement to emerge.

By now, it is certainly evident that there were several practical problems that contributed towards the ultimate

failure of diplomatic efforts to end the Hundred Years’ War. In order to enrich our understanding of the

situation, however, we must now address the political and legal issues that forced the warring kingdoms to

resort to stopgap truces, many of which ultimately hindered attempts to communicate and reach agreements,

thereby making diplomatic resolutions increasingly hopeless.

Perhaps the greatest factor shaping the perpetuation of conflict and the futility of truces was the great question

of who held sovereignty in the English-occupied areas of France. Before exploring this issue further, however,

one must acknowledge that, although this remained the foremost issue throughout the period, one should not

assume that English and French monarchs retained the same goals throughout the war – the situation was

more complex and mutable. No matter the extent to which they adjusted their ultimate aims, though, the key

problem that these kings faced always came down to sovereignty disputes. Indeed, the very idea of ceding

sovereignty was intolerable for both France and England; by understanding the significance of this issue to

both sides, one can begin to appreciate why it ultimately prevented the emergence of a diplomatic resolution.

That the French did not want to cede sovereignty is evident, since they only contemplated doing-so when

French fortunes reached their lowest ebb: the first time that we know that the French even considered ceding

sovereignty to England was after their catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. Here, King Jean

II, while imprisoned in England, understandably desired his personal freedom and was keen to avert Edward

III’s planned invasion of France – which, if successful, was to be the final blow to the kingdom. 16


Kenneth Fowler, ‘Truces’, in Kenneth Fowler (ed.), The Hundred Years War (Suffolk, 1971), p. 192.


Ibid., pp. 199-200.


Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War Vol 2: Trial by Fire (London, 2001), p. 573.


Jean Froissart, Chronicles: Selected, Translated and Edited by Geffrey Brereton (London, 1978), p. 282.


Chronique des Quatres Premiers Valois (1327-1393), ed. by S. Luce, pp. 163-164, in Christopher Allmand (ed.),

Society at War: The Experience of England and France during the Hundred Years War (Woodbridge, 1998), p. 174.


Malcolm Vale, ‘France at the End of the Hundred Years War (c. 1420–1461)’, in Christopher Allmand (ed.), The

New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume 7 (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 399-401.


John Le Patourel, ‘The Treaty of Brétigny, 1360’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 1 January 1960,

Vol.10, p. 30.


Why was there no successful diplomatic resolution to the Hundred Years’ War, c.1337-1475? | David Manchester

Subsequently, the monarch offered-up almost half of his kingdom in full sovereignty to Edward, a motion

immortalised in the Treaty of London. 17 This treaty – which was ultimately rejected by the Dauphin and the

Royal Estates – proved to be a dead letter. The proceeding Treaty of Brétigny, however, offered a more

realistic prospect of peace, offering the English full sovereignty of an enlarged Aquitaine region. Even this

more restrained agreement, however, was only ever reached because France faced complete disaster: her

King was detained in captivity, and the Dauphin was dealing with the economically ruinous effects of both

Edward III’s chevauchées and the mounting cost of his father’s ransom. As such, Charles V sought to

repudiate the treaty. The summoning of the Black Prince to Paris marked his reassertion of sovereignty over

Gascony within a decade of the peace being signed. Jean II may well have been genuine in his endorsement

of the treaty of Brétigny, but realism meant that Charles V saw little advantage in abiding by its terms. The

French were also willing to cede sovereignty in the depths of the Armagnac-Burgundian civil war. Even then

it was the Armagnac bid for Henry IV’s support while the Burgundians controlled Paris that was quickly

repudiated. 18 The Treaty of Troyes is a special case that will be examined below. It is evident that the French

were largely unwilling to offer sovereignty to English kings through diplomatic negotiations. Even when

military and political disasters forced them to cede sovereignty, they extricated themselves from their

commitments as quickly as possible.

The response of French writers regarding the nature of sovereignty within the Kingdom of France evidences

its significance. The Kingdom was an entity that not even the French King could dismember; To do-so would

contravene his coronation oath and his duties to his subjects. 19 This theoretical objection served an important

practical purpose: the alienation of the King’s rights over the Duchy of Gascony would set a dangerous

precedent for the newly powerful princely courts in Brittany and Burgundy, or any royal with a powerful

appanage. 20 With English support, Jean II of Brittany had already denied the Valois Kings homage in 1364. 21

The sovereignty issue pitted the conception of the French Kingdom as the heir to the Carolingian mantle

against the reality of the power of the Angevin King-Dukes and the potential resurrection of the ‘Angevin

Empire’. 22 Ceding sovereignty to the Dukes of Gascony would erode the integrity of the French Kingdom,

thus undermining Valois kingship through the encouragement of princely ambitions. As such, the Valois

Kings were only willing to give up sovereignty in the face of utter disaster, and, even when they did, they

would try to reclaim it immediately after their recovery. The subjection of the King-Dukes would be a stark

demonstration of Valois power and, conversely, giving up on the ambition to do-so would cause a severe loss

of power and prestige.

The English proved equally unwilling to compromise when it came to giving homage, resort, or sovereignty

to the French kings. After the Treaty of Paris, the English had observed how homage had grown from the

simple pledge of fealty Henry II had made. 23 In the early fourteenth-century constant appeals to the Paris

Parlement – appeals that were actively encouraged by French officials – had robbed Gascon courts of their

autonomy, leading to a measure of judicial anarchy. 24 This anarchy was made all the more galling to the King-

Dukes when Gascony’s subjects flew the French flag and received protection from the French King during

their appeals. 25 Most English kings were unwilling to operate under either legal or feudal obligation to the

French King. This subjection to Valois kingship would represent a return to the 1337 status-quo. As we have


Ibid., pp. 19-20.


Malcolm Vale, English Gascony, 1399-1453: a study of war, government and politics during the later stages of the

Hundred Years' War (London, 1970), pp. 60-63.


Craig David Taylor, ‘'La querelle Anglaise': diplomatic and legal debate during the Hundred Years War, with an

edition of the polemical treatise 'Pour ce que plusieurs' (1464)’, PhD, 1998, pp. 158-162.


Ibid., pp. 129-30.


Patrick Galliou and Michael Jones, The Bretons (Oxford, 1991), p. 234.


Malcolm Vale, The Ancient Enemy: England, France and Europe from the Angevins to the Tudors 1154-1558

(London, 2007, pp. 46-47.


Pierre Chaplais, ‘English Arguments Concerning the Feudal Status of Aquitaine in the Fourteenth Century’,

Historical Research, May 1948, Vol.21(64), pp. 203-204.


Pierre Chaplais, ‘The Court of Sovereignty of Guyenne (Edward III- Henry IV) and its Antecedents’, in J.S.

Hamilton and Patricia Bradley (eds.), Documenting the Past: Essays in Medieval History presented to George Peddy

Cuttino (New Hampshire, 1989), pp. 137-140.


Anne Curry, The Hundred Years War (Hampshire,2003), pp. 34-35.


Part II

seen above, the truces were imperfect, but the English kings were left with de-facto sovereignty over any

areas in France which they controlled. The agreement of a peace treaty would have entailed a definition of

rights and jurisdiction, and thus the ceding of English sovereignty. The ambiguity that a temporary truce

provided, with the potential to press claims again after raising more money and men, proved in the long term

more beneficial to English kings than the definitive signing of peace. As such, the English had little interest

in achieving a settlement on terms which involved anything less than full sovereignty over the lands they


The loss of sovereignty through a peace treaty was not only an issue for the English king. The Gascons

themselves feared what a French overlord might entail. Gascony was not an English territory and had become

accustomed to a large measure of autonomy in its affairs. When the principality of Aquitaine was granted to

the Black Prince, Edward III reserved sovereign power for himself, but otherwise it constituted a princely

state governed from Bordeaux with little reference to Westminster. 26 The Fouage Tax, that was ostensibly

the cause of the Armagnac defection, was a local tax that had local precedent, as the principality was expected

to finance its own protection independent of England. 27 Gascons enjoyed relative independence and guarded

their privileges. Their opposition to the alienation of the duchy to John of Gaunt was partly about the actions

of his seneschal, but Gascons were also concerned about the separation of the duchy from the English regnal

line which their ‘constitution’ forbade. 28 Gascony could not be alienated from the English crown and had to

belong to the King or his heir. The potential erasure of this privilege by the founding of a separate ducal

dynasty descending from John of Gaunt that would probably be steadily absorbed into France represented an

unacceptable breach of their perceived rights. 29 It led many to question if it was a precursor to the invasion

of their city charters that were guaranteed by the King-Duke. 30 This opposition derailed Richard II’s attempts

at peace. Gascons opposed his plan to solve the sovereignty issue that would involve the creation of a separate

ducal dynasty which could more easily pay homage to the Valois kings. 31 Gascon concerns made sovereignty

an important and intractable issue. French sovereignty did not face such dogmatic opposition from the Gascon

nobility and cities; they had long played the two crowns off each other to their own benefit. They worried

about how alienation from the English crown would affect their privileges and the wine trade in the long

term. Gascons caused the failure of the only realistic compromise on sovereignty that Richard II proposed.

The English King’s claim to the throne of France, while important, only served to inhibit any successful

diplomatic resolution of the Hundred Years’ War once it had become combined with issues of sovereignty.

Previously, English kings were not inclined to renounce the title as it was a powerful tool to extract

concessions out of France and it could act as a convenient casus belli for English invasion. The dream of

fulfilling the claim after his success encouraged Edward III not to ratify Brétigny. 32 Both Edward III in

Flanders and Henry V in Brittany and Burgundy realised how powerful the title could be for tempting

discontented princes towards defection. However, the claim was not essential to English diplomacy and did

not hold up negotiations. Even if Edward III abandoned Brétigny because he wanted to maintain his claim, it

is significant that he considered renunciation. Indeed, he was followed in doing so by Richard II and both did

so despite severe crises. This was very much unlike the French who needed the motivation of crisis to even

consider ceding their sovereign territory to the English. The claim was not as intractable as the sovereignty


The nature of the Treaty of Troyes changed the importance of the claim. Most treaties, such as Brétigny, were

a partial recognition of the status-quo and sought a legal settlement that both parties could accept. In contrast,


Vale, The Ancient Enemy, p. 49.


Ibid., p. 52.


Vale, English Gascony, pp. 40-41.


John Palmer, ‘The War Aims of the Protagonists and the Negotiations for Peace’, in Kenneth Fowler (ed.), The

Hundred Years War (Suffolk, 1971), pp. 64-65.


John Palmer, England, France and Christendom:1377-99 (Chatham, 1972), pp. 156-157.


Palmer, ‘The War Aims of the Protagonists and the Negotiations for Peace’, p. 55.


Michael Jones, ‘Relations with France, 1337-1399’ in, Michael Jones and Malcolm Vale (eds.), England and Her

Neighbours, 1066-1453: Essays in Honour of Pierre Chaplais (London, 1989), pp. 252-253.


Why was there no successful diplomatic resolution to the Hundred Years’ War, c.1337-1475? | David Manchester

the Treaty of Troyes rested on the ability of the Lancastrians to subdue the Kingdom of Bourges. The treaty

even forbade Henry V and the Burgundians from treating with ‘the said Dauphin’. 33 Troyes was not a peace.

It was an attempt to legally entrench English war goals in France through the creation of a dual-monarchy

and an alliance with the Burgundians who, after Montereau, were not inclined to support the Dauphin. It was

a political settlement that required ratification through military success. The permanent defeat of the Dauphin

was essential for the treaty to be a peace. Bedford never managed to secure the necessary victory. The claim

to the throne became ever more entwined with the issue of sovereignty over the course of the 1420s and

1430s, only now the struggle had started to take on new guises.

The Lancastrian conquest of Normandy and the subsequent creation of the dual-monarchy gradually made

the issue of Norman sovereignty a sticking point in negotiations. Edward III made no pretensions for his

assuming a titular claim to the duchy, seeing it as an essential conquest, given that it posed a direct threat to

the south coast of England. 34 When Henry V invaded, he did not make his goals clear. The English did seem

to consciously encourage Norman particularism. It would make the duchy easier to hold after a Brétignystyle

settlement. Indeed, Henry V had given strong reminders of his potential hereditary right to the Duchy

of Normandy. 35 The Treaty of Troyes appeared to clarify the situation with Henry V holding Normandy as a

quasi-appanage. 36 This status meant it was still part of the French kingdom. Bedford’s support of the Cour de

Conseil gave the Parlement and the University of Paris cause to worry about their supreme legal power that

guaranteed the unity of the kingdom. 37 Even if the work of the council in Rouen did not pose a serious threat

to the sovereignty of the Paris Parlement it is revealing that Parlement was concerned. It shows that Bedford

was caught in a dilemma. Normandy had become the base of Lancastrian power in France. Its importance

only increased after the defeat at Orleans meant that Lancastrian power was no longer expanding. Bedford

had to balance the power of Rouen to strengthen his base and the unity offered by the Parisian institutions

that was essential for the dual-monarchy. The need to maintain the rhetoric of unity prevented Bedford from

compromising the sovereignty of the Paris Parlement. His restriction meant that Normandy was tied to the

English claim to the French crown. In contrast, a receding Lancastrian France had an interest in encouraging

Norman particularism to help secure Norman loyalty against the Valois. To maintain sovereignty over his

Norman possessions Henry VI now had also to maintain his claim to the French crown.

Retaining the crown was made difficult by the Lancastrian land settlement which increased the diplomatic

difficulty of doing so, while simultaneously making the maintenance of sovereign power in the duchy even

more important. The pays de conquête were not only redistributed to royal relations and captains, but also to

English settlers who had little to go back to in England. 38 This redistribution had the advantage that English

settlers would live in France and there would not be a body of resented absentee landlords. It also meant that

English settlers depended on their French holdings for their livelihoods. The Dauphin’s edict of Compiegne

committed him to the restoration of this land to its original owners. 39 If Lancastrian Kingship were

compromised, the land settlement that guaranteed the property of thousands of Englishmen and represented

the very foundation of Lancastrian power would collapse. Even if the use of the title was suspended

temporarily, as was suggested at Arras, the English settlers in Normandy would be left at the legal mercy of

the French government. 40 As it became increasingly probable that Lancastrian France would rule solely

Normandy the only practicable solution likely would have been that English kings would become dukes of

Normandy with the land settlement maintained by claiming the sovereign authority of the Cour de Conseil in


The Treaty of Troyes: Clause 29, in Frederic Austin Ogg (ed.), A Source Book of Medieval History Documents

Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the German Invasions to the Renaissance (London, 1907) p. 443.


W. M. Ormond, ‘England, Normandy and the Beginnings of the Hundred Years War, 1259-1360’ in David Bates and

Anne Curry (eds.), England and Normandy in the Middle Ages (London, 1994), p. 201.


C. T. Allmand, Lancastrian Normandy, 1415-1450: the history of a medieval occupation (Oxford, 1983), pp. 124-



Anne Curry, ‘Lancastrian Normandy: The Jewel in the Crown?’ in David Bates and Anne Curry (eds.),

England and Normandy in the Middle Ages (London, 1994), p.237.


Allmand, Lancastrian Normandy, pp. 129-132.


Ibid., pp. 55-56,271-2.


Vale, ‘France at the End of the Hundred Years War’, p. 398.


Allmand, Lancastrian Normandy, p. 276.


Part II

Rouen. This possibility was unlikely. Charles VII would have left many of his supporters poorer and there

was hardly a legal basis for such a settlement that was also unpalatable for the same reasons as the prospect

of an English Gascony. English control and sovereignty in Normandy could not be compromised. Settlers in

Maine rightly felt that Henry VI had ‘abandoned a large number of people, your faithful subjects’ when

ceding Maine at Tours. 41 As this control came to depend on a claim to the French crown, the possibility of

finding a peace settlement became more unlikely. Now the claim to the throne was entangled with intractable

issues similar, and in many ways worse than, those in Gascony. The Lancastrian claim to France only became

unsolvable once it had become mired also in issues concerning sovereignty.

Edward IV’s abortive invasion in 1475 brings the importance of sovereignty into sharper focus. That the

Hundred Years’ War seems to have continued after the English expulsion from Gascony prima facie suggests

that the problem of sovereignty was not the main issue prohibiting peace. The lack of an English presence in

France meant that sovereignty was no longer inseparable from the claim to the crown nor did it remain an

issue in Gascony. However, Edward IV’s invasion was not a continuation of the Hundred Years’ War. The

Treaty of Picquiny was superficially similar in form to the truces of the Hundred Years’ War: there were

pledges of eternal friendship and a marriage alliance. 42 Picquiny was different because it was reached easily

and secured a far more permanent truce. In 1475 the French king could buy off the English king and captains

with pensions. English kings did not have to deal with the complexities of forcing truces on routier captains

or protecting their hereditary rights in a duchy. They could accept their bribe and leave. This contrast between

the labyrinth of arbitration, truces and ongoing low-level conflict with the rapid departure of English forces

in 1475 demonstrates how essential the issue of sovereignty was to the intractable nature of the diplomatic

problems in the Hundred Years’ War. The Treaty of Picquiny looks ignominious beside great diplomatic

resolutions of conflicts like the Congress of Vienna. It was not permanent and did not see a renunciation of

the English claim to the French throne, but it recognised the new and more peaceful status-quo that could

allow for commercial treaties and ongoing de facto peace. 43 This new existence was not always a comfortable

one and English kings were often tempted to invade, and sometimes did so, in the next several decades. Since

England’s continental holdings had largely disintegrated there was not, particularly on the French side, the

necessity of war to complete the kingdom as had been so prevalent previously. When sovereignty was no

longer an issue the character of Anglo-French relations became more manageable, and, although there was

no peace treaty, the continued truces offered a substitute almost as effective.

The deficiency of papal arbitration and the temptation to use ineffective truces as a means to avoid addressing

intractable issues were important factors in preventing a diplomatic resolution to the Hundred Years’ War.

The issue of sovereignty complicated all diplomatic efforts. There was no solution that would allow the

English, French and Gascons to accept a compromise over who was the sovereign lord in Gascony. The

English even gained from the ambiguity of temporary truces as they maintained control and did not have to

cede any of their rights. This meant that they were not always inclined to seek permanent peace. These issues

only became more difficult to solve when control of Normandy meant Lancastrian sovereignty and kingship

were essential for the maintenance of the land settlement as well as the stability of the Lancastrian regime.

The issue of the claim to the throne of France was not as intractable as that of sovereignty. The ease with

which Edward IV was convinced to settle with the French when sovereignty was no longer an issue best

demonstrates how fundamental sovereignty was. English kings were expected to pay homage to their French

counterparts, as well as to accept Parliament’s jurisdiction over their continental holdings. This issue was

amplified by the short-term temptations of truces and the failings of papal arbitration and together these

factors would prevent a successful diplomatic resolution to the Hundred Years’ War.


Letters and Papers, ed. J. Stevenson, II, ii, pp. 598-603, in in Christopher Allmand (ed.), Society at War: The

Experience of England and France during the Hundred Years War (Woodbridge, 1998), p. 175.


Charles Derek Ross, Edward IV (London, 1974), p. 233.


Vale, The Ancient Enemy, p. 234.


Why was there no successful diplomatic resolution to the Hundred Years’ War, c.1337-1475? | David Manchester


Froissart, Jean, Chronicles: Selected, Translated and Edited by Geffrey Brereton (London, 1978)

Chronique des Quatres Premiers Valois (1327-1393), ed. by S. Luce, pp. 163-164, in Christopher Allmand

(ed.), Society at War: The Experience of England and France during the Hundred Years War

(Woodbridge, 1998)

The Treaty of Troyes (1420), in Frederic Austin Ogg (ed.), A Source Book of Medieval History Documents

Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the German Invasions to the Renaissance

(London, 1907)

Letters and Papers, ed. J. Stevenson, II, ii, pp. 598-603, in in Christopher Allmand (ed.), Society at War:

The Experience of England and France during the Hundred Years War (Woodbridge, 1998)

Allmand, C. T., Lancastrian Normandy, 1415-1450: the history of a medieval occupation (Oxford, 1983)

Chaplais, Pierre, ‘English Arguments Concerning the Feudal Status of Aquitaine in the Fourteenth

Century’, Historical Research, May 1948, Vol.21(64), pp.203-213.

Chaplais, Pierre, ‘The Court of Sovereignty of Guyenne (Edward III- Henry IV) and its Antecedents’, in

J.S. Hamilton and Patricia Bradley (eds.), Documenting the Past: Essays in Medieval History

presented to George Peddy Cuttino (New Hampshire, 1989), pp. 137-155.

Curry, Anne, ‘Lancastrian Normandy: The Jewel in the Crown?’ in David Bates and Anne Curry (eds.),

England and Normandy in the Middle Ages (London, 1994), pp. 235-252.

Curry, Anne, The Hundred Years War (Hampshire, 2003)

Cuttino, G. P., English medieval diplomacy (Bloomington, 1985)

Dickinson, Joycelyne Gledhill, The Congress of Arras, 1435: a study in medieval diplomacy (Oxford, 1955)

Fowler, Kenneth, ‘Truces’, in Kenneth Fowler (ed.), The Hundred Years War (Suffolk, 1971)

Galliou, Patrick, and Jones, Michael, The Bretons (Oxford, 1991)

Harvey, Margaret, England, Rome and the papacy, 1417-1464: the study of a relationship (Manchester,


Jones, Michael, ‘Relations with France, 1337-1399’ in Michael Jones and Malcolm Vale (eds.),

England and Her Neighbours, 1066-1453: Essays in Honour of Pierre Chaplais (London, 1989)

Le Patourel, John, ‘The Treaty of Brétingy, 1360’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 10,

No.1 (January 1960)

Ormond, W. M., ‘England, Normandy and the Beginnings of the Hundred Years War, 1259-1360’ in

David Bates and Anne Curry (eds.), England and Normandy in the Middle Ages (London, 1994)

Palmer, J. J. N., ‘The Anglo-French Peace Negotiations, 1390-1396: The Alexander Prize Essay’,

Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 16 (1966)

Palmer, John, ‘The War Aims of the Protagonists and the Negotiations for Peace’, in Kenneth Fowler

(ed.), The Hundred Years War (Suffolk, 1971)

Palmer, John, England, France and Christendom: 1377-99 (Chatham, 1972)

Plöger, Karsten, England and the Avignon popes: the practice of diplomacy in late medieval Europe

(London, 2005)

Ross, Charles Derek, Edward IV (London, 1974)

Sumption, Jonathan, The Hundred Years War Vol 2: Trial by Fire (London, 2001)

Taylor, Craig David, ‘'La querelle Anglaise': diplomatic and legal debate during the Hundred Years

War, with an edition of the polemical treatise 'Pour ce que plusieurs' (1464)’, PhD, 1998.

Vale, Malcolm, ‘France at the End of the Hundred Years War (c. 1420–1461)’, in Christopher Allmand

(ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume 7 (Cambridge, 1998)

Vale, Malcolm, English Gascony, 1399-1453: a study of war, government and politics during the later

stages of the Hundred Years' War (London, 1970)

Vale, Malcolm, The ancient enemy: England, France and Europe from the Angevins to the Tudors

1154-1558 (London, 2007)

Zutshi, P.N.R., ‘The Letters of the Avignon Popes (1305-1378): A Source for the Study of Anglo-Papal

Relations and of Ecclesiastical History’, in Michael Jones and Malcolm Vale (eds.), England and

Her Neighbours, 1066-1453: Essays in Honour of Pierre Chaplais (London, 1989)







‘Kokutaiism’ was arguably the predominant political and cultural movement of twentieth-century Japan—a

concept that sought to critique Western civilisation with the ultimate goal of transcending it. This aim was

evident in the movement’s reasons for adopting Western ‘science’, its cultural policies that acted as a

paradigm for Eastern pan-Asianism, and the movement’s own relationships with Western fascism. Together,

these themes demonstrate how criticism of Western civilisation—a fundamental pillar of ‘Kokutaiism’—

asserted Japan’s unique superiority, and ultimate divinity. In contrast, the post-war transmutation of

Kokutaiism, ‘nihonjinron’, sought instead to preserve ‘uniquely’ Japanese culture against Western influence,

refusing to adopt Western science or associate with its fascist movements. This reveals a marked contrast:

whereas ‘Kokutaiism’ sought to critique and ultimately transcend Western civilisation, its ‘nihonjinron’

descendant was defined by cautious isolationism. Finally, although it is acknowledged that ‘Kokutaiism’ may

not have existed as an official policy in name, the idea of ‘Kokutaiism’ helps to conceptualize the ideological

framework of the ‘Kokutai’, the national body encompassing the uniquely ‘Japanese’. Crucially,

‘Kokutaiism’ went beyond informing the infamous racism of the ‘Kokutai’, stressing a belief in Japan’s moral

and spiritual superiority. This will clarify just how ‘Kokutaiism’, driven by its criticism of Western

civilisation, ultimately sought to transcend it.

Kokutai can roughly be translated as ‘national body’ and was a term that was frequently invoked in twentiethcentury

Japan, so-much-so that ‘Kokutaiism’ certainly existed, even if not as an official policy. Indeed,

‘Kokutai’ encompassed the entire national structure: the Japanese imperial institution, its people, empire,

customs, culture, philosophy, and all else that was uniquely ‘Japanese’ (and, therefore, implicitly un-

Western). Certainly, it is no coincidence that it was the Ministry of Education’s pamphlet ‘Kokutai no Hongi’

(‘True Principles of the National Body’), that was charged with educating the nation in the movement’s

values. The pamphlet explicitly criticized Western liberalism and individualism, stressing selective

absorption of Western science for the new Japan while filtering out individualist greed and other harmful

ideas. With the Kokutai as its basis, only the best would be absorbed in order to create this new Japan, one

that was founded on a superior and sacred imperial tradition. 1 Japan’s sense of moral superiority, then,

stemmed from the Kokutai itself; the imperial, patriarchal family-state was presented as one that was spiritual

and harmonious—a stark contrast to the egoistic, materialistic and individualistic West. Cherry-picking

examples that supported this ideology, teachers actively discouraged ‘bad Western values’ like individualism

and materialism. 2 Furthermore, while fascism and Nazism were also dismissed as ‘Western’ concepts, these,

too, were selectively filtered, with some aspects shrewdly assimilated into Japanese society. 3 Ultimately, it

was shared support for the Kokutai that facilitated the alliance between the ultranationalist Right and the

state. ‘Kokutai’ perfectly embodied their coveted belief in the uniqueness and superiority of Japan, proving

politically expedient. 4 Japanese ethnicity, blood, race, homogeneity, purity, disdain for Western materialism,

cultural uniqueness, and general exceptionalism were, then, all deemed to be cause for the celebration of the


Kokutai no Hongi, Gauntlett, John (trans.), (Newton, 1974), pp. 176-183.


Shillony, Ben-Ami, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, (Oxford, 2001), p. 142.


Hofmann, Reto, The Fascist Effect: Japan and Italy, 1915-1952, (New York, 2015), pp. 87-88.


Ibid., pp. 63-65.

Were the political and cultural movements of 20 th century Japan driven by criticism of the West? | Katsuyuki Karl


imperial institution, strengthening the socio-political power of the state. 5 All of these aspects were included

in the ‘Kokutai’, which also encompassed Japan’s wartime ideology. Its pan-Asianism and fascism both

stressed the moral and spiritual superiority of the Kokutai itself. Hence, its criticism of Western civilisation

was concomitant with the assertion of Japan’s spiritual superiority, and despite differences in approach, all

agreed that the Kokutai was superior to, and thus would transcend, Western civilisation.

However, as noted in Kokutai no Hongi, Western science could only support the existing moral and spiritual

superiority of the Kokutai; this made for an uncomfortable dynamic as ‘Kokutaiism’ was defined by its

criticism of the West and censure of its moral inferiority. Hence, Western science’s reconciliation and

unification with Eastern spirituality was discussed at leading newspaper Chūōkōron’s April 1942 symposium,

emerging as a principal topic. Furthermore, at the Bungakkai symposium on ‘overcoming modernity’,

Shimomura stressed that modern science itself was not bad. 6 Even after embracing Asian-ness in 1905, the

dual mission was to elevate Asia while incorporating the best features of Western society. 7 Vast industrial

production, advanced research, the Honshū-Kyūshū Kannon tunnel, as well as projects for bullet trains,

canals, and a Berlin-Tōkyō railroad, were all examples of Japan’s scientific and spiritual dominance in East

Asia. 8 At the 1942 symposium on ‘overcoming modernity’, whilst many posited that modernity was

something that should be overcome, others argued that it retained some value. 9 Indeed, many commended the

European Renaissance precisely because it epitomised society’s ability to synthesise science and spirituality;

these individuals believed that Japan should emulate this, fusing East and West. 10 With a few exceptions,

none of the attendees of the Symposium fully rejected the concepts of science and modernity; what was

objected-to was the specifically ‘Western’ nature of the modernity, characterised by flawed materialism and

individualism. Driven by these criticisms, the Kokutai sought to supersede the West with its own moral and

spiritual structures, absorbing western scientific ideas as a rational means to strengthen itself.

Having separated itself from any allegiance to, and successfully asserted its superiority over Western

ideology, Kokutaiism would inspire others to enact policies for the victory of a uniquely ‘Japanese’ way of

living. Already by 1901, the Japanese right emphasized nationalism, the imperial family, and a Greater Asian

sphere, sacralising the emperor and national myths with increasing fervour and aggressiveness during the

Taishō and Shōwa eras. 11 In Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s play ‘Chijin no Ai’ the protagonist ultimately rejects the

Westernized ‘Modern Girl’, choosing instead a woman concerned with the traditional Japanese values of

marriage and family. While at first, smitten with glamorous Western ideals, he can be seen to ultimately

return to the righteous and morally superior Japanese way. 12 Indeed, by the thirties novelists such as Saneatsu

Mushanokoji had started to set their novels in the West in an attempt to disillusion their readers of its values.

In these novels, the protagonists would typically travel west and return with a new understanding of Japan’s

spiritual superiority. 13 Back in Japan, critic Kuki Shūzō’s own culturalism of ‘national aestheticism’

represented a reaction to the West. To him, the uniquely ‘Japanese’ was the totality of Japanese culture, that

fused the imperial state and cultural theory into one pure and immutable community. The ‘eternal now’ of

his own ‘Edo’ set itself against Western civilisation. This essentially ‘Japanese’ culture was manifested in a

state which also had created a ‘Japanese’ eternalized and perfect present. 14 These different efforts may not

have articulated their visions as ones of ‘Kokutaiism’, but they were all driven by a criticism of Western


Befu, Harumi, ‘Symbols of nationalism and Nihonjinron’, in Goodman, Roger, and Kirsten Refsing (eds.), Ideology

and practice in modern Japan, (London, 1992), pp. 43-44.


Ryōen, Minamoto, ‘The Symposium on Overcoming Modernity’, in Heisig, James, and, John Maraldo (eds.), Rude

Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, (Honolulu, 1994), pp. 210-212.


Aydin, Cemil, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian

Thought, (New York, 2007), pp. 90-91.


Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, pp. 139-140.


Ryōen, ‘The Symposium on Overcoming Modernity’, pp. 207-208.


Hofmann, The Fascist Effect, pp. 123-124.


Ryōen, ‘The Symposium on Overcoming Modernity’, pp. 200-202.


Silverberg, Miriam, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times, (University of

California, 2009), pp. 55-56.


Wilkinson, Endymion, Japan versus the west: image and reality, (Harmondsworth, 1990), pp. 70-72.


Pincus, Leslie, Authenticating Culture in Imperial Japan: Kuki Shūzō and the Rise of National Aesthetics, (Berkeley,

1996), pp. 218-229, 246-247.


Part II

civilisation to stress a uniquely ‘Japanese’ spiritual culture that superseded its Western counterpart. The

advocacy of Kokutaiist values would in time become state policy. By 1939, the victory of the emperor system

within modern Japanese culture was evidenced by the Japan Culture Film Almanac. This employed

ahistorical national definitions such as sumo’s mythical origins, and ‘Japanese-style baseball’. Unlike the

previously playful cosmopolitanism of Taishō, modernity now meant the efficiency of the Empire’s

communications, arms, and fellow fascist allies. Development of industry and technology were also

prominent features, but only insofar as they helped promote the purity, morality, and spirituality of the empire.


By 1943 even baseball was being suppressed. 16

The state mobilised movies for ‘healthy pleasures’ and the war effort through legal and rhetorical

encouragement. Movie magazines began to praise state-backed war movies, and a confused Japanese people

found comfort in Japanese movies depicting conflict overseas. In effect, the agonies of cultural transition

were eased by these depictions of a victorious imperial élan’. 17 Language itself was purged, as foreign

loanwords and toponyms were replaced with Japanese neologisms. English signs were removed, Englishtitled

publications renamed, and English itself discouraged by the Ministry of Education. 18 Entertainment and

language, product and carrier of culture, were not to continue spreading Western ideas simply because their

consumers were Japanese. Policy was now able to check the expansion of western influence; the superiority

of their new spiritual culture was seemingly affirmed. Similarly, foreign luxuries were categorized as Western

influences: morally decadent and economically harmful. Rallying behind the slogan ‘luxury is the enemy’

people were to return to simpler, older, purer forms of life. 19 In the war itself, this culture of a pure and noble

Japanese spirit would overcome Western material superiority, both in fighting spirit and spiritual protection.

People celebrated the victories and Western collapse that confirmed their moral superiority and leading

destiny. The press simultaneously helped vilify the Anglo-American ‘devils’ for their crimes. 20 In peace and

war, the spiritual and cultural composition of Western civilisation allowed it to be surpassed by the superior

Japanese Kokutai culture. Similarly, Japanese philosophy became increasingly nationalistic and

authoritarian. 21 This trend would peak in the Chūōkōron debates, as well as during the literary magazine

Bungakkai symposium on ‘overcoming modernity’, attended by various philosophers and writers. However,

not all agreed on the particulars. Some simply saw world history as shifting from the West to Asia and were

criticized for being insufficiently nationalistic. Others extolled the imperial institution and Japanese cultural

superiority, positing folk-spirit as a history-making world-movement centred on the Imperial line. 22 Miki

Kiyoshi and Rōyama Masamichi desired to create a Japan ready to embrace its historical mission, and thus

criticized Western fascism, liberalism, and socialism, to adapt them to their Japanese alternative. 23 Of course,

not all these philosophers employed the term ‘Kokutai’. Yet, the concept of ‘Kokutaiism’ existed de facto,

and all of them, including the imperial state they served, were united by a belief in the superiority of Japanese

culture over Western civilisation. This led them to hope that Kokutai would supplant materialism, baseball,

and the English language, to see its people living pure and noble lives in a world somehow appropriately

Japanese in its modernity.

Kokutaiism’s pan-Asianism was underpinned by its criticism of Western civilisation, and its emphasis on the

superiority of Eastern spiritualism. Despite an apparent decline during the 1920s, Asian and anti-Western

discourse continued and was consolidated by events such as the rejection of the racial equality clause, the

1924 banning of Japanese immigration to America, and the writing of pan-Asianist texts such as those of


Silverberg, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense, p. 254.


Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, pp. 144-145.


Silverberg, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense, pp. 136-142.


Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, pp. 148-149.


Shillony, Ben-Ami, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, (Oxford, 2001), p. 151.


Ibid., pp. 134-146.


Feenberg, Andrew, ‘The Problem of Modernity in the Philosophy of Nishida’, in Heisig, James, and, John Maraldo

(eds.), Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, (Honolulu, 1994), p. 151.


Piovesana, Gino, Recent Japanese Philosophical Thought, 1862-1996: a survey, (Avon, 1997), pp. 194-196.


Fletcher III, William, The Search for a New Order: Intellectuals and Fascism in Prewar Japan, (Chapel Hill, 1982),

pp. 84-87.


Were the political and cultural movements of 20 th century Japan driven by criticism of the West? | Katsuyuki Karl


Ōkawa Shūmei. 24 Indeed, while Aydin suggests that it was weakened, this can be seen as a crucial period in

preparing for salience. Growth in general anti-Western sentiment was reflected through criticism of Italian

activities in Abyssinia and the weak response of the League of Nations. 25 As war with the West came, journals

embraced the rhetoric of the East-West dichotomy, denying any similarity with Western imperialism in

favour of an image of Japan as the chosen leader of a reborn Asia. 26 Essentially for the pan-Asianists of the

Kokutai, the flaws of Western civilisation destined it to be vanquished by the East, which would naturally

occur under the guidance of Japan, the pinnacle of Eastern civilisation. For Zen nativist thinkers, this took

the form of admitting that while Western civilisation might be materially stronger, it lacked the strength of

Eastern spirituality. Asians thus had to free themselves of Western imperialism whilst Japan had a duty to

guide Asia using its ‘sublime Zen’. 27 Following these principles, Nishitani condemned at the Chuokoron

debates the Anglo-American hypocrisy of exploiting subjugated people while at the same time criticizing

Nazi supremacism. He then went on to propose that it was Japan’s historical mission to elevate Asia and

awaken the Asian peoples. 28 Western civilisation existed only to subjugate others and so deserved his

condemnation. Kokutai, in contrast, was to lead Eastern civilisation to co-prosperity and enlightenment.

Indeed, Ōkawa persistently claimed Japan’s destiny lay in supporting and leading the independence and

advancement of Asian countries against the West. Furthermore, he and others who called for Asian

civilisational revival and synthesis under Japanese aegis eagerly received the many internal critics of Western

civilisation. 29 After the Manchurian Incident and withdrawal from the League of Nations, Ōkawa received

government funding for a specialist school for Asian studies, and in 1941 he quickly embraced the rhetoric

of an East-West struggle epitomized by the Pacific War. 30 Pan-Asianists with nationalist tendencies were

driven by criticism of Western civilisation and its colonialism. These empires were to be defeated by a

resurgent Asia, their colonies liberated and made peaceful under Japanese leadership. The imperialism and

capitalism of Western civilisation which they criticized would be replaced by this resurgent tradition. Indeed,

sinologist Takeuchi Yoshimi distinguished between imperialist aggression against other Asian nations and

war with the West as self-defence. 31 Against the oppression of Western civilisation, they envisioned an

Eastern mode of ethics and an Eastern economic bloc which would overcome capitalism. This would produce

a superior East naturally led by the zenith of its civilisation—Japan, and its Kokutai government. 32 For the

participants of the Chūōkōron discussions, the war was evidently a struggle between Eastern and Western

morality, to guide the East against the divisive liberalism and colonial imperialism of the West. 33 Similarly,

for Miki and Rōyama, Japan’s rise heralded a new East Asian order that would unify the region and ultimately

overcome modernity’s ills in the form of an Asian utopia under Japanese leadership. 34 Nishida himself seems

to have striven for a distinctly Japanese Eastern modernity for a global modern world. To achieve this the

West had to be challenged in order to unite East and West through the transcendent concept of Japanese

modernity. 35 For Nishitani, within the East lay the solution to the problems of modernity; there also lay the

end of Japanese Westernization and Western civilisation itself. 36 All of these disparate thinkers were driven


Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia, pp. 141-160.


Hofmann, The Fascist Effect, pp. 93-96.


Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia, pp. 175-180.


Sharf, Robert, ‘Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited’, in Heisig, James, and, John Maraldo (eds.), Rude

Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, (Honolulu, 1994), pp. 49-50.


Maraldo, John, ‘Questioning Nationalism Now and Then: A Critical Approach to Zen and the Kyoto School’, in

Heisig, James, and, John Maraldo (eds.), Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism,

(Honolulu, 1994), pp. 352-353.


Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia, pp. 114-124.


Ibid., pp. 166-174.


Horio, Tsutomu, ‘The Chūōkōron Discussions, Their Background and Meaning’, in Heisig, James, and, John

Maraldo (eds.), Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, (Honolulu, 1994), pp. 292-



Hofmann, The Fascist Effect, pp. 128-129.


Horio, ‘The Chūōkōron Discussions’, pp. 307-314.


Fletcher III, The Search for a New Order, pp. 111-116.


Feenberg, ‘The Problem of Modernity’, pp. 151-173.


Van Bragt, Jan, ‘Kyoto Philosophy-Intrinsically Nationalistic?’, in Heisig, James, and, John Maraldo (eds.), Rude

Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, (Honolulu, 1994), pp. 246-247.


Part II

by criticism of Western civilisation and their conviction that Japan was the pinnacle of the spiritual East. This

was so clear that when the emperor announced the war’s end, Ōkawa thought his entire pan-Asianist work

had simply failed. 37 For them, the notions that Japan could reform the ‘unhistorical’ peoples of Asia until

they became spiritually Japanese, and that ‘Japanising’ Asians amounted to ‘awakening them’, likely did not

seem incompatible. 38 Although they may not have framed their cause in Kokutaiist language, all thinkers

were driven by a disdain for the west and its recent ravaging of the East. Ultimately their shared grievance

would unite them in support of Kokutai leadership in the struggle for Asian transcendence of the West.

The fascist element of Kokutaiism also came to define itself in contrast to the West. Its persistent criticism

of western fascism fostered a resolute confidence in their superiority over it. Thus, the nationalist Right

embraced national particularism to restore what it saw as the Japanese spirit, convinced of a distinct Japanese

solution to the ills of modernity, beyond Western liberalism, socialism, and ultimately fascism. While they

did recognize universal fascistic values, they still asserted the superiority of Japan’s even greater Kokutai:

fascism simply reiterated what had always been the Japanese way. 39 This was also reflective of the Mussolini

boom, which hailed Mussolini as a role model for Japanese youth and their new Japan, but which placed itself

in context against the professional politicians and Westernized intellectuals. Further, Mussolini’s heroism,

according to children’s books authors who wrote about him, would inspire youth to turn against American

materialism. 40 Their claim to difference was founded on national peculiarities derived from their criticism of

Western civilisation, because ultimately, the flawed fascism of an equally flawed Western civilisation could

never compare to the uniqueness of the Kokutai. Leading nationalist thinkers expressed scepticism about

fascism and even used the label as an insult in their internecine infighting. While they recognized its

possibilities for community-building, they once again stressed the uniquely organic Japanese totality of the

nation united in will and blood for three thousand years, all of them agreeing that the native Japanese way

was superior to fascism. Fascism was comparable but not compatible, to the uniqueness and superiority of

the Japanese way and Kokutai. 41 Thus, at the ‘overcoming modernity’ symposium Hayashi Fusao’s essay

stressed loyalty to the emperor above all, beyond Western or Chinese notions of allegiance. 42 In relation to

their Axis allies, newspapers always stressed Japanese military parity with or even superiority to Germany.

Later criticism stressed German deficiencies; they had never been as gallant or steadfast as the Japanese, and

as a result, their brand of Western National-Socialism failed. 43 In fascist Italy, similar flaws were identified

by literary critic Kobayashi Hideo. The spirit of the Renaissance found there, and the more recent instalment

of fascism, paled in comparison to the pure and unbroken Japanese imperial tradition. Be they Italian,

Renaissance, or fascist cultures, that of Japan, for Hideo, remained superior. 44 Driven by a rejection of the

perceived flaws of Western civilisation, the fascism of ‘Kokutaiism’ embraced the Kokutai precisely because

of its criticism of the West. Unwilling to admit any connection to western fascism, ‘fascism’ became the

shadowy partner of Kokutaiism, the public face of which continued to assert total separation from Western


After its defeat against the West, ‘Kokutaiism’ arguably transformed into ‘nihonjinron’. While it still

explicitly positioned ‘Japan’ against the ‘West’, it was differentiated by the aim of preserving what was

uniquely ‘Japanese’. For Nishitani in a post-war analysis, the problem of Western modernity was nihilism;

as the Meiji modernisation severed Japan’s spiritual traditions, it caused a metamorphosis of violence by

‘patriots’ against this loss of cultural self. 45 In a sense, the violence was no longer physical and aimed

outwards, but ideological and aimed internally. For ultimately ‘nihonjinron’ still allows continuity with


Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia, pp. 186-187.


Maraldo, ‘Questioning Nationalism Now and Then’, pp. 353-354.; Van Bragt, ‘Kyoto Philosophy-Intrinsically

Nationalistic?’, pp. 238-239.


Hofmann, The Fascist Effect: Japan and Italy, pp. 75-83.


Ibid., pp. 56-58.


Ibid., pp. 84-88, 132-134.


Ryōen, ‘The Symposium on Overcoming Modernity’, pp. 214-215.


Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, pp. 152-154.


Hofmann, The Fascist Effect, pp. 126-127.


Maraldo, ‘Questioning Nationalism Now and Then’, p. 359.


Were the political and cultural movements of 20 th century Japan driven by criticism of the West? | Katsuyuki Karl


wartime nationalistic ideology, both relying on notions of the ‘ethnic essence’ of the Japanese blood, race,

and language. This had implied the homogeneity of Japanese blood and the purity of its culture. Furthermore,

the idea that Japanese spiritualism would triumph over Western materialism still persisted, based on the

notion that Japan was the greatest nation in the world. This essentially constituted wartime nationalism

stripped of its imperial and militaristic rhetoric. 46 Yet, as noted it does not seek to surpass but rather to

preserve the ‘Japanese’ against Western civilisation, a discourse that has been prominent on both the Left and

Right. Thus, modernist critic Kuwabara Takeo was censured for his critical evaluation of haiku, and the

counter-arguments from the Left extoled its uniqueness, long tradition, acceptance and popularity within

Japanese culture. 47 Haiku is ‘unique’: it arguably embodies Japanese ‘tradition’, and it is accepted and

embraced by the ‘Japanese’ as part of their culture. Kuwabara’s criticism thus amounted to betrayal.

Similarly, the Left wished to preserve and feel pride in kabuki, even though kabuki is arguably a feudal

product. They would also disparage ‘un-Japanese’ modern drama, Western-based music, art, literature, and

the innovators and pioneers who brought such modern novels, Western literature and theatre to Japan, turning

instead to ancient and medieval Japanese literature. 48 Yet, there was no intention to replace English. Nothing

like Asian writers envisioning the defeat of Western literature, or the spread of its superior spiritual culture;

this is not Leftist thought in service of ‘Kokutaiism’. This is simply a desire for Japan to be ‘Japan’, and the

Japanese to be ‘Japanese’, rather than Western. While critical of wartime nationalism, Takeuchi Yoshimi

does this too—his call for ‘national literature’ is a reaction, wishing to preserve the Japanese against the

Western. His praise of the unified ‘minzoku’ is decidedly unhistorical; an essence that exists unchanged

through history, defining the Japanese as ‘Japanese’, the restoration of who is the mission of ‘national

literature’. On the other hand, joining world literature brings ‘coloniality’, the loss of independence and

degeneration. Thus, this resistance of outside influence requires restoring the minzoku that has driven Japan

through history, and of whose spirit the people are mere expressions. It is a dichotomy of the essentially

‘Japanese’ in which his ‘cure’ for Western universalism is always ‘minzoku’. 49 However, the characters

which form ‘minzoku’ can mean ‘nation’ or ‘people’, and ‘tribe’ or ‘family’, and thus it can mean ‘nation’,

as well as ‘people’, ‘ethnicity’, ‘race’, or all of them simultaneously. Instead, ‘kokumin’, ‘state’, and ‘nation’

or ‘people’, is what usually denotes ‘citizen’ in the political or civic sense. What Takeuchi is advocating for

then is purging the foreign for what is essentially ethnocentric particularism. However, it is again a restoration

of ‘Japanese’ literature in Japan, not the transcendence of Japanese literature, as part of the Kokutai’s sublime

uniqueness and superiority over the Western. It is simply a reaction, a defence of the uniquely ‘Japanese’,

falling back on the ethnic but lacking any transcendent vision.

Takeuchi Yoshimi or the Left would perhaps disavow this categorization, but their contributions amount to

exactly that. For the corollary of this division has always been that if the uniquely ‘Japanese’ will not

transcend the ‘Western’, then the ‘West’ will never transcend the uniquely ‘Japanese’. Hence the foreign,

including Western civilisation, can never enter the uniquely ’Japanese’. Contrast this to ‘Kokutaiism’, ready

to embrace and Japanize Asians, and ultimately even the world in the war slogan ‘hakkō ichiu’, ‘eight chords,

one roof’. Thus, while Japanese identity is expressed through culture and underlying customs, where social

practices are expressions of a cultural ethos, this culture is uniquely of the ‘Japanese’. And so it seems that

‘nihonjinron’ emphasizes the empathetic communication, the non-logical and non-verbal sensitivity of

‘Japanese’ social interactions, as well as ‘Japanese’ community, ‘inter-personalism’, and the close emotional

bonds of ‘amae’. In contrast, Western societies are opposed due to their focus on individualism and

independence. 50 This unique ‘Japanese’ is ultimately grounded in being ‘Japanese’, the ‘minzoku’ of both

left and right that is shut off from outside access. As Yoshino has found, there exists a vague general

‘racialism’, which explains collective identity through innate and immutable phenotypical and genotypical


Befu, Harumi, ‘Symbols of nationalism and Nihonjinron’, in Goodman, Roger, and Kirsten Refsing (eds.), Ideology

and practice in modern Japan, (London, 1992), pp. 43-44.


Kuwabara, Takeo, Japan and Western Civilization: Essays on Comparative Culture, (Tokyo, 1983), pp. 47-48.


Ibid., pp. 50-56.


Calichman, Richard, Takeuchi Yoshimi: Displacing the West, (New York, 2004), pp. 56-61.


Yoshino, Kosaku, ‘Culturalism, Racialism, and Internationalism in the Discourse on Japanese Identity’, in Gladney,

Dru (ed.), Making Majorities: Constituting the Nation in Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, Fiji, Turkey, and the United

States, (Stanford, 1998), pp. 16-17.


Part II

characteristics. This ‘Japanese blood’ emphasizes kinship and shared lineage- echoing, if not reviving, the

imperial family-state who are the exclusive owners of Japanese culture, such as uniquely untranslatable words

and phrases. Hence Watanabe Shōichi wrote that the spirit of the Japanese language was as old as Japanese

blood, and thus he knew of no foreigner who could write good waka poetry. 51 Regardless of whether the

average Japanese may in fact, be able to write good waka poetry, or how much ‘Japanese blood’ is necessary,

none of the ‘un-Japanese’, including those of Western civilisation, can ever write good waka poetry. The

haiku may not transcend, but it is forever beyond reach. While many agreed Japanese-Americans could

become Japanese by virtue of this ‘Japanese blood’, and Koreans and Chinese could overcome genotype by

combining culture and phenotype (in other words, by assimilating) Westerners could never overcome

phenotype, for even if they learnt Japanese behaviour, it would still not bridge the racial-cultural gap. It is

‘our’ modes of thinking and behaving, a vague overlap of race and culture embodying ‘our’, ‘Japanese’,

difference. 52 Clearly then, the fundamental problem with ‘nihonjinron’ is its construction of an essential

‘Japanese’ identity in contrast to an essential ‘West’; it is a cultural discourse of difference, uniqueness, and

ultimately exceptionalism. Japan is not Western, cannot become Western, and were it ever to change – that

is, Westernize – it would not be ‘Japan’. Japanese speak, think, behave, and look Japanese, because they are

Japanese. This is still criticism of Western civilisation of the highest order, but a defensive one. The crucial

difference is that while they both criticize Western civilisation, post-war ‘nihonjinron’ merely seeks to

delineate and preserve what is ‘Japanese’, whereas ‘Kokutaiism’, convinced of its moral and spiritual

superiority, was driven by its criticism of Western civilisation and wish to transcend it.

This was underpinned by the virtue of its moral and spiritual superiority, and its ability to absorb Western

science whilst remaining spiritually ‘untainted’. Furthermore, we must consider the superiority of ‘Japanese’

spiritual culture, which was effectively carried forth by policy as well as Japan’s position as the foremost

nation in the spiritual East, leading Asia’s transcendence over an oppressive West. In contrast, its

‘nihonjinron’ descendant has been shown to simply seek to delineate ‘Japanese-ness’. Each of these different

strands of ‘Kokutaiism’ clearly shows how it was driven by its criticism of Western civilisation to a vision of

its ultimate transcendence over it, now abandoned by post-war ‘nihonjinron’ to simply preserve what is

‘Japanese’. The dream of the Japanese sun rising over Western civilisation has become the sun that shines

most brightly in Japan.


Aydin, Cemil, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan

Asian Thought, (New York, 2007)

Befu, Harumi, ‘Symbols of nationalism and Nihonjinron’, in Goodman, Roger, and Kirsten Refsing (eds.)

Ideology and practice in modern Japan, (London, 1992)

Calichman, Richard, Takeuchi Yoshimi: Displacing the West, (New York, 2004)

Feenberg, Andrew, ‘The Problem of Modernity in the Philosophy of Nishida’, in Heisig, James, and, John

Maraldo (eds.), Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism,

(Honolulu, 1994)

Fletcher III, William, The Search for a New Order: Intellectuals and Fascism in Prewar Japan, (Chapel

Hill, 1982)

Hofmann, Reto, The Fascist Effect: Japan and Italy, 1915-1952, (New York, 2015)

Horio, Tsutomu, ‘The Chūōkōron Discussions, Their Background and Meaning’, in Heisig, James, and,

John Maraldo (eds.), Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism,

(Honolulu, 1994)

Gauntlett, John (trans.), Kokutai no Hongi (Newton, 1974)

Kuwabara, Takeo, Japan and Western Civilization: Essays on Comparative Culture, (Tokyo, 1983)


Ibid., pp. 18-22.


Ibid., pp. 22-27.


Were the political and cultural movements of 20 th century Japan driven by criticism of the West? | Katsuyuki Karl


Maraldo, John, ‘Questioning Nationalism Now and Then: A Critical Approach to Zen and the Kyoto

School’, in Heisig, James, and, John Maraldo (eds.), Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and

the Question of Nationalism, (Honolulu, 1994)

Pincus, Leslie, Authenticating Culture in Imperial Japan: Kuki Shūzō and the Rise of National Aesthetics,

(Berkeley, 1996)

Piovesana, Gino, Recent Japanese Philosophical Thought, 1862-1996: a survey, (Richmond, 1997)

Ryōen, Minamoto, ‘The Symposium on Overcoming Modernity’, in Heisig, James, and, John Maraldo

(eds.), Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, (Honolulu, 1994)

Silverberg, Miriam, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times, (Berkeley,


Sharf, Robert, ‘Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited’, in Heisig, James, and, John Maraldo (eds.), Rude

Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, (Honolulu, 1994)

Shillony, Ben-Ami, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, (Oxford, 2001)

Shizutera, Ueda, ‘Nishida, Nationalism and the War in Question’, in Heisig, James, and, John Maraldo

(eds.), Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, (Honolulu, 1994)

Van Bragt, Jan, ‘Kyoto Philosophy-Intrinsically Nationalistic?’, in Heisig, James, and, John Maraldo (eds.),

Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, (Honolulu, 1994)

Wilkinson, Endymion, Japan versus the west: image and reality, (Harmondsworth, 1990)

Yoshino, Kosaku, ‘Culturalism, Racialism, and Internationalism in the Discourse on Japanese Identity’, in

Gladney, Dru (ed.), Making Majorities: Constituting the Nation in Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia,

Fiji, Turkey, and the United States, (Stanford, 1998)








MICHAELA GROUNDWATER: Historiography: Politics and Reform in America

Pages 63-66

ALEXANDER HIBBERTS: Winston S. Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving

Commission (1930) – A Review

Pages 67-68

LEAH NUTALL: Source Commentary: The Case of Deborah Greening

Pages 69-72




Initial scholarship on the Progressive Era – as evidenced by the seminal text on progressivism that is Richard

Hofstadter’s The Age of Reform (1955) – has traditionally perceived the fundamental causes of reform in

American to have been the politics of white men, the role of the northern states as the foremost political arena,

and the drive to curb the power of expansive corporations and the corrupt political machine. Hofstadter’s

intellectual history of the Progressive movement (which he defines as the period between 1900 and 1914)

places ideology at the forefront of the movement, establishing that the catalysts of change were the increasing

urbanisation of the agricultural communities (that were previously integral to American society), the

restoration of economic individualism and political democracy, and societal reactions to an “immigrant

invasion”. 1 Defining “Progressivism” as the ‘broader impulse toward criticism and change that was

everywhere after 1900,’ Hofstadter states that the driving force of the movement was the ideas of the middleclasses,

who were particularly keen on social and economic reform. 2 This ideological approach to the study

of the Progressive movement diverges from previous approaches to American political history (like that of

Charles Beard) and laid the groundwork for further divergence in methodological approaches. 3 Building on

this, this essay will consider how more recent scholarship has evolved to include some disenfranchised groups

that scholarship has previously overlooked: these groups being white and black women. Indeed, the essay

will concentrate primarily on the different approaches that historians have taken when examining interracial

relations between women during the Progressive Era. Firstly, looking at the white woman’s perspective in

Suzanne M. Marilley’s Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the US, 1820-1920, before

proceeding to consider the experience of black middle-class women through Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore’s

Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920, this essay

will argue that the traditional definition of Progressivism as a political reform movement practiced by white,

middle-class men is no longer relevant and that a more comprehensive, complex, and inclusive perspective

of the movement would serve to benefit future research in this area.

Firstly, it is pertinent to note that white and black women’s activities and involvement in reform movements

during the Progressive Era are oft neglected in the early scholarship of the epoch. Hofstadter, for instance,

failed to address southern reform movements, even omitting women from his work altogether. Since then,

other historians such as C. Vann Woodward (1960), J. Morgan Kousser (1974) and Anne Firor Scott (1975)

have widened the geographical scope of Progressive-Era studies to incorporate southern history, but still fall

short of considering the black experience. Instead, many such scholars argue that middle-class, white – and,

in Scott’s case, female – experiences dominated this period, and subsequently warrant greater attention. 4

More recent works, like Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in

the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920, Paula J. Giddings’s Ida: A Sword Among Lions, and Deborah G.

White’s Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defence of Themselves, 1894-1994, have begun to explore the

long-ignored experiences of black women during this period. This wider lens provides researchers with a

more advanced awareness of the expansive extent of Progressive Era reforms, illustrating how the study of

history continues to evolve into a more diverse and inclusive discipline. In particular, Gilmore’s book sheds

substantial light on how historians have made strides toward this target, particularly in their consideration of

the role of black women in the exclusive political circles of the Deep South.


Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R (New York, 1955), p.3, p.5, p.7, & p.8.


Ibid., p.5.


A. Brinkley, ‘Reviewed Work(s): The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. by Richard Hofstadter’ in Reviews in

American History, Vol 13, No.3 (1985), p.464


Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina,

1896-1920 (North Carolina, 1996), p.149.

Part III

Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920, Glenda

Elizabeth Gilmore’s 1996 publication, argues that gender and politics were just as interrelated for women as

for men in the Progressive Era. Of particular note is Gilmore’s methodology – that of studying the events of

this period through the gaze of the Dudley Pettey – which introduces a new perspective to the corpus of

literature on the Progressive Era: the perspective of the black female. By examining the black female gaze,

historians like Gilmore are able paint a broader picture of race and gender relations in this era, a particularly

significant development given that black women are traditionally seen as invisible in this period.

Gilmore’s employment of contemporaneous, written sources that were penned by a black woman not only

broadens our understanding of race and gender in the period in question, but also highlights a major pitfall

into which many scholars of the Progressive Era have fallen. Indeed, Gilmore’s exploration of the black

female gaze accentuates the fact that the sources written by white women – many of which dominate historical

studies of suffrage and similar socio-political movements – tend to overlook or minimise the significance of

interracial interactions, effectively erasing this theme, and its immense implications, from the history books. 5

Gilmore’s methodology and findings are, then, highly significant, as they reiterate the importance of widening

the scope of historical studies to include the perspectives of marginalised and overlooked groups: without

their direct insights, important factors and dynamics are easily neglected, ultimately weakening arguments

and fuelling misconceptions.

Gilmore herself addresses the question of whether we should consider black women “progressives”: arguing

that, by doing so, we demonstrate ‘how gender and race as tools of historical analysis can enrich traditional

political history’, facilitating the emergence of a more multi-faceted and complete understanding of the past. 6

Black women’s political activity during this period should definitely be considered reformist and, in that

context, they should be classed as progressive. Furthermore, the central thesis of Gilmore’s book – that the

disenfranchisement of black men created a space for black women to become the diplomats and ambassadors

to white communities – establishes that this situation placed black women in a crucial position in the

American socio-political landscape, bestowing-upon them the influence, skills and opportunity to contribute

directly towards the fight for women’s suffrage. 7 Nonetheless, in any analysis of American race and gender

politics, one must take into account geographical factors that impacted the capacity for black women to enact

change: it would appear that, in the Southern states in particular, black women faced specific obstacles posed

by the near- ubiquitous ideology of white supremacy which, going forward, this essay will assess from the

perspective of both Gilmore and Marilley as both pay particular attention to the matter.

Gilmore argues that ‘white supremacists responded to growing assertiveness among white women, to urban

and industrial social pressures, and to spectacular African American successes’ by implementing and

doubling-down on their white supremacist campaigns. 8 By considering these campaigns as other historians

have done – that is, from the sole perspective of the perpetrator(s) – this serves only to reiterate and reinforce

their narrow stances. 9 Gilmore claims that, only when black women are included in the political history of

the south, it is clear that they shared a common political culture (namely the prevalence of communitarianism

over individualism), although the manner in which these individuals voiced their activism varied somewhat

according to both class and age. 10 By imposing their agency through their involvement in street altercations,

support for the Daily Record, and demand for chivalry from the streetcar operations, Gilmore infers that black

women actively challenged and questioned the established social hierarchy and the prescriptive norms that

this entailed, ultimately provoking white men into attempting to limit their agency (often by ignoring or

ridiculing these women). 11 Subsequently, it would appear that many white men, and some white women, who

inhabited America’s southern states tended to deploy white supremacist tactics in an attempt to exploit


Ibid., p. xxii.


Ibid., p.150.


Ibid., p. xxi


Ibid., p. xx.


Ibid., p.92.


Ibid., p.93.


Ibid., p.108.


Historiography: Politics and Reform in America | Michaela Groundwater

society’s fear of the black, male ‘predator’, who theoretically posed an acute threat to gracious white women.

Gilmore contends that, by grossly exaggerating the danger that black men posed – often portraying them as

would-be rapists with perverted sexual interests – white supremacists reinforced the strength of their ideology

in the South, making white women feel increasingly dependent on the ‘New White Man’ for protection. 12

Here, Gilmore’s employment of more representative sources ultimately benefits her argument: engaging with

a perspective that has been historically neglected, she is able to gain a more nuanced insight into the activities

of black women during the Progressive era, many of which posed a not insubstantial threat to the white

supremacist agenda. It also becomes evident that black people did not act merely as passive recipients of

maltreatment, indeed, many formulated responses to white supremacist arguments. This is evinced in

Gilmore’s citation of Alexander Manley’s printed editorial, which itself was a response to white

supremacists’ employment of Felton’s speech in order to further their campaign of ‘guilt and degradation’. 13

While Gilmore’s work engages the perspective of black women directly, Suzanne M. Marilley handles the

topic of woman’s suffrage and white supremacy from a slightly different angle. Marilley contends that white,

middle-class women led the charge in the struggle for suffrage, whereas black women took a backseat. That

is not to say that Marilley removes them from her account altogether, but she is unmistakeably interested in

the roles of white women in the reform movement of woman’s suffrage. Marilley is, furthermore, elusive in

her coverage of progressivism. Indeed, instead of defining ‘progressivism’, or clearly relating it to the events

in this period, she frames her argument’s periodisation in relation to three apparently chronological chapters

in the struggle for women’s suffrage: ‘The Feminism of Equal Rights’ (Jacksonian era – mid-1870s), ‘The

Feminism of Fear’ (mid-1870s – 1890s), and ‘The Feminism of Personal Development’ (1890s – 1906). 14

Although Marilley does not explicitly state that this is the case, it would seem that the ‘Feminism of Personal

Development’ stage that she identifies correlates with the period that Gilmore defines as the ‘Progressive

Era’; in order to facilitate the constructive comparison of these historians, it is this section of Marilley’s work

with which this essay will concern-itself with. By focusing on the alliances that white, middle-class women

forged with white supremacist movements in southern states, Marilley examines the manner by which white

women used their relationships with racist ideologies in order to engineer and exploit opportunities to win

the vote. This is reflected in Marilley’s central thesis, that: ‘native-born, white American suffragists were

limited agents of reform because they were elites, they nevertheless encouraged liberal and egalitarian

change, developed shrewd strategies to achieve it, and usually made strides as they corrected their mistakes.’ 15

She goes on to conclude that, although white suffragists aligned themselves with white supremacy campaigns

(for their own advantage), they refused to endorse the notion that race should act as a qualification for voting

(after a 1905-07 campaign) or the use of violence to forcefully impose white domination. 16 The perspective

that Marilley explores, then, is evidently an important one, as it provides additional context to aid our

understanding of intraracial, white relations in the deep south, and gives an insight into the means and motives

of white suffrage movements.

Naturally, there are both strengths and weaknesses of both of the texts discussed here. Critics of Marilley

have highlighted the fact that, although she engages with a substantial number of primary sources in her

research, these sources are overwhelmingly written from the white perspective – given that the text repeatedly

touches on race politics, Marilley would have benefited from engaging with sources of a more varied

provenance, particularly those offering an African-American’s perspective. 17 Secondly, Marilley’s argument

would appear, at times, to be incredibly dense and difficult to follow: there appears to be a lack of structure

in her writing, a shortcoming that is particularly acute in the section that relates to white supremacy, a factor

that is central to the text’s core thesis. Lastly, it would appear that Marilley does not provide an adequate


Ibid., p.96 and p. 117.


Ibid., p. 105.


Suzanne M. Marilley, Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the US, 1820-1920 (Cambridge,

1996), p.6-8.


Ibid., p. 2.


Ibid., p.171 and p. 175.


C. Harrison, ‘Reviewed Work(s): Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820-

1920’ in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 29, No.1 (1998), p.136.


Part III

conclusion, failing to fully answer the question of what actually drove America’s socio-political elites to

endorse women’s suffrage campaigns and ultimately ratify the nineteenth-amendment in August 1920. It

would appear, then, that Marilley’s study – particularly the arguments that the tome propounds – would have

benefitted from further clarification, engagement with a more substantial range of perspectives, and a more

lucid structure. By contrast, one can claim that Gilmore’s work has indeed had a lasting influential legacy.

Her argument is both clearly-structured and well-informed: she uses her diverse sources intelligently in order

to shed new light on the period, encouraging historians to radically redefine what it meant to be a

“Progressive” in this era. Certainly, one could raise questions, even concerns, over the extent to which Dudley

Pettey’s perspective is representative or even accurate, but Gilmore does address this in her acknowledgement

of the remarkable nature of the family. 18 Nonetheless, one should acknowledge various other concerns that

have been raised over the extent to which the derived model is applicable to other areas of the Deep South. 19

As the first study of its kind, however, this piece deserves its reputation as a seminal work in the fields of

both women’s history and African American history. It certainly raises new questions about the nature of

political activity among the black middle-classes post-emancipation, the behind the scene methods of black

women in campaigning for the needs of their communities, woman’s suffrage and its impact on racial politics

in the South. 20

In conclusion, Gilmore’s and Marilley’s work were, at the time that they were penned, significant texts that

went some way in remedying scholarship’s failure to properly consider the roles that women played in

progressive reform movements, particularly with regards to southern political reforms. Gilmore’s book has a

lasting legacy, introducing a previously unexplored perspective which has bridged the historiographical gap

laid by white, male-centric works of historians like Hofstadter. By comparing Marilley’s work to Gilmore’s,

this essay has demonstrated the different scholarly approaches that one may adopt when studying the role of

white supremacy in the south: black women’s activism spurring on white supremacy, and white women’s

collaboration with this system as a means to obtain the vote. Further research into the specific ways in which

white women collaborated with white supremacy might shed more light on Marilley’s argument. With regards

to Gilmore’s research, it would be interesting to go further afield and examine black women’s activities in

other southern states to gain a better insight into this research’s applicability on a wider scale. Overall,

however, it is evident that the development of this field to include marginalised voices is a great achievement

and provides many avenues for historians to explore in the future.


Brinkley, A., ‘Reviewed Work(s): The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. by Richard Hofstadter’ in Reviews in

American History, Vol 13, No.3 (1985)

Gilmore, Glenda Elizabeth, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina,

1896-1920 (North Carolina, 1996)

Harrison, C., ‘Reviewed Work(s): Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820

1920’ in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 29, No.1 (1998),

Hofstadter, Richard, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R (New York, 1955)

MacLean, N. ‘Reviewed Work(s): Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North

Carolina, 1896-1920 by Glenda Gilmore’, in The American Historical Review, Vol.103, No. 1(1998)

Marilley, Suzanne M., Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the US, 1820-1920 (Cambridge, 1996)


N. MacLean, ‘Reviewed Work(s): Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North

Carolina, 1896-1920 by Glenda Gilmore’, in The American Historical Review, Vol.103, No. 1 (1998), p.282.




Ibid., p.281.






Reading through the well-worn pages of my motheaten copy of Churchill’s biography, which I had excitedly

ordered from the forgotten vaults of Uppsala University library, seems to me to be a similar experience to

leafing through the contents of the man’s very mind. The wit, character, energy and, above all, ambition of

Churchill is immediately evident to the reader.

Churchill – whose legacy since his death in 1965 has not been without controversy – published the book in

1930 to, as he announces on the very first page, provide a ‘single complete story’ of ‘my early life and

adventures’. As a man who mythologised his own life story, the task of reading this book is not an easy one:

the diligent reader must make themselves constantly aware of the text’s various exaggerations and

reinterpretations, fashioned to complement Churchill’s glorified perception of his own life story.

For instance, Andrew Roberts in his exceptional, new biography of Churchill (Churchill: Walking with

Destiny, 2018) suggests that the story of Churchill’s encounter with ‘dull yellow glare of mortal peril’ when

he, and ‘another boy little younger than myself’, decided to go boating on Lake Lausanne in Switzerland, is

actually a tale of how the young Churchill nearly drowned his brother, Jack. The two boys had rowed out into

the lake and had gone swimming when their boat was suddenly swept away by the wind. After much

difficulty, and a confrontation with ‘…Death as near as I believe I have ever seen him’, they recaptured the

boat and their lives were subsequently saved, but not without facing considerable danger.

If one reads between the well-formulated lines that recount the young Churchill’s journey from school at

Harrow to Sandhurst, much of the personal anguish that Churchill experienced from parental neglect becomes

evident. In particular, it would seem that Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill – a successful politician

of the late Victorian era – was always a distant figure with whom Churchill longed for closer companionship


On one occasion, when Winston was in his school years at Harrow, his father visited in order to conduct a

‘formal visit of inspection’ of his son’s model army. Churchill describes how his father was impressed by the

state of affair with which he was met, and subsequently deemed it fitting that his son should pursue a military

career. For years, the young Churchill believed his father had glimpsed in him the ‘qualities of a military

genius’, only to later learn that Randolph had, in reality, considered his son not to be ‘clever enough’ to

become a lawyer.

This same, sad distance of affection is also alluded-to in Churchill’s recollections of his mother, Jennie

Jerome, whom he nonetheless refers to as his ‘Evening Star’. Indeed, he clearly ‘loved her’, but she was

always ‘at a distance’ and the infant Churchill subsequently turned to his nurse, Mrs Everest, for maternal


Churchill’s autobiography is, moreover, also notable for its insightful comments – first through the lens of a

witty and mischievous schoolboy, and later through the eyes of a maturing young man – on the nature and

impact of the late Victorian education system. In the text he is, for instance, particularly critical of the

curriculum’s fondness for Classics, challenging ‘the aptness of the Classics’ for educating the nation’s elite.

Part III

Instead, he deemed the acquisition of Latin and Greek – both subjects with which struggled greatly – to be

unnecessary burdens, particularly in comparison to schooling in a ‘sensible language, like English’.

Moreover, Churchill’s writings provide us with a taste of the political landscape in Britain and her Empire as

the 20 th century loomed. A staunch imperialist himself, Churchill repeatedly cites the popular contemporary

belief in an ‘Imperial Federation’: the idea that Britain would lead its community of colonial possessions

against any external threat. During the 1920s, the decade that preceded the publication of My Early Life,

Britain’s empire had been at the very apex of its power, reinforcing the Imperialist perspective and supporting

the concept of British exceptionalism.

Characteristic of Britain’s imperial confidence, and the beliefs in empire that Churchill bore in his bosom

through his life, Churchill addresses the upcoming generation with a typically Churchillian statement; he

proclaims that the young ‘have not an hour to lose’ to ‘take your places in life’s firing line’ and ‘raise the

glorious flags’ of progress. They need ‘never to submit to failure’ and to be ‘generous and true’ in pursuing

the remaking of the world. Only with hindsight can one appreciate that the decline of Britain’s imperial

project – and, with it, her position as the foremost global power – was all too imminent.





‘The case of Deborah Greening’ was a written source produced by a notary at the Old Bailey in 1725 during

her trial. 1 Greening was acquitted of the crime of infanticide; the ‘killing of a new-born’ child. 2 However, we

cannot verify this account as she does not reappear in Old Bailey proceedings again. She does not speak

during her trial, representing a wider issue regarding the representation of women within the legal framework

of the eighteenth century. Criminal proceedings remained patriarchal despite increased female participation

in civil litigation. Originally, the function of this document was to provide judicial legitimacy in official

proceedings, yet modern interpretations have focused on social theory. Due to an inability to verify the

account, the validity of Greening’s experience is dubious. Therefore, the source is most insightful when

considering the theory behind violence rather than composing a ‘typical’ profile of an infanticide offender.

The usefulness of this source is demonstrated by the reduction in the amount of information regarding the

crime of infanticide. As touched upon by Stretton, this can largely be attributed to the introduction of a statute

in 1624. 3 The statute reversed the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ basis of English law when prosecuting

women’s crimes, moving instead towards women having to prove their own innocence. The changing social

foundation of infanticide law saw the severity of punishments increase from previous centuries, as the crime

began to be perceived as a sin that no extenuating circumstances could justify. This change manifested itself

within a legal system that already presumed a guilty verdict if a birth was concealed. Consequently, this led

to a decrease in alternative sources, including remission letters, that would offer further insight and validity.

Thus, an admittance of guilt would result in certain execution rather than a pardon, as in previous centuries.

However, the source can only be useful to a limited extent. The male dominated framework for the

prosecution of women valued perceived societal moral integrity over the underlying motives for infanticide.

This is where the prosecution of such cases differs from traditional homicide cases. I would suggest this is

because factors, including the ‘heat of the moment’, often considered in murders committed by men, were

not applicable to infanticide. This lack of interest in the causes of the crime, and a preoccupation on whether

a birth was concealed makes Greening’s case more useful, due to its rarity. Although, this same rarity causes

considerable limitations regarding the representative nature of Deborah Greening’s case, as it cannot be

verified how ‘typical’ Greening is of infanticide offenders. Despite the lack of inquiry into the fundamental

motives, this case is still extremely useful for drawing wider comparisons to similar cases whilst maintaining

the individuality of such a personal crime. 4

A wider challenge faced by many proceedings found in the Old Bailey Online is that the voices of those

accused are often lost. This is the case for Deborah Greening, as the third person pronoun used to refer to her

removes her from her alleged crime. The prioritisation of the two male witness accounts evidences the male

dominated legal framework in which the trial is conducted. This is further reinforced by the prosecution

arising from her Master, William Shorrard, physically instigating the investigation, as demonstrated by him

taking Greening to the Justice of the Peace.

The punishment for those found guilty of infanticide was the death penalty. Thus, individuals often told a

fictionalised version of events to preserve their lives. This is possibly true for Deborah Greening. If she

fulfilled the condition that her infant was still-born, then she would be acquitted of her crime. This further

undermines the authenticity of the account recorded by the Old Bailey notary. When determining whether


Old Bailey Online Proceedings, February 1725, trial of Deborah Greening (t17250224-9) - Accessed 07/11/2018.


Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives, (Stanford, 1990), p. 84.


Keith Wrightson, A Social History of England 1500-1750, (Cambridge, 2017), p. 212.


Old Bailey Proceedings, April 1743, trial of Elizabeth Stuart (t17430413-51) – Accessed 07/11/2018.

Part III

the suspect had acted with malicious intent, the presence of a garment to show the intention to care for the

infant also seen as a justification for acquittal. 5 This gives a further reason for her to have falsified her account.

The sociological theory of ‘life cycles of poverty’ offers a more sympathetic interpretation of Greenings

motivations, placing individual actions and human vulnerability at the centre of analysis. 6 This would suggest

that, if Greening did commit infanticide, it was instead an act of compassion, sparing her child from a life of

poverty and suffering. However, this is arguably too compassionate of an interpretation due to Greenings

occupation as a domestic servant, suggesting instead her actions were more practically motivated. A more

convincing application is suggested by Hufton, who proposes that servant girls who needed to retain their

employment often committed infanticide. Servant girls would also have no means to conceal a pregnancy,

unlike married women. This is an arguably realistic profile; a married woman would be able to avoid

imprisonment by allowing a child to die of starvation. 7 Greening’s concealment of her pregnancy, and

subsequent prosecution by her master, fits Huston’s profile of a desperate servant girl trying to rid herself of

an unwanted child.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that building these generalised profiles from court proceedings across Europe

is problematic. Those actually convicted of infanticide are not representative of the scale of the problem.

There would have been little attention devoted to finding culprits, as married women were frequently not

caught, and cases brought little to no profitability as infanticide fell under religious jurisdiction. The

unrepresentative sample size is evidenced through a drain opened in Rennes after a fire in 1721. It revealed

skeletons of over eighty new-born babies, despite an average of one to two cases of infanticide reaching court

each year in most French regions. 8 Therefore, the severity of punishment applied to infanticide during the

eighteenth century likely gave suspects more reason to lie about their intentions. We must therefore not

assume that the court proceedings of Greening’s case are entirely authentic, truthful, or representative.

The enlightenment opinion Hufton identifies implies infanticide to be the result of illegitimate children. 9 A

zeitgeist of modern historiography, this interpretation conforms with the consensus found on the Old Bailey

Online. 10 This is perhaps suggestive of a wider preoccupation with moral integrity during the period. The

punishment of branding on the body as a record of past misdeeds further demonstrates this argument,

indicating a more symbolic purpose for punishment. Deborah Greening’s case could therefore also be used

to give insight into wider societal perceptions of the most abhorrent crimes of the period, and the severity of

the penalties attached.

However, the biggest limitation of Greening’s case is the male dominated legal, social, and moral framework

in which her trial was conducted, with the perspectives of suspects often being manipulated during

transcription. The format of proceedings commonly used long sentences that had minimal punctuation and

were transposed from the first to the third person. Thus, it is unsurprising that some information has been

lost. The descriptive terminology within court proceedings can be equally as valuable, as Gowing notes; there

was an overall increase in the slander used towards women within these documents. This is evidenced by

only eight cases of the term ‘bearing bastard’ used between 1606 and 1640, increasing to fifty-nine between

1672 and 1679. 11 The use of the derogatory rhetoric ‘bastard’ is described in Gowing’s argument and features

heavily in Greening’s case, and could be a reflection of society’s wider perception of women. Gowing

observes a more sexual dynamic to slander used against women roughly six times as frequently as men from

1600-1640. 12 This male-centric legal system arguably served to deter other women from behaviour deemed


oldbaileyonline.org/static/crimes.jsp#killing - Accessed 07/11/2018.


Stephen King, Alannah Tomkins, The Poor in England: 1700-1850: An Economy of Makeshifts (Manchester, 2003),

pp. 1-38.


Olwen Hufton, ‘The Poor of Eighteenth Century France 1750-1789’, (London,1974), pp. 349-351.


Ibid., pp. 349-351.


Ibid., pp. 349-351.


oldbaileyonline.org/static/crimes.jsp#killing - Accessed 07/11/2018.


Laura Gowing, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words and Sex in Early Modern London, (London,1996), pp. 45-65.


Ibid., p. 65.


Source Commentary: The Case of Deborah Greening | Leah Nutall

sinful rather than authentically convey their voices in proceedings, thus decreasing the validity of the court’s

account. Stretton’s quantitative data, derived from the Old Bailey session papers, debunks the ‘paternalistic

chivalry’ theory surrounding the prosecution for women. He proves that a greater proportion of women

received murder and death sentences rather than manslaughter for violent crimes. 13 Therefore, caution must

be taken when applying the theory of paternalistic chivalry, as this is often related to the sentencing of women

for lesser crimes, and this leniency was not necessarily applied to violent crimes such as homicide.

There is arguably a decline in the reliability of primary sources concerning infanticide during the seventeenth

and eighteenth centuries, as the range of sources was reduced following the introduction of the 1624 statute.

With women composing only six to seven percent of homicide cases, it is understandable that their voice in

violent crime is limited. 14 However, with the hardening of public opinion against infanticide, remission letters

vanished. This trend can be explained by infanticide becoming a non-pardonable offence. Hence, to send a

remission letter would effectively be to confess to the crime and endanger the life of the confessor. The

remission letters of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries show supplicants to be repentant with children

baptised as expected. Yet, specific circumstances, such as a 1393 case of a young woman strangling her child

after fearing society’s retribution, and a 1474 case of a young woman causing blunt trauma to her infant, were

granted a pardon. 15 These cases are indicative of how societal values towards infanticide changed over the

centuries. Davis’s framework of ‘worthiness’ as a classification for whether a woman is granted a pardon or

convicted of infanticide is extremely useful. When applied to Greening, it allows empathy towards her

situation when considering the options available to an unmarried domestic servant. Other cases from the

period corroborate the experience of Greening, with Elizabeth Stuart facing a similar socioeconomic

situation. 16 In both circumstances, the women claim to have had still births, and deny that they had caused

any harm. However, the record of Elizabeth Stuart’s trial is more detailed and contains information about

witness accounts and suspect testimonies which reveal an increased participation of women in the legal

process. This is evidenced by nine witnesses recorded as women. Although, their role was seemingly to

reinforce gender morals, thus forcing other women to conform rather than challenging convention. Therefore,

a wider range of sources would aid in corroborating accounts testified. However, the changing nature of the

trials and sentencing of those suspected of infanticide, with the greater inclusion of female witnesses and

removal of the prospect of a pardon, also offer insight into the societal values of the period. This is especially

evident when the legal process is compared to that of previous centuries.

Wider changes to the legal process are not represented within this source, with Gaskill noting the influence

of growing secularisation in criminal proceedings. 17 Human actions also lowered conviction rates and Justices

of the Peace were often appointed by political favour rather than local standing. This evidences an element

of political manoeuvring and self-interest underpinning prosecutions rather than the upholding of the law.

This led to an increase in abuses of position and absenteeism. Greening’s case alone thus fails to evidence

long-term trends. The exact impact such changes had upon conviction rates will never truly be quantifiable

due to the inability to measure the number of infanticides which went unrecorded. As perpetrators often acted

in secrecy and victims were hidden, the validity of Gaskill’s claims regarding the impact of the measures

concerning the prosecution of infanticide are merely speculative.

To conclude, the Old Bailey case of Deborah Greening is a perfect example of why individual cases and their

circumstances are essential to understanding such a personal crime. It is important to remember that a sole

case does not solve wider issues when studying the crime of infanticide, as the range of alternative sources is

so limited. The low prosecution rate produces an unrepresentative sample. Nonetheless, these cases provide

a rare insight into the realities of lives of the poor that would otherwise be lost. Deborah Greening’s case is


Wrightson, A Social History, p. 211.


Voices from the Old Bailey - https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04dqlbv -Accessed 08/04/2019.


Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives, pp. 84-86.


Old Bailey Proceedings, April 1743, trial of Elizabeth Stuart (t17430413-51) - Accessed 07/11/2018.


Malcolm Gaskgill, ‘Crime and Mentalities in Early Modern England’ (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 263-264.


Part III

extremely useful when trying to understand motive, perhaps due to the distortion of her voice, rather than the

presence of one.


Gaskgill, Malcolm,‘Crime and Mentalities in Early Modern England’ (Cambridge, 2000)

Gowing, Laura, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words and Sex in Early Modern London, (London,1996)

Hufton, Olwen,‘The Poor of Eighteenth Century France 1750-1789’, (London,1974)

King, Stephen and, Tomkins, Alannah, The Poor in England: 1700-1850: An Economy of Makeshifts (Manchester,


Wrightson, Keith, A Social History of England 1500-1750, (Cambridge, 2017)

Zemon Davis, Natalie, Fiction in the Archives, (Stanford, 1990)





DR MARKIAN PROKOPOVYCH: Introduction: Was the Empire Doomed?

Pages 74-75

CHARLOTTE ALT: Catalyst or Watershed? Re-visiting the First World War and the

collapse of the Habsburg Empire.

Pages 76-82

VIKTOR KOLEDA: Dizzy with Optimism: Revisionist historiography and the

Nationality Conflict in late Austria-Hungary

Pages 83-88

ADRIAN RIESS: Revisiting Emperor Karl’s October Manifesto

Pages 89-95

MERIEL SMITHSON: The Empire Strikes Back: Rethinking Nationality Conflict in late


Pages 96-102

CHARLIE STEER-STEPHENSON: ‘Unity in Disunity’: Rethinking Austria-Hungary’s

place in the European race to modernity.

Pages 103-110




Dr Markian Prokopovych is a Historian and lecturer here in Durham. He specialises in Eastern and

Central European history in the nineteenth-century, with particular emphasis on the history of urban

cultures, the arts, museums, the press and migration patterns. He has authored and co-authored

numerous publications and has held fellowships in Oxford, Berlin, Frankfurt an der Oder, Budapest,

Florence, Vienna and Birmingham. Markian also organises the annual conferences of the Urban

History Group and is currently completing two co-authored monographs on the cultural history of the

Hapsburg Empire. Here, he introduces Part Four of the journal: a debate on the fate of the Habsburg

Empire comprises of essays written for Markian’s third year special subject module: ‘The Habsburg

Empire: from Enlightenment to Collapse, c.1740-1918’.

The centenary of the end of the First World

War has just passed. One of the consequences of

the war for modern European history that, in the

British context, has sometimes been unjustly

overlooked, was the demise of Austria-Hungary,

the last reincarnation of the Habsburg Empire

whose dynastic rule had marked the map of

Central Europe for centuries before. Was the

empire doomed to collapse? And if so, was it the

war that caused it or perhaps some much more

structural, endemic problems that plagued the

empire for a longer period of time? Historians of

modern Europe, and of Central and Eastern

Europe more specifically, have intensely debated

this issue ever since. These debates have extended

to a wide variety of issues, including the 58-yearlong

rule of Francis Joseph I, the somewhat

mediocre and rigid, bewhiskered penultimate

emperor of Austria Hungary; the empire’s

notoriously Kafkaesque bureaucratic structures –

named-so in reference to Franz Kafka, one of the

most interesting representatives of literary

modernism; as well as nationalism, selfdetermination,

geopolitics, and the army.

Why so much interest, the reader might ask, in the

empire that was, if one trusts at least some

contemporary accounts, struggling to adjust to

modern reality, especially in the last years of the

war? The reasons are manifold. Firstly, seeing in

retrospect the history of the last century in the

region of Central and Eastern Europe, with its

legacy of nationalism, totalitarian regimes, ethnic

cleansing, genocide, and more recently the very

troubled and problematic so-called ‘transition’,

comparisons are unavoidable. Some historians

looked, and indeed found, the roots of the region's

problems in the ways that the empire handled the

nationality conflict while its famously

multinational and multilingual body attempted to

confront modernity in the nineteenth century.

Others, more recently, have debated such

approaches by pointing out certain teleologies in

these arguments. Far from being the root of the

problem, the empire, they argued, might have

been one of the most successful solutions to the

dangers posed by nationalism – our reader might

wish to keep in mind that such solutions in

modern history are indeed very few and could

probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Secondly, there is a broader issue of empires in

history and the rethinking of imperial history on

the global scale. How and why do empires

collapse, and what are the consequences of their

collapse? Do those of them that collapse earlier

constitute an exception or just another proof of the

rule? In our own historical moment of the early

twenty-first century we no longer seem to share

the last century’s belief in the nation-state as the

ultimate building block of the functioning modern

political world. Did, then, imperial ideologies

function better to keep nationalism at bay across

diverse territorial domains? Did they forge

specific identities and cultural practices that

assisted in keeping those domains closer together

or was the multinational empire an oxymoron in

the modern times? What was the role of imperial

Introduction: Was the Empire Doomed? | Dr. Markian Prokopovych

administrative structures that facilitated the

circulation of people, ideas, knowledge, goods

and other commodities in forging those identities?

These are the questions pertinent to the study of

all empires, not just the Habsburg Empire, even if

the latter would not fit the standard debate on

imperialism our reader might have encountered in

other contexts for the simple reason that it did not,

with the possible exception of Bosnia and

Hercegovina, possess colonies in the western

sense of the word.

Consequently, we are bound to make comparisons

geographically as much as chronologically. For

too long has the history of Austria-Hungary, and

the Habsburg Empire more generally, been linked

teleologically to the horrors of the twentieth

century and the problems that were supposedly

inherent to the region. Bringing the empire back

to the focus of historical inquiry might remedy

this fallacy. This links to one last point I would

like to make, namely, the return of European

history. As a consequence of a number of

transnational and comparative approaches to the

writing of history gaining currency, Europe has

emerged as an interesting landscape ripe for

historical scrutiny in the recent years. The study

of the Habsburg Empire has been one of the

beneficiaries of this process. The Habsburg

Empire stands now much more at the centre of

European history than it did just a few decades

ago. As a consequence, a lot of exceptionalism

that coloured much of the earlier historical writing

has been revisited, revised and reconsidered.

outcome of this module. Some authors included

here aim at combining different approaches in

search of the ‘golden middle’, whereas others

argue strongly for, or against, the inevitability of

some of the empire’s problems and its eventual

collapse. There are suggestions to revisit the

empire, its historical moment, modernity more

generally and the place of empire in European

history. We understand ‘debate’ as engagement

with some of the most important authors in

Habsburg history, from Oszkár Jászi to Judson,

but also amongst ourselves. The aim is to

encourage further discussion – on historical

methodology as much as on the fate of empires in

history, the place of the Habsburg Empire in

broader European historical narratives, and the

ways we might move forward in understanding

the empire in more general terms. We hope the

readers of this

journal will find it inspiring.

However, the discussions about historical

determinism, exceptionalism and failure are far

from over. Their currency is easily demonstrated

by the fact that, for example, Pieter M Judson’s

last work, The Habsburg Empire: A New History

(2016), has recently been translated into the

eleventh foreign language. The debate on the

pages of this journal is a small contribution to

some of the broader issues raised by historians

recently that concern the demise of the Habsburg

Empire, though of course there is no pretence of

comprehensiveness here. The debate builds on

some of the most interesting deliberations we

have had this year in Durham at the undergraduate

module ‘The Habsburg Empire: From

Enlightenment to Collapse’ and includes revised

texts that in one way or another are an important







Writing about the Badeni crisis, Mark Twain stressed in ‘Stirring Times in Austria’ (1898) the confusing and

uncertain nature of the situation in 1897, giving an account of political fragmentation and frequent

parliamentary obstruction. 1 Until the 1970s and early 1980s, accounts like these led historians to look towards

long-term political, social and economic problems in explaining the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in 1918.

Since the 1980s, however, revisionist accounts of the empire’s dissolution highlighted the importance of the

First World War. ‘Traditional’ historiographical arguments emphasised the war’s accelerating effect on longstanding

problems, describing it as a ‘catalyst’ of dissolution. Later ‘revisionist’ arguments stressed the

empire’s strength and resilience in 1914, emphasising the war as the main reason for its collapse. Arguing

for the latter, Pieter M. Judson’s pioneering work The Habsburg Empire: A New History (2016) convincingly

highlighted the state’s loss of legitimacy during the war. 2 The question now, however, is; where does

historiography turn next? Was Judson’s book the definitive answer to the empire’s dissolution? This essay

suggests not. Aiming to bridge the gap between ‘traditional’ and ‘revisionist’ historiographical conception,

the war can be characterised as a ‘junction.’ The hypothesis is that without war, the empire would not have

dissolved, yet without continued long-term problems, the war would not have caused the empire’s collapse

either. Based primarily on historiography, the following suggests that scholarship should combine long-term

issues with the importance of war, characterising the war as more than a mere ‘catalyst’ but less than the alldefining

cause for the empire’s collapse. The war should be seen as a ‘junction’ where long-term problems

together with the forces of war led to the empire’s downfall.

For the purposes of simplicity, the ways in which historians made sense of the empire’s collapse can be

divided into two broad camps, here referred to as ‘traditional’ or ‘old school’ and ‘revisionist’ or ‘new school.’

The ‘traditional’ view of the empire’s collapse was the narrative of ‘decline and fall’, the inevitability of

dissolution, a position expressed by Oscar Jászi (1929), A. J. P Taylor (1941), C. A. Macartney (1968) and

more recently by scholars such as Robert Kann (1974) and Solomon Wank (1997). 3 Concepts of ‘decline’

highlighted in ‘old school’ historical accounts were based on the perception of an increasingly complicated

political environment, persistence of the nationality problem, political parliamentary stalemate and inefficient

state bureaucracy. 4 Taylor characterised domestic politics as consisting of people unwilling to cooperate,

which would have been ‘necessary [...] in an era of growing popular participation.’ 5 The empire seemed


Mark Twain, ‘Stirring Times in Austria’, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 96 (March, 1898), pp. 530-2.


Pieter M. Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 2016).


Robert A. Kann, ‘Should the Habsburg Empire Have Been Saved? An Exercise in Speculative History’, Austrian

History Yearbook, Vol. 42 (2011), pp. 203-210; A. J. P. Taylor, The Habsburg Monarchy 1815-1918: A History of the

Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary (Macmillan and Co., Limited: London, 1941); C. A. Macartney, The Habsburg

Empire: 1790-1918 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson: London, 1968); Robert A. Kann, The History of the Habsburg Empire

1526-1918 (University of California Press: Berkley and Los Angeles, 1974); Solomon Wank, ‘Some Reflections on the

Habsburg Empire and Its Legacy in the Nationalities Question’, Austrian History Yearbook, Vol. 28 (1997), pp. 131-46;

Z.A.B. Zeman, The Break-up of the Habsburg Empire 1914-1918: A Study in National and Social Revolution (Oxford

University Press: London, 1961), p. xii; John Deak, ‘The Great War and the Forgotten Realm: The Habsburg Monarchy

and the First World War’, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 86, No. 2 (June, 2014), p. 342.


Gary B. Cohen, ‘Neither Absolutism nor Anarchy: New Narratives on Society and Government in Late Imperial

Austria’, Austrian History Yearbook, Vol. 29 (1998), p. 39.


Ibid., p. 40.

Catalyst or Watershed? Revisiting the First World War and the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire | Charlotte Alt

increasingly brittle, weak and backward, especially in comparison to the other Great European Powers. 6 Its

collapse therefore resulted from a century-long ‘organic’ process of decay and decline, to use Jászi’s words. 7

Conceptions of ‘decline’ can also be found in more recent works; Wank, for example, emphasised political

decay, arguing that the Habsburg regime was in slow decline and long-term crisis and pessimism prevailed

over more positive developments. 8 As the state was already ‘rotten’ inside, the war was understood as a

‘catalyst’ of dissolution. 9 Taylor therefore concluded: ‘War can only accelerate: it makes a dictatorial state

more dictatorial, a democratic state more democratic, an industrial state more industrial, and – as with Austria-

Hungary – a rotten state more rotten.’ 10

Revisionist approaches have since argued against such ideas of long-term disintegration, highlighting the

state’s virility before 1914 and the war’s significance for the empire’s downfall. Important revisionist works

emerged since the 1980s, most recently by John Deak (2014/15), Judson (2016/17), Martyn Rady (2017) and

Axel Körner (2018). 11 Revising Austria-Hungary’s downfall went alongside a revision of empire, moving

beyond traditional nationalist approaches that percieve the empire as a modern anachronism, to highlight the

empire’s modernization process. 12 By the 1990s, there was already a general scholarly consensus that earlier

historical works were largely over-pessimistic, exaggerating the empire’s negative aspects, especially its

supposedly oppressive nature. 13 ‘New school’ accounts rather focused on the empire’s resilience and strength

in 1914, highlighting that especially in the first decade of the twentieth century many commentators believed

in the empire’s sturdiness. 14 Henry Wickham Steed, an English journalist and historian, for example, wrote

in 1908 that ‘people have often spoken of the dissolution of Austria. I do not believe in it at all’, arguing that

the imperial ties ‘are too strong to let such a thing happen.’ 15 As early as 1998 Gary Cohen argued for the

focus to be shifted from domestic conflicts towards the ‘adaptability of political culture in these final

decades’, towards ‘the periphery rather than the centre [...] to show how society and government were

successfully interacting.’ 16 Understanding the empire as stable in 1914 altered the importance scholars

attributed to the war for the empire’s collapse; denying the decisive nature of long-term issues, ‘revisionists’

viewed the war as the main overarching reason for the empire’s collapse.

Traditional scholarship characterized the war as a ‘catalyst,’ accelerating long-standing problems;

‘revisionist’ works, contrastingly, defined war as the main force of dissolution. Sufficient arguments can be

made for both positions, 17 suggesting that it may be worthwhile to see them in relation, rather than opposition.

Wank already highlighted that revisionist works were perhaps too affirmative, arguing newest scholarship

runs risks to over-emphasise the positive aspects of the empire. 18 Similarly, Mark Cornwall’s recent edited


Ibid., p. 39; Forum, ‘An Imperial Dynamo? CEH Forum on Pieter M. Judson’s The Habsburg Empire: A New

History’, Central European History, Vol. 50 (2017), p. 236.


Zeman, The Break-up of the Habsburg Empire 1914-1918, p. xii.


Wank, ‘Some Reflections on the Habsburg Empire and Its Legacy in the Nationalities Question’, pp. 132-3, 141; see

also Mark Cornwall, ‘Introduction’, in Mark Cornwall (ed.), The Last Years of Austria-Hungary: A Multi-National

Experiment in Early Twentieth-Century Europe (Liverpool University Press: Liverpool, 2015), p. 6.


Oscar Jászi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy (Chicago, 1929), p. 9.


Taylor, The Habsburg Monarchy 1815-1918, p. 232.


Deak, ‘The Great War and the Forgotten Realm: The Habsburg Monarchy and the First World War’, pp. 336-380;

John Deak, Forging a Multinational State: State Making in Imperial Austria from the Enlightenment to the First World

War (Stanford University Press: Stanford, 2015); Pieter M. Judson, ‘”Where our commonality is necessary…”:

Rethinking the End of the Habsburg Monarchy’, Austrian History Yearbook, Vol. 48 (2017), pp. 1-21; Judson, The

Habsburg Empire; Martyn Rady, The Habsburg Empire: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press: Oxford,

2017); Axel Körner, ‘Beyond Nation States: New Perspectives on the Habsburg Empire’, European History Quarterly,

Vol. 48, No. 3 (2018), pp. 516-533; Cohen, ‘Neither Absolutism nor Anarchy: New Narratives on Society and

Government in Late Imperial Austria’, p. 44; Deak, ‘The Great War and the Forgotten Realm: The Habsburg Monarchy

and the First World War’, p. 347.


Deak, ‘The Great War and the Forgotten Realm: The Habsburg Monarchy and the First World War’, p. 342.


Wank, ‘Some Reflections on the Habsburg Empire and Its Legacy in the Nationalities Question’, p. 132.


Cornwall, ‘Introduction’, p. 1.


Cited from Joachim Remake, ‘The Healthy Invalid: How Doomed the Habsburg Empire?’, The Journal of Modern

History, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Jun., 1969), p. 141.


Ibid., 6.


Remake, ‘The Healthy Invalid: How Doomed the Habsburg Empire?’, p. 128.


Wank, ‘Some Reflections on the Habsburg Empire and Its Legacy in the Nationalities Question’, p. 132.


Part IV

volume highlighted the empire’s persisting challenges in the pre-war decades, while reflecting on the

importance of war for the empire’s collapse. 19 Combining ‘traditional’ and ‘revisionist’ positions allows a

more nuanced and complex understanding, where neither the war nor long-term political problems are overemphasised,

yet both are given their rightful place in the narrative of the Habsburg Empire’s disintegration.

The importance placed on the war for Austria-Hungary’s dissolution depends on the characterisation of the

empire’s pre-war nature. The following analyses both ‘traditional’ and ‘revisionist’ accounts, suggesting to

move beyond a concept of ‘either/or’ to understand the empire as modernising, whilst acknowledging the

persistence of long-term instabilities, creating a more balanced view of the empire’s nature in 1914. Writing

in 1908 Wickham Steed argued that ‘today it seems that the Austrian problem is approaching its solution.’ 20

In 1969, Joachim Remake similarly wrote, ‘the monarchy possessed a good deal more strength and viability

than are sometimes attributed to it.’ 21 Modern revisionist historiography built on such statements,

emphasising the monarchy’s strength. Charlie Steer-Stephenson’s contribution in this journal importantly reevaluates

the empire’s ‘place in the European race to modernity,’ concluding that while the empire’s

modernisation process was perhaps late and uneven, the ‘Dual Monarchy’s traditional structures were not

incompatible with modern innovation and experimentation.’ The Habsburg Empire in the decades leading up

to the war, in fact, modernised widely. Cohen, focusing on the expansion of civil service and political

modernisation, argued the state developed ‘modern systems of local government, public health, education,

and economic regulation,’ providing a ‘growing range of services’ on all levels. 22 Despite the challenges of

modern mass politics the municipal and state bureaucracy were able to better deal with such issues than is

commonly assumed. 23 Widespread political reforms aimed at adapting to modern modes of politics, such as

the step-by-step increase in suffrage from the 1880s and the electoral reforms of 1907, part of a series of

constitutional reforms since 1867. 24 As Cohen concluded, ‘a vibrant civil society’ emerged in the empire’s

last decades, highlighting the government’s adaptability to social and political changes. 25 Political

modernisation and reform were paired with improvement in culture and economy, also stressed by more

traditional historiography. Okey reflected upon urban modernisation and the arrival of telephones, automatic

dispensers and cinemas, arguing culture ‘felt the whiff of modernity.’ 26 The empire’s economy advanced as

‘total national incomes derived from production rose by about 86% in Austria and 92% in Hungary’ and

Austria especially attempted to foster economic progress in underdeveloped areas. 27 Deak therefore

concluded, ‘the monarchy by 1904 had become a state built on the basis of prosperity, reform, and progress.’ 28

Revisionist accounts convincingly pointed to the empire’s strength before the war, arguing against perceived

concepts of ‘decline’ stressed in traditional scholarship. John Boyer for example emphasised ‘the sturdiness

of civic institutions’, often overlooked in an effort to prove the empire’s decline. 29 Deak similarly argued that

‘imperial politics – for all their complexity – worked.’ 30 Scholarship since the 1980s increasingly focused on

how the empire stayed together rather than fell apart. Building on already existing scholarly work, Judson

emphasised the state’s ‘dynamic’ nature, highlighting its strength and describing it as actively aiming to


Cornwall, ‘Introduction’, p. 7.


Remake, ‘The Healthy Invalid: How Doomed the Habsburg Empire?’, p. 141.


Ibid., p. 127.


Cohen, ‘Neither Absolutism nor Anarchy: New Narratives on Society and Government in Late Imperial Austria’, pp.



Ibid., p. 46.


John W. Boyer, ‘Power, Partisanship, and the Grid of Democratic Politics: 1907 as the Pivot Point of Modern

Austrian History’, Austrian History Yearbook, Vol. 44 (2013), pp. 149,151,153,155.


Cohen, ‘Neither Absolutism nor Anarchy: New Narratives on Society and Government in Late Imperial Austria’, pp.



Robin Okey, The Habsburg Monarchy c. 1765-1918: From Enlightenment to Eclipse (Macmillan Press LTD:

Hampshire, 2001), pp. 337-8.


Manfried Rauchsteiner, The First World War and the End of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1914-1913 (Böhlau Verlag:

Wien, 2014), p. 756; Remake, ‘The Healthy Invalid: How Doomed the Habsburg Empire?’, p. 130.


Deak, Forging a Multinational State, p. 243.


Boyer, ‘Power, Partisanship, and the Grid of Democratic Politics: 1907 as the Pivot Point of Modern Austrian

History’, p. 167.


Deak, ‘The Great War and the Forgotten Realm: The Habsburg Monarchy and the First World War’, pp. 357-8.


Catalyst or Watershed? Revisiting the First World War and the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire | Charlotte Alt

modernize its institutions. 31 According to revisionist accounts, therefore, the empire as a bureaucratic entity

became increasingly efficient by 1914. 32 Scholars like Deak, Cohen, Boyer and Judson, highlighting the

empire’s virility, strength, modernisation and democratisation, effectively undermined traditional

understandings of Austria-Hungary as fraught with long-term problems.

As already pointed out by Wank, it is important not to over-emphasise the empire’s positive qualities; yet at

the same time, one should not exaggerate its negative aspects, as ‘traditional’ historians have often done.

While ‘revisionists’ largely advanced and improved historical understanding of the Habsburg state’s

modernization, ‘traditional’ characterisations of long-term problems should not be fully disregarded, allowing

the emergence of a more nuanced understanding of the empire’s strengths and weaknesses. In 1929, Jászi

explained Austria-Hungary’s collapse by a long ‘organic’ process of dissolution, which, according to Jászi,

began 200 years prior, arguing that in the immediate pre-war years the empire’s centrifugal (disintegrating)

forces were stronger than its centripetal (unifying) ones, concluding that only ‘a well-balanced federalism,’

could have saved the empire. 33 Such characterisation is exaggerated, especially in light of the processes of

modernisation and reform mentioned earlier; it is however important to recognise that longer-term problems

persisted. Lothar Höbelt, echoing Macartney’s argument that after the extension of franchise Austria proved

increasingly impossible to govern, highlighted that there was rarely ever a clear majority in parliament and

obstruction was common. 34 Höbelt argued that the electoral reform in 1907 caused further parliamentary

fragmentation and despite attempted reforms, obstruction remained frequent. 35 While there were ‘serious’

and ‘honourable’ attempts for political reform, these would remain ‘attempts’ only. 36 By 1912, as Deak

pointed out, the imperial administration had also become incredibly complicated and difficult. 37 The

nationality problem likewise persisted, as Okey highlighted, arguing that while there were positive

developments in Moravia and Bukovina (with compromises in 1905 and 1910) these did ‘not outweigh more

negative ones in Bohemia, Hungary and the south Slav world on the eve of world war.’ 38 In fact, Victor

Koleda in his contribution to this debate interestingly proposes that the ‘Habsburg state’s failure to adequately

deal’ with the ‘nationality problem’ by solely providing short-term ‘swift relief from inter-ethnic tensions’,

in the end led to an exacerbation of ‘the nationalist impulse.’ What Okey therefore viewed as positive

developments, namely the compromises in Moravia and Bukovina, according to Koleda might therefore have

actually further accelerated the ‘nationality problem’ and its disintegrating forces.

I would argue that the empire’s positive characterisation by ‘revisionist’ historians should not be seen in

opposition to works reflecting some of the empire’s problems. In fact, acknowledging long-term continuous

problems alongside an understanding of modernisation and democratization allows for a more nuanced

historiographical approach. Wank and John Mason argued that there can be cultural and economic success

alongside political decline, 39 adding more layers to the question whether the empire ‘declined’ or ‘rose’ (to

use Alan Sked’s words) 40 in the lead up to war. Boyer and Deak, in analysing political reform, also argued

for more nuance. Deak stressed that the state began widespread bureaucratic and administrative reforms, yet

financial problems became increasingly worse. 41 Similarly, while Boyer argued that previous scholars may

have been too pessimistic, highlighting the sturdiness of the empire’s bureaucracy and administration and


Forum, ‘An Imperial Dynamo? CEH Forum on Pieter M. Judson’s The Habsburg Empire: A New History’, pp. 136-



Deak, ‘The Great War and the Forgotten Realm: The Habsburg Monarchy and the First World War’, pp. 367-8.


Jászi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy, pp. 7,10-1,185,453.


Rauchsteiner, The First World War and the End of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1914-1913, p. 796; Lothaer Höbelt,

‘’Well-tempered Discontent’ Austrian Domestic Politics’, in Cornwall (ed.), The Last Years of Austria-Hungary, p. 48.


Höbelt, ‘’Well-tempered Discontent’ Austrian Domestic Politics’, pp. 55,59.


John W. Boyer, ‘The End of an Old Regime: Visions of Political Reform in Late Imperial Austria’, The Journal of

Modern History, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Mar., 1986), p. 190.


Deak, Forging a Multinational State, p. 215.


Okey, The Habsburg Monarchy c. 1765-1918, p. 368.


John W. Mason, The Dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1867-1918 (Pearson Education Limited: Essex,

1997), p. 23; Wank, ‘Some Reflections on the Habsburg Empire and Its Legacy in the Nationalities Question’, p. 133


Alan Sked, The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815-1918 (Routledge Taylor & Francis Group: New

York, 2013), pp. 6,301-2,310


Wank, ‘Some Reflections on the Habsburg Empire and Its Legacy in the Nationalities Question’, pp. 217,228


Part IV

their efforts to create a stronger, more democratic connection to their citizens, he also admitted that a general

‘incongruence’ between state and citizen persisted. 42 Both highlighted political progress and modernisation,

yet acknowledged that problems persisted, showing the traditional view of ‘decline’ and the revisionist view

of ‘success’ are not necessarily irreconcilable. Laurence Cole, in critique of Judson, argued that in an effort

to provide a ‘new history’ Judson disregarded any additional aspects leading to the empire’s dissolution, his

argument therefore ‘takes on a degree of circularity, whereby all processes are read as affirming the validity

of “empire.”’ 43 Connecting traditional ideas of political difficulties to more positive revisionist

understandings of the empire’s stability allows more historiographical nuance and a move away from onesided

histories: put simply, it would be wrong to argue the empire was in a long-term ‘decline,’ yet it would

be equally wrong to argue the empire essentially ‘rose’ and had solved all its problems by 1914.

If long-term issues were not the main reason for the empire’s collapse, yet were nonetheless ever-present,

what is the war’s place in understanding the empire’s dissolution? Was it still merely a ‘catalyst’ or was it

the main force of dissolution? Making the First World War alone responsible for the empire’s collapse, as

some ‘revisionists’ tend to, is simplistic. Watershed events in history rarely happen because of one aspect,

but due to an amalgamation of reasons; it is therefore useful to combine ‘traditional’ and ‘revisionist’ accounts

to allow a more complex understanding of the empire’s collapse, whereby the war was important, yet longterm

problems are likewise given their place.

Revisionist scholarship, especially advanced by Judson, highlighted the war’s importance for the empire’s

dissolution, emphasising the state’s loss of legitimacy and the altered relationship between citizen and state.

Judson argued, ‘the war [...] did not accelerate an inevitable collapse. It did, however, create heretofore

unimaginable new conditions in Austria-Hungary that in just a few years’ time made collapse not only

possible but likely.’ 44 The war was harsh on Austria-Hungary and war-weariness set in quickly. Shortages in

iron, cotton and wool began in 1916 and from winter 1916/17 coal became increasingly scarce as wider

shortages accelerated. 45 The harvest of wheat and rye in 19016 and 1917 fell to 44 and 40 percent of 1914

levels. 46 The Eastern Front, as stressed by Rudolf Jerábek, especially drained resources, further exhausting

the empire already struggling with years of total war. 47 As starvation, rationing, and food queues increased,

strikes and bread riots broke out. 48

War-weariness is closely connected to what Judson characterised as the state’s loss of legitimacy. A quasimilitary

dictatorship was implemented immediately after the outbreak of war, cracking down harshly on

anyone perceived as a threat, disrespecting traditions of the multinational empire and civil rights and

damaging its relationship with its citizen by harshly persecuting the Slavic population. 49 The overarching

cause for the state’s loss of legitimacy, according to Judson, was its inability to feed and provide for its citizen,

harming the relationship between the state and its citizen. 50 When Charles I of Austria re-established

constitutional rule after Francis Joseph’s death in 1916, the corrosive effects of the military dictatorship had

arguably already gone too far. 51 As Judson concluded, the empire was unable to feed and care for its citizen,

proving the biggest challenge to its legitimacy and ultimately causing the empire’s disintegration. 52 Judson’s

argument is largely convincing and has since been echoed by a number of historians. Höbelt and Cornwall,


Boyer, ‘Power, Partisanship, and the Grid of Democratic Politics: 1907 as the Pivot Point of Modern Austrian

History’, pp. 154,167


Laurence Cole, ‘Visions and Revisions of Empire: Reflections on a New History of the Habsburg Empire’, Austrian

History Yearbook, Vol. 49 (2018), pp. 272,277


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 387


Okey, The Habsburg Monarchy c. 1765-1918, p. 385


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 399


Rudolf Jerábek, ‘The Eastern Front’, in Cornwall (ed.), The Last Years of Austria-Hungary, p. 163


Rady, The Habsburg Empire, p. 101


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 392; Judson, ‘“Where our commonality is necessary…”: Rethinking the End of the

Habsburg Monarchy’, p. 15


Judson, ‘“Where our commonality is necessary…”: Rethinking the End of the Habsburg Monarchy’, pp. 5,14;

Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 393


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, pp. 420-1


Ibid., pp. 426,430


Catalyst or Watershed? Revisiting the First World War and the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire | Charlotte Alt

for example, similarly argued Austria-Hungary lost its legitimacy when it became authoritarian and failed to

provide for its citizens. 53 Perhaps somewhat surprisingly even Macartney, Okey and Kann years before

Judson argued along similar lines, highlighting the highly oppressive military regime, the monarchy’s failure

to provide for its citizens and the centrifugal forces, which became dominant during the war. 54 The differences

between historiographical schools might therefore sometimes be more imaginary than real. Both Deak and

Höbelt, highlighted that Austria-Hungary’s legitimacy had long rested on ‘the bureaucracy’s ability to deal

flexibly with the complexities of multinational, popular participation in policy making;’ the war brought this

balance shattering down. 55 As F.R. Bridge highlighted, by choosing the military option in 1914 Austria denied

itself the possibility of any other diplomatic action. 56 While previously ‘for over a century the Monarchy had

managed to survive by astute manoeuvring between friends and potential foes,’ with the outbreak of war this

careful navigation was over. 57 The loss of legitimacy came with an altered relationship between state and

citizen, a relationship, which in previous years, due to its flexibility and adaptability, had ensured the state’s

existence, but which during the war became inflexible and autocratic, alienating its population.

While revisionist scholarship convincingly argued for the war’s importance in the empire’s collapse, it is

worthwhile to keep more traditional interpretation of deep-seated issues at the forefront as well. The war

created new environments of action and existence where older grievances could be played out and exploited

to work against the regime and accelerate its dissolution. As Remake so fittingly wrote, ‘the war did many

startling and unpredictable things;’ 58 one of those unpredictable things was the creation of new spaces of

action. As Judson himself demonstrated, the war gave many groups in society the opportunity to ‘reshape

empire according to their particular visions.’ 59 For some people it was to reverse democratization, returning

to more dictatorial forms of government, ‘for socialists the war offered the chance to achieve social and

political reform in return for the cooperation of the industrial working classes’; for nationalists this proved a

chance for autonomy and increased state rights. 60 Here pre-war grievances and unresolved nationalist tensions

came into play. Traditional scholarship by Taylor highlighted the persistent nationality issues, arguing that

Czech politicians such as Tomáš Masaryk quickly saw other alternatives during the war. 61 Masaryk’s

memorandum ‘Independent Bohemia’ (1915) was clear in its aims for Czech independence from Austria-

Hungary, stating that ‘Bohemia must now take care of herself.’ 62 Remake and Okey likewise argued that

shortages caused a wave of strikes and more frequently expressed nationalist sentiment that proved ‘fatal to

the empire.’ 63 Judson aimed to move beyond such traditional understandings of the nationality problems,

leading him, however, as Cole rightly argued, to somewhat downplay nationalist activity during the war. Cole

therefore concluded, ‘the overall picture is more variegated than Judson paints and socio-political unrest in

Austria-Hungary frequently threatened to get out of hand.’ 64 In fact, as Aviel Roshwald argued, ‘the war

created tremendous pressures that served to catapult the idea of national self-determination towards sudden

realization across a wide range of societies.’ 65 Alan Sked similarly reflected that the empire finally collapsed


Mark Cornwall, ‘Disintegration and Defeat: The Austro-Hungarian Revolution’, in Cornwall (ed.), The Last Years of

Austria-Hungary, p. 193; Höbelt, ‘“Well-tempered Discontent” Austrian Domestic Politics’, pp. 65-6


Macartney, The Habsburg Empire, p. 818; Okey, The Habsburg Monarchy c. 1765-1918, p. 391; Alan Sked,

‘Historians, the Nationality Question, and the Downfall of the Habsburg Empire’, Transactions of the Royal Historical

Society, Vol. 31 (1981), p. 185


Deak, ‘The Great War and the Forgotten Realm: The Habsburg Monarchy and the First World War’, pp. 378-9;

Höbelt, ‘’Well-tempered Discontent’ Austrian Domestic Politics’, p. 69


F. R Bridge, ‘The Foreign Policy of the Monarchy’, in Cornwall (ed.), The Last Years of Austria-Hungary, pp. 34-5


Ibid., pp. 34-5


Remake, ‘The Healthy Invalid: How Doomed the Habsburg Empire?’, p.142


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p.385


Ibid., p.385


Sked, The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815-1918, p.239


Tomas G. Masaryk, ‘Independent Bohemia (1915)’, in R.W. Seton-Watson, Masaryk in England (The University

Press and Macmillan Company: Cambridge, 1943), p.123


Remake, ‘The Healthy Invalid: How Doomed the Habsburg Empire?’, p. 142; Okey, The Habsburg Monarchy c.

1765-1918, p.388


Cole, ‘Visions and Revisions of Empire: Reflections on a New History of the Habsburg Empire’, pp. 275-6.


Aviel Roshwald, Ethnic Nationalism & the Fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia and the Middle East, 1914-1923

(Routledge: London, 2001), p.3


Part IV

because people were demanding their rights and framing this increasingly in nationalist rhetoric. 66 As

traditional histories often stressed, new spaces and avenues of activity would not have been utilised had there

not been some long-term issues, intensifying during the war.

Overall, it does not seem appropriate to agree with Kann’s long-outdated statement that ‘what happened

within a few war years is in essence only an abstract of a long-drawn out process of decline.’ However, neither

is it adequate, in view of the need for historical nuance, to agree with Judson that the war was the main and

virtually only reason for the empire’s collapse. 67 The war created an unusual environment and new spaces in

which long-term problems, existing before the war, could intensify and lead to the empire’s dissolution; it

created an environment where long-term problems like the nationality question, which without the war would

probably not have been the main force for the empire’s collapse, could become an important force of

disintegration. The war was more than a ‘catalyst’ of inevitable dissolution, but it was less than the main and

over-arching reason for the empire’s collapse. The war was a ‘junction’ where things could have gone either

way, it was a ‘junction’ where the loss of legitimacy together with long-term problems could lead to the

empire’s collapse.


Sked, The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815-1918, p.269


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, pp. 385-442-; Kann, The History of the Habsburg Empire 1526-1918, p.486







The question of nationality in late Austria-Hungary is an overdetermined topic and the answer given to it by

historians is never quite the sum of its parts. The reason for that is that their arguments are often conditioned

by teleological considerations that relate to the state’s ultimate collapse. Generations of historians influenced

by the work of Oszkár Jászi saw the nationality question as a decisive catalyst leading to the Empire’s

dissolution. 1 Almost a century later, we stand at a point where the paradigm constructed by historians

opposing his perspective has almost completely overtaken the field. Their work is equally tied to the Empire’s

collapse, albeit with opposite connotations. Historiography of this question, in general, has assumed a strange

form, with scholars frequently speaking of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ qualities of the monarchy – not exactly

a sign of great condition of the field of knowledge. 2 Revisionist historians today celebrate the failures of

Habsburg state-building, such as its toleration of the Hungarian “passive resistance”, as examples of the

monarchy’s “liberalism”. Eager to reject Jászi’s ‘prison of nations’ paradigm, they praise the state’s attempts

at cultivating and empowering national sentiments among its population. Yet they fail to acknowledge the

role of these policies in the escalation of nationalist strife. Therefore, rather than preoccupying oneself with

the seemingly contrafactual question of the national conflict’s inevitability, it would be more meaningful to

aim to disentangle one’s understanding of the nationality conflict from the assumptions of the state’s

functionality, and from the preoccupation with the inevitability of Austria-Hungary’s demise. In order to do

so, we should single out the objective social forces that led to the conflict’s intensification. Analysis of this

kind would reveal that the nationalities conflict was not inevitable, but was produced by the Habsburg state’s

failure to adequately deal with the specificities of its historical condition.

The understanding of nationalism’s artificiality as an ideology has long become a truism and our thinking is

inescapably bound to the concepts produced by Benedict Anderson and Eric Hobsbawm. As a result, we may

be reluctant to connect a “non-organic” ideology of nationalism with objective historical processes, stressing

instead the mechanical process of its construction. However, it cannot be denied that the “artificial” – or

“invented” – phenomenon of nationalism came to flourish in the historically specific conditions presented by

the advent of European modernity. Therefore, if we are to interrogate the national conflicts’ inevitability, we

have to start with objective factors, such as economic and social developments that brought the nationality

question to the political front line in Europe, and in the Habsburg Empire more specifically. Modernity stands

at the centre of some of the most significant work on nationalism done by political scientists. For Gellner,

whose theory Judson and other recent Habsburg histories still rely on, it was ‘the nature of work in industrial

society’, combined with the ‘occupational mobility’, that erased the tangibility of kinship from lives of

modern subjects, replacing it with the necessity to identify with and internalise ‘a High (i. e. literate, schooltransmitted)

Culture’. 3 When ‘all that is solid melts into air’, to use some of Marx’s most poetic characterising

of modernity, local associations become dissolved. 4 Their place is taken by ‘mobile, anonymous, literate,


Oszkár Jászi, The dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy (Chicago, 1929)


For example, see Solomon Wank, ‘Some Reflections on the Habsburg Empire and Its Legacy in the Nationalities

Question’, Austrian History Yearbook, 28 (1997), pp.131-146


Ernst Gellner, Encounters with Nationalism (Oxford, 1994), p.46


See Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (Harmondsworth, 1988)

Part IV

identity-conferring cultures’ – in other words, in Gellner’s functionalist account, nationalism was the most

direct and natural outcome of modernity. 5

Another influential work that has influenced the way historians of nationalism think was Miroslav Hroch’s

much criticised synthesis of Marxist and nationalist perspectives into a single model of periodisation. If

anything, it stresses the role of modernity even more: for Hroch, it was the transition to industrial capitalism

as a mode of production in a historical materialist sense that paved the way for the forces of nationalism. Both

models, thus, stress the definitive importance of modernity for the rise of nationalism, to an extent where

earlier forms of national thought are completely ignored. Gellner has criticised Hroch for this reason, while

Okey applied the same criticism to Gellner, claiming that the latter’s approach produces an ‘overdeterministic

view of the relationship of ideas to social processes’. 6 Indeed, such determinism may limit the

models’ reliability when applied to other historical cases. However, they accurately capture the overpowering

importance of modernity to the rise of nationalism when it comes to nineteenth-century Central Europe, and

therefore are of value to us. Let us turn to some specific examples that present nationalism as a ‘defensive

construction… in the face of the vast economic and demographic transformations that ushered in the modern

era’. 7

Nationalism is a typically urban phenomenon, and the case of the Habsburg Empire confirms that the

intensification of social processes brought by urbanisation resulted in the growth of national consciousness.

Urban northern Bohemia is an outstanding example of that: the region witnessed ‘one of the most intense and

extensive cases of wholesale nationalization and national polarization of a society to be found anywhere in

history’. The national question in the area has produced a parliamentary crisis, a de-facto segregation of the

economies (‘with separate credit facilities, producers’ associations, insurance companies, and so on’) and

education, as well as an ongoing struggle for cultural hegemony in the public sphere. 8 In applying his analysis

to 1840s Bohemia, Hroch identified that ‘most of the patriots originated in an urban environment’, and one

of the most significant ‘integrating effects’ of the nationalist activity was ‘the expansion in manufacturing

and factory production’. 9 What the nationalists confronted in the countryside as late as in the 1890s was that

‘rural people appeared unwilling to commit themselves to national communities’ – untouched by modernity,

peasants could not relate to the mobilising messages. 10 Most of the Czech workers arriving from the

countryside were at first attracted to the socialist movements – those still had a nationalist agenda, and their

policy ‘stressed the need for propaganda in the mother tongue’. 11

However, the last twenty years of the nineteenth-century saw about half a million Czech workers move into

German-speaking areas, following which a proper nationalist movement developed. The situation

deteriorated into bitter social relations, with school protection associations such as ‘Deutscher Schulverein…

and its Czech equivalents’ carrying out large campaigns ‘for purposes of national contestation’. 12 The sphere

of education, access to which was another characteristic of modernity and one strongly stressed by Gellner,

turned into a political battlefield throughout the Empire. ‘Advance of free capitalist agriculture and industry

after the 1850s, continuing urbanization, and the growth of public education’ allowed mass politics to grow

outside of the conventional political channels. 13 Nationalism became formidable by becoming a mass political

force, which in turn could only be possible under the conditions of modernity. The main channel through

which the nationalist political sentiments were articulated was the civil society in all its forms, and modernity


Ernst Gellner, Nations and nationalism (Malden, 2006), p.86


R. Okey, The Habsburg Monarchy, c. 1765-1918: From Enlightenment to Eclipse (Basingstoke, 2001), p.284


Karl F. Bahm, ‘Beyond the Bourgeoisie: Rethinking Nation, Culture, and Modernity in Nineteenth-Century Central

Europe’, Austrian History Yearbook, 29:1 (1998), p.20


Bahm, Beyond the Bourgeoisie, pp.21-22


Hroch, Social Preconditions, pp.59-60


Peter M. Judson, ‘Do Multiple Languages Mean a Multicultural Society?’ in Feichtinger and Cohen (eds.),

Understanding Multiculturalism: The Habsburg Central European Experience (Oxford, 2014), p.76


Okey, The Habsburg Monarchy, p.288


Ibid., pp.288-295


G. B. Cohen, ‘Nationalist Politics and the Dynamics of State and Civil Society in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1867-

1914’, Central European History, 40:2 (2007), p.249


Dizzy with Optimism: Revisionist historiography and the Nationality Conflict in late Austria-Hungary | Viktor Koleda

has significantly expanded the social base of its contributors. That was most evident in the Hungarian part,

where institutional channels allowed for significantly less popular engagement. There, ‘[b]y 1900 nationalist

political parties and their affiliated social, economic, and cultural groups had acquired strong support and

influence in all parts of the monarchy’. 14 The forces of modernisation created conditions in response to which

nationalist politics could develop, while simultaneously creating the space in which political movements

could operate. As such, the nationality problem was “inevitable” in a sense that it constituted part of the

Empire’s historical condition.

For Peter Judson, the very term “nationalities conflict” is problematic – he stresses the need to adopt the

expression “nationalist conflicts” instead, emphasising ‘their specifically political character and context’. 15

In doing so, he employs an unreasonably narrow definition of “politics”, which stands in contrast to the

cultural focus of his approach. As a result, the label of “political” is denied to any genuine nationalistic

activity, separating “culture” from “politics” in a rather crude way. In their assessment of nationalism, such

approaches therefore appear as fundamentally oxymoronic, preoccupied with cultural issues and at the same

time excluding what the population experienced on the daily basis from their definition of ‘the political’.

Nevertheless, they bring our attention to an important issue: the role of nationalist political activism, which

‘became the dominant means through which entire populations… were mobilized into public life’. 16 How did

nationalism come to be the basis of political identity? In the 1860s, according to Judson, it was not clear

‘what constituted a nation… and who could speak for it’, although the experience of 1848 was probably quite

suggestive. 17 However, the gradual expansion of franchise produced a political environment in which power

rested with those who could achieve electoral support. In a situation where territorial lines and ethnic divisions

hardly corresponded at all, “nationality conflict” as we know it came to life. National community was often

defined by language, especially among the ‘unhistoric nations’ – ‘Slovenes, Slovaks, or Romanians, whose

claim to nationhood rested largely on their separate language and modern literature’, rather than concrete

historical evidence of statehood. 18 The Czechs boycotted the Vienna parliament for sixteen years after 1862,

demanding “state right”, and the 1860s saw ‘the tabor movement’ in the Bohemian lands, in which the masses

protested for ‘linguistic equality’. 19 Language would also be the subject of the 1897 Badeni crisis, which was

the culmination of German-Czech antagonism.

The Hungarians, it is often remarked, brought the liberal “nationality law” of 1868 ‘to the level of national

chauvinism’ in implementation. Over the following forty years, it thrived, and Count Stephen Tisza’s 1910

statement does not stand out when we look at Hungarian public discourse of the time: “Our citizens of non-

Magyar tongue must… become accustomed to the fact that they belong to the community of a nation state,…

not a conglomerate of various races’. 20 Thousands of Slovaks and Croats were successfully assimilated, which

‘allowed… [them] social advancements’. Serbs and Romanians, however, struggled to integrate as their

national identity ‘was inseparably linked with their Christian-Orthodox confession’ – clearly, nationalism

could not be reduced to linguistic differences, and involved deep cultural antagonisms. The national problems

within Transleithania are evidenced by the 1868 Hungarian-Croat constitutional agreement, a ‘compromise

within the Compromise’ that granted administrative autonomy to Croatia-Slavonia. 21 German-speaking

Austrians, who had previously only framed their nationalism in civic terms and had ‘played down the notion

that the German nation might have a set of specific interests that diverged from the interests [of the Empire]

as a whole’, developed an ethnicity-based form of nationalism in the 1870s in response to the developments

described above.


Cohen, ‘Nationalist Politics,’ p.260


P. Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History (Cambridge, MA, 2016), p.271


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p.272


Ibid., p.292


Mark Cornwall, ‘The Habsburg Monarchy’ in Baycroft and Hewitson (eds.), What is a Nation? Europe 1789-1914

(Oxford, 2006), p.176


Ibid., p.188


Gerald Stourzh, ‘The Multinational Empire Revisited: Reflections on Late Imperial Austria’, Austrian History

Yearbook, 23 (1992), p.15


Andrea Komlosy, ‘Imperial Cohesion, Nation-Building and Regional Integration in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1804-

1918’ in Berger and Miller (eds.), Nationalizing Empires (New York, 2015), pp.386-395


Part IV

Ultimately, all of these processes were reactive to the circumstances of the majority rule – masses of people

were mobilised into conflicting imperial politics in a short span of time. In this political environment, the

outlook of the new generations was conditioned by the circumstances of their own politicisation, which they

then reproduced, as was most evident in the case of the Young Czechs, a significantly more radical generation

of nationalist politicians than their predecessors. The picture that all of the above portrays when taken together

is one of a radical shift in the second half of the nineteenth century. The extension of the political franchise

disturbed the delicate ethnical balance and most ethnic groups had to adapt in response. The importance of

the ethnic balance can be exemplified by the fact that when Bosnia-Herzegovina was joined to the empire, it

was not placed into either Austria nor Hungary: instead, it was ‘run by the imperial Finance Ministry in a

deliberate attempt to maintain the ethnic balance of the Dualist system’. 22

The radical shift also becomes notable from the perspective of intellectual history: years between 1897 and

1910 see an explosion of ‘creative writing’ on the question of ‘autonomy for the Volksstämme’: among them

were ‘Georg Jellinek's… lecture on the right of minorities of 1898, many of Karl Renner's… writings, Otto

Bauer's work… of 1907, and Edmund Bernatzik's magisterial lecture-essay on ethnic registers of 1910’. 23

This was a distinctively Austro-Hungarian phenomenon and there were no parallels to it on the wider

European arena of the time. The “nationalization” and radicalization of politics happened swiftly, which

highlights the artificiality of national conflicts. In a way, it confirms Judson’s argument – the nations were

indeed mobilized for political purposes. However, does the artificiality of conflict make ethnic unification

any less genuine and deserving of our attention? ‘The power of nationalist rhetoric at every level of politics

was not a product of some kind of reality of conflicting nations’, wrote Judson; ‘nationalist politics functioned

to constitute the very nations it claimed to represent’. 24 Here, Judson goes too far in denying the validity to

nationalist impulses and reducing the significance of conflict to absolute minimum. The aforementioned

situations of the Serbs or the Romanians, whose nationalist movements were based on deep cultural,

linguistic, and religious differences from their neighbours illustrate this most vividly. Artificial or not, real

antagonisms appeared and those cannot be reduced to the rudiments of the electoral processes. In any case,

the evidence above shows that conflicts arose in response to a particular political situation, rather than were

predetermined in any way – and therefore, no longer seem inevitable.

Since we have established that the populations were mobilized in response to a political situation, we must

address the role of the Habsburg state in these processes. The responsibility of holding the Empire together

fell to the monarchy in the face of the dynasty, and the relation of their policies to the problem’s escalation

must be evaluated. It was the monarchy’s task to turn the supranational identity that it promoted into a strong

and appealing Staatsidee. As Peter Urbanitsch has noted, ‘any secular moral philosophy, like one centered

on the nation, finally depends on success’. In our period, ‘the monarchical idea was subjected to a creeping

demythologization and desacralization’, and the events described above signify the ultimate failure of the

state in this regard. 25 Count Gustav Kalnoky, the foreign minister at the time, attested to that in the 1880s:

‘the monarchy has developed more in the sense of a power (Macht) than in the sense of a state (Staat)’. 26 To

frame our discussion in Jászi’s terms, we can say that the dynasty failed to sufficiently cultivate the centripetal

forces that would counterbalance and overpower the centrifugal ones. By the nineteenth century, ‘the political

strength’ of the Habsburg monarchy, the dominant symbol around which imperial unity was constructed, was

‘almost entirely exhausted. 27 ‘To conceptualize a supranational identity is one thing, to popularize it is

another’; the Habsburgs tried, by building the Arsenal in Vienna as an ‘Austrian national monument, a

Nationaldenkmal’, or erecting the monument to General Heinrich Hentzi in Buda. 28 At some point in the


Ibid., p.218


Stourzh, ‘The Multinational Empire,’ pp.17-19


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p.63


P. Urbanitsch, ‘Pluralist Myth and Nationalist Realities: The Dynastic Myth of the Habsburg Monarchy—a Futile

Exercise in the Creation of Identity?’ Austrian History Yearbook, 35 (2004), p.140


Wank, ‘Some Reflections,’ p.137


Ibid., p.134


Urbanitsch, ‘Pluralist Myth,’ pp.115-117


Dizzy with Optimism: Revisionist historiography and the Nationality Conflict in late Austria-Hungary | Viktor Koleda

nineteenth century, as Péter Hanák described it, ‘[w]hat had been patriarchal rule hinging on the person of

the Emperor or the dynasty became the paternalistic absolutism of the bureaucracy’, which decisively

alienated the population from allegiance to the Empire over nationalist projects. 29

Yet, at the same time, the Habsburgs opened up the spaces to promote the centrifugal forces. Historians like

Judson and Cohen emphasise the role of the state in providing sufficient autonomy for national selfexpression

in the form of civil society as a sign of imperial flexibility and softness. Yet, it was precisely these

mechanisms praised by the revisionists that doomed the empire to inter-ethnic strife. As Solomon Wank has

remarked, relying on Alexander Motyl’s theory, ‘[i]mperial decay inevitably sets in when the emperor, in

order to preserve the integrity of his state… accords some or all of the peripheral territories a greater degree

of autonomy vis-à-vis the center’. 30 That was exactly what the Habsburg state did, and the nationalist activism

‘functioned within the context of a dynastic state system’. 31 Most notably, this has been done in the Austro-

Hungarian Compromise of 1867, by which Francis Joseph granted each half of the Empire with a constitution.

The Austrian constitution promised ‘all the races of state… equal rights’, one of which was ‘the inviolable

right of maintaining and cultivating its nationality and language’. It guaranteed the equality of languages in

‘in the schools, public offices, and in public life’, and opened ‘public offices… to all citizens’. 32

The Hungarian one promised less, but its very existence was a testament of the Empire’s commitment to the

cause of equality between the nations as a strategy of self-preservation, which backfired. These policies

promoted separation and the formulation of separate identities and as such served as a delayed time-bomb for

the Habsburg state. The Moravian compromise of 1905, for example, ‘was not a compromise at all, but a

separation of Czechs and Germans’. 33 Numerous associations ‘organized along “national” (i. e. ethnic) lines’

flourished as a result of the granted liberties combined with the extended franchise. The ‘creation of public

bodies structured along ethnic lines’, in turn, politicised the population and gave it the sense of national

belonging (Volkszugerhöringkeit) and a dream of national autonomy. 34 Moreover, the “delicate balance” that

the Habsburgs were trying to maintain did not correspond to economic realities: agricultural Hungary, the

Empire’s economic periphery, was given political power and autonomy, while economically important

Bohemia was subjected to Austrian dominance. The resulting confrontations became inevitable when

Habsburg policy was set in practice.

Speaking ahistorically, Austria-Hungary’s national policy was similar to that of the USSR. The monarchy

actively cultivated and promoted all forms of national identification, provided spaces for them to flourish,

and celebrated diversity across 24 volumes of Archduke Rudolf’s encyclopaedia. In doing so, the monarchy

was manufacturing tensions that would not only tear the empire apart in the circumstances created by the

First World War, but would haunt Central and Eastern Europe to this day. It gave representation to the

Malorossy, encouraging the development of the Ruthenian nationalist movement, even though Galicia was

clearly dominated by the Poles ‘numerically, economically and politically’. 35 Not stopping at Moravian and

Bukovinian compromises, the empire offered Bosnia-Herzegovina (!) its own provincial constitution in 1910.

The nationality conflict was not inevitable in a sense that it was pre-determined by the ethnicities’ coexistence

in a single framework. Such answers can only be produced by those who are preoccupied with the

empire’s final collapse. Nevertheless, there were objective social and economic factors that the Habsburg

Empire confronted – and the way it responded to them was focused too much on pacifying the population,

rather than providing a genuine solution or effectively repressing the activism. While the nationalist activists


P. Hanák, The Garden and the Workshop: Essays on the Cultural History of Vienna and Budapest (Princeton, 1998),



Wank, ‘Some Reflections,’ p. 137; Alexander Motyl, "From Imperial Decay to Imperial Collapse:

The Fall of the Soviet Empire in Comparative Perspective," in Richard L. Rudolph and David F. Good (eds.),

Nationalism and Empire: The Habsburg Monarchy and the Soviet Union, (New York, 1992), 15-43.


Cohen, ‘Nationalist Politics,’ p. 275.


Fundamental Law Concerning the General Rights of Citizens: The Austrian Constitution of 1867, at



Wank, ‘Some Reflections,’ p. 145.


Stourzh, ‘The Multinational Empire,’ p. 19.


Kuzmany, ‘Habsburg Austria’, p.58


Part IV

mobilised the masses, took a strong stance in the civil society, crafted an identity against their “oppressors”

and neighbours, the Habsburgs tried responding to them by gradually giving concessions. Even if that

provided a swift relief from the inter-ethnic tension, such policies could only exacerbate the nationalist

impulses in a long-term perspective. Thus, the way the Habsburg Empire chose to deal with the forces of

modernity made the nationality conflict inevitable.





‘Austria must, in accordance with the will of its people, become a federal state, in which every nationality

shall form its own national territory in its own settlement zone.’

Emperor Karl, October Manifesto (1918)

The Völkermanifest is a rarity in Habsburg historiography. Equally seldomly, contemporaries and historians

agree to such an extent with each other. When Emperor Karl declared the federalisation of the Habsburg

Empire on 16 October 1918, most contemporaries doubted the success of his endeavour, judging his attempt

as belated and desperate. 1 In the same manner and ever since, historians have called the Völkermanifest a last

and inglorious attempt to save the monarchy. 2 Very recently, Steven Beller has concluded that Karl’s efforts

in October 1918 were ‘far too late’, and his actions ‘irrelevant’. 3 Although he acknowledged finding a solution

that would have satisfied everyone had been impossible, Manfred Rauchensteiner interpreted the Manifesto

as a ‘sign of dissolution’ in his extensive World War history. 4 But how could the conclusion be any different

when even Karl himself admitted in his memoires, written in exile, ‘due to the rushing events, the manifest

became irrelevant (gegenstandslos)’? 5 Given this broad spectrum of negative assessment as well as the fact

that the Habsburg Empire had vanished only a few weeks later, an estimation of the Manifesto’s timing and

relevance seems to be unambiguous. However, I would like to suggest to approach the Manifesto from a

different angle, arguing that everything is a matter of perspective. Rather than sharing in the swansong of the

monarchy, it will ask why Karl pronounced the Manifesto at the time he did and whether it really was as

‘gegenstandslos’ as he himself had suggested.

In doing so, the essay addresses a cardinal problem. For over a century, history and historiography of the

Habsburg Empire have had an everlasting end point, a black hole of attention: its collapse. A lot of research

seems to have been absorbed by explaining the empire’s dissolution, and the resulting creation of nation

states. Those discussions are necessary and fruitful, and they still get new impulses, as has very recently been

shown by the debate over Pieter M. Judson’s recent work. 6 But this perspective keeps considering the

Habsburg Empire from its end point, thus always involving a teleological trap of equating autumn 1918, the

disappearance of empire, with spring 1919, the emergence and legitimisation of new nation states that came

as a result of the peace negotiations in Paris. In this respect, already Oszkár Jászi has interpreted Karl’s

Manifesto in 1929 as the ‘last point of a logical series’ leading towards the independence of nations. 7 To

escape this teleology that others in this debate also pointed out, this essay considers the Manifesto as a product

of its time—a time where multiple crises became visible, nothing was certain but everything seemed to be

possible in the view of contemporaries. Examining the Völkermanifest from the viewpoint of the situation in

autumn 1918 can give a novel view on the empire’s history.

A four-year-long latent crisis of legitimisation constituted the situation of empire and thus the framework for

the genesis of the Manifesto. During the war, popular backing of the empire had vanished. The extra-legal


ʻ“Völkermanifest” – Kaiser Karl I. versucht sein Reich zu rettenʼ, Frankfurter Zeitung, 18.10.1918.


In his fundamental study, Helmut Rumpler, Das Völkermanifest Kaiser Karls vom 16. Oktober 1918: letzter Versuch

zur Rettung des Habsburgerreiches (München, 1966).


Steven Beller, The Habsburg Monarchy, 1815–1918 (Cambridge, 2018), p. 270.


Manfried Rauchensteiner, The First World War and the End of the Habsburg Monarchy (Vienna, Cologne, Weimar,

2014), p. 987–992.


Karl in Erich Feigl, “Gott erhalte.” Kaiser Karl. Persönliche Aufzeichnungen und Dokumente (Vienna, 2006), pp.



Pieter M. Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History (Cambridge, 2016).


Oszkár Jászi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy (Chicago, 1929), p. 22.

Part IV

and de facto military dictatorship imposed to the citizens in the first two years of war led to a breakdown of

imperial patriotism. 8 When Emperor Karl acceded to the throne in 1916, dismissal of the high command and

restructuring military leadership could not undo the damage that had already been done. However, military

oppression was not the main factor for the declining popularity of the monarchy. This trend was amplified by

wartime shortages. Over the whole period of war, food provisions decreased and Vienna’s daily-allotted

foodstuffs, for example, were reduced by two thirds between April 1915 and November 1918. 9 Food supply

became the main criterion of governmental efficiency, thus challenging the justification of empire. Here, long

before military and political crises gained pace in autumn 1918, the erosion of the empire became visible. 10

In October 1918, the government in Vienna declared the crownlands responsible for food provisions,

amplifying a trend which had already been practised in war: existing local welfare organisations that were

often part of national associations organised supply and gained popular recognition. Subversively, actors on

a very local level replaced imperial institutions by fulfilling the role of the state in daily life, henceforth

undermining the empire’s authority. 11

In the same way as this slowly vanishing trust in and popular backing of the empire’s institutions, the person

of the emperor also suffered a loss in reputation. In 1916, when the ‘everlasting’ Francis Joseph, who had

embodied the dynasty, died after almost seventy years of reign, the future of the empire was uncertain for

many contemporaries, and the role of the young successor in the wartime unclear. 12 Yet Karl soon started to

initiate fundamental changes. Contrarily to his aged predecessor, he promoted a closer connection between

the emperor and his people, using new technologies, for example with the propaganda film entitled ‘Our

Emperor’. 13 Politically, he ended both military dictatorship and censorship, freed political prisoners and reopened

the Austrian Parliament. In Hungary, he aimed to bolster his legitimacy by staging an elaborate

coronation ritual. He showed willingness to extend suffrage and promoted a more tolerant policy towards

national minorities. In external affairs, Karl went even further by initiating several, even if unsuccessful,

peace petitions. Although all those measures were aiming to achieve more political freedom, Karl failed to

achieve any more room of manoeuvre. 14 In fact, the liberalisation of internal politics revealed irreconcilable

political breaches among the parties and even facilitated nationalist propaganda against the empire.

Externally, Karl’s attempts to extend his political influence converted into the opposite. When initiating a

secret and unsuccessful peace petition via the pope, the so-called Sixtus affair compelled the empire into

submission to Germany and considerably undermined Karl’s international and internal political credibility. 15

Correspondingly to the growing distrust in empire and emperor, Heinz Rieder argues that Karl’s government

and the nationalist politicians in the parliament had determined the content as well as the timing of the

Manifesto, literally dictating Karl what to pronounce. The Emperor himself would have proposed the

federalisation of the Habsburg Monarchy earlier but was preventing from doing so by the resistance of his

‘environment’ which is, in Rieder’s view, the only reason why the Manifesto was published ‘way too late’. 16

As a key argument for Karl’s willingness for federalisation, Rieder cites an earlier witness of Empress Zita.

According to this source, Karl said around 1908: ‘The dualism is impossible to rescue. Trialism, however, is

unfair and does not go far enough. The only solution must be a true federation where every people gets the

same chance’. 17 Indeed, this sounded very close to what the Manifesto proclaimed ten years later in October


Pieter M. Judson, Habsburg Empire, p. 387.


Ibid., p. 400.


Maureen Healy, Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire: Total War and Everyday Life in World War I

(Cambridge, 2004), pp. 185–193.


Pieter M. Judson, Habsburg Empire, pp. 394–407.


Robert Rill, ʻCharles. Emperor of Austriaʼ, 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War



Pieter M. Judson, Habsburg Empire, p. 418.


Ibid., pp. 417–422.


Manfried Rauchensteiner, ʻ“Ich habe erfahren, dass mein Kaiser lügt.” Die “Sixtus-Affäre” 1917/18ʼ, in Michael

Gehler, Hubert Sickinger (ed.), Politische Affären und Skandale in Österreich. Von Mayerling bis Waldheim (Thaur,

Wien, München, 1996), pp. 148–169, pp. 162–163.


Heinz Rieder, ʻEin Europa freier Völker. Kaiser Karls politische Vorstellungsweltʼ, Österreich in Geschichte und

Literatur mit Geographie, 36.1 (1992), pp. 3–13, p. 9.


Quoted in Heinz Rieder, ʻKaiser Karls politische Vorstellungsweltʼ, p. 8.


Revisiting Emperor Karl’s October Manifesto | Adrian Riess

1918. But Rieder goes even further, declaring the young ruler was the pioneer thinker of a ‘Europe of free

peoples’ when already in 1917, Karl emphasised in a private meeting: ‘Everyone is complicit in this war;

everyone has to be responsible now for bringing back peace to the world. Therefore, we shall start acting in

this new feeling of European responsibility sorting our own internal problems’. 18

Rieder’s interpretation that pictures a monarch who would have federalised the empire and appeased the

belligerent continent if just his ‘environment’ would have allowed him to do so, is just too simplistic. As

Helmut Rumpler demonstrated, Karl neither had any concrete plans for the federalisation, nor did he initiate

any corresponding measures. On the contrary, for most of Karl’s reign, his government was led by Ernst von

Seidler (June 1917 – July 1918) who expressively supported a centralistic constitutional reform. 19 Published

in 1992, the 105 th anniversary of Karl’s birthday, Rieder’s argument rather expressed an imperial nostalgia

and further conveyed a certain Europeanised historiography representative of scholarship produced shortly

after the Iron Curtain had fallen. Nonetheless, despite his idealising view on Karl, Rieder hits some key points

for the discussion here: the role of Karl within the genesis of the Manifesto as well as the relationship between

federalisation and peace making. Precisely, the latter processes overlapped and merged into the

Völkermanifest in 1918, determining much of its ‘late’ publication.

Long before the war, federalisation had been a topic within the empire. Nationalists and monarchists alike

had discussed virulently about changing the Empire’s constitution for decades. Within the government,

several departments developed concepts of a possible federalisation and unofficial discussion circles also

addressed constitutional questions. 20 However, only after the Balkan front collapsed in mid-September 1918

and military defeat at all fronts seemed to be inevitable theoretical debates evolved into concrete plans. On

14 September, the government of the Habsburg Empire offered a proposal for peace negotiations to the allied

military head quarter, referring to Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points from January 1918, a diplomatic

proposal to end the war and subsequently create a new world order. At a time when the German Empire had

won the war against the Russian Empire in winter 1917 and the military situation seemed even, America’s

president declared that every people should have the right of self-determination in a speech in front of the

senate. Referring to this in September 1918, the leaders of the empire hoped for better peace conditions. To

underline their readiness for concessions, an announcement for a federalisation of the empire should have

acted as an advance payment for the conclusion of a peace based on Wilsons’ Fourteen Points. But while

events accelerated and the military position was weakened day by day, the Joint Council of Ministers, who

was as government of the empire commissioned to finding a solution to the constitutional revision was deeply

divided and far away from solving the problem. Hungarian deputies denied any change to dualism and

therefore restriction of Hungary’s dominant position within the empire. The so-called South Slav Question,

on the contrary, dealt with the extension of dualism into trialism if united Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia were

to become a third power in the Empire. Simultaneously, German nationalists claimed the right of selfdetermination

for Germans in Austria. Given those breaches within the government, on 2 October, the session

of the Joint Council was unable to achieve a result once again, thus revealing the inability to finding a

common solution for a federalisation of the monarchy. 21

When discussions of federalisation on the governmental level seemed to be in deadlock, external factors took

over the delays and, more precisely, suspended the whole process of finding a compromise for the

constitutional question. On 2 October, in the mentioned session of the Joint Council, foreign minister Stephan

Burián announced a peace petition based on the Fourteen Points which should be sent directly to President

Woodrow Wilson rather than to the Allies. Burián hoped to force a favourable decision within internal circles

through applying some external pressure. Wilson, however, did not answer until 18 October. Between 2 and

10 October, not a single initiative to revise the constitution was placed. Thus, more than a week of


Ibid., p. 10.


For the argumentation see, Helmut Rumpler, Das Völkermanifest, pp. 44–46.


Ibid., pp. 11–19.


Manfried Rauchensteiner, The First World War, pp. 987–989.


Part IV

government’s actions in constitutional questions was spent paralysed in waiting and hoping. 22 This resulted

in a twofold governmental crisis: the executive ministers of both Cis- and Transleithania resigned on 11

October. 23 Meanwhile, events accelerated and military and national dissolution proceeded. On 6 October,

deputies of the Reichsrat and several regional parliaments founded the National Council of Slovenes, Croats,

and Serbs in Zagreb. A few days later, on 11 October, Polish politicians followed their example. By building

executive organs, the Croats even started to take over governmental tasks. 24 When Karl declared that every

nation should build its own National Council in his Manifesto on 16 October, he, in fact, legitimised only

retrospectively actions which had already taken place. 25

As governmental discussions were stuck in a limbo, President Wilson was even less likely to answer the

Austrian peace proposal from 4 October, and internal political crisis aggravated, thus the emperor himself

decided to act. Yet, his room for manoeuvre was put under more constraint by all these factors. Since the end

of September, the chief of the Austrian government, Max Hussarek, had considered the possibility of an

imperial-royal proclamation to change the constitution. From 10 October onwards, different versions were

handed to the emperor. In the process, Karl changed the draft several times but finally stuck to a version

which gave, above all, consideration to the German nationalist claims of a respective German Bohemian

state. 26 However, his say in the actual wording of the Manifesto had been little: in fact, national stakeholders

in his government discussed and decided upon the precise formulations. Caught up in small details, they

negotiated, for example, whether the Manifesto should codify Hungary’s integrity as ‘integrity’, as ‘stance

and rights’ or as ‘unscathed rights of the Hungarian crown’. 27 Taking this into account, Karl’s position was

perhaps not as powerless as Rieder suggests because he had in fact been able to voice support for a pro

German draft of the Manifesto. Nonetheless, the final editing was delayed by nationalists vying for more

individual rights that should be implemented in the emperor’s declaration. However much the discussions of

federalisation had lagged behind at different moments, the pace of those discussions was determined by

Wilson and the Allies. Only when information about an allied conference allegedly deciding about the

empire’s future constitution reached Vienna on 15 October, discussions were concluded and the final version

of the Manifesto was finalised for the following day. The government still believed in peace conditions in

accordance with the Fourteen Points. But how could those hopes develop such an impact on the

contemporaries, given that Wilson’s declaration had been passed more than ten months before and under

completely different circumstances? 28

The case of the German Empire exemplifies how faith in the American president, and respectively hopes for

a peace based on the Fourteen Points were fuelled in the last days of war. When the German Government

sent diplomatic notes between 4 October and 5 November directly to president Wilson, he avoided giving a

clear answer but demanded further parliamentarisation instead. 29 Across all political camps, members of the

German Reichstag were hoping for a peace settlement which was negotiated between the different parties in

equal matters and therefore based on the Fourteen Points—expectations which were denied only in

Versailles. 30 In the same way, hopes were aroused in the Habsburg Monarchy, even influenced by their

neighbour. On 10 October, foreign minister Burián unofficially heard that Wilson had communicated with

the Germans about armistice conditions and had not denied the possibility of a ‘Wilsonian peace’. Driven by

this, Burián vigorously appealed to the government to send Wilson a proof of ‘how serious’ Austria’s will to


Helmut Rumpler, Das Völkermanifest, p. 27.


Ibid., p. 32.


Jörn Leonhard, Der überforderte Frieden: Versailles und die Welt 1918–1923 (München, 2018), p. 189.


Pieter M. Judson, Habsburg Empire, p. 432.


For details, see Helmut Rumpler, Das Völkermanifest, pp. 46–50.


Helmut Rumpler, Das Völkermanifest, p. 55–57.


For the international acknowledgement of the Fourteen Points, see Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment (Oxford,



Second volume in Herbert Michaelis, Ernst Schraepler (ed.), Ursachen und Folgen. Vom deutschen Zusammenbruch

1918 und 1945 bis zur staatlichen Neuordnung Deutschland in der Gegenwart (Berlin, 1958), pp. 379–468. Eberhard

Kolb, Der Frieden von Versailles (München, 2005), 25–32.


Ernst Fränkel, ʻDas deutsche Wilsonbildʼ, Jahrbuch für Amerikastudien, 5 (1960), pp. 66–120.


Revisiting Emperor Karl’s October Manifesto | Adrian Riess

reform actually was. 31 What had been the parliamentarisation for the German Empire, became federalisation

for the Habsburg Monarchy. Like their neighbours, Habsburg officials hoped to receive better peace

conditions when initiating internal reforms which in all probability would fulfil the alleged dogma of national

self-determination. 32 Only after the Manifesto’s publication on 18 October, Wilson refused any negotiation

based on his Fourteen Points. Until then, the vague formulation of these points in January 1918 as well as his

ambiguous answers to the German side facilitated expectations for a Verständigungsfrieden and might

explain the de facto governmental shut down in Austria on 2-10 October and therefore the delay of the

Völkermanifest. Symptomatically for the impact of Wilson’s role within the genesis of the Manifesto, on the

morning of 16 October, one of the last changes which were made in text, shortly before the publication,

considered adapting the final phrases to give it, as the last prime minister of the Habsburg Empire Heinrich

Lammasch insisted, ‘an even more peaceful character.’ 33

Ultimately, the attempt to make peace with the Allies based on Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the

federalisation of the realm had become part of the same document. Both discussions, about the peace and the

constitution’s revision, inhibited each other reciprocally, delaying the emperor’s announcement. Ironically,

external and internal pressure in October 1918 had prevented further discussion as the military situation

worsened dramatically and the inner dissolution anticipated the upcoming reforms. Contrary to what many

historians have contended, this was not a sign of the Manifesto’s ‘delay’ or ‘failure.’ 34 In fact, one can argue

that the latent crisis of the empire’s legitimacy had already undermined the impact of any declaration long

before it was proclaimed. Furthermore, it was the allies who had the power to decide about the empire’s future

and they had unanimously supported the course of breaking up the empire since April. 35 Rather, the timing

of the document as well as its content illustrated the dynamic of accelerating expectations and experiences

characteristic of the historical moment in autumn 1918 itself.

The timing and pressure which generated the Manifesto also determined its relevance. Driven by external

factors, the text of Karl’s Manifesto had left many formulations open when on 16 October, he eventually

proclaimed: ‘Austria must, in accordance with the will of its people, become a federal state, in which every

nationality shall form its own national territory in its own settlement zone’. One the one hand, this statement

seems to be anachronistic. The text emphasised the role of the empire as a mediator and a guarantor for

legality and fairness between the nationalities. In doing so, it echoed an argument which had been brought

up by Czech politician František Palacký as early as 1848. Given that military dictatorship and failing wartime

provisions had undermined any such claim, the same argument must have sounded almost ironic in 1918. 36

On the other hand, Karl’s definition of a federal state was rather loose. The Manifesto neither clarified

precisely the nationalities in question, nor did it mark-out any specific ‘settlement zones’ where federalisation

would be problematic. In territories where different ethnicities lived side by side, as for example Germans

and Czechs in Bohemia, this would have demanded careful negotiation. The text also contained some

contradictory statements: for example, the Manifesto laid out that Hungary’s dominant position within the

empire should not be put into question while, at the same time, it declared that a new state, a union of Croatia,

Serbia, and Slovenia should be founded to complement the dualism. Due to its different authors and the

rushed time, the Manifesto hence had not formulated a clear agenda but rather remained ambiguous and full

of contradictions.

By the same token, the Manifesto was received very differently in different regions and by different groups,

thus its relevance for different groups varied considerably. The greatest impact could be seen in the military.

As the institution which represented the multiethnic empire best, the k.u.k army’s disintegration was bolstered

by the Manifesto’s proclamation. Desertion rates had already been on the rise, but now nationalists, who


Stephan Burián quoted in Helmut Rumpler, Das Völkermanifest, p. 42.


Jörn Leonhard, Die Büchse der Pandora. Geschichte des Ersten Weltkriegs (München, 2014), p. 901.


Heinrich Lammasch quoted in Helmut Rumpler, Das Völkermanifest, pp. 61–62.


See Pieter M. Judson, ‘„Where our commonality is necessary... “: rethinking the end of the Habsburg monarchy

(Report)’, Austrian History Yearbook, 48 (2017), pp. 1–21.


Jörn Leonhard, Überforderte Friede, p. 186.


Ibid., pp. 192–193.


Part IV

interpreted the document as a final sign of the empire’s dissolution, called their troops back. ‘The homeland

is in danger. The Hungarian soldier must return to defend the fatherland’, a member of the Hungarian

Reichstag (Imperial Diet) said and reaped furious applause. 37 Gathering forces appeared to be vital in the

confusion of the last days of war. At the same time, the uncertainty unavoidably caused by the Manifesto did

not always result in the handover of power to nationalists like in the case in many branches of the army.

Often, imperial duties transmitted to local institutions—as has been mentioned earlier. Those regional

organisations could be nationalist but did not necessarily have to be. One example of where a federal unit did

not form a matching national unit was Styria. Here, a group of influential citizens took over local government

after the proclamation, cutting off the ties with the empire and starting to organise themselves independently.

A Graz newspaper argued: ‘Since there is no central office in Vienna, we here in the country cannot wait any

longer. We must give up on powers that cannot protect us from starvation.’ 38 This radical act illustrated how

the empire was now absent in the daily life and, subsequently, the fundamental crisis of its legitimacy.

In contrast to nationalists and local authorities who saw another chance to usurp imperial power, most citizens

reacted to the emperor’s Manifesto with indifference. One day after the proclamation, a police officer in

Vienna reported: ‘The streets are calm. People do not respond to the proclamation of the emperor. They rather

care about daily supply of food.’ 39 The average citizen had been concerned about the grievances of daily life,

from which the empire seemed to have withdrawn already years ago. When the monarchy showed signs of

dissolution and finally vanished, many neither became aware of nor minded it. Others argued that the

declaration had little weight. The largest Austrian Newspaper, the Neue Freie Presse, for example, stated the

following in their morning edition of 18 October:

‘Today’s release shows the politics of Austria to be in a loose shape, so broadly outlined

and so very general, that they could only echo president Wilson’s notes … Thus, the

Manifesto can only be understood as a part of Emperor Karl’s peace negotiations.’ 40

The author understood well that the Manifesto was created and driven by external factors which were

constraining its actual political adaptability. The loose formulation, in his interpretation, would prevent the

reforms from being carried out successfully. His analysis would prove right. On 18 October, president Wilson

answered to the note of the Austrian government, denying any negotiations based on the Fourteen Points.

Instead, he demanded a nation state for the Czechoslovaks and the Yugoslavians. In doing so, he initiated

declarations of national independence in every part of the empire. On 11 November, Emperor Karl declared

his withdrawal from every governmental business. One month after the Völkermanifest, the Habsburg Empire

silently vanished. 41

The broad panorama of interpretation and receptions as well as the genesis of the document expressed the

empire’s numerous and overlapping crises: a political one when nationalists tried to take over power; a

popular one when most citizens lost trust in the empire and an external one when the Allies decided about the

future of the monarchy over its emperor’s head.

On 25 October 1918, Sigmund Freud wrote in a letter to a friend: ‘The times are terribly exciting. It is good

that the Old is dying, however, the New has not arrived yet.’ 42 In this short phrase, the famous psychoanalyst

caught the mood of autumn 1918 in Vienna. He described the dynamic and tension of the moment were

nothing was certain, but everything seemed to be possible. It was in this very moment that the Völkermanifest

of Emperor Karl was born. The document was, at the same time, the witness, product, and harbinger of crisis,

amid a moment of openness and uncertainty. Its genesis showed that, at that moment of time, the nationalist

breaches within the empire were irreconcilable and much of the new order seemed to be determined by


Quoted in Manfried Rauchensteiner, The First World War, p. 993.


Quoted in Pieter M. Judson, ‘rethinking the end of the Habsburg monarchy’, p. 18.


Quoted in Jörn Leonhard, Büchse der Pandora, p. 905.


Neue Freie Presse, 18.10.1918. Here and further translated by the author.


Wiener Zeitung, 11.11.1918, Extra-Ausgabe.


Letter of Sigmund Freud to Max Eitingon on 25 October 1918, in Freud und Eitingen, Briefwechsel, vol I, pp. 139–

140, 140.


Revisiting Emperor Karl’s October Manifesto | Adrian Riess

Wilsonian principles. Many hopes were projected onto the upcoming decisions at the Paris Peace Conference.

Many of the Manifesto’s key problems foreshadowed what was vigorously discussed there: the

correspondence of territory and nationality, the emergence of new powers and the decline of old supremacies

as well as the constellation of multiethnic living spaces. In fact, the Völkermanifest, which both

contemporaries and historians alike judged as being ‘too late’ and ‘gegenstandslos’, anticipated many of the

conflict lines which would coin the future history of Habsburg’s ‘shatterzone of empire’ for decades and until

today. 43 Read from this angle, the Manifesto’s historic relevance acts as an early litmus test for the fractures

and logics of politics in Eastern Europe at the end of

and after World War I.


Omer Bartov, Eric D Weitz (ed.), Shatterzone of Empires. Coexistence and Violence in the German, Habsburg,

Russian, and Ottoman Borderlands (Indiana, 2013).






‘The Hungarian hates the Bohemian, the Bohemian hates the German, and the Italian hates them all and as

horses absurdly harnessed together, they will scatter in all directions as soon as the advancing spirit of the

times will weaken and break the bonds’. 1

Franz Grillparzer

The words of Austrian dramatist Franz Grillparzer – cited by Oszkár Jászi in his influential work The

Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy – neatly encapsulate the largely gloomy and despairing mood amongst

Austro-Hungarian elites concerning the future of the Empire in the long nineteenth century. Indeed, Count

Oswald Thun-Salm, a conservative Austrian aristocrat, surmised: ‘in our country, an optimist must commit

suicide’. 2 Grillparzer’s phrase also characterises the ‘pessimistic, nationally primodrialist and pathologizing

consensus’ that has come to dominate discussion of this period. 3 Traditionally, historians studying late

Austria-Hungary have emphasised the role of political nationalism in mobilising cultural and historical

discourses in order to differentiate and polarise ethnic groups, which they consider forerunners of modern

nations. 4 Scholars like Ernest Gellner and Oszkár Jászi, with ‘ethnicist presumption’ or the retrospective

validation of nation, tended to take this approach, which has since been dismissed as teleological in general

terms. Yet, as Viktor Koleda’s contribution to this debate demonstrates, it has maintained its currency and

appeal among Habsburg historians. 5 Critics of this approach also suggest that it has been influenced by the

powerful propaganda disseminated by the Allies during the war which sought to privilege the nationalist

agenda and capitalise on divisions within Austria-Hungary. 6 Recent studies by Gary Cohen and Pieter M.

Judson purport that the emergence of ethnic groups, or ‘nations’ was not as clear, divisive or as far-reaching

as previously suggested, whilst even more recent works by Deborah Coen and Alison Frank tend to consider

nationalism as a background issue which operated alongside a multitude of other factors within a much wider

context. 7 This approach may provide direction for future studies of this question. Though firmly belonging

to the revisionist school of historians, the findings of all these historians have roots in older historiography.

As Adam Kożuchowski argues, as early as in the immediate aftermath of the Great War, envisioning the

Austro-Hungarian Empire as a supranational power in charge of numerous burgeoning nations did not seem

absurd. 8 Whilst conventional narratives stress the bitter, untenable relationship between these emerging

groups and paint the differences as so irreconcilable and absolute that they contributed to the collapse of the


Cited in Oszkár Jászi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy (Chicago, 1929), p. 11.


Cited in Pieter M. Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History (Cambridge, 2016), p. 383.


Jeremy King, ‘Review of Pieter M. Judson’s The Habsburg Empire: A New History’, The American Historical Review

122(4) (2017), p. 1327.


Pieter M. Judson, Guardians of a Nation: Activists on Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria (Cambridge, 2016) pp.



King, Review of ‘The Habsburg Empire: A New History’, pp. 1326-1327.


Mark Cornwall, The Undermining of Austria-Hungary: The Battle for Hearts and Minds (Basingstoke, 2000) p. 144;

Gary Cohen, ‘Nationalist Politics and the Dynamics of State and Civil Society in the Habsburg Monarchy 1867-1914’,

Central European History 40(2) (2007), pp. 241-5.


Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History, pp. 10-16; Jeremy King, ‘The Municipal and the National in the

Bohemian Lands, 1848–1914’, Austrian History Yearbook, 42, (2011), pp. 89-109; Christian Karner, ‘The “Habsburg

Dilemma” Today: Competing Discourses of National Identity in Contemporary Austria’, National Identities 7(4)

(2005), pp. 425-6.


Adam Kożuchowski, The afterlife of Austria-Hungary: the image of the Habsburg Monarchy in interwar Europe

(Pittsburgh, 2013) p. 19.

The Empire Strikes Back: Rethinking Nationality Conflict in late Austria-Hungary | Meriel Smithson

Empire, Judson proposes that these differences were actually relative, negotiable and manageable, implying

that co-existence was possible.

It remains undeniable however, that the nineteenth century saw the emergence of distinct ethnic groups across

Austria-Hungary who were defined by their language, culture, history, ethnicity and religion. It remains

debatable to what extent these groups were fated to conflict. Many of the narratives condemning Austria-

Hungary as a doomed anachronism, made up of warring nations which eventually tore down the Empire were

written in the last century, in the hey-day of the nation state and so reflect its conceptual dominance. Today,

in the age of globalisation, where the forces of denationalisation are ‘eroding’ the previously all-powerful

nation-state, there is a new opportunity to reflect upon this period and revisit the empire’s credibility in

history. 9 It is necessary to move away from a theoretical framework dominated by nation and toward one

that considers issues of nation as part of an ‘intricate matrix’ of many other factors that operated in the

empire. 10 This essay will position itself within this new framework and contribute to an ongoing reassessment

of the Habsburg political and cultural landscape in the long nineteenth century. 11

In this vein, it is necessary to break away from the conventional binary understanding of nation and empire.

Ann Stoler and Frederick Cooper have suggested that nation-state has become ‘too centred’ in conceptions

of European history and empire has not been ‘centred enough’. 12 Judson proposes that we view the two as

‘mutually constitutive’ and consider how the two mobilised similar rhetoric, and depended on each other for

coherence. 13 In adopting this stance, this essay will propose a vision of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire as

a flexible, modernising and unifying supranational power, which often celebrated diversity and took

advantage of the definitional fluidity of nationhood. It will not dispense with the valuable contributions of

traditional scholars Oskar Jászi, Mark Cornwall and Ernest Gellner nor with the recent findings of Nancy

Wingfield and T.Mills-Kelly who provide evidence for large memberships of nationalist parties across

different lands of the Habsburg Empire. 14 In order to avoid criticisms launched at revisionists like Rita

Krueger of skating over already well-documented arguments for divisive nationalism, this essay will

recognise the emergence of what one might call ‘nations’ and their sometimes fractious relationship with one

another. 15 However, it will locate them within a wider, more nuanced history which will ultimately conclude

that the nationality conflict in late Austria-Hungary was neither inevitable, nor did it precipitate the fall of

the Empire.

As noted, the importance of ‘nation’ has been overstated in historiography and over-emphasised at the time.

This may well be partly due to the ritualistic performative function of nation favoured by nationalists. In 1897

when the conservative government in Austria tried to push through the renewal of the Austro-Hungarian

compromise agreement against the will of the German liberals, the parliament descended into a chaos or

‘imperial emergency’. 16 Mark Twain’s account of events showcases extreme adversarial politics and

increasing polarisation of parliament over the Badeni crisis. 17 The pandemonium that occurred in the house,

nominally the unlawful Lex Falkenhayn, Dr. Lecher’s dramatic aphorism, ‘The Germans of Austria will

neither surrender nor die’ and the frequency of charged insults like ‘Judas’ and ‘Brothel-knight’ all led some

in the house to infer that these events marked a ‘revolution’. 18 These ‘stirring’ events led Twain to conclude


Karner, ‘The “Habsburg Dilemma” Today’, pp. 425-6.




Alison Frank, Oil Empire: Visions of Prosperity in Austrian Galicia (Cambridge, 2005); Deborah Cohen, Vienna in

the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism and Private Life (Chicago, 2007).


Frederick Cooper and Ann Stoler, Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World (Berkeley, 1997) p.



King, Review of ‘The Habsburg Empire: A New History, p. 1326.


Jonathan Kwan, ‘Nationalism and all that: Reassessing the Habsburg Monarchy and its legacy’, European History

Quarterly 41(1) (2011), pp. 90-94.


Jeremy King, ‘Review of Rita Krueger’s ‘Czech, German and Noble: Status and National Identity in Habsburg

Bohemia’, German History 29(2) (2010) pp. 324-325.


Mark Twain, ‘Stirring times in Austria’, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for March, (96) (1898), p. 530.


Count Badeni had previously consented to make Czech the official language in Bohemia, which incensed Germans.


Twain, Stirring Times in Austria, pp. 530-557.


Part IV

that parliament and the Constitution were ‘threatened with extinction’. 19 He was not far wrong: the early years

of the 1900s saw what has been considered ‘serious paralysis’ in Austrian parliamentary politics. 20

Notwithstanding, analysis by historians of domestic policy has hinted that the performance of nation in

parliament was based on political ritual as opposed to something endemic and uncontrollable. 21 Research by

Catherine Albrecht too suggests that nationalist parties that publicly performed issues of construction were

actually often ‘ready and willing’ to compromise behind closed doors. 22 It is also important to remember that

Twain was a literary writer and humourist, so some consideration must be given to the artistic quality of his

report. This is not to say that political divisions in the Austrian parliament were ostensible only, they were

indeed highly problematic for the empire; however, a consideration of politics on a local level reveals a

flourishing democracy carried out by dual sets of local administrators, often working in harmony. 23

The performance of nation was also visible on a local level: Cornwall and Judson indicate that nationalists

‘took every opportunity’ to give local events a nationalist meaning. 24 Cornwall cites the celebration held by

the small village of Netluk 25 to commemorate getting their own water supply and notes how it was labelled

by a local newspaper as ‘A Great German National Day on the Language Border’. 26 Judson contends that

these events were interpreted through a ‘consistently radical nationalist lens’, and that, because these local

commemorations were often only reported by nationalists themselves, it is probable their legitimacy as

sources is limited. 27 He reveals the ‘deep anxiety’ which characterised nationalist writings and suggests that

these newspaper accounts strove to make divisions seem deeper. 28 The performance factor visible in local

communities and in the Austrian parliament served to make nationalist tensions seem much more grave than

they may have truly been.

A range of recent studies on local community, the family and bourgeois society suggest that actually, nation

was just one of the factors at play in late Austria-Hungary. Frank in her study of the Galician oil industry

considers the ‘relatively subordinate role’ of nation whilst in Coen’s analysis of Viennese intellectual history,

nationalism ‘barely makes an appearance’. 29 In some areas, nation played a limited role: Judson and Marsha

Rozenblit contend that the Habsburg Empire was ‘largely non-national’. 30 Judson’s study of the so-called

language frontiers (a term used largely by nationalists to denote ‘frontiers’ between two areas that spoke

different languages) argues that, on an everyday level, many were not affected by nationalism and thus not

ready to engage in nationality conflict. 31 The phenomenon of bilingualism was rife: in Moravia and Bohemia

families exchanged children for set periods of time as an opportunity to practise different languages. 32 Intermarriage

was also common across the Empire, even between Magyars and non-Magyars, which is surprising

as the Hungarian government’s drive for ‘Magyarisation’ presents one of the strongest arguments for the

emergence of nationality conflict. 33 One must also consider what Judson was termed ‘event-driven’ or

‘situational nationalism’: the suggestion that people participated in nationalist activities when it served them,

providing reasoning for high attendance at exciting public spectacles, yet much lower figures for membership

of nationalist parties. 34 The multi-ethnic model of nationhood was visible in daily life, and on an institutional


Ibid., p. 566.


Judson, Guardians of a Nation, p. 9.




Catherine Albrecht, ‘The Rhetoric of Economic Nationalism in the Bohemian Boycott Campaigns in the late

Habsburg Monarchy’, Austrian History Yearbook, 32 (2001), p. 66.


Judson, Guardians of a Nation, pp. 8-9.


Judson, Guardians of a Nation, p. 10.


A small town in Northern Bohemia.


Mark Cornwall, ‘The Struggle on the Czech-German Language Border 1880-1940’, English Historical Review 109

(433) (1994), p. 914.


Judson, Guardians of a Nation, pp. 10-11.




Kwan, ‘Nationalism and all that’, p. 104.


Pieter M. Judson and Marsha Rozenblit, Constructing Nationalities in Eastern Central Europe (Oxford, 2005) p. 1.




Judson, Guardians of Nation, p. 3.




Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 274.


The Empire Strikes Back: Rethinking Nationality Conflict in late Austria-Hungary | Meriel Smithson

level. For example, the Hungarian Ethnographic Society (founded in 1889) which one might suspect of

furthering Hungarian nationalist ends, actually declared in its founding charter recognition to the ‘diverse and

numerous’ Hungarian populations and structured the society along the lines of a multi-ethnic model of

nationhood. 35 Moreover, the particular character of imperial law and administrative practice meant that,

locally at least, if one wanted to be civically engaged, one had to negotiate within systems that demanded

parity in linguistic practice. 36 Thus, the rich intermixing of different groups was not only necessitated by the

framework of empire, but also willingly practiced in everyday life.

Far from being mobilised as a tool of differentiation, linguistic and ethnic diversity were often celebrated

across the empire. Interculturality and heterogeneity stimulated academic and cultural production. According

to Tatjana Buklijas, intercultural encounters produced scientific advancements in anthropology, ethnography

and medicine, with the military frontier Militärgrenze becoming a centre for development of the latter. 37

Medical scholars in Vienna, who modelled their research on German examples, challenged the work of the

Militärgrenze who were often influenced by earlier Ottoman practices. This demonstrates how dynamic

interactions between different places, which were often tied to different ethnic groups, propelled academic

advancement. Carl Schorske notes a similar trend in the art world, observing an ‘unusually rich and cohesive

transdisciplinary modernist culture’ –an influential opinion which has largely endured . 38 Though Rebecca

Houze touts the rise of nationalistic art, it is clear how even these strains of art were ‘inflected differently’ in

each area, for example ‘Magyar’ late Gothic and early Renaissance styles in the eclectic tradition of

Ringstrasse buildings. 39 These differing inflections and understandings of even nationalistic art demonstrate

the wide range of accepted and established artistic and architectural practices that interacted with, and were

informed by one another.

Comparably, Leslie Topp’s study of asylum planning denotes a celebration of mixed heritage. 40 She argues

that asylums built in Littoral offered visual interpretations of Triestine identity as simultaneously Italian,

German and Austrian. 41 Such visible representations of heterogenous culture were also striking in the

celebrations of the Hungarian millennium, notably in a museum display by János Jankó which presented

twenty-four houses, some reflecting Magyar style, others of smaller nations in Hungary which ‘together

formed the national unity which preserved and cultivated individual character and cultural wealth’. 42 In theory

too, this was the aim of the Dual Monarchy. Archduke Rudolf’s introductory words to the 1887 edition of the

multivolume encyclopaedia Kronprinzenwerk 43 summarise: ‘The fact that the national character of each

nationality has been duly and respectfully recognised…will please the national groups who will find their

spiritual centre of gravity inside the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. 44 The initiative, subsidising and publication

of this encyclopaedia represented a desire to find an underlying logic common to the ‘far-flung and diverse’

Habsburg territories. 45 Thus, while it is evident that linguistic, cultural and historical differences, often

pertaining to different ethnic or national groups, were visible across the Empire, they were not in conflict

with one another but rather in ‘dynamic interaction’, which often produced unique and important


Tatjana Buklijas and Emese Lafferton, ‘Science, medicine and nationalism in the Habsburg Empire from the 1840s to

1918’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol & Biomed Sci, 38 (4) p.717.


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p.272


Tatjana Buklijas and Emese Lafferton, ‘Science, medicine and nationalism in the Habsburg Empire from the 1840s to

1918’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol & Biomed Sci, 38 (4) (2007), pp. 680-1.


Ibid., p. 681.


Rebecca Houze, Hungarian Nationalism, Gottfried Semper, and the Budapest Museum of Applied Art, Studies in the

Decorative Arts, 16(2) (2009), pp. 16-17.


Leslie Topp, ‘Psychiatric institutions, their architecture, and the politics of regional autonomy in the Austro-

Hungarian monarchy’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol & Biomed Sci, 38 (4) (2007), pp. 733-741.




Emese Lafferton, The Magyar moustache: the faces of Hungarian State Formation, 1867-1918’ Studies in History

and Philosophy of Biol & Biomed Sci, 38 (4) (2007) p. 720.


Archduke Rudolf, Die österreichisch-ungarische Monarchie in Wort und Bild (1887), pp. 3-4 at

http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org/tel4/record/1000126235281 (accessed February 16 2019).






Part IV

developments. In considering art, architecture and science it becomes clear that diversity was often

appreciated across the Habsburg Empire.

It is important to consider the centralising role played by the monarchy itself in unifying and maintaining

these different cultural and historical practices belonging to ethnic groups. Though he technically dismisses

František Palacký’s proposal of federalism, Robert Seton-Watson acknowledges the existence of a kind of

federalist system at work in Hungary in his 1908 report Racial Problems in Hungary; this system, he

contends, can be transposed onto the framework of the whole Empire. 46 According to Seton-Watson, Magyar

dominance and the active policy of Magyarisation enacted across Hungary indicated national conflict

between Magyars and minorities. 47 However, it is imperative to be aware of Seton-Watson’s Slovak

sympathies and desire to demonstrate that the current dynamic in Hungary was unsustainable. More recent

studies which have reflected upon Seton-Watson’s work reveal that as Magyar dominance ultimately failed

as conflicts between Magyars and non-Magyars were in fact rather uncommon. 48 These studies point to the

powerful role of the empire as a ‘reconciling point of unity’ for different groups. 49

Being a unifying presence and respecting all cultures and groups was the traditional and re-iterated aim of

the Habsburg Monarchy since the twelfth century. 50 This aim became more prescient for the Empire in the

nineteenth century when faced with the emergence of different national groups alongside imperial challenges:

indeed Franz Joseph’s personal slogan was Viribus unitis or ‘With united forces’. 51 Imperial aims in Bosnia

and Herzegovina necessitated that the empire demonstrate how different cultures worked together. This

would be essential if they wanted to keep up with other European powers and incorporate this new domain

into their lands. 52 Moreover, political issues like the Badeni crisis and the rise of ‘politics in the new key’ 53

meant that both governments had to face up to emerging disparity and diversity, and display a willingness to

develop more ‘flexible models of power-sharing’ within the framework of Empire. 54

There is evidence that contemporaries agreed. Hungarian József Eötvös for example thought that the early

years of the 1900s warranted a balance between strengthening historic territories alongside processes of

centralisation. 55 Vienna professor Rudolf von Herrnritt proposed a similar idea at the turn of the century,

calling for a wider definition of the nation as Austrian or as an even larger Habsburg patriotic community. 56

Emese Lafferton also retrospectively validates this idea, noting a ‘duality’ of endeavours in Hungary: the

strengthening of central powers alongside integration of national minorities into a larger idea of the nation,

even if that concept was dominated by Magyars in reality. 57 Across the Empire, this ‘duality of endeavours’

was visible in devolution of power agreements, such as with Croatian and Polish nobilities in 1871, the 1905

Moravian Compromise (which provided both Czech and German curiae for the Moravian Landtang), and in

similar compromises with Bukovina (1910) and Galicia (1914). 58 For Brigitte Mazhol, these compromises

‘paved the way for a genuine policy of nationalities’, and led to an authentic enaction of the ‘equalities of

people’ stipulation in the compromises’ wording, at least temporarily. 59 Even the 1868 Hungarian

nationalities law recognised equality between different ‘nations’, and allowed all groups to express these


Robert Seton-Watson, Racial Problems in Hungary, (Toronto, 1908) pp. 405-7.


Seton-Watson, Racial Problems in Hungary, pp. 393-396.


Judson, The Habsburg Monarchy, p. 322.




Judson, The Habsburg Monarchy, p. 27.


Benjamin Curtis, The Habsburgs: The History of a Dynasty, (London, 2013), p. 265.


Judson, The Habsburg Monarchy, p. 275.


The increase in popularity and importance of nationalist, populist political parties.


Judson, The Habsburg Monarchy, p. 333.


Mark Cornwall, ‘The Habsburg Monarchy: ‘National Trinity’ and the elasticity of National allegiance’ in Timothy

Baycroft and Mark Hewitson (eds.,) What is a Nation? (Oxford, 2006) pp. 172-3.




Lafferton, The Magyar moustache, p. 707.


Brigette Mazohl, ‘’Equality among the Nationalities’’ and the peoples of the Habsburg Empire’ in Kelly Grotke, and

Markus Prutsch (eds.,) Constitutionalism, Legitimacy and Power: Nineteenth-Century Experiences, (Oxford, 2014), pp.





The Empire Strikes Back: Rethinking Nationality Conflict in late Austria-Hungary | Meriel Smithson

nationalities culturally; it also stipulated that Croatia was an equivalent political nation. 60 A similar model of

flexible power-sharing can be seen in the Ausgleich of the previous year which gave ‘equal right’ of Hungary

and Austria to present projects to government, and to decide separately ‘on matters which concern it’. 61

Political agreements like these, alongside increasingly popular public opinion in favour of a wider national

identity (consider the support for a more ‘progressive’ Austrian national identity in the German-Czech

language border and the leading German-Bohemian newspaper, the Reichenberger Zeitung’s declaration that

it was ‘Austrian with its whole heart’) support King’s conclusion that the ‘anational state’ was becoming a

‘multinational state’. 62 Evidently, these settlements were not enacted without issue, some of them even failed:

the compromise with Bukovina struggled due to the hardening of Bohemian nationalist lines. 63 Despite these

difficulties, the ultimately flexible nature of the Empire, and its willingness to adapt, serve as proof that it

was not a doomed anachronism fated to nationality conflict.

The sustained enaction of the empire’s ‘duality’ of aims corroborates Judson’s contention that ‘empire and

nation could not escape each other’. 64 The two increasingly depended on each other for validation, as together

they forged a more moderate, supple model of imperial rule, which was essential. The two mobilised similar

patriotic language and ideas– propagandists for empire often used national concepts, showing how these

broad and populist discourses could become ‘vessels’ for visions which served empire too. 65 These nationalist

movements had to shape their demands around institutions and expectations created by empire, as that was

the milieu in which they were operating. 66 Moreover, one key element of nationalist strategy was to present

themselves as the ‘most nationalist’ or the ‘most legitimate’ representation of empire. 67 Consider again the

Reichenberger Zeitung newspaper and its headline: ‘Austrian with its whole heart’. 68 There is a suggestion

here that the most successful nationalist group would be the one that was the also the most Habsburg. Kreuger

reverses traditional claims that this kind of behaviour was reserved to populist politics, suggesting that

Bohemian elites were not merely stalwarts of empire but participated in this power-sharing model, contending

that they could ‘engage completely in the rhetoric of nation building while explicitly including both the Czech

speaking and German speaking populations of the kingdom’. 69 Tamas Hofer has deemed this malleable model

of integrative power relations one which fostered a kind of ‘double membership’, by which individuals could

belong to a local community, and a larger, imperial one. 70 In this vein, Judson ventures a suggestion that

nationalist rhetoric actually strengthened the fabric of empire. 71

Ultimately, the lack of cogency about what truly constituted a nation made it difficult to delineate the

differences between groups, which in turn made it easier to belong to more than one group, or to a local group

and to the empire. What it meant to be a nation was never clear in late Austria-Hungary. Was it based on

language, historical right, culture or ethnicity? The defining feature remained fluid, and often contradictory.

The changes in census taking, which fluctuated between demanding religion and language, only exacerbated

definitional problems. 72 The definition of nationhood was, at best, ‘an amalgam of civic and ethnic terms’,

and this changeability meant that often, the biggest conflict was not between nations, but between clashing


Cornwall, ‘The Habsburg Monarchy: ‘National Trinity’, p. 182.

61 Ausgleich Compromise of 1867 at https://salemcc.instructure.com/courses/451/pages/the-compromise-ausgleich-of-

1867 (accessed 28 January 2019).


Cornwall, The Habsburg Monarchy: ‘National Trinity’, p. 189,

Jeremy King, Budweisers into Czechs and Germans: A Local History of Bohemian Politics, 1848-1948 (Princeton,

2002) p. 115


Mazhol, ‘Equality among the Nationalities’, p. 182.


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 331.


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 332.


Glenda Sluga, Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism, (Pennsylvania, 2013), pp. 35-37.


King, ‘Review of ‘The Habsburg Empire: A New History’, p. 1327.


Mark Cornwall, The Habsburg Monarchy: ‘National Trinity’, p. 189.


Rita Krueger, ‘Czech, German and Noble: Status and National Identity in Habsburg Bohemia’, (Oxford, 2009), p.



Tamas Hofer, ‘Construction of the ‘’folk cultural heritage’’ in Hungary and rival versions of National Identity’,

Ethnologia Europaea , 21(1991), p. 254.


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 332.


Lafferton, ‘The Magyar moustache’, p. 716.


Part IV

opinions on what it meant to be a nation. 73 Perhaps this consistent additional and overlapping interpretation

of nation actually ‘softened’ the risk of conflicts between ‘nations’. 74 Without a strong or coherent assault on

the framework of empire then, the so-called nationality conflict cannot be blamed for its collapse because the

empire was, in fact, flexible, adaptable and constantly modernising. Despite the dominance of the concept of

nation in twentieth-century historiography, the opportunity presented in the age of globalisation allows an

understanding of late Austria-Hungary as an empire straddling the seemingly competing yet co-existing

frameworks of nation and empire. This necessitates a rethinking of the nationalities question and a

fundamental revision of our understanding of the role of the

Empire in modern Europe.


Jozsef Eötvös, The Dominant Ideas of the Nineteenth Century and their Impact on the State, 2 vols,. Trans. and ed.

D.M. Jones (New York, 1996) ii, p. 478.








‘Modernisation’ typically denotes the social and economic repercussions of industrialisation and

urbanisation, as well as the implications these processes had on culture. 1 Much of twentieth-century discourse

on the Habsburg Empire emanated a sense of ‘reaching back across an historical abyss’ to a place ‘distant

and distinct from the modern world’, suggesting Austria-Hungary failed to modernise because the state

constantly struggled against the forces of modernity. 2 However, since the fall of the Iron Curtain, scholars

have reconsidered the monarchy’s state of recovery between 1848-1918 by reanalysing short- and long-term

factors contributing to the Habsburgs’ demise. 3 Rather than intending to alter the empire’s historical

reputation or advocate a case for its survival, revisionist scholarship aimed to ‘right the record’ of east-central

European history by providing valuable insight into the strong, stable relationship between society and

imperial political administration. 4 Echoing other contributions in this debate that fall within the revisionist

trend, such as Meriel Smithson’s rethinking of the nationalities question and Charlotte Alt’s reanalysis of the

empire’s collapse, this essay will consider Austria-Hungary as a modern Great Power rather than a source of

‘backwardness’ between 1867 and 1914. Drawing on a set of examples largely from different urban contexts

of the empire, it will argue that the empire was not a ‘failure’ doomed to collapse but a European power

undergoing progressive historic changes.

Between the Austro-Hungarian Compromise and World War One, different regions began to modernise at

different times, resulting in variable degrees of success across Habsburg territories. Since ‘modernisation’ is

inextricably linked to urbanisation, a comparative study of Vienna and Budapest alongside Austria-Hungary’s

more peripheral regional capitals will most proficiently represent the variety of experiences constituting

modern life. 5 Joining the race to modernity later and more urgently than their Western counterparts, Habsburg

cities offer an interesting perspective of the social, political, economic and cultural consequences of intense

modernising practices, revealing the typical problems accompanying urbanisation. 6 Additionally, the

‘vigorous dialogue between modernity and memory’ within east-central Europe’s metropoles highlights the

role of Habsburg culture in forging a shared urban identity across modernising spaces. 7 As well as

encouraging a re-evaluation of the possible harmony between nationalist and imperial cultures, the ‘happy

coexistence’ of artistic Historicism and Modernism demonstrates that the Dual Monarchy’s traditional


Moritz Csáky, ‘Multicultural Communities: Tensions and Qualities, the Example of Central Europe’ in Eve Blau and

Monika Platzer (eds.) Shaping the Great City: Modern Architecture in Central Europe, 1890-1937 (1999), p. 43.


William Bowman, Gary Cohen, Michael Yonan and Tara Zahra, ‘An Imperial Dynamo? CEH Forum on Pieter M.

Judson’s The Habsburg Empire: A New History’, Central European History Vol. 50, No. 2 (2017), p. 237; Cohen,

‘Neither Absolutism nor Anarchy: New Narratives on Society and Government in Late Imperial Austria’, Austrian

History Yearbook Vol. 29 (1998), pp. 38-40.


Mark Cornwall, ‘Introduction’ in Cornwall (ed.) The Last Years of Austria-Hungary: A Multi-National Experiment in

Early Twentieth-Century Europe (1990; revised ed. 2002), p. 6; Alan Sked, The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg

Empire 1815-1918 (1989), p. 6.


Cohen, ‘Neither Absolutism nor Anarchy’, p. 43.


Egbert Klautke, ‘Urban history and Modernity in Central Europe’, The Historical Journal Vol. 53, No. 1 (2010), pp.

177, 194-195; Blau, ‘The City as Protagonist: Architecture and the Cultures of Central Europe’ in Shaping the Great

City, p. 12; Blau and Platzer, Shaping the Great City, p. 158.


Klautke, ‘Urban history and Modernity in Central Europe’, p. 177.


Blau and Platzer, Shaping the Great City, p. 130; Ernst Bruckmüller, ‘Was there a “Habsburg Society” in Austria-

Hungary?’, Austrian History Yearbook Vol. 37 (2006), pp. 1-2.

Part IV

structures were not incompatible with modern innovation and experimentation. 8 Austria-Hungary’s

multinational and multicultural state permitted ‘multiple loyalties and mosaic identities’ to flourish in an

‘acceptable and comfortable’ manner, contributing to a unified effort to improve the Habsburg Empire’s place

in Europe as a whole. 9

Unfavourable (and usually nationalist) post-war critiques of the Empire distorted perceptions of Austria-

Hungary’s modernisation. Interwar and Cold War nationalist historians tended to overemphasise the empire’s

struggle against modernity, using the ‘decline and fall’ narrative to explain its collapse as the final stage of

an historical process, with the war as a ‘fate of modern times’. 10 Oszkár Jászi’s critique of the ‘doomed’

empire significantly influenced perceptions of its ‘deeply rooted organic crisis’. 11 Subsequent investigations

of pre-modern prerequisites sustaining the region’s ‘economic backwardness’ highlighted longstanding

issues with its socio-economic staticity, political disunity and chaotic confrontation with nationalism,

contributing to Western representations of Eastern Europe as an ‘ambiguous location, within Europe but not

fully European’. 12 Ivan Berend allocated the region a ‘peripheral role’ in nineteenth-century modernisation,

disregarding the ‘vibrant civil society’ other late-twentieth-century scholars attributed to Austria-Hungary’s

imperial regime. 13 Consistently portrayed as a place of conflict, instability and strict absolutism, the Habsburg

Empire became ‘increasingly foreign’ in twentieth-century mental maps of Europe. 14

On the other hand, an array of scholars have since reanalysed Austria-Hungary and the narrative of a ‘prison

of the peoples’, dismissing ‘backwardness’ as an ‘old-fashioned paradigm’ which promoted an imaginary

East-West dichotomy by idealising the ‘Western’ route to modernity. 15 Nancy Wingfield and John Deak

convincingly critiqued the notion of ‘modernisation’ as an undisturbed linear progression, encouraging

historians to instead judge the empire’s collapse within broader Habsburg history by identifying World War

one as an intrusion upon its prior ‘liveliness and strength’. 16 Furthermore, rather than being disregarded as

cases of historical failure, European empires became interesting subjects for rethinking multinationalism as

an alternative to nation-states, which were adulated as ‘progressive forces of history’ for too long. 17 Reappraisals

of Austria-Hungary’s social and economic modernisation, political thought, educational ambition,

celebration of diversity and imperial unity are crucial for reviewing how complex imperial regimes

maintained international stability until 1914. 18 Accompanying revived interests in Habsburg culture, the


Pieter M. Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History (2016), p. 5; Blau, ‘The City as Protagonist’, p. 16; Charles

Maier, ‘City, Empire, and Imperial Aftermath: Contending Context for the Urban Vision’ in Shaping the Great City, p.



Markian Prokopovych, Habsburg Lemberg: Architecture, Public Space, and Politics in the Galician Capital, 1772-

1914 (2009), p. 177; Jan Behrends and Martin Kohlrausch, ‘Races to Modernity: Metropolitan Aspirations in Eastern

Europe, 1890-1940’ in Behrends and Kohlrausch (eds.) Races to Modernity: Metropolitan Aspirations in Eastern

Europe, 1890-1940 (2014), p. 6.


Adam Kożuchowski, The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary: The Image of the Habsburg Monarchy in Interwar Europe

(2013), pp. 15-17.


Oszkár Jászi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy (1929), pp. 7, 13, 453.


Daniel Chirot, The Origins of Backwardness in Eastern Europe (1989), pp. 3-4, 11; Stefano Bianchini, Eastern

Europe and the Challenges of Modernity, 1800-2000 (2015), pp. 25, 33-35; Ivan Berend, Decades of Crisis: Central

and Eastern Europe before World War I (1998), pp. 3-4; Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of

Civilisation on the Mind of the Enlightenment (1994), pp. 9, 14.


Berend, History Derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Nineteenth-Century (2003), pp. 46-47; Berend,

Decades of Crisis, pp. 3-4; Cohen, ‘Neither Absolutism nor Anarchy’, p. 59.


John Deak, ‘The Great War and the Forgotten Realm: The Habsburg Monarchy and the First World War’, The

Journal of Modern History Vol. 86, No. 2 (2014), pp. 348, 354.


Kożuchowski, The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary, p. 20; Solomon Wank, ‘Some Reflections on the Habsburg Empire

and Its Legacy in the Nationalities Question’, Austrian History Yearbook Vol. 28 (1997), p. 132.


Nancy Wingfield, ‘The Problem with ‘Backwardness’: Ivan T. Berend’s Central and Eastern Europe in the

Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’, European History Quarterly Vol. 34, No. 4 (2004), pp. 535-538, 548; Deak, ‘The

Great War and the Forgotten Realm’, pp. 358-359, 379.


Cohen, ‘Neither Absolutism nor Anarchy’, p. 59; Jörn Leonhard, ‘Introduction: The “Longue Durée of Empire”:

Toward a Comparative Semantics of a Key Concept in Modern European History’, Contributions to the History of

Concepts Vol. 8, No. 1 (2013), pp. 1-3, 9, 25; Axel Körner, ‘Beyond Nation States: New Perspectives on the Habsburg

Empire’, European History Quarterly Vol. 48, No. 3 (2018), p. 531.


Ibid.; Leonhard, ‘Introduction’, pp. 9, 25.


Unity in Disunity: Rethinking Austria-Hungary’s place in Europe’s race to Modernity | Charlie Steer-Stephenson

empire has been re-integrated into contemporary scholarship as a distinct ‘state and society of its own

terms’. 19 Pieter M. Judson’s ‘new’ Habsburg Empire significantly abandoned nationalist definitions of its

problematic multiculturalism and authoritarian centre-periphery relations to prove the regime’s capabilities

in dealing with internal and external challenges, therefore relating Austria-Hungary’s experiences of

modernisation to broader European developments. 20 Despite its distinct undertaking of modernisation,

Austria-Hungary must not be perceived as an ‘Eastern Other’ but a unique political structure that intermingled

modernity with tradition for the sake of maintaining legitimacy while participating in the same chaotic race

to modernity as the rest of Europe.

City growth and urban life were ‘at the heart of the modern experience in Europe’. 21 Modernisation shaped

some Western metropoles long before Habsburg territories strived towards the European standard, but this

does not mean they should be ‘subsumed under the label of backwardness’. 22 East-central European towns

progressed at an ‘astonishing pace’ in the nineteenth century, entering the race later than Western metropoles

but not lagging behind enough to miss it. 23 Owing to the 1848 Basic Relief Patent which freed peasants from

feudal obligations and 1622km state-run railroad network which enhanced cross-border movement, a wave

of migration flooded the empire’s towns and instituted a new urban experience. 24 Judson’s term ‘mid-century

modern’, to describe this phenomenon in his recent book The Habsburg Empire: A New History,

demonstrated how liberal reforms, initiated after 1848’s revolutions and exposing uneven levels of

modernisation across Habsburg lands, persevered beyond 1867 as part on an empire-wide civilising mission. 25

The Bach Era (1849-59) fashioned a centralised bureaucracy capable of dealing with industrialisation’s rapid

developments by preparing for economic expansion, strengthening communication and transport links,

establishing public institutions, and developing city and town planning. 26 Between 1850-1890 Vienna’s innercity

population rocketed from 431,000 to 810,000 (67,000 to 600,000 in the outer districts), becoming one of

Europe’s largest urban centres; likewise, Budapest’s flourishing flour-milling industry and sophisticated

financial sector attracted nearly one million inhabitants by 1913. 27 Even Berend could not deny Austria-

Hungary’s responsiveness to industrialisation, which roughly corresponded with Judson’s celebration of the

empire’s status in fin-de-siècle Europe. 28 Additionally, Thomas Bender and Carl Schorske’s comparison of

Budapest and New York validated their transformations from small cities with metropolitan ambitions to

‘administrative centres for national economic modernisation’. 29 Budapest’s modernisation was particularly

outstanding following the 1867 Compromise, undergoing urbanisation twice as fast as Vienna and three times

faster than Paris and London; by inhabiting Europe’s first electric subway line in 1896 (London’s was still

steam-engine operated) Budapest proved its drastically advanced position in the world’s urban hierarchy. 30

However, Austria-Hungary’s peculiarities should not be forgotten for the sake of integrating it into European

history. Comparative approaches to urban peripheries disclose the unique place (literally and figuratively) of

localities within empire, particularly useful for scholars transcending Schorske’s conception of Vienna as the

‘birthplace of modernity’. 31 Local and transnational histories have constructively explored individual urban


Kożuchowski, The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary, p. 20; Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 451.


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, pp. 451-452; Bowman, Cohen, Yonan and Zahra, ‘An Imperial Dynamo?’, pp. 236-



Behrends and Kohlrausch, ‘Races to Modernity’, p. 1.


Ibid., pp. 1-2.


Ibid., pp. 1-5.


Blau, ‘The City as Protagonist’, p. 13; Chad Bryant, ‘Into an Uncertain Future: Railroads and Vormärz Liberalism in

Brno, Vienna, and Prague’, Austrian History Yearbook Vol. 40 (2009), p. 187.


Judson, The Habsburg Empire, pp. 220-223, 240.




Blau, ‘The City as Protagonist’, pp. 12-13; Thomas Bender and Carl Schorske ‘Introduction: Budapest and New York

Compared’ in Bender and Schorske (eds.) Budapest and New York: Studies in Metropolitan Transformation, 1870-1930

(1994), p. 4.


Berend, Decades of Crisis, pp. 10-13; Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 268.


Bender and Schorske, ‘Introduction’, p. 1.


Ibid., p. 2.


Klautke, ‘Urban history and Modernity in Central Europe’, p. 194; Laurence Cole, ‘Visions and Revisions of Empire:

Reflections on a New History of the Habsburg Monarchy’, Austrian History Yearbook Vol. 49 (2018), pp. 264, 267.


Part IV

centres to convey the range of experiences constituting modernisation in Austria-Hungary. Cohen revealed

Prague’s slower demographic growth, limited administrative function and second-rate cultural and economic

status to distinguish it from the imperial capitals; yet, he noted the city’s renowned machine-building industry

and small-scale craft market engaged 42.7% of the population by 1910, not far behind Vienna’s 46.6%. 32

East-central Europe’s agrarian roots and late economic development fostered an image of its backwardness,

but once industrialisation began modernisation intensified to remarkable degrees in Austria-Hungary’s

developing metropoles. 33 Alongside Bohemia and Moravia’s impressive coal, steel, textile, machine and

brewing industries, Galicia’s oil fields offered another major manufacturing and financial opportunity,

becoming the world’s third-largest oil-producing region by 1909. 34 Its capital city, Lemberg, participated in

the same European-wide ‘race’ to modernity as Vienna and Budapest yet failed to reach their levels of

modernisation by the twentieth century because it struggled to overcome Galicia’s traditional societal,

cultural and economic structures; the road to modernity was clearly not as straightforward as succumbing to

industrialisation and capitalism. 35 Alison Frank effectively questioned ‘what is modern?’ by discussing the

variable connotations of ‘oil’ as a symbol of Galician civilisation; for scientists it meant progress, for

nationalists it meant historic identity, for businessmen, profit and independence, and for workers, freedom. 36

‘Modernisation’ as a variety of interrelated and intermingling processes meant different things for different

people. ‘Modernity’, then, is an ambiguously broad term signifying a range of possible outcomes to urban

ambitions. Despite geographic distance and local distinctions, Austria-Hungary’s peripheries’ diverse

experiences of industrialisation and urbanisation integrated them into an empire-wide venture into modernity,

whether effects were as progressive as their Western parallels’ or not.

‘Modernisation’ does not denote a simple path to the seeming perfection of ‘modernity’, but rather a journey

of relentless innovation and subsequent issues that continually needed dealing with. Whether Austria-

Hungary failed to modernise therefore remains difficult to determine. David Vyleta and Susan Zimmerman’s

studies of crime and indigence in east-central Europe illuminated ‘neglected chapter[s] of the history of

modernity’, situating Vienna and Budapest alongside other European capitals unable to escape the

unfavourable aspects of urban life. 37 Like London and Paris, Vienna’s extreme wealth and dire poverty

exposed it as a ‘city of contrasts’ harbouring several identity crises and social tensions. 38 Urban space

consequently endorsed political conflict and accommodated chauvinist ideologies; several historians

identified rising anti-Semitism as a product of emerging mass medias and increased hostility towards Jewish

pre-eminence in urban culture. 39 Furthermore, as Austria-Hungary was propelled into ‘an age of frightening

uncertainties’, the urban psyche was forced to adapt to a constant state of instability. 40 In 1913 Lord Mayor

Bárczy blamed his predecessors’ ‘spontaneous urbanisation’ for allowing industrialisation and capitalism to

foster Budapest’s moral and intellectual decline; similarly, popular culture in the peripheries responded to

and fuelled twentieth-century conservative apprehensions against the ‘great city’ ideal. 41 Kraków’s ‘gutter

press’ offered newly-urbanised readers a sense of provincial community to situate the city within a European-


Gary Cohen, ‘Society and Culture in Prague, Vienna and Budapest in the Late Nineteenth Century’, East European

Quarterly Vol. 20, No. 4 (1986), pp. 467, 471-473.


Blau, ‘The City as Protagonist’, p. 13.




Prokopovych, Habsburg Lemberg, pp. 3-4; Alison Fleig Frank, Oil Empire: Visions of Prosperity in Habsburg

Galicia (2007), pp. 4, 7, 11.


Ibid., pp. 6-7, 23.


David Vyleta mentioned in Klautke, ‘Urban history and Modernity in Central Europe’, pp. 186-188; Susan

Zimmerman, “Making a living from disgrace’: the politics of prostitution, female poverty and urban gender codes in

Budapest and Vienna, 1860-1920’ in Malcolm Gee, Tim Kirk and Jill Steward (eds.) The City in Central Europe:

Culture and Society from 1800 to the Present (1999), p. 175.


Jacques Le Rider, ‘Between Modernism and Postmodernism: The Viennese Identity Crisis’ trans. Ralph Manheim in

Edward Timms and Ritchie Robertson (eds.) Vienna 1900: From Altenberg to Wittgenstein (1990), pp. 1-2; Behrends

and Kohlrausch, ‘Races to Modernity’, pp. 9-11.


Klautke, ‘Urban history and Modernity in Central Europe’, p. 188; Bender and Schorske, ‘Introduction’, p. 27; Gábor

Gyáni, Identity and the Urban Experience: Fin-de-Siècle Budapest (2004), pp. 210-211.


Bryant, ‘Into an Uncertain Future’, pp. 184-186, 200-201.


Gyáni, Identity and the Urban Experience, pp. 210-211; Nathanniel Wood, ‘Becoming a “Great City”: Metropolitan

Imaginations and Apprehensions in Cracow’s Popular Press, 1900-1914’, Austrian History Yearbook Vol. 33 (2002),

pp. 108-109,


Unity in Disunity: Rethinking Austria-Hungary’s place in Europe’s race to Modernity | Charlie Steer-Stephenson

wide urban experience, yet simultaneously reflected the ‘mixture of hope and anxiety’ underpinning urban

aspirations by reporting on sensationalist stories of global-urban crime. 42 ‘Modernisation’ is not synonymous

with ‘progress’. Re-analysing the Monarchy’s adaptability to these conditions urges a re-evaluation of its

ability to overcome the challenges posed by the uncontrollable forces of modernity, neither failing nor

succeeding but effectively responding to pressures to modernise until 1914. 43

Nationalist historians, and to some degree even Viktor Koleda in this debate, blame the empire’s collapse on

an impending crisis of Habsburg identity. 44 However, while rapid political, social and economic changes

emanated a sense of instability, Austria-Hungary’s cultural heterogeneity remained a secure element of its

multi-ethnic, multinational and multilingual society until World War One. 45 Considering the relationship

between society and imperial state-building via everyday encounters with Habsburg culture, as Judson

recommended, presents Austria-Hungary as a ‘viable, dynamic and creative modern state’, not lost amongst

the forces of nationalism but flourishing alongside them. 46 Rather than being replaced by ‘national cultural

revival[s]’, the empire’s multicultural society allowed a range of identities to evolve ‘in a dialogue between

similarity and difference’, especially in Habsburg cities. 47 Multivalent monuments, ceremonies and

exhibitions earned numerous cultural and political meanings during Austria-Hungary’s most intense

modernising period (1867-1914), but the ‘integrated topography’ of the empire’s urban spaces instituted a

common identity encompassing a variety of subcultures and individualised experiences. 48 East-central

Europe’s persistent industrial and economic development, despite the 1873-76 ‘great depression’, meant

urban planners could not deny the cities’ evolutionary growth in an ‘era of urban electrification, street cars

and early subway lines’; as Charles Maier stated, ‘the issue was not whether to accept modernity, but how to

shape it’. 49 Professional architects shaped the course to modernity around local visions, yet incorporated

Habsburg cities into an imperial image of Austria-Hungary’s shared, modern, urban identity. 50 The 1870s-

80s witnessed state efforts to integrate ethnically-diverse urban peripheries into a ‘homogenous civilisation’

via railway networks, administrative buildings and cultural institutions. 51 Particularly influential were the

theatres, opera houses, museums and universities designed to replicate Vienna’s Neobaroque elegance across

the empire, strengthening a shared ‘visual (urban) identity’ and associating the growth of civic society with

dynastic loyalty. 52 For example, Budapest’s Opera House (1875-86), funded by municipal authorities and the

emperor, celebrated the city’s ‘imperial capital’ status reaching the cultural standards of its Viennese

counterpart. 53

As the pinnacle of state-influenced modernisation, Vienna’s urban image broadcasted the empire’s

modernisation to the outside world. The railway was a vital precondition for making the metropolis accessible

to European visitors, but it was the inner city’s ‘self-contained arena’ that accommodated a thriving tourist

culture. 54 Vienna may not have reached the fame of Paris, London or Berlin (although Jill Steward

persuasively noted Franz Joseph’s Riesenrad ‘became to Vienna what the Eiffel Tower was to Paris’), but it

nevertheless remained an ideal setting for celebrating Habsburg culture and imperial loyalty. 55 Most


Ibid., pp. 108-109, 121-129.


Behrends and Kohlrausch, ‘Races to Modernity’, p. 6.


Csáky, ‘Multicultural Communities’, pp. 44-46, 53; Berend, History Derailed, pp. 57-58.


Johannes Feichtinger and Cohen, ‘Introduction’ in Feichtinger and Cohen (eds.) Understanding Multiculturalism:

The Habsburg Central European Experience (2014), pp. 3-5.


Cole, ‘Visions and Revisions of Empire, p. 263.


Feichtinger and Cohen, ‘Introduction’, pp. 7-8; Berend, History Derailed, pp. 57-58.


Prokopovych, Habsburg Lemberg, pp. 2, 11; Gyáni, Identity and the Urban Experience, p. 59; Blau, ‘The City as

Protagonist’, p. 15.


Maier, ‘City, Empire, and Imperial Aftermath’, p. 28.


Blau, ‘The City as Protagonist’, p. 15.


Ibid. pp. 12-13.


Ibid.; Matthew Rampley, ‘From Potemkin Village to the Estrangement of Vision: Baroque Culture and Modernity in

Austria before and after 1918’, Austrian History Yearbook Vol. 47 (2016), pp. 167-168, 174, 182.


Ibid., p. 174.


Jill Steward, ‘“Gruss aus Wien”: Urban tourism in Austria-Hungary before the First World War’ in The City in

Central Europe, pp. 123-127.


Ibid., pp. 126-127.


Part IV

suggestively, by making Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, Gardens of Schönbrunn, Burgtheater and other historic

‘cultural monuments’ accessible via the Stadtbahn, the city’s layout reminded fin-de-siècle visitors of its

central place in east-central European modernisation as well as the Habsburgs’ dominating urban presence. 56

Similarly, Gábor Gyáni explored Budapest’s role ‘as stage and as scenery’ for imperial ceremonies and

popular engagement with modern culture. 57 For example, the diary of a lower-middle-class couple (1873-76)

records their frequent encounters with café culture, determination to observe ‘new’ parts of Budapest’s cityscape,

and excitement towards celebrations (illuminations, which they accessed via tram) for Emperor Francis

Joseph’s Jubilee. 58 The couple’s perspective was ‘nurtured by the always dynamic and increasingly

metropolitan atmosphere’ of a recently-united capital city eager to prove its ‘readiness to accept novelty’ and

place within Austria-Hungary. 59

Nationalist perspectives of modern culture suggested the tension between Historicism and Modernism

represented the fragmentation of Austria-Hungary. 60 However, understanding culture as a ‘vehicle for

innovation and design’ reveals that various expressions of ‘modernity’ did not threaten the empire’s

legitimacy or multicultural unity. 61 Whereas Schorske argued Secessionist architects stripped Vienna’s

historical textures in order to prioritise forward-looking appearances over Historicist values, Matthew

Rampley persuasively suggested Modernists reworked, rather than rejected, baroque styles in internationallyinspired

architectural idioms. 62 Otto Wagner’s fin-de-siècle functional expansionism and Adolf Loos’s

twentieth-century sophisticated metropolitanism sought to improve Vienna’s city space by following

Western-Modernist trends, unquestionably more forward-looking than the ‘indigenous traditions’ invoked by

national architects. 63 Yet, the possible coexistence of traditional culture and modern symbolism allowed both

national and imperial projects to experiment with urban aesthetics and technological innovation, showing the

outside world their city’s unique journey into modernity. 64 Early twentieth-century culture was increasingly

politically influenced and rooted in locality, but ‘internal national homogenisation’ did not endanger Austria-

Hungary’s multicultural stability since it contributed to an empire-wide project expressing the various

constituents of its modern urban identity. 65 This is apparent in architectural efforts to brand Lemberg a

‘Habsburg city’ as it became the ‘booming provincial capital’ of east-central Europe’s prime oil-producing

region. 66 Accompanying infrastructural and expansionist developments throughout the pre-war decades,

Lemberg’s architects followed the imperial trend of restoring, rather than simply conserving, historicallysignificant

and artistically-valuable sites of memory. 67 For example, Julian Zachariewicz’s renovation of

Lemberg’s medieval churches into ‘Western-style’ neo-Romanesque buildings promoted the city’s historic

and cultural status as Galicia’s civilised capital, proving itself capable of participating in Europe’s race to

modernity. 68 Likewise in Kraków, ‘Young Poland’ architects searched for modernity in medieval and rural

traditions; the Neo-Baroque Słowacki Theatre (1893) purposely replicated Viennese culture to reflect the

metropolis’s cosmopolitan aspirations, but simultaneously promoted its ‘mythic status’ as the centre of Polish

national memory. 69 The ‘aesthetic affinities’ between Historicism and Modernism meant traditional

architecture could be respectfully associated with cities’ imperial pasts, but also reformed with modern


Ibid., pp. 130-131.


Gyáni, Identity and the Urban Experience, pp. 62, 75-77.


Ibid., p. 69, 75-76, 97-100.


Ibid., p. 69.


Berend, History Derailed, pp. 80, 85-87; Le Rider, ‘Between Modernism and Postmodernism’, pp. 1, 9.


Prokopovych, Habsburg Lemberg, pp. 2-3; Blau, ‘The City as Protagonist’, p. 19; Blau and Platzer, Shaping the City,

p. 87.


Rampley, ‘From Potemkin Village to the Estrangement of Vision’, pp. 176-177, 182; Schorkse, ‘Operatic

Modernism’, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History Vol. 36, No. 4 (2006), pp. 676-681.


Blau and Platzer, Shaping the City, pp. 73-75, 78


Ibid., p. 87; Behrends and Kohlrausch, ‘Races to Modernity’, p. 4.


Gyáni, Identity and the Urban Experience, pp. 213-215.


Ihor Žuk, ‘The Architecture of L’viv’ in Shaping the Great City, p. 145; Blau and Platzer, Shaping the Great City, p.

158; Prokopovych, Habsburg Lemberg, pp. 2-3.



Ibid., pp. 227-232.


Ibid., pp. 227-232, 242.


Blau and Platzer, Shaping the Great City, p. 158.


Unity in Disunity: Rethinking Austria-Hungary’s place in Europe’s race to Modernity | Charlie Steer-Stephenson

building styles as ‘visible testament to the persistence of state patriotism and loyalty to imperial symbolism’

amidst the processes of modernisation, therefore contradicting impressions of east-central Europe’s

backwardness. 70 Divergent responses to modernisation do not indicate failure, but demonstrate how Austria-

Hungary tolerated innovation within a political framework rested upon tradition.

By portraying the city as a site of political upheaval historians exaggerated the role of nationalists in

unravelling local-imperial ties, implying the state failed to withstand the inexorable advancement of modern

nation-states. The rise of nationalism simply exposed the Habsburg dynasty’s fundamental role in holding

Austria-Hungary’s multinational and multicultural territories together, but did not render imperial structures

obsolete or hinder modernisation; urban expressions of modern life remained a ‘conglomerate of imperial

and local values’. 71 Solomon Wank argued Budapest’s nationally-dominated culture decentralised the

Monarchy’s influence; rather, its ‘Hungarian-ness’ ‘work[ed] to build a modern state within a larger imperial

framework’. 72 Likewise, Prague’s flourishing nationalist culture (resulting from Bohemia’s Czech-German

conflict) does not reflect antagonism against the empire but demonstrates how modern state-building and

urban city-making were unavoidably interrelated. 73 For example, both cities’ fin-de-siècle ethnographic and

trade exhibitions induced the growth of cultural institutions and infrastructural developments while

correspondingly celebrating Magyar folk-art and Czech cubism; modernising endeavours became an essential

feature of nationalists’ urban-cultural dominance. 74 Lud’a Klusáková measured modernisation by the

development of social and cultural institutions making everyday experiences more civilised in the peripheries;

whether initiated by national, municipal or imperial authorities, the effects of urbanisation integrated Austria-

Hungary’s inhabitants into an empire-wide modernising experience. 75 The apolitical aims underpinning

modernisation reiterate how local and national competitiveness enhanced Austria-Hungary’s ability to

modernise as an empire. 76 From imperially-commissioned functional city-planning to nationalists’ cultivation

of leisurely ‘green’ spaces, to municipal authorities’ responses to public wellbeing, Habsburg cities were

shaped by various groups with diverse reasons for intervening in urban life, but ultimately sharing a desire to

regulate and promote Austria-Hungary’s prosperous undertaking of modernisation. 77

Overall, while rapid industrialisation and urbanisation exposed the Habsburg Empire’s heterogeneous nature,

the Dual Monarchy’s ability to support an inherently-diverse state while undertaking the challenges of

modernity proves its resilience and productivity as a European great power until 1914. 78 This essay has

offered a variety of (largely urban-focused) perspectives to consider the complex, and sometimes lessprogressive,

repercussions of modernisation that render the ‘success or failure’ debate unconstructive. Rather

than highlighting the empire’s backwardness or inability to align dynastic ideologies with modern concerns,

the variety of ‘modernising’ experiences reflect Austria-Hungary’s unique flexibility and creativity in

response to its challenges, as well as resituating the region’s place within European history. 79 East-central

Europe may not have reached early-twentieth-century Western standards, but it strove for progress in

political, social, economic and cultural developments before the interruption of World War One. Further

insight into the ways ‘monarchy at war’ altered perceptions of Austria-Hungary’s durability in the modern


Rampley, ‘From Potemkin Village to the Estrangement of Vision’, pp. 182-183.


Prokopovych, Habsburg Lemberg, p. 134.


Wank, ‘Some Reflections on the Habsburg Empire’, pp. 137-141; Bender and Schorske, ‘Introduction’, pp. 4-5, 7.


Cohen, ‘Society and Culture in Prague, Vienna and Budapest’, pp. 480-481.


Gyáni, Identity and the Urban Experience, p. 210; Steward, “Gruss aus Wien’, pp. 131, 134; Blau, ‘The City as

Protagonist’, p. 19.


Lud’a Klusáková, ‘Cultural institutions as urban innovations: The Czech lands, Poland and the eastern Baltic, 1750-

1900’ in Malcolm Gee, Tim Kirk and Jill Steward (eds.) The City in Central Europe: Culture and Society from 1800 to

the Present (1999), pp. 85, 96.


Maier, ‘City, Empire, and Imperial Aftermath’, p. 28.


Blau, ‘The City as Protagonist’, p. 17; Blau and Platzer, Shaping the City, p. 73; Zimmerman, ‘Making a living from

disgrace’, pp. 190-192; Kirk, ‘Popular culture and politics in imperial Vienna’ in The City in Central Europe, pp. 161-

162, 165-166.


Csáky, ‘Multicultural Communities, p. 43; Judson, The Habsburg Empire, p. 9; Bowman, Cohen, Yonan and Zahra,

‘An Imperial Dynamo?’, pp. 245-246; Bruckmüller, ‘Was there a “Habsburg Society” in Austria-Hungary?’, pp. 14-5.


Wank, ‘Some Reflections on the Habsburg Empire’, pp. 137-141; Bianchini, Eastern Europe and the Challenges of

Modernity, 1800-2000, pp. 37-38.


Part IV

world is necessary for understanding its collapse within broader historical processes, as well as the impact of

war upon European progress between 1914-1918. 80 Ultimately, Austria-Hungary’s unique journey into

modernity indicates that diversity does not necessarily constitute division; regional efforts to improve urbanperipheral

conditions did not threaten the empire’s complex structures but strengthened its progress as a

whole. 81 An urban perspective has reinforced Judson’s emphasis on the possible harmony between

nationalism and imperialism since Habsburg cities remained ‘site[s] where the imperial met the local’, and

where key urban elements were replicated across the empire to imitate, and celebrate, its prosperous capital. 82


Cornwall, ‘Introduction’, pp. 7-10; Maier, ‘City, Empire, and Imperial Aftermath’, pp. 29-30.


Feichtinger and Cohen, ‘Introduction’, p. 5.


Maier, ‘City, Empire, and Imperial Aftermath’, pp. 29-30.




SABRINA STEUER: The DUHS Essay-writing competition: ‘Decolonising the


Page 112

ASHLEY CASTELINO: Winning Entry: ‘The Finger Points’: a Decolonised approach to

Gender and Sexuality in India

Pages 113-118

CLÉMENTINE DUCASSE: Runner-up: South Vietnamese women: Capitalising on

Colonialism? 1920-1964

Pages 119-123

KATIE SCOWN: The Annual DUHS Winter Ball – Lumley Castle, 2018

Pages 124-130

DR. HELEN ROCHE: One Year in Durham – Looking Back

Pages 131-132

DR. JOHN-HENRY CLAY: A Year of Research Leave

Pages 133-134

The DUHS Executive Committee and Editorial Team, 2018-19

Page 135




Last year, DUHS decided to introduce its first ever essay-writing competition, a chance for students to

celebrate the return of the journal while demonstrating their skill in conducting research and writing thoughtprovoking

essays. In-line with the series of guest lectures that DUHS’ Programme Coordinator, Sabrina

Steuer, has organised, the executive decided that the theme of the competition should be ‘Decolonising the

Curriculum’. Sabrina outlines the significance of ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ below, discussing how and

why she has decided to implement this as the theme of this year’s talks:

My tenure as Programme Coordinator gave me the freedom to design a dream

curriculum - one that addressed overlooked histories, included a wide range of historians, and

(hopefully) broadened our perceptions of what the study of History can entail. I chose the theme

of ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ for my talks this year in solidarity with the wider academic

movement focused at challenging the academic status quo – one that is too often Eurocentric,

masculine, and unquestioning of received traditions. This is especially pertinent in Durham,

where we have no modules on Latin America or Australasia, despite a plethora of sources and

wealth of academic research. I wanted to take our members ‘around the world’ with our talks,

enabling them to learn about areas not covered by the current Durham curriculum. The talks

ranged from the fun - with a personal favourite of mine focusing on Arctic exploration - to the

enlightening, such as Professor Rigney-Irabinna’s talk on Australian pedagogy and the

treatment of indigenous Australians. It has been an honour to coordinate this year’s programme,

and I hope its diversity might nudge the University department towards considering evaluating

its own curriculum.

Sabrina Steuer

Programme Coordinator, 2018/19

Having received some really fantastic entries for the competition, the journal’s editorial team were asked to

read the entries and vote on a winner and runner-up. The first prize was a £100 cash reward, and second prize

a £20 Amazon voucher.

First prize was awarded to Ashley Castelino, who used the competition as an opportunity to explore

contemporary Indian approaches to sexuality and the LGBTQ+ community in both the Indian Constitution,

and in wider Indian society. Ashley’s article provides a fascinating insight into the long-term socio-political

impact of British colonialism in India and, indeed, other parts of the former British Empire.

While Ashley’s article is, indeed, impressive, we were also struck by the quality of research undertaken by

Clémentine Ducasse, an Erasmus student from France. Clémentine used this opportunity to study the cultural

landscape of Vietnam in the 20 th century, focusing on Vietnamese women in particular. Entertained and

absorbed by the unusual subject with which Clémentine engaged, the journal team voted to award her secondplace

in the competition.

We would like to offer a big congratulations to both of our winners, and thanks all of the participants. It’s

been a real joy and privilege to read about cultures that we’ve never learned about before, and has provided

a welcome opportunity to reflect on the importance of inclusivity and diversity in the curriculum.






On 6th September 2018, the Supreme Court of India revoked ‘Section 377’ of the Indian constitution, thus

decriminalizing homosexual relations. 1 While this was a landmark moment in the history of the nation, it

must not be characterized as a step closer to an idealized “west”, because Section 377 originated as a colonialera

law, forced-upon India and other countries by the British Empire. This essay will demonstrate instead

how pre-colonial India was more open-minded and fluid in its conceptions of gender and sexuality, and how

British colonialism has actually played a significant role in exacerbating modern-day injustices. In doing so,

this essay seeks to relate this discussion to the question of ‘decolonizing’ curriculums in Britain today, using

it as an example of how decolonized histories can be employed to challenge implicitly held biases.

In 1860, the British colonial government of India introduced the ‘Indian Penal Code’, containing the

controversial Section 377:

‘377. Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman,

or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description

for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall be liable to fine’. 2

This law was an evolved form of a 1534 English law against the ‘Vice of Buggery’, established during the

reign of Henry VIII. 3 Interpreted to mean the criminalisation of homosexuality in India, it was finally struck

down by the Supreme Court in September 2018. When reporting on this landmark ruling, the BBC in one

article described Section 377 as ‘a 157-year-old colonial-era law’, thus rightly acknowledging its colonial

history. 4 However, the same article ended abruptly with the question:

‘Where is homosexuality illegal? The 2017 report from the International, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,

Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) lists 72 countries and territories where same-sex

relationships are still criminalised, although that includes India before its latest ruling. Most of them

are in Africa, the Middle East and other parts of South Asia’. 5

Though perfectly factual, this statement could be perceived as having troubling connotations. While ILGA’s

important report is responsible simply for outlining the facts as they are, an article by the BBC must take into

greater consideration how the presentation of these facts might be perceived differently by different people.


‘SC Decriminalises Section 377: What the Court Said’, The Times of India, 6 September 2018, [Online], Available at:


(Accessed 25 April 2019).


Douglas E. Sanders, ‘377 and the Unnatural Afterlife of British Colonialism in Asia’, Asian Journal of Comparative

Law, 4.1 (2009), p. 8.


Ibid., pp. 1-2.


‘India Court Legalises Gay Sex in Landmark Ruling’, BBC, 6 September 2018, [Online], Available at:

<https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-45429664> (Accessed 25 April 2019).


Ibid. International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association: Aengus Carroll and Lucas Ramón

Mendos, State-Sponsored Homophobia 2017: A world survey of sexual orientation laws: criminalisation, protection

and recognition (Geneva: ILGA, 2017).

Part V

Whatever the perspective of the author of the article, simply naming ‘Africa, the Middle East and other parts

of South Asia’ without any acknowledgement of their colonial histories inevitably feeds into a problematic

narrative. It is the narrative held explicitly by a few, and implicitly by even more: that people from such

countries (i.e. people with darker skin) are morally “backward” and “uncivilized” – the very narrative that

was used to justify colonialism in the first place.

Indeed, it is pertinent to note that more than half of the 72 countries named in the ILGA report for

criminalising same-sex relationships are former British colonies, many of which have inherited versions of

Section 377, some of them preserving it to the letter. 6 Nor, in most cases, did these colonial territories have

any choice in the matter, a 2008 Human Rights Watch report emphasising the important fact that ‘no “native”

ever participated in their making. Colonizers saw indigenous cultures as sexually corrupt, and lenience

towards homosexuality supposedly formed part of this perversion. Where precolonial peoples had been

permissive, sodomy laws would cure them – and defend their new, white masters against ‘moral contagion’’. 7

While it is unlikely that homosexuality was fully accepted throughout Indian society prior to its colonization,

there is much evidence that a more open-minded attitude existed in the country prior to British intervention.

In recent years, several notable scholars and activists have combed through Indian history and mythology to

enlighten us about the complex, ambivalent and rich histories of sexuality in the country. Two of the most

oft-cited (though by no means unproblematic) examples are the depictions of a diverse range of nonheteronormative

sexual acts in the Sanskrit Kamasutra, and in the erotic sculptures of the temples at

Khajuraho, without any ‘suggestion of audacity or provocation, the leers that would suggest civic taboos

being violated’. 8 In their book Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, Ruth Vanita

and Saleem Kidwai have presented a remarkable array of translated texts from ancient, medieval, and modern

Indian traditions, uncovering complex discourses of sexuality defying the bounds of heteronormativity in

works like the Sanskrit Mahabharata and Kamasutra, and the Bengali Birth of Bhagiratha. 9 The book also

includes medieval materials in the Persian-Urdu tradition, depicting a range of romantic and erotic

interactions between men in ghazals (love poems) and chronicles, prior-to and despite religious injunctions

to the contrary. 10 Gita Thadani has explored the ways in which processes like colonialism and nationalism

have similarly erased Indian histories of lesbian sexuality, using a detailed exploration of mythology,

cosmology, ancient art, artefacts and Sanskrit texts to counter ‘the constructions of the lesbian as Western,

and exiled from India’ and the ‘myth of an overwhelming singular heterosexual tradition as an objective

historical fact’. 11

In presenting these complex, diverse, co-existing histories, these works primarily demonstrate that at no point

in its early history has there been a single, uniform understanding-of or reaction-to sexuality in India. And

this is precisely the point. The imposition of the Indian Penal Code with Section 377 seems to be the first

single, unified attempt to regulate sexuality in India on a national level. Indeed, Judith Avory Faucette has

pointed out that in addition to ‘the lack of a moral or religious basis for homophobia in the British colonies,

the understanding of homosexuality as an identity category based on one’s sexual acts with individuals of the

same sex was foreign to the cultures where the law was introduced. For example, in many East and South

Asian cultures, there is a traditional understanding of three genders, but not three sexualities’. 12 This


Human Rights Watch: Alok Gupta, The Alien Legacy: The Origins of “Sodomy” Laws in British Colonialism (New

York: Human Rights Watch, 2008), pp. 5-6.


Ibid., pp. 10-11.


Alphonso Lingis, ‘Khajuraho’, Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 62.1 (1979), p. 62. For an overview and more

critical analysis of the use and appropriation of sexual representations in the Kamasutra, see Jyoti Puri, ‘Concerning

Kamasutras: Challenging Narratives of History and Sexuality’, Signs, 27.3 (2002).


Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (eds.), Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New York:

Palgrave, 2000).


Ibid. See also Ruth Vanita (ed.), Queering India: Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society (New

York and London: Routledge, 2002).


Gita Thadani, Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India (London: Bloomsbury, 1996, repr. 2016), pp.

119, 4.


Judith Avory Faucette, ‘Human Rights in Context: The Lessons of Section 377 Challenges for Western Gay Rights

Legal Reformers in the Developing World’, The Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice, 13.2 (2010), p. 418.


The DUHS essay-writing competition 2019

reasoning follows Michel Foucault’s theory that modern power operates through continual classification,

acting discursively to create categories, like that of ‘homosexuality’, to increase its opportunities for

differentiation, segregation and intervention. 13 Despite the fact that various levels of intolerance to

homosexual relations pre-existed in these countries prior to the arrival of British colonialism, in many cases

the institutional categorization and suppression of homosexuality could be interpreted as a uniquely colonial

product. None of this is meant to imply that the British hold full responsibility for the intolerances of the

present: of course, colonialism is far from the only factor at play in all of these countries. It is clear, however,

that British colonial laws have, at the very least, provided much of the language and rhetoric of modern-day

discrimination in India.

The question of ‘three genders’ in Asian cultures is a different but related matter. Like the intricacies of

sexuality in ancient and medieval India, the country has a long tradition of gender nonconformity, too.

Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Man Who Was a Woman, for instance, documents an extensive compilation of

traditional Hindu stories that involve ‘queer manifestations of sexuality [that], though repressed socially,

squeeze their way into the myths, legends, and lore of the land.’ 14 This includes stories of women who become

men, pregnant kings, cross-dressing tricksters, castrated men and women, and a variety of identities in

between. 15 Janet Gyatso has similarly noted the frequent extolling of the middle-ness of the third sex

(paṇḍakas) in early Buddhist traditions, while Leonard Zwilling and Michael Sweet have illustrated

equivalent acceptance in Jain religious literature. 16 Anand Grover, a leading advocate against Section 377,

thus made a case for ‘the glorious status of transgenders in Indian history’, giving the example of Mehboob

Ali, the chief executive of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. 17

These groups, however, also faced colonial discrimination under the provisions of Section 377, as well as the

1871 Criminal Tribes Act that defined them as ‘a “criminal tribe”, i.e., as outlaws by nature.’ 18 Nevertheless,

in a 2014 census, 4.9 lakh (490,000) Indians officially identified themselves as belonging to a third gender,

with transgender activists estimating the actual figures to be six or seven times higher. 19 In April of the same

year, the Supreme Court of India legally recognised a third gender, mandating the equal provision of

fundamental rights and inclusive treatment for all those identifying as such. 20 The landmark verdict explained

that ‘moral failure lies in the society’s unwillingness to contain or embrace different gender identities and

expressions, a mindset which we have to change.’ 21 With this, India joined a large number of South Asian

countries by taking limited but significant steps towards granting legal rights to a third gender, with Nepal

paving the way in these efforts. 22 India’s ruling was particularly aimed at the ancient population known as

hijras, a group that is said to encompass eunuchs, and transgender and intersex individuals. The term ‘hijra’,

however, resists any narrow definition, as Serena Nanda explains in an ethnography of the community,

because there exists a ‘variety of individually experienced social roles, gender identities, sexual orientations,


Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. by Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon

Books, 1978), pp. 42-43.


Devdutt Pattanaik, The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore (New York: Harrington Park

Press, 2002), p. 3.



16 Janet Gyatso, ‘One Plus One Makes Three: Buddhist Gender, Monasticism, and the Law of the Non-Excluded Middle’,

History of Religions, 43.2 (2003). Leonard Zwilling and Michael J. Sweet, ‘“Like a City Ablaze: The Third Sex and the

Creation of Sexuality in Jain Religious Literature’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 6.3 (1996).


Anand Grover, cited in Kapil Sharma, ‘Destabilizing Section 377: An Indological Approach to Gender and Sexuality’,

Postcolonial Interventions, 2.1 (2017), p. 139.


Martha C. Nussbaum, ‘Disgust or Equality? Sexual Orientation and Indian Law’, Journal of Indian Law and Society,

6.1 (2014), p. 20.


Rema Nagarajan, ‘First Count of Third Gender in Census: 4.9 Lakh’, The Times of India, 30 May 2014,


[accessed 25 April 2019].


Manjeet Kumar Sahu, ‘Case Comment on National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India & Others (Air 2014 Sc

1863): A Ray of Hope for the LGBT Community’, BRICS Law Journal, 3.2 (2016).


Nussbaum, ‘Disgust or Equality?’, p. 24.


International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association: Zhan Chian, Sandra Duffy and Matilda González

Gil, Trans Legal Mapping Report 2017: Recognition Before the Law (Geneva: ILGA, 2017), pp. 25-44.


Part V

and life histories of the people who become hijras.’ 23 Once again, it is this variety that is truly important and

must be preserved. Although hijras do play important cultural and religious roles in Indian society, a growing

number even attaining important civil and administrative positions, society maintains an ambivalent attitude

towards them, for, although ‘they have an auspicious presence, they also have an inauspicious potential.’ 24

As a result, they still face discrimination, ‘forced to live on the fringes of […] society’, with continued poor

access to medical and educational resources, not to mention having to endure insult and mockery. 25 The 2014

ruling, and later versions, are not without deep intrinsic problems themselves. 26 Even so, the growing legal

recognition of the group, as well as their very own self-recognition, is incredibly significant:

The anthropological significance of the hijra role is that it is one of the very few alternative gender

roles currently functioning in any society. Many of the institutionalized cross-gender and third

gender roles in non-Western societies have fallen into disuse with the cultural imperialism associated

with colonialism, modernization, and Westernization. Thus, the hijra role is of great interest not only

in and of itself, but also for the light it sheds on broader issues related to gender. 27

When presenting a historicist argument, there is a danger of ignoring current realities, which is why it must

be made clear than none of this is meant to absolve India of its own sins – the responsibility for every step

taken by the country since independence must be borne and addressed by its own people. And even though

the Supreme Court judgements on a third gender in 2014 and on Section 377 in 2018 were significant steps

in the right direction, in order to achieve anything approaching true equality, much more work needs to be

done to challenge widely-held prejudices at a deeper level. However, as this essay has demonstrated, rather

than simply looking to the modern west, it might be helpful for India to draw inspiration from its own precolonial

past, as lawyers and activists did masterfully in the fight against Section 377. Such a historicist

approach does, however, have its own problems. On the one hand, adopting historical narratives to support

modern acceptance may be useful, but it also opens the floodgates to legitimizing the co-opting of history in

favour of intolerance, as has been done for years. This is a particularly difficult problem when dealing with

mythology, which is even more open to contrasting interpretations. Additionally, most of the historical

examples we might find deal with kings and courtiers that, as Douglas Sanders points out, ‘are reasonably

egalitarian in gender and role. We lack such stories for ordinary people living ordinary lives.’ 28 In any case,

however, true equality is perhaps a state where there isn’t a need to search for such stories in the first place,

as Shivananda Khan powerfully explains:

‘The finger points. Here is the evidence. Yes, there were lesbians and gay men in our past. But how

much of this is valid? As contemporary self-identified lesbians or gay men (whatever those terms

mean to us personally), we shouldn’t need self-validation based on a presumptive past. Our existence

is our own validation, however we may label ourselves.’ 29

Whether or not to use these presumptive pasts is absolutely the prerogative of each individual in India. Which

is why it is important for an account like this to resist narrow definitions and broad generalizations of any

kind, instead merely illustrating the incredible richness and complexity of gender and sexuality.


Serena Nanda, Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999),

p. xix.


Ibid., p. 6.


Govindasamy Agoramoorthy and Minna J. Hsu, ‘Living on the Societal Edge: India’s Transgender Realities’, Journal

of Religion and Health, 54.4 (2015), p. 1451. Nanda, Neither Man nor Woman, pp. 8-9. Sapna Khatri, ‘Hijras: The 21st

Century Untouchables’, Washington University Global Studies Law Review, 16.2 (2017).


Akanssha Agrawal, ‘India’s New Transgender Bill and its Discontents’, Oxford Human Rights Hub, 27 January 2019,

< https://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/indias-new-transgender-bill-and-its-discontents/> [accessed 26 April 2019]. Gautam Bhatia,

‘The Rajya Sabha Must Amend the Transgender Persons Bill’, Hindustan Times, 5 January 2019,


WEyPFztPVABpfaQyDYBt5I.html> [accessed 26 April 2019].


Nanda, Neither Man nor Woman, p. xi.


Sanders, ‘377 and the Unnatural Afterlife of British Colonialism in Asia’, p. 48.


Shivananda Khan, ‘Culture, Sexualities and Identities’, Journal of Homosexuality, 40.3-4 (2001), p. 105.


The DUHS essay-writing competition 2019

Highlighting these histories might then be of little use and little consolation to actual individuals on the ground

in India. But such pasts can be put to important use on the other side of the world, in Britain. This is where

the idea of ‘decolonising’ curriculums comes into play. Colonialism isn’t merely a set of historical systems

and structures. The term necessarily implies the belief that certain groups of people are inherently superior to

others, as exhibited by the British Empire’s regulation of gender and sexuality in its colonies. “Decolonising”

a curriculum, therefore, isn’t simply about including colonial histories within it. On a deeper level, its purpose

is to clearly and explicitly challenge implicitly held remnants of this colonial belief. Which is why exposing

the British to narratives like this one are important. This history of colonial suppression of gender and

sexuality is not aimed at shaming modern Britons for their imperial past. In fact, it’s not about Britons at all.

Rather, it’s aimed at changing British perceptions of other peoples, countering the colonial assumption that

people of colour are inherently “backward” or morally inferior by throwing light on Britain’s own role in

perpetuating regressive injustices. And by pointing the finger not just at colonial consequences, but also

towards pre-colonial histories of diversity, we might be a step closer to recovering what has since been lost.


Agoramoorthy, Govindasamy and Minna J. Hsu, ‘Living on the Societal Edge: India’s Transgender

Realities’, Journal of Religion and Health, 54.4 (2015), pp. 1451-1459.

Agrawal, Akanssha, ‘India’s New Transgender Bill and its Discontents’, Oxford Human Rights Hub, 27

January 2019, < https://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/indias-new-transgender-bill-and-its-discontents/>

[accessed 26 April 2019].

Bhatia, Gautam, ‘The Rajya Sabha Must Amend the Transgender Persons Bill’, Hindustan Times, 5 January

2019, <https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/the-rajya-sabha-must-amend-the-transgenderpersons-bill/story-WEyPFztPVABpfaQyDYBt5I.html>

[accessed 26 April 2019].

Faucette, Judith Avory, ‘Human Rights in Context: The Lessons of Section 377 Challenges for Western

Gay Rights Legal Reformers in the Developing World’, The Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice,

13.2 (2010), pp. 413-439.

Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. by Robert Hurley (New York:

Pantheon Books, 1978).

Gyatso, Janet, ‘One Plus One Makes Three: Buddhist Gender, Monasticism, and the Law of the Non-

Excluded Middle’, History of Religions, 43.2 (2003), pp. 89-115.

Human Rights Watch: Alok Gupta, The Alien Legacy: The Origins of “Sodomy” Laws in British

Colonialism (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2008).

‘India Court Legalises Gay Sex in Landmark Ruling’, BBC, 6 September 2018,

<https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-45429664> [accessed 25 April 2019].

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association: Aengus Carroll and Lucas Ramón

Mendos, State-Sponsored Homophobia 2017: A world survey of sexual orientation laws:

criminalisation, protection and recognition (Geneva: ILGA, 2017).

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association: Zhan Chian, Sandra Duffy and

Matilda González Gil, Trans Legal Mapping Report 2017: Recognition Before the Law (Geneva:

ILGA, 2017).

Khan, Shivananda, ‘Culture, Sexualities and Identities’, Journal of Homosexuality, 40.3-4 (2001), pp. 99-


Khatri, Sapna, ‘Hijras: The 21st Century Untouchables’, Washington University Global Studies Law

Review, 16.2 (2017), pp. 387-410.

Lingis, Alphonso, ‘Khajuraho’, Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 62.1 (1979), pp. 52-69.

Nagarajan, Rema, ‘First Count of Third Gender in Census: 4.9 Lakh’, The Times of India, 30 May 2014,


lakh/articleshow/35741613.cms> [accessed 25 April 2019].

Nanda, Serena, Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing

Company, 1999).

Nussbaum, Martha C., ‘Disgust or Equality? Sexual Orientation and Indian Law’, Journal of Indian Law

and Society, 6.1 (2014), pp. 1-24.

Pattanaik, Devdutt, The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore (New York:

Harrington Park Press, 2002).


Part V

Puri, Jyoti, ‘Concerning Kamasutras: Challenging Narratives of History and Sexuality’, Signs, 27.3 (2002),

pp. 603-639.

Sahu, Manjeet Kumar, ‘Case Comment on National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India & Others

(Air 2014 Sc 1863): A Ray of Hope for the LGBT Community’, BRICS Law Journal, 3.2 (2016),

pp. 164-175.

Sanders, Douglas E., ‘377 and the Unnatural Afterlife of British Colonialism in Asia’, Asian Journal of

Comparative Law, 4.1 (2009), pp. 1-49.

‘SC Decriminalises Section 377: What the Court Said’, The Times of India, 6 September 2018,


[accessed 25 April 2019].

Sharma, Kapil, ‘Destabilizing Section 377: An Indological Approach to Gender and Sexuality’,

Postcolonial Interventions, 2.1 (2017), pp. 138-149.

Thadani, Gita, Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India (London: Bloomsbury, 1996, repr.


Vanita, Ruth (ed.), Queering India: Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society (New York

and London: Routledge, 2002).

Vanita, Ruth and Saleem Kidwai (eds.), Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History

(New York: Palgrave, 2000).

Zwilling, Leonard and Michael J. Sweet, ‘“Like a City Ablaze: The Third Sex and the Creation of Sexuality

in Jain Religious Literature’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 6.3 (1996), pp. 359-384.







Upon studying the history of Vietnam, perhaps one of the most striking observations that one may make is

that the vast majority of scholarship concerns itself almost exclusively with warfare: indeed, modern

Vietnamese history is often regarded through a masculine—often Caucasian—lens, the overwhelming

majority of whom were soldiers. This may be, in part, attributed to the fact that much of our recent historical

evidence derives from military records, French administrative policies and veteran’s testimonies.

A direct corollary of the established historiographical emphasis on masculine and military histories is that

Vietnamese women have, more often than not, been portrayed as the victims of military violence or vehicles

of soldiers’ gratification. In fact, indigenous women have been almost exclusively referenced only in relation

to men. Nonetheless, in more recent historical works, the role of women as active participants in conflict -

primarily as soldiers for the Việt Minh – has also come to the fore. Vietnamese women, then, are often

portrayed as conforming to one of two prescriptive and underdeveloped personas: that of the victim or of the


Despite the fact that, in the historiography of Vietnam, women have, at best, been segregated into two, narrow

typecasts (at worst, they are overlooked entirely), it is also pertinent to recognise historic socio-political

attitudes towards women. In particular one should acknowledge the relationship of the Vietnamese

communist regime to women: the socio-cultural emancipation of women was deemed by the regime to be a

threatening prospect, and the state subsequently sought to shroud the movement in controversy and taboo.

This contrasts with the impact that French colonialism had on Vietnamese society: the colonial state

ultimately sought to undermine traditional Vietnamese socio-cultural norms, enabling Vietnamese women to

radically redefine their place in society and subsequently seek emancipation. Of course, this statement does

not condone the many immoralities and atrocities that colonial states often entail, but one must acknowledge

that the impact of French colonialism on indigenous Vietnamese women was not exclusively detrimental.

This essay, then, concerns itself with the examination of the historical shifts in the lives of Vietnamese women,

primarily between 1920 and 1964, examining the impact of differing, political regimes, urbanisation and the

westernising impact of the modernity movement of the 1920s to 1964.

Women in urban areas, particularly in the south, started to convert from the roles prescribed by traditional

Confucian society to a more westernised lifestyle, starting with the beginning of the modernity movement in

the 1920s to the withdrawal of the French in 1964.

Vietnamese women had been subject to traditional, patriarchal, Confucian values stemming from Chinese

cultural influence in the country, although in the south there persisted a matriarchal influence originating from

earlier Vietnamese history. The confrontation between this society and French rule challenged norms and lead

to the modernity movement of 1920-1930, in which women were both actor and subject. This quest for

emancipation was not limited to intellectual spheres, but spread to women living in southern urban areas,

both educated and not, who reshaped their identity and sought liberation through adopting western cultural


Part V

Since the Chinese invasion of Vietnam, the country had been dominated for over 1000 years, with a cultural

impact that lasted far longer. Vietnam adopted aspects of Chinese culture such as ideograms, the mandarin

system and Confucian values. Even after chasing off the invaders, the succeeding dynasties in Vietnam kept

Confucianism as a state ideology and a moral code of behaviour, which influenced all of society. 1 As in China,

the place of women in society was regulated by Confucianism and its rule of the Four Virtues. The first was

Cong: the love for work, such as sewing, cooking and baking for the benefit of the whole family. The second,

Dung: good standing, being at ease and assured but not ostentatious. The third, Ngon: speaking with

reservation, answering politely. The last was Hanh: behaving with dignity. In addition, women had to obey

the rule of the Three Subordinations, Tam tòng: woman must obey her father before marriage, then her

husband and finally her sons after her husband’s death. These values were at the heart of family dynamics in

society: domestic violence, polygamy, a stepmother’s abuse towards her daughter-in-law etc. Arranged

marriages were commonplace and widows were forbidden to remarry. This resulted in women playing a

passive societal role, submitting to her husband and his family. Effectively a domestic slave, she was denied

fulfilment. This was more common among the aristocracy than in the peasantry where women and men

worked together in the fields. Nonetheless, aristocracy and urban areas were highly influenced by these

Confucian values.

It is necessary, however, to make a geographical distinction. The north, centre and south of Vietnam were

highly variable in terms of moral behaviours and attitudes. The Confucian influence was weaker in the south,

where some matriarchal communities endured. Southern women were formed more by the culture of the past

and ethnic groups situated in the mountains in the centre-west. 2 The extent of matriarchal control varied

across different peoples. The Mnong and the Koho retain this power structure to present day, the Churu and

Raglai less so, though still maintaining significant matriarchal elements, though these are most visible in the

Rhadés. These communities were untouched by Chinese, and therefore Confucian, influence owing to their

remote mountain locations. Women held positions of authority in the domestic, political and religious spheres.

The linguistic similitude between the people of the lowland and those in the mountains, combined with similar

types of accommodation indicates that at one time they formed one ethnicity. Moreover, Vietnamese myths

and legends feature empowered women. One of the most famous legends in Vietnam is that of the Trung

Sisters. 3 Everyone, from all social classes, knew this story which symbolised the attitude of Vietnamese

women to invasion. The story goes that around 40 AD, they fought the Chinese invaders and captured 65

fortresses, proclaiming themselves queens of Me-Linh. Several other female characters in Vietnamese history

are quite famous, such as the Queen Linh Han, who embodied the wise and benevolent queen, contrasting

with her husband’s conflict with the Cham. 4 This was the context into which the French arrived. Confucian

values dominated the society, but in the south less influenced by china, legends and memories of ancient

ethnicities were part of the female mindset. As the scholar Nguyen Thanh Trung writes “The Vietnamese

people were influenced by Chinese culture, while opposing it”, which applies to women as well. 5

The clash resulting from the arrival of the French and Western culture raised questions for traditional society.

Intellectuals started to rethink the Vietnamese identity, and especially the role of women. The undermining

of traditional society by the French allowed the Vietnamese to redefine the place of women. Women

contributed to this intellectual movement whilst also being the subjects of it. The creation of this new

generation of thinkers was due primarily to the introduction of the French transcription of Vietnamese

language: the quốc ngữ. The language challenged the people’s psyche. The quốc ngữ was easier to learn as it

used the Latin alphabet rather than Chinese ideograms. Learning written Vietnamese took a long time;

scholars could spend their lives doing so. 6 This democratisation of writings and therefore of readings, gave

rise to a new generation of intellectuals and the proliferation of newspapers and journals. David Marr

mentions a “cultural revolution”, a transition period during the years 1925-1935. In 1936, Hoang Dao,

1 Nguyen Thanh Trung, Vision de la femme dans la littérature du Sud-Vietnam, p.30

2 Ibid. p, 286

3 Ibid. p, 22

4 Ibid. p, 24.

5 Ibid. p, 21.

6 Nguyen Van ky, La société vietnamienne face à la modernité, p.61.


The DUHS essay-writing competition 2019

member of Tu Luc Van Doan (the autonomous literary group), articulated a program with six points, including

the recognition of women’s role in society. 7 This group represented a new generation of journalists who were

willing to shirk traditional values: filial piety, the submission of women, superstition etc. This new era brought

new questions: What do we want for society? How do we want it to be ruled? Hoang Dao wrote about the

struggle to find a Vietnamese identity, between Chinese and French, between individualism and familial

values: “Ancient culture can only be found today in old books that are worshipped (less and less though) by

the still famed and powerful partisans of the Middle Way. There is nothing like preserving the positive aspect

of Chinese tradition in order to complement it with the bright side of French culture.” 8 Thus, the question of

women is rooted in the question of Modernity, which searches for a new path between traditional and western


This cultural revolution led to a surge of feminist magazines such as Phu nu Thoi dam, directed by a woman,

and Dan ba moi (The Modern Woman). 9 This journal addressed issues relevant to women: virginity,

polygamy, relationships, and women’s rights. Family, women and individual were the main themes of these

magazines, aiming to guide new generations, balancing family values with the ideology of the French school.

The journal Nam Phong, financed by the French administration and sympathetic to colonisation, published

an article entitled “Women’s Rights” n°159, it boldly stated “The conservatives consider that the

westernisation of material life, however limited, is already a terrible thing. Women wearing trousers and their

hair parted on one side are accused of striking a blow to morality; individualism is considered as the fulfilment

of loathsome desires. But we, the young, must not pay heed to that bigotry and we must forge ahead

unflinchingly and forcefully. Thus, we enter with courage and determination the new broad and enlightened

path of Western culture.” 10 In Phu Nu Tan Van (The new woman’s magazine), published in Saigon between

1929-1934, women started to talk for themselves on the issues they faced. Nguyen Thi Kiem wrote many

articles about women, raising awareness of domestic abuse. Moreover, in 1931, she held a conference entitled

“ Elite Female Literature”. 11 The total number of female teachers and students increased during that period,

as well as the number of female journalists.

Literature, and many intellectual writers of the period, depicted women in an empowered way. The historian

Nguyen Thanh Trung, argues that there existed a south Vietnamese literary tradition, historically less

influenced by China and more by western liberalism, which depicted strong, spontaneous and enterprising

women between 1858-1945. Ho Bieu chanh, a southern writer, depicted such characters. His protagonists

were women. In Ke lam nguoi chiu (One committed the misdeed and the other suffers the consequences), a

woman is married to a cheating man who uses her money for a sinful life. She leaves the household for

Saigon, and seeks revenge through an affair with another man. 12 Ho Bieu chanh wrote many stories of this

kind, always emphasising women’s problems both with tradition and modernity.


Ibid. p.103.

8 Ibid. p. 104. “La culture ancienne ne se cantonne plus que dans de vieux bouquins adorés, mais de moins en moins,

par les partisans de la “ voix du milieux” fort connus et encore puissants. Rien de mieux que de préserver l’aspect

positif de la culture chinoise pour y greffer le bon coté de la culture française à titre de complément. Mais ce ne

sont là que des illusions.”. “Les conservateurs considèrent que l’occidentalisation sur le plan matériel, aussi

minime qu’elle soit, est déjà une chose terrible. Les femmes qui portent des pantalons blancs, et ont une raie sur le

côté, sont accusées d’avoir détruit la morale; l’individualisme est considéré comme la satisfaction des désirs

détestables. Mais nous, les jeunes, nous ne devons pas en tenir compte, nous continuons notre route sans

hésitation, sans nous laisser faiblir. Ainsi, nous nous engageons avec le courage et la détermination dans la voie

nouvelle large et pleine de lumière de la culture occidentale”

9 Ibid. p.109.

10 Ibid. p.112. “Autrefois les juristes considéraient la femme comme un être faible, l’opinion convenait aussi que sans

l’homme la femme ne pouvait être autonome, comme si elle était dotée d’une capacité intellectuelle moins

importante et d’une attitude incompatible avec les activités sociales, alors qu’aujourd’hui sur sa lancée, elle

semble accaparer même la place de l’homme, elle veut ardemment se venger de l’homme qui l’a déconsidérée


11 Thanh Trung, Vision de la femme, p. 229

12 Ibid. p.176.


Part V

However, it was not only the intellectuals and educated women expressed their desire for emancipation. In

urban areas modern Vietnamese women appeared, visible in public. Using westernised cultural references

and attitudes, she portrayed her desire to be rid of Confucian values. Tran Van Tung in his book meant to

educate the French on Vietnam in 1957, wrote “In big cities, the woman has changed. She doesn’t look like

her sisters of yore and of the countryside. She has undergone a physical and moral transformation. She has

left her “gilded cage”. You find her in concert halls, in celebrations and ceremonies, even sometimes in literary

and philosophical parlours. She has had her hair cropped and curled. She has whitened her teeth. She wears

trendy designer clothes and high-heeled shoes; her handbags are imported from Europe. She walks along the

streets beside man, laughing and chatting freely. She rides bikes, drives cars, steers canoes. She participates

in beauty and elegance contests. She practises sports and often ends up a victor in ping-pong, tennis,

swimming or running competitions. In short, she does everything the European woman does and she excels

at it.”13

Focusing on her appearance, the Vietnamese woman changed, becoming more westernised. In Vietnam, it

had once been popular for women to sport black teeth. They used to colour their teeth in this way in order for

them to differentiate themselves from animals. They called the white teeth “dog teeth”. When women stopped

doing this, they where reproached for trying “to please the white men”. One girl testified, “I am afraid of my

mother who will call me prostitute”. 14 Hairstyles changed too. Women curled their straight hair in the fifties

like western women did. They also abandoned the Yem, the traditional top—naked in the back, which

supported the breasts and enabled them to develop according to Chinese beauty standards—in favour of

western bras. 15 With the introduction of swimming pools, women wore swimsuits. For peasant women who

did not hesitate to pull up their pants to their hips in paddy fields, and were used to a certain degree of

nakedness, this was not too unusual. For women who used to be hidden in the house and in larger clothes

however, this was highly daring. Clothing became tighter too. The traditional Vietnamese dress is symbolic

of the evolution of the Vietnamese woman. Women used to wear the Ao Yem, but the Chinese thought this

style too revealing, and so they wore wider dresses known Ao Ngu. In 1920, a Vietnamese tailor called Lemur,

inspired by twenties’ French fashion, designed the ‘Ao Lemur’ with serrated sleeves. However, this was not

massively successful as it was thought to be too western. Following this, in 1950-1960, Tran Kim from Thiet

Lap Tailors and Dung from Dung Tailors created the Ao Dai, a tighter garment with shorter pants. A high

collar was added, giving an image of aristocracy and Asian style. These clothes were meant to be worn by

the upper classes because it was not suitable to work in the fields. 16 It became highly popular, however, the

communists banned the Ao Dai, judging it too western. The development of these garments is highly symbolic

of how women, using western reference, sought to resist traditional Confucian society, whilst keeping an

original Asian identity (see pictures of Southern-Vietnamese women in the appendix).

Women, through their westernised activities, reinforced their newfound agency. Girls from the aristocracy

were forbidden from riding bicycles until the 1960s, but bolder women did it anyways, and even drove

motorbikes. A female Philosophy student in Hué, Thai, said she preferred to ride her Velosolex and drive

through the cities instead of staying home, and listening to her grandmother’s advice on how to sew and

embroider. Young people were attracted to the modern lifestyle. Thai said she preferred to listen to Western

genres of music over traditional Hue singing, such as Françoise Hardy or Sylvie Vartan, and with her friends

13 Tran Van Tung, Viet-Nam les hommes d’“au-delà du sud”, p, 75, trans, C. Ducasse « dans les grandes villes, la femme

a changé. Elle ne ressemble plus à ses sœurs de la campagne et à ses ainées d’hier. Physiquement et moralement, elle

s’est métamorphosée. Elle a quitté sa « cage d’or ». On la rencontre dans les salles de spectacles, dans les fêtes et

cérémonies, parfois même dans les salons littéraires et philosophiques. Elle a coupé ses longs cheveux, les a frisés. Elle

ablanchi ses dents. Elle porte des vêtements de coupe,moderne et des souliers à hauts talons ; ses sacs sont importés

d’Europe. Elle se promène dans les rues à côté de l’homme en bavardant et riant librement. Elle monte à bicyclette,

pilote l’automobile, manœuvre la périssoire. Elle participe à des concours de beauté et d’élégance. Elle pratique el

sport, sort souvent victorieuse de « matches » de ping-pong, de tennis , de natation, ou de course de mille mètres. En un

mot, elle fait tout ce que fait la femme européenne et elle y réussit fort bien.

14 Van ky, La société vietnamienne, p.235

15 Ibid. p,252

16 Ibid. p, 249.


The DUHS essay-writing competition 2019

watched Western movies at cinemas. 17 Women started to go out and dance salsa, valse, rumba and fox trot.

In the 1930s, many bars and clubs opened and dance lessons became popular. 18 Sport, especially tennis, was

popular among women. Mme Hoang Xuan Han was quoted in the feminist journal Ngay nayp, as a female

Vietnamese pioneer. 19 In 1932 the Women Tennis Cup was held in Saigon. 20 Both physical and behavioural

changes, then, prompted in part by the western influence, challenged traditional Vietnamese society. When

the French arrived, they triggered a questioning of Confucian society and its norms. This crisis led to an

intellectual movement called Modernity, which tried to find a path between Chinese and Western Influences.

This naturally called into question the place of women in society, and intellectuals advocated for their

emancipation. Not only intellectuals, but also women from urban areas used elements of western culture to

seek their own emancipation. Focusing on the women of south Vietnam, this image of a passive and

submissive woman is altered. If colonialism did not bring emancipation to Vietnamese women, women used

colonialism as a tool to liberate themselves.


Nguyen Thanh Trung, Vision de la femme dans la littérature du Sud-Vietnam de 1858-1945, (L’harmattan,


Nguyen Van Ky, La société vietnamienne face à la modernité, (L’harmattan, 1995)

Nguyen Huong Thi Diu, Eve of Destruction A Social History of Vietnam’s Royal City, 1957 – 1967,

(Washington, 2017)

Tran Van Tung, Viet-Nam les hommes d’au-delà du sud (Edition de la Baconnière, 1957)

17 Nguyen Huong Thi Diu, Eve of Destruction A Social History of Vietnam’s Royal City, p. 82.

18 Van ky, La société vietnamienne, p.296.

19 Ibid., p.226.

20 Thanh Trung, Vision de la femme, p. 235.





The annual History Society Winter Ball is

another example of the successes enjoyed by

the DUHS and its members this year. With 250

guests in attendance, and an abundance of mead

spilt over the course of the evening, it was

certainly a night that will be fondly remembered

by everyone who attended!

The Ball took place at Lumley Castle, a medieval

structure seeped in County Durham’s history –

certainly a fitting venue for this year’s DUHS

Winter festivities. Indeed, the site is said to be one

of the regions most haunted buildings, and its

timeworn stone walls certainly gave our students

a glimpse into Elizabethan life at the castle.

Upon arrival, guests were greeted by bagpipe

players and enjoyed a champagne reception. We

were then ushered into the Great Hall by the lords

and ladies of the night, where we feasted on a five

course Elizabethan banquet – the authenticity of

the night was only added to by the fact that we

were advised to eat with only our hands in true

Tudor style! Furthermore, the dinner was not short

of entertainment; the combination of mead, wine,

and the lords and ladies singing and narrating tales

of love, witchcraft and ghostly encounters made

the banquet a great (and certainly memorable)

experience for all. Indeed, the highlight of the

entertainments was the banquets interactive

elements. All guests were encouraged to link arms

and sing:

Heigh ho,

A feasting we go,

Bring on the next flowing bowl.


Not only was this song stuck in my head for weeks

after, but it really gave guests the chance to

immerse themselves in the energised and often

rowdy spirit of an Elizabethan social occasion –

the Tudors knew how to celebrate in style!

Once the dinner was over, our guests moved into

the depths of the dungeons for a disco. This dimlylit

room and its stone walls were faintly

reminiscent of a night out at Jimmy Allen’s, only

this room’s past was far darker. Nonetheless, the

peculiar sensation of partying in a space imbued

in such a heavy historical past was soon erased by

the DJ after he played Robbie William’s ‘Angels’

– a hit with everyone. Attendees danced the night

away until the coaches arrived and transported

them back to the present day, arriving back in

Durham in the early hours of the morning.

Organising such a staple of the DUHS social

calendar was not short for hiccups, but I found it

to be such a rewarding experience. Watching the

night unfold and to have received such amazing

feedback from the attendees was a real privilege.

I would like to say a huge ‘thank-you’ to all of the

exec for helping me organise the night, from

Ashley (our treasurer) for helping me with all of

the financial technicalities, to Kristina (our

President) who sat with me for hours in order to

help me count the ticket money and formulate a

seating plan. Lastly, I would like to thank

everybody who attended and made the evening

one to remember! Planning the Ball was the

highlight of my role as Social Secretary, and I

can’t wait to see how next year’s exec plan the

next one!

Katie Scown

Social Secretary 2018/19

The Annual DUHS Winter Ball – Lumley Castle 2018 | Katie Scown


Part V


The Annual DUHS Winter Ball – Lumley Castle 2018 | Katie Scown


Part V



The DUHS Annual Winter Ball – Lumley Castle 2018

Part V

Photographs courtesy of Jessica Wang Photography (Facebook: jpwangphotography)





Two historians "re-enacting" some kind of battle at Clifford's Tower, York (Photograph courtesy of Dr. Helen Roche)

Dr Helen Roche joined the History Department as an Assistant Professor in Modern European

Cultural History back in October 2018, moving from a post in Cambridge. Her research interests

include Austrian and German history (particularly from the nineteenth-century onwards),

National Socialism and Italian Fascism, and the significance of childhood, education and memory.

Here, she reflects on her return to Durham – a city in which she spent much of her early childhood

– and on her first year of research and teaching in the department, including her upcoming book:

The Third Reich’s Elite Schools: A History of the Napolas (Oxford University Press).

Joining the History Department at Durham has

been a particularly interesting experience for

me because my own father, Jerome Roche, taught

in the Music Department in Durham for his entire

career, and so my early childhood until the age of

eight was spent in the city. I still have fond

memories of being brought into the Music

Department as a five- or six-year-old and helping

the secretaries prepare mail-shots, even becoming

a sort of departmental mascot at times, or being

taken to the Norman Chapel in Castle, where my

father habitually directed liturgical reconstructions

of Tridentine Vespers with a small group of

dedicated singers. This meant that returning to

Durham resembled a form of homecoming as well

as a new start; my life seemed to have come full

circle in a pleasantly coincidental way – even

down to the fact that my office is currently situated

in the overflow Music building, rather than in the

History Department proper.

When I arrived in Durham last September, I was

convinced that this was my dream job, and none of

my experiences since then have disabused me of


One Year in Durham – Looking Back | Dr. Helen Roche

that opinion. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be

surrounded by a group of dedicated, brilliant and

above all lovely colleagues, many of whom have

also become good friends, and I have been very

favourably impressed by the healthy research

culture in the Department – long may it continue!

(Where there are niggles, these generally seem to

be caused by top-down university or even

government policies, rather than departmental

initiatives.) I’ve had plenty of time to work on the

book which I’m currently finishing (The Third

Reich’s Elite Schools: A History of the Napolas,

forthcoming with Oxford University Press), and

I’ve also been able to get involved with a great deal

of music here, which is my main non-academic

activity – including historically informed

performance on the baroque violin and viola (lots

of Bach Cantatas!), and singing with Castle Chapel

Choir and the Cathedral Consort.

One of the most exciting things about coming to

Durham has been the opportunity to design and

teach entire courses from scratch, something which

one rarely got the chance to do at Cambridge,

where I taught previously. This year, I devised a

second-year course on ‘The Nazi Dictatorship:

Culture and Society’, focusing on bottom-up social

and cultural history and the texture of everyday life

under Nazism, rather than the type of top-down

political history, fixated on the rise of the Nazi

Party and Hitler and his henchmen, which seems to

be de rigueur when studying the Third Reich at

school. Next year, I also get to offer a

Conversations strand, which I’ve entitled

‘Babylon, Cabaret, Glitter and Doom?

Demythologising the Weimar Republic’, so I’m

very much looking forward to getting to grips with

that in Michaelmas 2019.

In general, I’ve been extremely impressed with the

calibre of the students whom I’ve been lucky

enough to teach this year, and their willingness to

engage with the material which we’ve been

discussing, including bringing along original

sources to seminars. Perhaps the most fun we had

last term was in the seminar on ‘Nazi Germany as

seen from abroad’, where, among other things, we

discussed the Looney Tunes 1942 propaganda

cartoon ‘The Ducktators’ (a very significant audiovisual

source!), and what it revealed about U.S.

attitudes to the Nazis and the Allies. It’s certainly

well worth a watch if you haven’t yet seen it...

All in all, then, it’s been a fantastic first year of

teaching, and I’m definitely looking forward to the










Dr John-Henry Clay is an assistant

Professor of Early Medieval History here

in Durham; he specialises in Anglo-Saxon

and Frankish history. Informed by his

background in Archaeology, John focuses

on religious and cultural identity,

landscape perception, and the transition

from the Roman Empire to the early

medieval period in Europe. Although he’s

published several pieces of non-fiction,

academic work, John is also a published

historical novelist, having penned The

Lion and the Lamb (London, 2013) and

At the Ruin of the World (London, 2015).

Here, John reflects on the past year that

he has spent on research leave, discussing

his time researching and writing

academic journal articles on landscape

history in Roman Gaul, with a particular

focus on how perceptions of the natural

environment changed as the Roman

Empire began to fall into decline.

When staff get research leave, they take a

break from teaching as well as departmental

administration. But what do we actually do

with our leave? Well, it depends what projects

we have on the go, and what stages we’re at. In

my own case, I’m not currently writing a book or

planning a big collaborative project, so this

academic year I’ve been focusing on writing

journal articles.

These articles have come directly out of my

Special Subject teaching on the end of Roman

Gaul, which I’ve been exploring with students

since 2014. They also come from my interests in

landscape history, and how people over time

have perceived the natural world around them.

These days the environment, and humanity’s

relationship with it, is rarely far from the

headlines. We’re concerned about climate

change, about over-exploitation of resources,

about the destruction of ecosystems.

My current articles combine these issues, looking

at how people in the past understood the natural

world, in particular the non-settled, ‘wilderness’

parts of it. What I’ve found has surprised me. In

our modern western culture we tend to

romanticise the wilderness, viewing it as

something delicate and vulnerable we must

protect, or as a rugged playground for trekking or

kayaking adventures.

Compared to us, ancient Romans had a raw and

brutal relationship with untamed nature. In their

eyes the wilderness was the antithesis of

civilisation. They saw it as something to fear and

avoid, and, if possible, to destroy and replace. As

far as they were concerned, the only people who

lived anywhere near the wilderness, whether in

the vast deserts of Arabia and Africa or in the

endless deciduous forests of northern Europe,

were the lowest of barbarians. In fact, they were

hardly even ‘people’ at all.


So, when, in the late Roman empire, some devout

Christian started to seek out the wilderness

deliberately, to live in the desert or on remote

islands as hermits, this was an affront to the very

essence of ‘civilisation’. What sort of madman

would choose to abandon the comforts of towns,

country villas, baths, and theatres to live in the

barbaric wilderness?

Christianity might have remained a weird eastern

sect, and its ‘desert tradition’ might have fizzled

out. But when Christianity became an official

state religion in the early fourth century, it spread

rapidly — along with the new-fangled

‘monasticism’. Within a hundred years,

communities of monks were popping up in

almost every wild corner of the empire, from the

deserts of Syria to the forests of the Jura

Mountains and the islands of the Atlantic fringe.

At the same time, the western empire started to

crumble. The old frontiers disintegrated,

barbarians settled deep within the provinces of

Britain, Gaul, Italy, Spain, and Africa, and the

barriers between ‘us’ and ‘them’ — between

‘civilisation’ and ‘wilderness’ — suddenly

became less obvious. Eventually the western

empire itself collapsed. But monasticism

survived. Indeed, it thrived.

So, this year I’ve been exploring how educated

Romans in the final century of the western

empire, whether Christian monks or educated

members of the élite, changed their perceptions

of the natural world as the old classical order

broke down. One thing is clear: things didn’t

change overnight, and they weren’t

straightforward. Even the most devout monks

had a love-hate relationship with the wilderness.

On the one hand they glorified it as a solitary

place to encounter God and purify one’s spirit.

On the other hand, they tried to ‘tame’ it by

building monasteries and planting crops,

civilising it in their own way.

The lesson, I think, is twofold. First, we all bear

the legacy of our cultural heritage, no matter how

hard we try to break away from it. Second,

human perceptions of the ‘natural world’

(however we define that tricky term) have always

evolved and shifted over time — and our own

perceptions of nature today are no different.




The Jura Mountains along the Franco-Swiss border (Photograph courtesy of Dr. John-Henry Clay, 2018)





KRISTINA NOVAKOVICH – DUHS President: Kristina was a member of Trevelyan College. She is

due to begin an MPhil in American History at the University of Cambridge, with a focus on twentiethcentury

Native American history.

ROSIE LEEMING – Vice-President: Rosie is a second-year History student, and a member of St.

Chad’s College.

SABRINA STEUER – Secretary: Sabrina was a member of St. Cuthbert’s Society. She is now based in

London, where she is on the Civil Service Fast Stream, specialising in Human Resources.

ASHLEY CASTELINO – Treasurer: Ashley was a member of St. Aidan’s College.

KATIE SCOWN – Social Secretary: Katie was a member of Trevelyan College. She is currently taking

a gap year and, once she has completed an internship in the Civil Service, intends to study for an MA in

International History.

JOE BANFIELD – Publicity Officer: Joe was a member of St. Cuthbert’s Society. He is currently

developing a communications strategy at a charity based in the 800-year-old Rose Castle in Cumbria. The

Rose Castle Foundation is transforming the former residence of the bishops of Carlisle into a centre for

reconciling conflict.

ESMÉ GRAY – Editor-In-Chief: Esmé is going into her third year of studies and is currently a member

of St. John’s College. She is very excited to continue her involvement in DUHS in the 2019/2020

academic year as the Secretary to the Society.

TANIA CHAKRABORTI – Conference Coordinator: Tania was a member of the College of St. Hild

and St. Bede. She is now about to embark on an MA in Creative Writing and Publishing at City

University. She is also working as a Contract Editor for Reuters in London.


JOE BEADEN: Joe is a second-year student and a member of Collingwood College.

MARLO AVIDON: Marlo is a first-year student and a member of St. Cuthbert’s Society.

MILES CALLAGHAN: Miles is a second-year student and a member of Trevelyan College.

EMMA CHAI: Emma is a first-year student and a member of St. John’s College.

MAX DAVIES: Max is a first-year student and a member of St. Aidan’s College.

LYNDSEY ENGLAND: Lyndsey is a second-year student and a member of the College of St. Hild and

St. Bede.

SARAH IBBERSON: Sarah is a third-year student and a member of St. Cuthbert’s Society.

SASHA PUTT: Sasha is a second-year student and a member of Grey College.

FREDDIE VINT: Freddie is a second-year student and a member of Trevelyan College.


The History Society is a society that offers both social and academic events to its members, ranging from academic talks to themed

socials and from the annual academic conference to the society’s academic journal. We have extensive links with the History

Department and collaborate with them annually to produce a Freshers’ Handbook and events during Freshers’ week for new

students. Our social events include an annual Elizabethan banquet and ball at Lumley Castle, bar crawls, and historical day-trips.

The main focus of our academic side is our series of guest lectures that given by historians from both Durham and other universities.

The themes of these talks vary year-on-year, but our secretary has, this year, decided to focus on the theme of ‘decolonising the

curriculum’, exposing the society’s members to a range of cultures and histories that are often overlooked by the Western

curriculum. Next year’s talks will revolve around the history of the North East of England, giving members an insight into the

historical significance of the region where we are fortunate to study and, indeed, live.

The society’s Annual General Meeting is held every June to elect a new executive committee – all members are encouraged to

attend and run for positions should they wish to. Please get in touch for more information about roles and election proceedings.

Society Aims:

(i) To promote the subject of History to Durham University students.

(ii) To provide a medium through which History students and those interested in History can interact and socialise.

(iii) To organise trips and events to increase interest in History and to provide an enjoyable atmosphere in which those interested in

the subject, at any level, can interact.

(iv) To hold talks by distinguished guest speakers to raise awareness, increase knowledge and gain interest about different areas of


(v) To produce an annual journal for the same purpose as point

(vi) To supplement the academic degree programme with a more leisurely approach to History.

(vii) To organize a Conference for the benefit of society members.

(viii) Offer support for fresher students during the first few weeks of university.



President: Kristina Novakovic

Vice-President: Rosie Leeming

Secretary: Sabrina Steuer

Treasurer: Ashley Castelino

Publicity Officer: Joe Banfield

Social Secretary: Katie Scown

Conference Coordinator: Tania Chakraborti

Journal Editor: Esmé Gray



President: Tom Henderson

Secretary: Esmé Gray

Treasurer: Eloise Sinclair

Publicity Officer: Aisha Hussain

Programme Coordinators: David Manchester &

Toby Donegan-Cross

Social Secretaries: Oscar Duffy & Chloe


Conference Coordinator: Marlo Avidon

Journal Editors: Joseph Beaden & Alex Hibberts

Like us on Facebook at: Durham University History Society

Email us at: history.society@durham.ac.uk


We warmly welcome new members, who can sign up to the society at the freshers’ fair in October or via the Durham Students’

Union Website.

4 year student membership: £20

1 year membership: £10

Annual non-student membership: £10


The DUHS Journal is published annually at the end of every academic year. The Journal Committee considers articles written by

members of the society, and encourage students to email applications to the History Society at: history.society@durham.ac.uk.

Alternatively, calls for papers are issued by the society every year, a time during which the journal specifically requests students

send the society pieces to be published.

JOURNAL TEAM 2018/19: Esmé Gray (Chief Editor), Joseph Beaden (Deputy Editor), Sasha Putt, Emma Chai, Fred Vint, Miles

Callaghan, Marlo Avidon, Lyndsey England, Sarah Ibberson, Max Davies.

The journal team would like to express sincere gratitude to all of the photographers who contributed photographs to the journal. In

particular: Adrian Baev (who can be found at: www.baev.com), Jessica Wang and Michael Crilly. We would also like to extend a

huge ‘thank you’ to Joe Mallon, who kindly allowed us to use his Grandfather’s fantastic photograph of Durham from the early

1900s – it is truly a great privilege to view Durham through the lens of the past this way, and to be able to display this piece on the

front cover.

Statements in the Journal reflect the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of the editorial team or the publishers. We have

made every effort to establish copyright of illustrations, but we would be pleased to correct any errors of attribution if you contact

us directly.