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#remember1989 and the Fall of the Iron Curtain by joining our blog parade

Wed, 14/08/2019 - 08:00

This year sees the 30th anniversary of an extraordinary year – 1989 – when walls crumbled and people of Central and Eastern Europe were united again.

Map of Europe “as it should look”, 1986 / 1987, Waco Spolitis via Europeana 1989, CC BY-SA

To remember 1989 and its events, we are inviting you to share your memories and impressions in our ‘blog parade’. Join us as we commemorate the political and social changes in 1989, the year of the Fall of the Iron Curtain.

People who lived through that year and the following years have diverse and vivid personal memories of that time. 

Join our blog parade Dramas family on Baltic Way outside Vilnius, Linas Drėma via Europeana 1989, CC BY-SA

A blog parade is a call out to people interested in this topic who are active bloggers and / or on social media and others to write about, photograph or share ideas or memories. Our blog parade introduces the topic of 1989: the fall of the Iron Curtain, and we invite you to share your ideas on your own blog or profiles.

Your posts will contribute to a greater understanding of 1989 and its events, which we will summarise here on the Europeana blog and promote through our profiles. 

Everybody can participate in #remember1989. We welcome blogs, tweets, Facebook updates, Instagram posts, personal research, online exhibitions – we look forward to seeing your posts with the hashtag #remember1989

Some questions you might like to think about for your post:

  • What do the events of 1989 mean to you?
  • How do you remember 1989 – were you a participant, an observer?
  • Do / did you live in a country which saw communism fall? What did that mean for you?
  • How did 1989 affect you? Your economic situation, education, political views, social life, holidays? 
  • What effects from 1989 do we still feel today?
  • What role did arts and culture play in 1989?
  • From your perspective, what must we remember about 1989? How do we do that today?

We’d love to see your #remember1989 posts any time from now until the end of the year. Don’t forget to tag us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or you can also email editorial@europeana.eu.

1989 memories on Europeana Collections Photograph from the Pope’s pilgrimage, Andrzej Zajdel via Europeana 1989, CC BY-SA

#remember1989 builds on Europeana 1989, a collaborative project between 11 partner institutions, Historypin and Europeana in 2014, for which members of the public in countries that underwent changes in 1989 shared personal memorabilia and stories from this period.

Among the items shared were underground press (independent newspapers), election leaflets, food stamps, old bank notes, documents and family photos, clothes and toys. 

OF’s first phone in Pilsen, Ladislav Vyskočil via Europeana 1989, Public Domain Ceramic badge, Ülle Rajasalu, Irja Kändler via Europeana 1989, CC BY-SA Yugoslav banknote via Europena 1989, Public Domain Cap with pins via Europeana 1989, Public Domain Hand knit dress, Joanna Adamczewska via Europeana 1989, Public Domain

The diversity of the memories captured by the project is amazing – feel free to explore these objects and be inspired for your own posts.

Feel free to use the image below if you write about the blog parade.

Baltic Way, Vitas Volungevicius via Europeana 1989, CC BY-SA

Feature image: Sąjūdis rally, Vladimir Grazulis via Europeana 1989, CC BY-SA

Enrich Europeana project will launch a new Transcribathon.eu tool in Vienna on 24 September, with a Mini-Transcribathon in which the international community of Vienna will be invited to enrich crowdsourced materials relating to the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Read more about the event.

A story of migration: Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours White

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 08:00

Each of the films of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy explores a topic from the French Revolution motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.

Three Colours: White addresses equality through the fate of Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), the movie’s main character, a Polish man living in France. The film plays with the notion of emigration and return, and questions how equal we are occupying those positions. 

In the film’s opening scenes, Karol is seen in divorce hearings asking the judge: “where is equality here?!” As his marriage ends, he is left only with an old suitcase and his hairdressing diplomas. This small, inconspicuous man in a raincoat is lost in the enormous interiors of the Paris Palace of Justice. 

Three colours. White. Piotr Jaxa (003.005), Filmoteka Narodowa–Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND

The film symbolically shows Karol’s descent through his journey downwards into the underground Paris metro station, where he earns some extra money playing a comb. He sits on a concrete floor, literally and metaphorically lower than all the people passing by.

There, he meets another Polish man, Mikołaj, and together they hatch a plan for Karol to return to  Poland hidden in an old suitcase.

Three colours. White. Piotr Jaxa (014.007), Filmoteka Narodowa–Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND Three colours. White. Piotr Jaxa (005.008), Filmoteka Narodowa–Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND

Back in Warsaw, Karol transforms himself from a hairdresser into a businessman and capitalist. He orders a construction crew to completely rebuild a wall around his property. 

He undergoes a drastic metamorphosis only after returning. His dirty, old coat turns into an elegant, expensive suit. In France, with no money, a French bank clerk cuts his card when he wants to withdraw money. But, in Poland, Karol enters a bank with a bag filled with dollars. In Paris, Karol is not shown at work, whereas, in Warsaw, after his return, he is a sought-after master hairdresser who woman queue for.

Three colours. White. Piotr Jaxa (035.005), Filmoteka Narodowa–Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND

Later, Karol rents an office in a modern tower block on a very high floor. Karol and Mikolaj stand together at a window and comment, “Nice… Warsaw under us”. His fortunes have swung a long way from begging on the Paris metro. Some time ago he did had almost nothing, now he has almost everything. 

Three colours. White. Piotr Jaxa (159.005), Filmoteka Narodowa–Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND

The film questions, however, how far one can come. After saying “Warsaw under us” Mikołaj quietly hums the melody of a Polish song, which Karol then plays on the comb, repeating what he did when they met for the first time in the metro. Even though now they are businessmen, how much of the confused emigrants is still inside?

The film plays with the contrasting meanings between France and Poland, up and down, bad and good. Kieślowski wrote in his autobiography on Kieślowski: “At the beginning, Karol is humiliated, tramped into the ground… Everything he ever had is taken away from him and his love is rejected. He wants to show that he is not just as low as he’s fallen, he’s not just on a level with everybody else, but that he’s higher, that he’s better… Therefore he becomes more equal.”

Explore more behind-the-scenes and still images from Three Colours White.

By Piotr Pławuszewski, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny

Feature image: Three colours. White. Piotr Jaxa (005.005), Filmoteka Narodowa–Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND

This blog post is a part of the Migration in the Arts and Sciences project, which explores how migration has shaped the arts, science and history of Europe.




Traditional beer brewing: hop’s horticultural heritage

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 08:00

With today’s craft beer movement, the origins of beer culture come more and more to the fore.

As interest in traditional recipes and forgotten brewing practices rises, ingredients such as hops gain new attention. Hops are one of Europe’s traditional crops, and are responsible for a beer’s distinctive bitterness and aroma.

Hopfen (Hop), Ink 24., E.13: Gart der Gesundheit, 1481, Johannes de Cuba. Austrian National Library, Public Domain

Beer was one of the most common medieval beverages: it had far less alcohol than today’s beers, was used for meals such as beer soup and became known as liquid bread, consumed by both adults and children. 

Before the Middle Ages, beer was mostly brewed with grains. But, because of hops’ antibacterial effects, beer brewed with hops kept longer and protected against infection better.

Ethnological research in Värmland, Älvdals, Värnäs; Hop garden, 1928, Gösta Berg. Stiftelsen Nordiska museet. CC BY.

The Hallertau region in Germany was the first known place where hops were cultivated in the 8th century. During the High and Late Middle Ages, growing and processing hops spread across the continent, first in Central and Western Europe, later also in countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Hops’ flowers’ use in brewing beer was the reason for its worldwide cultivation in hop gardens from the 11th century on. Hops can grow up to 30cm a day. Farmers planted seeds in rows, winding the shoots around long wooden bars anchored deep in the soil. (Today, these have been replaced by long strings and wires.) Hops reach seven to nine metres, grown vertically so it gets sunlight.

Hop Picking, 1889, Théodore Frédéric Lix, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

For centuries, hops needed to be picked by hand. The harvest in late August and September was especially labour-intensive. Men removed the long bars from the soil, cut off the tendrils and carried them to farmsteads, where other family members and older people sorted the flowers from the leaves.

Scania. Hops plucking in Vånga area. Outside of Vånga, 1937, Gunnar Lundh. Nordiska museet. CC BY-NC-ND

For the harvest season, people often migrated to hop-growing regions. For example in England, whole families from London or industrial cities such as Birmingham went to rural areas, living there for some weeks.

Until the 20th century, it was common that children worked in the hops harvest – both in the fields in harvesting and in picking the flowers.

Hopmarket in Asse, 1925, Jacques Hersleven. Koninklijk Instituut voor het Kunstpatrimonium. CC BY-NC-SA

The flowers were laid out to dry and ranked every day in hop houses. After the hops were put in large bags of up to 50 kilograms, agencies collected them from locals growers and sold them at hop markets. These were important trading places for brewers as the variety and quality was crucial for their product’s success. Many former hop markets are today important heritage sites, such as the Hop Exchange in London.  

Hops were harvested in this way until the agrarian revolution. In 1909, a mechanical hops separator machine was invented.

Medium-strong beer, 1965, Örebro Kuriren, Örebro läns museum, Public Domain

After World War II, growing hops whether privately or commercially, diminished due to competing markets in the US. Hop growing has always been risky: the plants need a lot of care, and quality and quantity varies a lot due to climate.

Although many European countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic still are among the largest hop producers worldwide, growing hop is now mostly limited to certain regions, with varieties fit for commercial growing and controlled by large brewery corporations

Still, the craft beer movement and smaller breweries cater for a demand for diverse beer tastes and mix up the market. Hops are now chosen not just for their yield, but for taste. Since 2012, the number of varieties in use has grown from 180 to 250. Small breweries in many European countries now focus on craft instead of quantity.

In this way, hop growing, an original European tradition, has gone from local to global and back.

By Larissa Borck, Swedish National Heritage Board

Feature image: The Little Brewery, Anders Zorn, 1890. Nationalmuseum. Public Domain

This blog post is a part of the Europeana Common Culture project, which explores varied aspects of our shared cultural heritage across Europe. Click here to read a version of this blog in Swedish.

Adrian Willaert and the foundation of the Venetian School

Thu, 25/07/2019 - 08:00

Composer Adrian Willaert was born around 1490 in the Low Countries, and moved at a young age to Paris to study law at the Sorbonne. There, having met composer Jean Mouton, he decided to devote his life to music.

Between 1515 and 1520, Willaert was employed as a singer in Ferrara. In 1519 he was active in Rome and from 1522 to 1527 worked at a court chapel again in Ferrara.

Adrian Willaerts, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

One of Willaert’s most enigmatic and legendary works dates from this early period: the riddle duo Quid non ebrietas

The work is full of music theoretical and philosophical experiments and – according to legend – is supposed to have been so complex that even the singers of the papal chapel did not manage to perform it correctly. During this period too, Willaerts’ first motets and chansons were noted in prestigious manuscripts (such as the Medici codex) and appeared in printed collections. 

San Marco Basilica in Venice, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

In 1527, Willaert was appointed chaplain of San Marco Basilica in Venice, a position he held for 35 years, until his death in 1562. He was responsible for the direction of all music performances and the music education of the singers.

When Willaert began at the basilica, a relatively large vocal ensemble with international singers was already in place. Although he did not implement radical changes immediately, Willaert improved the quality of the chapel in such a short time that it was soon able to compete with the best in Europe. 

A wide range of activities and contexts explains the versatility of Willaert’s oeuvre: as a maestro di cappella he was responsible for composing music suitable for liturgical use at the San Marco, while in madrigals, villanelle and instrumental works, he let his creativity run free.

Adrien Willaert from Bruges conducting one of his musical compositions, Louis-Joseph Ghémar, L. Somers, KIK-IRPA, Brussels, CC BY-NC-SA

In no time, a group of pupils formed around Willaert. 

They, in turn, would become the first generation of what is known as ‘the Venetian School’. These include Gioseffe Guami, Giovanni Croce, organ composers Jacob Buus, Dionisio Memmo, Girolamo Parabosco, Annibale Padovano and Vincenzo Bellavere, as well as concert masters Girolamo dalla casa and Giovanni Bassano, and music theorist Gioseffo Zarlino. The latter reflected Willaert’s philosophy and composition practice in his treatises, and contributed significantly to the dissemination of his aesthetics over the next 50 years. 

Musica nova di Adriano Willaert, National Library of Spain, CC BY-NC-SA

With Willaert and the Venetian School, Venice took over the torch from Florence as the center of madrigal art. Moreover, the Venetians – in contrast to the Roman school, that culminated in the ‘classical’ polyphonic counterpoint – represented a more innovative, progressive musical language.

This is how Willaert, the great man from little Flanders, paved the way to the ‘seconda pratica’: the dawn of the baroque.

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

Feature image: Adrien Willaert performing his music in front of the Doge of Venice, Edouard Hamman, Charles Billoin, KIK-IRPA, Brussels, CC BY-NC-SA

This blog post is a part of the Migration in the Arts and Sciences project, which explores how migration has shaped the arts, science and history of Europe.


Adriatic relationships: Carlo Goldoni’s La Dalmatina

Thu, 18/07/2019 - 07:00

The 18th century play La Dalmatina by Carlo Goldoni – sometimes referred to as ‘the Italian Molière’ – is a striking illustration of the relationship between Venice, Istria and Dalmatia.

Since the late middle ages, the relationship between Venice, Istria and Dalmatia has been complex. 

In addition to quarreling for political, economic and religious reasons, and despite the dominant hierarchical position of Venice, there was also a mutual dependency: alliances with Venice offered eastern Adriatic cities trade opportunities and protection, while on the other hand the coastal region was indispensable for the Venetians to maintain their trade monopoly.

View of the Grande Canal of Venice, Canaletto, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

This spectrum often created internal tensions: in some cities, for instance, discord arose within the population that partly sympathized with the Venetians, partly with the Croats of the hinterland.

The tragicomic play conquered the Venetian stage in 1758, leaving the audience so pleased with Goldoni that he notes in his memoirs ‘they showered me with praise and gifts’.

Portrait of playwright Carlo Goldoni, Antonio Locatelli, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

The play would become one of the best known of Goldoni’s texts, and was particularly successful because of the sentiments of patriotism expressed in it.

In La Dalmatina, Dalmatia and Slavic characters were seen as semi-oriental elements which, combined with the Moroccan setting, placed the play in the vein of the exoticism that was fashionable at the time. 

Comedia intitulada A dalmatina, Carlo Goldoni, Public Domain, Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal

In his memoirs, Goldoni confirms the Venetians’ particular attitude toward the Dalmatians by stating that they in fact felt great appreciation for their ‘counterparts’: they acted as ‘antemural Christianitatis’, helped to protect the Italian properties and secure their princes.

In the foreword to an edition of La Dalmatina, Goldoni stated: ‘The [piece] is about a loyal nation worthy of La Serenissima.’ 

Although some nuance is necessary, the influence of this political-economic situation on the cultural history of both Italy and Croatia can’t be overstated: Istria and Dalmatia have – perhaps more than any other regions – absorbed the influences of Renaissance and humanistic Italy.

Many artists from the Adriatic East Coast enjoyed their training in Venice, or were active there for at least part of their career. In turn, they have considerably enriched the artistic landscape of Venice.

Goldoni himself would not remain in Venice all of his life.

He migrated to France, directing the Comédie-Italienne in Paris for several years. From 1764 onward, this great innovator of commedia dell’arte and opera buffa retired to become a teacher to the princesses of Versailles. Yet he died in poverty after having been deprived of his royal pension, just one day before a restitution would be granted.

Ponte Goldoni, Venice, Harald Bager, Malmö museer, CC BY

Goldoni left behind a noteworthy and much-cited autobiography, titled Mémoires. Today he is remembered not only through his creations, but also with several landmarks in his native city: a statue sculpted by Antonio Dal Zotto, the Ponte Goldoni bridge and the magnificent Teatro Goldoni – the oldest, still existing theatre in the city.

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

This blog post is a part of the Migration in the Arts and Sciences project, which explores how migration has shaped the arts, science and history of Europe.

Reporting from the trenches: newspapers in World War I

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 08:30

During World War One, newspapers were the main source of information.

With no radio or television or internet, there were other ways to get the latest news like word to mouth, the weekly newsreels in the cinema or the ongoing exchange of letters between soldiers at the front and their loved ones at home. However, word of mouth could likely be considered inaccurate and mail could be slow and interrupted. 

Max Kranz – soldier’s everyday life, Rolf Kranz via Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA

In general, newspapers were the most frequent and more reliable source for news, and, with multiple editions per day, certainly the most up to date.

‘Serious news’ A British patriotic postcard – Europeana 1914-1918. CC BY-SA

However, at the front, most soldiers distrusted civilian newspapers because of the optimistic almost propaganda-like patriotism that so often “flavoured” the news. Instead, in many places along the front soldiers started their own newspapers. 

More entertaining than informing these papers offered an outlet to the soldiers for their emotions as well as their artistic talents. Topics covered everything from picking fun at their jobs in the trenches and the absurdity of their day to day life in between days of fighting to humor and women. 

The Pop Valve, Journal publié par les soldats américains installés à Vauzelles, près de Nevers (Nièvre) – Europeana 1914-1918. CC BY-SA Journal de tranchées d’un soldat français – Europeana 1914-1918. CC BY-SA Giornale “Fiamme nere“, numero unico – Europeana 1914-1918. CC BY-SA

Even after the war, newspapers found a way to play a part in looking back at the war. Many clippings ended up in the scrapbooks of soldiers and nurses, along with other war time pictures.

Carnet de route de la Grande Guerre de mon grand-oncle, Baudoin via Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA Avissider udgivet 1916 og 1917 – Europeana 1914-1918. CC BY-SA

This newspaper clipping from the “Oldenburger Sonntagsblatt”, published on July 29, 1916, was kept by Lorenz Rasmussen from Sønderborg, Denmark. Rasmussen was affiliated to the German army with the Oldenburgische Infanterie Regiment Nr. 91. The piece mentions the death of his Bataillonsfürer Martin von Raumer who fell on July 2, 1916 at Zatuvie in Wolhynien. The event in which Rasmussen took part is fully discussed and kept as a memoir.

Newspapers also played a vital role in allowing people to commemorate the loss of their loved ones. The official obituaries were often kept as a memorial along with the portrait of the deceased person.

Paul Ueberschär, “Wehrmann”, Hamburg-Blankenese, Feldpostkarten & Notizbuch – . Europeana 1914-1918. CC BY-SA Annonce décès de Paul – Europeana 1914-1918. CC BY-SA

Newspapers during World War I reported the conflict from many perspectives, and offer a multifaceted approach to World War I for those who read them.


Visual identities: vintage newspaper mastheads from across Europe

Thu, 04/07/2019 - 07:30

Mastheads are one of the most striking features of newspapers. Often the first thing we see, they are designed to catch our attention and communicate the newspaper’s identity and attract readers.

Within the thousands of digitised historic newspaper titles in Europeana Newspapers, there’s a lot of variety in their mastheads – from simple text to more elaborate fonts, from what seem like hand-drawn sketches to ornate engravings. There’s a lot to explore. 

Težak, 10 March 1869, University of Belgrade, Public Domain Uudisleht, 26 June 1939, National Library of Estonia, Public Domain

The designs are visual representations of local and national identity, some with political purpose, others following contemporary art and design trends.

What we think of today as newspapers have been published in various formats since the 1600s. Mastheads have been an important part of newspaper front pages since the 17th century. Called corantos, the first newspapers in Amsterdam developed a newspaper format from Germany, removing an illustrated front page, replacing that with a title on the top of the front page – and thus the masthead was born. 

We’ve gathered together some striking masthead examples in this Pinterest board.

Vintage food advertising: a culinary tour through European newspapers

Tue, 02/07/2019 - 08:00

Our newspapers collection includes more than 4 million newspaper issues from around 20 countries.

It shows the headlines and reporting from four centuries’ historical moments such as the sinking of the Titanic. Alongside these great moments from history are more everyday occurrences.

Looking at adverts in newspapers through time, we can get a sense of the daily lives people across Europe led, what we ate, drank and how we enjoyed our leisure time.

This blog takes a short culinary trip around Europe, through vintage food and drink advertisements in digitised newspapers on Europeana Newspapers.

We start, like many good meals, with an apéritif. This advert appeared in the French newspaper Oeust-Eclair newspaper in May 1937.

Ouest Eclair, 5 May 1937, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions

Skipping straight to our main course, we’re going to have potatoes. This advert for potatoes appeared in Kurier Warszawski, a Polish newspaper from the collections of the National Library of Poland, in October 1916. Reinberg sells potatoes at a store or for home delivery – years before online shopping, very forward-thinking!

Kurier Warszawski, 16 October 1916, National Library of Poland, Public Domain Marked

Butter is a traditional accompaniment for potatoes. In this meal, we’ll have kunstbutter – directly translated as art butter. We know it now more as margarine. This advert is from the Brixener Chronik, the newspaper of a
a town in South Tyrol in northern Italy. It dates from March 1925.

Brixener Chronik, 7 March 1925, Teßmann Library, Public Domain Marked

After our main course, a night cap? Some champagne would be lovely. How about Monopole Champagne? This was advertised in Estonian newspaper Kaja in December 1922 – perfect for a seasonal celebration.

Kaja, 7 December 1922, National Library of Estonia, Public Domain

Or perhaps a liqueur? Wiener Liqueur, by a company called Reisinger is one of the best, and acknowledged across Europe – so says their advertisement. This appeared in Die Presse in October 1854.

Die Presse, 10 October 1854, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek / Austrian National Library, Public Domain

A hot drink to finish? This advert for tea appeared in Finnish newspaper Wiipuri in 1908. The tea is available in well-stocked bundles, each one inspected and certified by the Chemical and Seed Inspectorate of the Agricultural Society of Wiipuri Bay.

Wiipuri, nr: 141 Kuulumisia Itä-Suomesta, 21 June 1908, National Library of Finland. Public Domain

To prepare for a good night’s sleep, how about hot chocolate? This advert is for Kufferle Cocoa, the most well-known, freshest and cheapest cocoa on the market. The advert for the four-gold-medal-winning cocoa appeared in Bozner Zeitung in December 1894.

Bozner Zeitung, 6 December 1894, Teßmann Library, Public Domain

After all this rich food and drink, we may need to think of our teeth. Thankfully, advertised on the same newspaper page as Cacao Kufferle, we find this lovely toothpaste advertisement.

Bozner Zeitung, 6 December 1894, Teßmann Library, Public Domain

The Treaty of Versailles: the end of World War I?

Fri, 28/06/2019 - 07:00

On this day 100 years ago, the Treaty of Versailles was signed.  The treaty officially ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It also imposed heavy reparations on Germany, considered by some as one of the factors leading to World War II.

The Versailles Treaty is one of the most important results of the international 1919 Paris Peace Conference, during which in total five separate peace treaties were signed between the defeated states and the victors.

During the conference national borders were established (sometimes based on people’s votes) that tried to take ethnic boundaries into consideration. Although the formal peace process did not end until July 1923, there was now officially peace in Europe.

For most nations involved in the First World War, the fighting had ended after the signing of the Armistice, when on 11 November 1918 at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, millions of soldiers laid down their guns. 

Mulhouse, entrée des troupes françaises, novembre 1918, J. Risler, 
National and University Library of Strasbour, CC BY

However, the Armistice did not mean that life went back to normal on the Western European front, as many soldiers were forced to join the French and British armies occupying the demilitarized zones in the Rheinland in Western Germany. 

Fighting continued in many places. Some nations and regions which had participated in the war as part of larger states that had now fallen apart took the opportunity to fight for independence. Others were affected by violent political turmoil and revolution. In many regions, borders were disputed.


14072_NEWSREEL-AGC_MPEG4_18@25fps_PAL from Cinematek Pro on Vimeo.
News items on the commemoration of the armistice (’11-11-1918′), Cinémathèque Royal de Belgique, Public Domain

The various peace treaties did not resolve these localised conflicts and many of these raged on in parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East through to the early 1920s, causing millions of people to flee from the ongoing violence.

The violent events in the five years after 1918 can be seen as a continuation of the World War. There were wars between regular armies, and sometimes armies of new states on the rise: the Polish war with the Soviet Union, the Greek-Turkish war and the Romanian invasion of Hungary. And there were civil wars: in Russia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland and parts of Germany for example.

And there was more violence: German forces were fighting against Estonian and Latvian nationalists in the Baltic countries, Armenian nationalists were trying to establish a national state that reached the Caspian Sea, Italy had an interest in Fiume (Rijeka) and other parts of the future Yugoslavia.

Photographie d’un groupe de soldats du 166ème RI en occupation en Allemagne, Armée du Rhin, 1921. Henri Papin, jeune soldat de la classe 1919, est assis à droite.
Europeana 1914-1918. CC BY-SA

Many of these conflicts had a social background – the revolutions and uprisings in Russia and Germany for example.

But also it was an outcome of the way in which the victors of World War I wanted to rearrange Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

There are many stories on Europeana 1914-1918 that describe various aspects of the tumultuous period after the war.

First Remembrance, Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA

You will find the story of Arthur S Johnson was a Gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery (originally in Royal Garrison Artillery) in WWI. In 1919, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, he had the honour of taking part in the official Anniversary of the Armistice in front of Cologne Cathedral in the snow.

Von Sibirien nach Deutschland: “Führer nach der Heimat” von Alwin Metz,
Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA

For many prisoners of war, especially those in Russia, it could take years to get home. While trying to get home, Alwin Metz was sent back several times to a prisoner of war camp in Zairkutny-Gorodok near Irkutsk. He was finally able to leave the camp in 1920 and returned home on 2 July 1920. Four days later, he was formally released from the army. On his month-long return journey to Thuringa, he kept a diary written in old Gabelsberger shorthand.

You can help us to preserve these important documents, making them readable and searchable for years to come. In our new online Transcribathon, the Versailles Run, we highlight a special selection of these stories for you to transcribe.

The Versailles Run will be held from 28 June to 31 August 2019. The eight-week long transcription marathon will showcase stories from the post-war period (1918-1923).

Alongside this special selection you may also choose to work on some of the unfinished documents. Everyone who transcribes and annotates online during the Versailles Run will be entered into a competition to win a special prize. 

Feature image: From the Peace Conference in Versailles. The workers’ leaders of the German peace delegation – The Royal Library: The National Library of Denmark and Copenhagen University Library – CC BY-NC-ND

Krzysztof Kieślowski: migratory filmmaker

Thu, 27/06/2019 - 08:00

‘It is the road that’s really interesting,’ said Krzysztof Kieślowski at his last public event before his death. ‘I think that’s just the way we are. We know where the goal is and reaching it is not really as interesting as the path. That’s very curious. I think it’s the same with films, just like with anything else…’

This blogs examines the life and work of Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski, illustrated by recently digitised behind-the-scenes scripts, photographs and more.

Early life

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s life began in the turbulent times of World War II. He was born in German-occupied Warsaw on the 27 June in 1941. Soon afterwards, his parents left for what was then the eastern borderlands of Poland (Ukraine today).

The Kieślowski’s migration continued after the war: moving from town to town in southern Poland, as Kieślowski’s father was being treated for tuberculosis.

In 1957, he moved to Warsaw to study in State Technical Theatre Educational High School. In 1964 Krzysztof Kieślowski was accepted by the Leon Schiller National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź where he studied at the film directing department.

Krzysztof Kieślowski with a camera during photography classes, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND

Documentary and censorship

Like most Poles during the Communist times, Kieślowski was not able to travel abroad for many years, but, as a filmmaker, he was able to travel around Poland researching his documentary films.

Kieślowski and other directors from the Documentary Film Studio in Warsaw made short films – with titles like Fabryka (Factory), Szpital (Hospital) and Dworzec (Station) –  about communities and workplaces, depicting the Poland of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Each film was about a particular group of people, but, at the same time, offered a more generalized image of Poland.

Factory – documentary shooting script, 1970, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND Railway Station – documentary screenplay, 1980, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND

Although Kieślowski was restricted in his work by censorship from the Communist state, he aimed at describing the true Poland in his documentaries. His short factual films are like poems that operate with metaphors and allusions to give the true depiction of reality.

In 1981 Kieślowski’s two films: Przypadek (Blind Chance, 1981) and Krótki dzień pracy (Short Working Day, 1981), show the clash between the communist power and underground opposition in a more open manner, and were banned by censorship. Both films present Poland when Solidarity movement is being born, with one showing archival shots of Lech Wałęsa during the famous strikes in Gdańsk shipyard in August 1980.

Collaboration and recognition

1985’s film Bez końca (No End) was a turning point of Kieślowski’s film career. The script was written by Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, a lawyer and later politician This was their first writing collaboration, which was to continue for all of Kieślowski’s subsequent films.

Similarly, Zbigniew Preisner provided the musical score for this and most of Kieślowski’s subsequent films. Cinematographer Piotr Kwiatkowski worked on two of Kieślowski’s early documnentaries and returned, years later, on the Three Colours film trilogy.

Krzysztof Kieślowski (at the camera) and Piotr Jaxa-Kwiatkowski, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Three colours. White. Piotr Jaxa, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND Zbigniew Preisner and Krzysztof Kieślowski, Three colours. Blue. Piotr Jaxa, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND

Referring to the introduction of martial law in Poland in 1981, No End tells of the aftermath of a lawyer dying, whose wife struggles to come to terms with her loss while the lawyer’s last client is imprisoned.

The film was criticized by the authorities, the underground opposition and Catholic church on its release in 1985, but today it is considered one of Kieślowski’s most powerful achievements.

Soon afterwards, Kieślowski made a series of television films inspired by the ten commandments. He made longer versions of two episodes for cinema – Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing, 1988) and Krótki film o miłości (A Short Film About Love, 1988). These films gained international recognition and transformed Kieślowski’s reputation from a local film director to a world cinema auteur.

International cooperation

This new period in Kieślowski’s life was marked by his international career – travelling around the world, from festival to festival. In 1988 and 1989, with his films, he visited events in Europe, North and South America. He became a kind of migratory filmmaker.

His subsequent movies were international productions, in which his focus was observing European society. After the final fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Kieślowski made films showing how Europeans from East and West can unite despite various experiences in the post-war history of the countries they come from.

Three Colours

Kieślowski’s film output was completed with the trilogy of Three Colours: Blue, White and Red (1993/94). The titles of the films refer to the colours of the French flag and the slogans of the French Revolution liberte, egalite and fraternite. The films ask the question: what is freedom, equality and brotherhood in the late twentieth century?

Each of the films takes place in a different European country: Blue in France, White in Poland (and in France) and Red in Switzerland, with three French actresses appearing in each.  In a way, the whole trilogy of apolitical and intimate stories praise the unification of Europe.

Three colours Blue, Piotr Jaxa, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND Three colours White, Piotr Jaxa, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND Three colours Red, Piotr Jaxa, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny via EUscreen, CC BY-NC-ND

The three-colour trilogy was a great international success. Blue won Kieślowski the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival and for White he was awarded with Silver Bear at Berlinale. Red was nominated for the Academy Awards in three categories: for best direction, screenplay and cinematography.

In 1993 Kieślowski announced that he was to retire from directing.

He passed away after heart surgery in March 1996. At his funeral, Polish philosopher and priest, Professor Józef Tischner, said: While other artists mediated on human beings’ road to the world, he mediated on human beings’ road to themselves.”

By Mikołaj Jazdon, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny

Feature image: Three colours Red, Piotr Jaxa, Filmoteka Narodowa –Instytut Audiowizualny CC BY-NC-ND

‘I am the change’: refugees, art and activism

Thu, 20/06/2019 - 08:14

Throughout history, people have been forced to flee their homeland – from war, from persecution, from discrimination. Departure is the one common experience among the diverse and varied experiences of refugees.

Collections in European museums, galleries, libraries and archives represent the experiences of refugees through history – from as far back as the fall of Troy to more recent conflicts such as the Boer War, the Armenian Genocide, the aftermath of World War II or the war in Syria.

However, histories can be forgotten, and traces of refugee experiences can be hard to find.

Since 2010, Europeana has invited people to share their stories and memories from World War I and, since 2018, their stories of migration.

This blog looks at some of these stories from or about refugees as well as collections from museums, galleries, libraries and archives across Europe, looking at how refugees were and continue to be supported through art and activism, through their own activities and through those of others.

Artists as advocates

Many examples exist where artists – either individually or collectively – have advocated on behalf of refugees, raising awareness of their issues or fundraising for their assistance. Indeed, many artists, musicians, writers and more than we know today have experiences of being a refugee in their lives.

Landscapes, Portraits and Genre Paintings, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Bibliothèque de l’INHA, Public Domain

This document outlines a sale of Landscapes, Portraits and Genre Paintings in New York in 1940 which raised funds for United Jewish Appeal for Refugees.

Refugees, Cyprián Majerník, Slovak National Gallery, Public Domain Mark

During World War II, Slovakian artist Cyprián Majerník dedicated his work to depicting the horrors that people were enduring at that time. His paintings document the history of Europe and protest against Jewish and prison transports, against death marches of the time.

World Star Festival Disc, Jamtli, CC BY-NC-ND

The 1969 World Star Festival record brought together popular recording artists of the time. The proceeds from the sales of this record fundraised for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Artists as witnesses

In Ireland, since 1999, all asylum seekers and refugees live under a system called direct provision. The state directly provides housing, food and a small allowance.

Serbian photographer Vukašin Nedeljković, who has lived in Ireland since 2008, lived under direct provision when he first arrived in the country.

He began photographing and collecting memories and objects of direct provision centres across Ireland, publishing them on a website called The Archive Asylum. In October 2018, he published a book about the project.

The Asylum Archive, Vukašin Nedeljković via Europeana Migration, Copyright not evalauted

‘It is terrible – people living under it are institutionalised’, says Vukasin, ‘I don’t think this is an OK way to treat … people who come here seeking international protection’.

Adel shared his story at a collection day event in Ireland, also speaking about living in a direct provision centre:

[It] is miserable. It’s very cold, there’s no feeling to it, people just feed you and give you a bed, but they don’t care. The food is terrible, the conditions are terrible, the area is very isolated. There are no facilities, no sporting facilities, no internet access.

Taking part: creating artworks

A number of stories touch on how creating and making artworks act as a form of therapy, of confronting and sensitively dealing with unhappy memories.

Marieke and Sarah told us about their experiences co-creating poetry and music with refugees.

Sharing stories to create artworks with refugees in Brussel, Sarah van Hove & Marieke Slovin Lewis and others via Europeana Migration, CC BY-SA

The refugees tell their stories and together, we translate and interpret them. We want them to feel encouraged because many feel insecure about their creativity at first. Hence, we have to give people a safe space to tell their stories. We work on songs and translate the stories into music. We also blend languages as in the songs we brought today, which is in English and Arabic.

Sharing and expressing their feelings is a part of the healing process. We see poems and songs as a medium; music and art bring people together.

The Children of SB OverSeas, SB OverSeas via Europeana Migration, CC BY-SA

SB OverSeas is a non-profit organisation based in Belgium. During their programs at asylum centres in Brussels, refugee and asylum-seeker children created drawings, with one example above. These drawings reveal the traumatic experiences faced by the children and also their hopes for the future.

Sharing stories

In addition to the Europeana Migration stories from and about refugees, other cultural heritage organisations have been gathering and sharing stories.

Sign: Objects and Stories of LGBTQ refugees: unstraight and newcomers, Etnografiska museet, CC BY-NC-ND

One example is Playground, an exhibition at the Etnografiska museet in Stockholm, which presented objects and stories of LGBTQ+ refugees in Sweden. Here you can read more about these objects and stories.

Your stories

The examples in this blog post are just a few of the many ways in which art, activism and advocacy have come together. Do you know more examples?Have you a story to tell about being a refugee or migration activism?

We’d love to hear it and record it for the future, and invited you to share your story with Europeana Migration online here.

Feature image: Refugees, Cyprián Majerník, Slovak National Gallery, Public Domain Mark

Symbols of Pride: the cultural heritage of LGBTQ+ activism

Fri, 14/06/2019 - 08:00

June marks Pride month, commemorating the 1969 Stonewall riots which catalysed modern LGBTQ+ activism.

In Europe, with pride parades mostly spanning May to September, festivals, parties and protests are held across the continent throughout the summer months.

Örebro Pride 2013, 31 August 2013, Per Torgén, Örebro County Museum, CC BY-NC

This blog looks at a short cultural history of Pride festivals, exemplified by objects held in European museums, galleries, libraries and archives – objects which also symbolise some of the current debates around Pride and its place in LGBTQ+ communities.

The modern Pride and LGBTQ+ liberation movements began in the late 1960s with the Stonewall riots in New York. These were a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ+ community against police raids of the Stonewall Inn Manhattan, which began on 28 June 1969. After the Stonewall riots, activist organisations formed, and two years later on the anniversary of the riots, the first pride marches took place in cities across the US.

In some cities, these marches are known as Christopher Street Days (marking the location of the Stonewall Inn) with the first German events taking place in Bremen and Berlin in 1979.

Leaflet for Christopher Street Day Gala on 7 July 1995 at the Rheinpark in Cologne, Gerhard Malcherek, Wellcome Collection, CC BY-NC

Through the 1970s and 1980s, LGBTQ+ movements were focused on liberation, on changing laws and opinions to over-turn inequal attitudes and discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ people.

Objects from these decades focus on identification, on legitimacy, on showing how LGBTQ+ rights are human rights.

Button, Gay love is the real thing, Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0 Button ‘I’m a lady lover’, Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0

Some objects illustrate the growing community organising and activism throughout the 1970s and 1980s, which saw campaign groups and other human rights organisations come together to fight for equality, rights and against discrimination, homophobia and transphobia.

Button, Gay Liberation Front, Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0 Button. Lesbian and gay. Together our own way, Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0 Advertisement for Gay pride event organised by ACT UP in 1996, Wellcome Collection, CC BY-NC

Many of the objects featured here use a common language, symbols and signs designated act as community identifiers, as protest symbols.

One of the first symbols adopted by LGBTQ+ rights organisations, advocates and the  movement overall, was a pink triangle. Its origins represented a dark chapter in LGBTQ+ history rights, as it was used in Nazi concentration camps during World War II to identify prisoners.

Its use by LGBTQ+ advocates grew to raise awareness of its use in Nazi Germany and act as a memorial to those who had been persecuted. Over time, it increasingly became used not solely as a memorial but became reclaimed to be positive symbol of both self and community identity.

Pride ’85 badge, RFSL The National Association for the rights of gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, Bohusläns museum, CC BY-NC-ND Advertisement for The Silence = Death Project (used by permission by ACT-UP, The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), 1987, ACT UP (Organisation), Wellcome Collection, CC BY-NC

Most of the objects here show the rainbow flag, a later symbol of LGBTQ+ pride and associated social movements.

Flags, Nordiska museet, CC BY-NC-ND

Originally devised by artist Gilbert Baker from San Francisco and first used in the United States in the late 1970s, the flag is now used worldwide as a symbol of LGBTQ+ social movements as well as peace and equality.

Although other variants exist, the most common rainbow flag consists of six stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

Stockholms brandförsvar badge, Nordiska museet, CC BY-NC-ND Zebra keyring, Nordiska Museet, CC BY-NC-ND

Today, in many cities, Pride Festivals are just that: festivals and parties. They are attended by heterosexual, cisgender people as well as LGBT+ people.

Pride parades today often emphasise inclusiveness, an event for families and those of all faiths, races and backgrounds.

‘We are family’ sign, Nordiska museet, CC BY-NC-ND

In one way, this can symbolise a greater acceptance and equality and freedom that we all feel. In other ways, many activists feel that the true meaning of Pride as a protest about human and equal rights is being overtaken and co-opted by those who simply want a fun party.

Indeed, in many cities, Pride festivals are important tourist attractions now, with businesses and organisations taking part to both show their support but also for their own commercial gain.

This bottle of Absolut vodka from Sweden illustrates this, as it features the rainbow flag on its branding. Absolut were the first spirit brand to adopt the rainbow flag. Since the 1980s, the company have supporting LGBTQ+ campaigns and charities. On the one hand, this vital financial support sustains and advances LGBTQ+ rights and issues. But, on the other hand, some campaigners see this as taking Pride further away from its protest roots and can be seen as a form of corporate ‘pink-washing’.  

Bottle, Vin & Sprit AB, Nordiska museet, CC BY-NC-ND

Many of the objects featured here are ephemeral – badges, leaflets, posters – but speak to the history of Pride and stories of the LGBTQ+ community. It must be noted that cultural heritage collections don’t record all stories, and Pride is experienced differently across Europe.

However you feel about Pride today – party or protest or both? – the importance of visibility, activism and pride in who you are remains as important today as it did in the 1960s.

Suggested links

We’d love to hear your experiences of Pride parades. Let us know in the comments.  

Feature image: Button. Gay love is the real thing, Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0

Thanks to Russell Dornan for reading an early draft of this blog

A journey through Byzantine Ravenna

Wed, 12/06/2019 - 06:30
Ravenna in modern Italy was one of Europe’s most important cities in the Byzantine era. Today, experts from the Byzantine Art and Archaeology project take us on a tour of Ravenna’s remarkable Byzantine heritage.

In 1996, UNESCO added eight early Christian monuments in Ravenna to its World Heritage List. Ravenna was one of Europe’s most important cities in the Late Antique period. Between 402 – 751 CE it was the residence of the Western Roman emperors, of the Ostrogothic kings of Italy and of the Byzantine governors. During this period the city was progressively enlarged and enriched by remarkable works of art and architecture, some of which still preserved today. Ravenna became a link between the Eastern and the Western Roman Empires.

The extraordinary flourishing of mosaic art in Ravenna between the 5th and the 6th centuries CE – the golden age of the city – has left us a great number of examples from the early period of Byzantine art. As with Thessaloniki, Constantinople, Rome and Milan, mosaic became the main medium of expressing civic prestige, both as a court residence and as a prominent ecclesiastical centre. Let’s explore some of Ravenna’s most important Byzantine monuments.

The Neonian Baptistery Neonian Baptistery, Ravenna
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright

The Neonian Baptistery was built at the beginning of the 5th century CE and thoroughly refurbished and decorated by the Bishop Neon in the years 458-460. Its interior is decorated by mosaics and stuccoes depicting prophets, the apostles and other motives alluding to the heavenly city and to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Interior of Neonian Baptistery, Ravenna. Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright The Mausolueum of Galla Placidia

Galla Placidia, daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I (379-395) was regent to her son Valentinian III (423-437) and a major force in Roman politics for most of her life. Her mausoleum was built around 425-450 but it was never used for her since the empress died and was buried in the year 450 in Rome.

The mausoleum’s interior is entirely covered with Christian symbols of immortality and eternal life: for instance, the cross is used for the plan of the building itself and for various parts of the ceiling’s mosaic decoration:

Barrel vault wall mosaic, east cross branch, mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, with two apostles and vine branches surrounding a central framed clypeus with chrismon. Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright The Arian Baptistery

Built in the first half of the 6th century CE, during the reign of the king Theoderic, of Arian beliefs, the Arian Baptistery was connected to the Arian episcopal church.

Arian Baptistery, Ravenna. Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright

Its dome features a mosaic depicting the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan, surrounded by the twelve Apostles who pay homage to the Holy Cross covered by a purple shroud – a symbol of the Passion and of the physical nature of Jesus (a central belief in the Arian faith). On the external circular band the procession of the Apostles is depicted, led in separate directions and meeting at the empty throne (the Etimasia):

Cupola mosaic, Arian Baptistery, Ravenna. Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo

The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (first quarter of the 6th century CE) was the king Theodoric’s Palatine church. The glory and power of the Gothic king was represented in the panels depicting the Palatium, the royal court, the city of Ravenna and the harbour of Classis:

Basilica of Saint Apollinaire Nuovo, wall mosaic, south wall, third zone: Palatium.
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright

Under Justinianic rule, the mosaics were modified by removing the figures connected to Theoderic and by incorporating them into the Catholic tradition with triumphal processions of saints, virgins, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.

Christ enthroned with angels, mosaic on south wall of the Basilica of Saint Apollinaire Nuovo.
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare

Dating to the first half of the 6th century, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe was built on the foundations of the primitive burial place of Apollinaris, the first bishop and founder of the Church of Ravenna. Sant’Apollinare in Classe is famous for its apsidal mosaics and for the marble sarcophagi of the local archbishops along the side naves.

Triumphal arch and apse with wall mosaics, Basilica of Saint Apollinaire.
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright The Basilica of San Vitale

The construction of the Basilica of San Vitale (built 527-548) shows as important influence of the Eastern Mediterranean art, both in the church structure (a central octagonal plan surmounted by a large dome) and in the iconography of the mosaics.

Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna.
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright Interior of Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright

The mosaic decorations from the Basilica of San Vitale presbytery include the following personages [l-r]: 1. Bishop Maximinian and Giuliano Argentario, 2. detail of the Empress Theodora, 3. detail of the Emperor Justinian:

Explore Byzantine Ravenna in Europana Collections

Authors: L. Orlandi (University of Bologna) and L. Kniffitz and C. Pausini (Museum of Ravenna). Images are from the archives of the Museum of the City of Ravenna – Classense Library (Ravenna), who is proud partner of BYZART – Byzantine Art and Archaeology on Europeana project (co-financed by the EU – CEF).

A Lithuanian museum mission: the life and legacy of Aleksandras Mykolas Račkus

Fri, 07/06/2019 - 08:00

Aleksandras Mykolas Račkus was a Lithuanian American numismatist, philatelist, ethnographer, curator, and physician, who was born near Kaunas in 1893.

In 1910, he travelled to the United States, where he started his education in St. Laurent College in Canada, Montreal. He later studied at Holy Cross College in Worcester, the University of Loyola and the Medical School in Chicago where he obtained an MD in surgery.

Dr. Alexander M. Rackus‘s, health editor at Lithuanian daily “Draugas”, business card, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

From 1922, he practised as a doctor. He was an active member of the Lithuanian diaspora, who dedicated his life to strengthening Lithuanian communities abroad, and retaining strong connections to his home country.

Račkus belonged to various cultural organisations, doing his part as an editor and publisher for the Lithuanian press.

Alexander M. Rackus‘s Chicago Coin Club membership, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Already by 1917, he founded the Lithuanian Museum of Numismatics and History in Chicago. The main goals of this association were to gather Lithuanian antiquities and documents important to the country’s history.

In 1935, the First World Congress of Lithuanians took place in Kaunas. On this occasion Račkus organised an exhibition with his own collection, which featured old Lithuanian publications, flags of Lithuanian organisations, badges, uniforms, photographs attesting to cultural life of Lithuanian-Americans, archaeological finds and more.

An exposition of the American Lithuanian Roman Catholic Women’s Alliance at Dr. A.M. Rackus Museum. A photo by A. Giedraitis photo studio, Kaunas, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

He eventually sold his collection (about 81,000 items) for a symbolic fee to the Ministry of Education of Lithuania and founded the Vytautas Magnus Museum of Culture.

An exposition of American Lithuanian athletes at Dr. A.M. Rackus Museum. A photo by A. Giedraitis photo studio. Kaunas, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Račkus returned to live in Lithuania from 1936 to 1940. He opened a private medical practice and worked at the museum. In 1940 he returned to Chicago, where he founded the Museum of Lithuanian Studies, wrote on Lithuanian topics, and actively engaged in numismatics.

An exposition of currency of prisoners of war in German camps at Dr. A.M. Rackus Museum. A photo by A. Giedraitis photo studio, Kaunas, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Next to being a numismatic enthusiast with a heart for Lithuanian culture, Račkus was also somewhat of an artist himself. He is known to have created a set of colorful Christmas greeting cards, in keeping with the patriotic, religious and numismatic themes that fascinated him so much. Again, these depictions of Lithuanian symbols or coins were intended as a way to raise awareness of his native country. Račkus was gifted as a political cartoonist as well. His anti-Soviet cartoons were well known in Lithuanian communities around the world.

Lithuania in photographs shot by C.G. Lukšis in 1928 : an announcement, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Račkus died in 1965 in Chicago. Today, his collection is regarded as instrumental for the study and reconstruction of Lithuanian cultural life in emigration at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

Featured image: Dr. A.M. Račkus with an unidentified person next to the exposition at A.M. Rackus Museum, Kaunas, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

The human crisis and the three Es: Environment, Equality and Endangered

Wed, 05/06/2019 - 08:01

In 2019, global awareness of the human impact on the environment is at an all-time high. No matter where you turn, you cannot escape it, whether it’s on social media, TV, or actually, right in front of you – we’ve all seen the schoolchildren striking and demanding governments to listen to the extreme temperatures and weather shifts we all face around the world.

We push harder than ever for equal human rights regardless of sexual orientation, gender or skin colour. We fight to prevent the extinction of diverse species as well as the basic rights of the ones we consume and exploit for labour, for science, for clothes and cosmetics. In all these fights, we face a crisis. What we are doing is impacting the very earth we call home and the animals and plants sharing it with us.

Environment Agriculture: schoolboys variously employed ploughing, digging, and raking earth. Engraving.
Wellcome Collection, CC BY

Throughout human existence we’ve been shaping our environment to suit our specific needs whether for shelter, food, or to travel. We’ve modified the world to suit ourselves. It’s only quite recently that we have started to question how that affects the environment around us. It’s become apparent that when people travel, they introduce different species to different environments, sometimes wiping out the native fauna and flora.

With feeding the world’s huge population, comes animal-rearing and massive lands transformed from wild forests to plains upon plains used for crops and cattle. 18 million acres of forest are lost each year. Man-made deforestation and agriculture being the leading cause.

We’ve taken over the world and keep growing in numbers, meaning we need more and more land to build on, leaving less and less natural land available for our compatriots who constantly need to adapt themselves to us in order to survive.

Equality Button. Women against apartheid,
Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0

Human equality, the same rights for everyone, we’ve been chanting this, but are we are not yet all equal. In numerous countries, wages for women are still not the same as men, with only six countries giving equal working rights to both men and women. People of colour with the same qualifications as their white counterparts still struggle to get hired. If you are disabled, even less likely. If you are part of the LGBTQ community, you can fear for your life in most countries around the world to this day, and forget about same-sex marriage, in 73 countries it is still illegal.

Endangered Yellow-bellied toad from Nușfalău, Szabó Csilla,
Federaţia Universitară Maghiară din Cluj-Napoca, public domain

Let’s face it. We are Earth’s worst nightmare. We have caused so many species to go extinct and to be critically threatened, this year around 16,306 animals and plants are endangered, 99% of them because of human activities. We can no longer ignore that the Earth is suffering, we are suffering. The people are calling ever louder to be heard and for urgent actions this time around because it’s on us.

But people have incredible powers to make change, individual and en masse. Look out for my next blog about historical figures around the world who have made a great difference to their environment.

By Marijke Everts

Sources:

Featured image at the top: Meteorology: a view of the Earth and the sun during summer [in the Northern hemisphere], Wellcome Collection, CC-BY

A home for all: Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York

Fri, 24/05/2019 - 07:47

For thousands of migrants looking for a job or a new start in life, New York City has always been (and still is) a favoured destination. Many live together in specific neighbourhoods, aiding them in finding work, engaging in social activities and preserving their cultural identity.

The history and culture of New York is entwined with migration, encapsulated in buildings like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

View of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

Saint Patrick’s Cathdral is a symbol of Catholic faith in the USA, and reflects the migrant heritage and communities that made up New York.

Since the mid-1800s Mulberry Street has been a centre of the Italian community in New York, the majority of this community are Catholic. An existing church – the Old Saint Patrick Church – became too small to house the growing number of worshippers, so a new gathering place was built.

Italian Immigrant, Lewis Hine, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

James Renwick, who already had designed New York’s Grace Church (1843–46), was the architect of the new Neo-Gothic, two-tower structure for which construction began in 1858.

For his cathedral, Renwick devised an eclectic, monumental building style mixing French, German and English Gothic influences. Named after the patron saint of Ireland, the building was completed in 1878 and became the seat of the Archdiocese.

Grace Church, New York, Soprintendenza alla Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna e contemporanea, CC0

Since its construction, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral has become a meeting place for immigrants and has become one of the best known and most visited churches of the United States.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 1985 Puerto Rican Day Parade, Joe Conzo Jr, © Cornell University Library and Joe Conzo, available for non-profit, educational purposes.

The cathedral – which takes up an entire block – is built of brick covered with marble, sourced in Massachusetts and New York. Its lavish decorations reflect the migration history of local communities. The doors, for instance, are adorned with sculptures of saints and religious figures connected to the history of migration.

Among them: St. Isaac Jogues was New York’s first Catholic priest, born in France; St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who supported Italian immigrants in the US; Saint Kateri Tekakwitha or ‘the Lily of the Mohawks’: a missionary in New France of Algonquin–Mohawk birth, and the first Native American woman to be canonized by the Catholic Church; and Mother Elizabeth Seton: descendant from a family that ranked among the earliest European settlers in the New York area, founder of the Sisters of Charity and first native-born U.S. citizen to be canonized.

Martyrdom of Father Isaac Jogues, A. Malaer after A. van Diepenbeck, Wellcome Collection, CC BY Image of St. Kateri Tekakwitha (Kanien’keháka) ca. 1656–1680, Weltmuseum Wien, CC BY-NC-SA

Through the communities that worship there, and the figures it features, St Patrick’s Cathedral is an architectural celebration of New York’s multiculturalism.

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

Featured image: In front of St. Pat’s, Easter 1914, Bain News Service, Library of Congress (USA), No known copyright restrictions

Beautiful & useful: Bauhaus and Walter Gropius

Wed, 22/05/2019 - 10:23

2019 celebrates the centenary of the influential Bauhaus art and design school, founded by architect Walter Gropius in Weimar Germany on April 12th in 1919.

The Bauhaus made a huge impact on the art and architecture of the twentieth century, in spite of its short 14-year existence. This was largely due to the network of teachers and students of the school, who continued to put their ideas into practice for decades after the institute closed in 1933.

Pressestimmen (Auszüge) für das Staatliche Bauhaus Weimar: [1920 – 1924], Universitätsbibliothek, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Public Domain

‘A world has been destroyed; we must seek a radical solution,’ said the young architect Walter Gropius upon his return from World War One in late 1918.

In 1919, Gropius founded the Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, with ambitious plans in mind. He wanted to bring diverse disciplines such as art, architecture and crafts together under one roof. In this way, Gropius hoped to bridge the gap between artists and artisans.

Walter Gropius, Louis Held, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, CC0

The idea behind this was to combine the beautiful with the useful. In Gropius’ vision, the Bauhaus school would produce a new generation of architects and designers, producing both functional and elegant homes and utensils. These creations would become available to everyone. In this way, art would also come within reach of the ‘common man’.

Spinning top (Kreisel), Spielzeugmuseum der Stadt Nürnberg (Museum Lydia Bayer), CC BY-NC-SA

Fine art became a major offering at the school with free painting classes offered by artists like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Instruction focused less on function (like so many Bauhaus offerings) and more on abstraction. Modernist movements in the arts like Expressionism and Futurism would have a noticeable influence on the art produced in the school alongside its specific style of geometric design.

Paul Klee, Haus der Firma Z, Statens Museum for Kunst, CC0

From Expressionism to Functionalism

Under the leadership of Gropius, the Bauhaus movement made no special distinction between the applied and fine arts. Painting, typography, architecture, textile design, furniture-making, theatre design, stained glass, woodworking, metalworking—these all found a place there.

Letter from the Freunde des Bauhauses (Dessau) to Gerhart Hauptmann, Kalliope, CC BY-NC

The philosophy of the school changed dramatically during these years. It started out with a very expressionist philosophy, meaning subjective and personal, combined with an artisanal outlook. Later, this was supplemented considerably with opposing ideas about ‘functionalist’ design and a more positive view on industrialised manufacturing by ‘radicals’ like Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg (De Stijl) and Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy.

‘Colour solution’; Theo van Doesburg, c. 1920 – c. 1929, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

Bauhaus-Dessau

Starting in 1925, Gropius oversaw the school’s move to Dessau, creating an opportunity to put the principles of Bauhaus functionalism into practice, and to be part of the school’s physical space. He designed the Bauhaus Building and several other buildings for the new campus in concrete, steel and glass.

Walter Gropius, Building Bauhaus-Dessau, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

End of Bauhaus?

In 1928, Gropius stepped down as head of the Bauhaus in favour of Hannes Meyer, who in turn was succeeded in 1930 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In the meantime the political situation in Germany deteriorated. The Nazi party, rising to power through the 1930s, opposed the Bauhaus and marked it as a promoter of ‘Entartete Kunst’ (degenerated art).

In 1932, the Nazi party cancelled the Bauhaus’ funding preventing further teaching. Hoping to continue, Mies van der Rohe moved the school to an empty telephone factory in Berlin and designated it a private institution. The faculty flatly refused to work with the Nazis, and rather than cooperate with them, the faculty voted to close the school in 1933.

In the following months, a large part of the Bauhaus members fled the repressive climate in Germany. Some emigrated to the United States, including Gropius, Moholy-Nagy and Mies van der Rohe. Here they again focused on both architecture and education, where they integrated Bauhaus methods into the curriculum of architecture schools.

B&O Hyperbo 5 RG Staal Radiogrammofon, Kulturarvsstyrelsen, CC BY

Partly because of this exodus, the ideas of the Bauhaus continue to live on, and its influence on architecture, product design and more is still visible today.

Featured image: Flóris Confectionary, Hungarian Museum of Trade and Catering – Budapest, CC BY-NC-ND





Prelude in Gothenburg, finale in Prague: the Swedish adventure of Bedřich Smetana

Sun, 12/05/2019 - 08:04

While Antonín Dvorák is sometime considered as the greatest composer ever to have lived in the Czech Republic, in the eyes of the Czechs only one man deserves that epithet: Bedřich Smetana.

Smetana was born in 1824 into a fairly prosperous family as the son of a brewer. From a young age, Smetana excelled in music and he was sent away to study in Prague, where he indulged in the capital’s rich cultural life.

By the time that Smetana travelled to Pilsen in 1840, he had already composed for string quartet but he began to focus more on the piano. He considered his 3 Impromptus (1841) to be the real start of his career.

Letter to Bedřich Smetana Kateřina Kolářová Plzeň, Prague – Mladá Boleslav, 6.-8.8.1843.
Národní muzeum, eSbírky. CC BY

In 1844, Smetana began studying in Prague. He tried to earn a living as a piano teacher but hardly managed to make ends meet. However, Franz Liszt’s acceptance of the dedication of his Opus 1 (1848) was encouraging. Smetana opened a music institute, which allowed him to continue teaching and save enough to start a family with Kateřina Kolářová.

The following years were marked by economic difficulties and a personal tragedy: the death of three of the couple’s daughters.

Miniature of Bedřich Smetana, 1880. Unknown
Národní muzeum, eSbírky. CC BY

Despite these misfortunes, Smetana dedicated himself to supporting a Czech national revival after the uprising in Prague. But when reforms failed to arrive, he moved with his family to Sweden, where he was offered a job in Gothenburg – the nation’s second-largest city.

The favourable impression of his early months in Sweden prompted Smetana to consider settling there for good. His wife’s poor health and his feelings of artistic isolation, however, made him decide to return to Prague in the spring of 1859. The journey ended in tragedy when his wife passed away during the trip.

Poster announcing a performance of the opera ‘Dalibor’, 1895, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Public Domain Mark

Smetana married again and brought his second wife, Bettina Ferdinandová, to Sweden. His compositions from this time – such as the symphonic poems Richard III (1858), Wallenstein’s Camp (1859) and Hakon Jarl (1861) – garnered much criticism. But Smetana remained focused on his masterplan: to make a big comeback in Prague.

When the Provisional Theatre announced a contest for playwrights and composers, Smetana knew his moment of glory was near. He submitted the opera Brandenburgers in Bohemia (Braniboři v Čechách, 1866) and won the competition, instantly becoming a celebrity. At 42, his career had finally taken off. He became the Director of the Provisional Theatre, where he furthered the establishment of a ‘Czech national school’ while expanding the international repertoire as well. He himself continued writing opera’s such as Dalibor (1868) and Dvě vdovy (The Two Widows, 1874).

Imaginary depiction of Bedřich Smetana in the circle of friends in 1865. Colour print after the 1923 oil painting by František Dvořák. Národní muzeum, eSbírky. CC BY

All in all, Smetana’s time as a theatre director was disputed but fruitful, resulting among others in the first plans for his magnum opus Má vlast (My Country, c.1872-9). This orchestral cycle, consisting of six symphonic poems, unfolds a narrative about the history, mythology and landscape of Bohemia. Navigating along mythical rock masses (Vyšehrad), Bohemian fields and forests (Z českých luhů a hájů) and the magical mountain Blaník, this was Smetana’s ‘multidimensional’ portrait of his homeland.

The second movement Moldau (Vltava) in particular has entered the classical canon as one of the strongest exponents of Czech national style and a brilliant example of ‘topographical music’. Má vlast launched Smetana to stardom and became a national hymn: a remarkable conclusion to a story of which the Swedish chapter is often forgotten.

Feature image: Bedřich Smetana, Josef Matthauser, Národní muzeum – České, CC BY

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

From earth goddess festival to family feast: the roots and guises of ‘Mother’s Day’

Sat, 11/05/2019 - 07:43

Throughout the world, the love, patience, dedication and commitment of mothers are honoured yearly on ‘Mother’s Day’. Many countries and cultures celebrate their mothers in the month of May, and treat the ‘leading lady’ of the family to a day of pampering, presents, festive food and extra doses of hugs. But did you know that ‘Mother’s Day’ as we know it, is rooted in traditions going back as far as ancient times?

Rhea, Greek mother-goddess, 16th century engraving after Leonardo da Vinci
Marcantonio Raimondi,
Rijksmuseum, public domain

In Ancient Greece, a mother cult encompassing specific rituals and ceremonies was dedicated to Rhea – the Mother of the Gods. Phrygians, too, held a festival for their earth-mother equivalent, Cybele, while the Ancient-Indian Hindus revered the goddess Durga as the motherly power at the source of life and all creation with the Durga-puja festival.

The ten-armed goddess Durga, s.d. Museon, CC BY

In the Christian faith, Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, has been at the centre of worship practices for many centuries. In 1330 Spain started to worship the Immaculate Virgin and in 1854 Pope Pious IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be doctrine. In many countries still, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated yearly on December 8.

Another precursor to Mother’s Day is so-called ‘Laetare’, ‘Refreshment Sunday’ or ‘Mothering Sunday’: a Christian holiday celebrated in the UK halfway Lent. From the Middle Ages onward, it became customary to visit one’s ‘mother church’ and one’s parents on this very day.

Julia Ward Howe. Soprintendenza alla Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna e contemporanea, CC0

The modern, secular concept of a ‘Mother’s Day’ emerged in the United States in the late 19th century. In 1870, Philadelphia judge Julia Ward Howe issued a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” asking mothers to unite in promoting world peace. Three years later, she campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to become an annual event.

A more widespread usage came into place after 1907, when West-Virginian activist Anna Marie Jarvis began promoting Mother’s Day as an occasion to show appreciation for the role and work of mothers. In the years before the Civil War, Jarvis’ own mother had worked in so-called “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs”: groups offering support and education to local women, that would become a unifying force in a region divided over the War. In 1868 she even organized a “Mothers’ Friendship Day”: an event aiming at the reconciliation of former Union and Confederate soldiers. Establishing a formal Mother’s Day was Anna Marie Jarvis’ way of honoring her mother’s accomplishments. At the same time, she wanted to raise awareness of the sacrifices made by mothers, and to counter-balance the many existing holidays inspired by male achievements. Carnations soon became the symbol of the celebration, as a representation of the purity of a mother’s love. To this day, many cultures (such as the Japanese) offer carnations as a Mother’s Day present.

Presenting a bouquet at a Mother Day’s event, 1982
Balatoni Múzeum – Keszthely. CC BY-NC-ND

Owing to Jarvis’ commitment to the cause, Mother’s Day became a widespread phenomenon. It turned into a nation-wide celebration in 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson allocated an annual, national holiday honoring mothers to every second Sunday of May. In a short time span, Mother’s Day evolved from a day of honor to a highly commercialized day centered around gifts and cards. This would become a source of frustration to Anna Marie Jarvis, who would end up trying relentlessly to have the holiday scrapped – to no avail.

Because in the meantime, the whole world had adopted the Mother’s Day tradition, sometimes adhering to the second Sunday of May, in other cases developing separate practices. Many countries – among which Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Armenia – celebrate their mothers on the 8th of March, thereby merging the holiday with International Women’s Day. In France, celebrations are held on the last Sunday of May or the first of June, while Spain and Portugal honor mothers on the very first Sunday of May. In Norway, Mother’s Day is always celebrated on the second Sunday of February, while in Serbia it takes place in December during a series of holidays including Children’s Day and Father’s Day.

Group portrait of (grand)mothers and children, c. 1890-1910
M. Kriegsmann, Antwerp
Rijksmuseum, public domain

A peculiar tradition is that of Antwerp, Belgium – a city that is considered to be somewhat of a maverick by the rest of the country. Since 1913, Mother’s Day is celebrated here on August 15, coinciding with the feast of Mary’s Ascension. Mary is the patroness of Antwerp and was annually celebrated with a procession on this day. Frans Van Kuyck, Alderman of Fine Arts on the City Council of turn-of-the-century Antwerp, saw in Mary the symbol of strong family values: a notion that he hold very dear, as he considered modern society with its growing industrialization and individualism to be in danger of losing its backbone. By stressing the importance of the role of the mother, Van Kuyck hoped to strengthen ethics and preserve valuable traditions. To this end, he installed a propaganda team to deploy an impressive publicity campaign, and scripted the celebrations up to the finest detail, including instructions on which jewels to buy, which decorations to apply, breads to bake and poetry to write…  To this day, citizens of Antwerp remain the only Belgians who don’t join in for the nation-wide Mother’s Day celebration on the second Sunday of May.

Portrait of a baby supported by its mother, c. 1890-1910
Rijksmuseum, public domain

Whatever one might think of the concept of celebrating mothers once a year (instead of every single day) or of the feast of commerce that the holiday has turned into, there’s much to be said for mothers deserving their very own, very special day. Because occasions like these create focus and time for reflection. They allow us to acknowledge and strengthen family ties. And most importantly: they are the ultimate stimulus for giving credit to those, who often fade into the background, always putting their loved ones first.

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

Liberation skirts: how post-war upcycling became a symbol of female solidarity

Fri, 03/05/2019 - 08:00

‘Weave the pattern of your life’

In the aftermath of World War 2, after the liberation of The Netherlands from German occupation in May 1945 and the festivities that followed, many Dutch women made special commemorative skirts, called ‘nationale feestrok’ or ‘bevrijdingsrok’ in Dutch – the latter translates as liberation skirts in English. The idea behind this festive garment came from Mies Boissevain-Van Lennep.

During the war, for her resistance activities during the occupation, Mies had been imprisoned and sent to a concentration camp. Shortly after her arrest in 1943, she was sent a scarf made of textile patches from garments of relatives and friends, which brought back special memories.

After the war, Mies was a member of a women’s group that decided to create a garment to celebrate the rebuilding of the Netherlands after the war. For this, the liberation skirt had great symbolic value.

Nationale feestrok, Amsterdam Museum, CCO

The commemorative skirt had to meet certain conditions – the old but colourful patches had to be sewn on to an older skirt so that the original background disappeared and a new colourful piece of clothing was created. Today, we would call it upcycling.

The hem had to consist of equal triangles with the date ’5 May 1945’ and the dates of national holidays on which the skirt was worn sewn into it. The wearer could also wear the skirt on other important events or celebrations and commemorate those events on their skirts.

Those creating a skirt were to ‘weave the pattern of your life into your skirt,’ as a song composed in honour of the idea put it.

Liberation skirt of Anneke Kusters, Arnhem, 1945, Netherlands Open Air Museum, CC BY

Processing the war experience with solidarity

The philosophy behind the patchwork skirts was, on the one hand, that the use of the fabric remnants represented the reconstruction and renewal of the Netherlands, while on the other hand, that women could process their own war experiences during the crafts.

Wearing the skirts together would reinforce the feeling of solidarity among women. The skirts looked alike, but each was different. The idea was that you should not be able to see differences in the social position of the wearers.

Liberation skirt 1945-1949, Netherlands Open Air Museum, CC BY

A liberation skirt only became a ‘National commemorative skirt’ if it was officially registered. In the end, around 4,000 skirts were registered. The highlight of the phenomenon was in September 1948, in celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the reign of Queen Wilhelmina when hundreds of women wore their commemorative skirts for a parade in Amsterdam and across the parliament courtyard in The Hague.

An international initiative

Because of the success of her initiative, Mies travelled through the United States in 1949 at the request of The Netherlands Information Bureau (NIB) for a propaganda trip about ‘Woman’s life in the Netherlands of Today’.

She visited 27 states and spoke at many occasions always putting the commemorative skirt and its philosophy at the centre of her talks. She sincerely hoped that the ‘Magic Skirts of Reconstruction’ (as they were called on one occasion) would become an international symbol for female values around the world. The American media at the time, however, described her work solely as a peace initiative and neglected the aspect of female solidarity she promoted.

Although the skirts did not become a worldwide phenomenon as Mies hoped, and the interest in The Netherlands waned after a while, this does not mean that the commemorative skirt disappeared completely.

Women dressed in Nationale feestrok for exhibition ‘Oud Ede’ 1980-1981, Historical Museum Ede, CC BY

Skirts were known to be worn on Liberation Day up to the 1980s and in 1981 a provincial museum in Ede organised the first exhibition around the ‘Nationale Feestrok’. During the following decades, the commemorative skirt found a place in the collective memory of Dutch society through the work of memory institutions and researchers.

Liberation skirt made by students from the Princess Marijkeschool in Ede, D Search, Historical Museum Ede, CC BY

Feature image: Liberation skirt, Flipje and Streekmuseum Tiel, CC BY

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