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Haus proud: The women of Bauhaus
Bauhaus women

Bobbed, geometric haircuts. Chunky jewellery. Vegetarian diets. Saxophone playing. Breathing exercises. Painting. Carving. Snapping with brand new 35mm Leica cameras. Dressing in the artiest handmade clothes. Attending arty parties. Ninety years on from the founding of Walter Gropius‘s legendary art, craft and design school, the female students of the Bauhaus appear to have been as liberated as young women today.

At least they do in the photographs in Bauhaus Women, a book by Ulrike Muller, a “museum educator” in Weimar, the German town where the Bauhaus opened in 1919, declaring equality between the sexes. Where German women had once received art education at home with tutors, at the Bauhaus they were free to join courses.

And yet the photographs of those seemingly liberated women tell, at best, a half truth. Yes, the world’s most famous modern art school accepted women. But few became well known. While the men of the Bauhaus – Gropius, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – are celebrated, names like Gunta Stölzl (a weaver), Benita Otte (another weaver), Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain (ceramicist), Ilse Fehling (sculptor and set designer) or Alma Siedhoff-Buscher (toy maker) mean precious little.

If these bright young things came to the Bauhaus as equals, why are the women so obscure? The school’s fleeting existence (just 14 years), the rise of the anti-modern National Socialist movement and six years of world war may have been factors, but the uncomfortable truth is that the Bauhaus was never a haven of female emancipation.

More women than men applied to the school in 1919, and Gropius insisted that there would be “no difference between the beautiful and the strong sex” – those very words betraying his real views. Those of the “strong sex” were, in fact, marked out for painting, carving and, from 1927, the school’s new architecture department. The “beautiful sex” had to be content, mostly, with weaving.

The school’s students produced radical work, but Gropius’s vision was, at heart, medieval, if apparently modern, and he was keen to keep women in their place – at looms, primarily, weaving modern fabrics for fashion houses and industrial production. He believed women thought in “two dimensions”, while men could grapple with three. ()

The Berlin wall had to fall, but today’s world is no fairer

Mikhail Gorbachev in the Guardian:

Twenty years have passed since the fall of the Berlin wall, one of the shameful symbols of the cold war and the dangerous division of the world into opposing blocks and spheres of influence. Today we can revisit the events of those times and take stock of them in a less emotional and more rational way.

The first optimistic observation to be made is that the announced “end of history” has not come about, though many claimed it had. But neither has the world that many politicians of my generation trusted and sincerely believed in: one in which, with the end of the cold war, humankind could finally forget the absurdity of the arms race, dangerous regional conflicts, and sterile ideological disputes, and enter a golden century of collective security, the rational use of material resources, the end of poverty and inequality, and restored harmony with nature.

Another important consequence of the end of the cold war is the realisation of one of the central postulates of New Thinking: the interdependence of extremely important elements that go to the very heart of the existence and development of humankind. This involves not only processes and events occurring on different continents but also the organic linkage between changes in the economic, technological, social, demographic and cultural conditions that determine the daily existence of billions of people on our planet. In effect, humankind has started to transform itself into a single civilisation.

At the same time, the disappearance of the iron curtain and barriers and borders, unexpected by many, made possible connections between countries that until recently had different political systems, as well as different civilisations, cultures and traditions.

Naturally, we politicians from the last century can be proud of the fact that we avoided the danger of a thermonuclear war. However, for many millions of people around the globe, the world has not become a safer place. Quite to the contrary, innumerable local conflicts and ethnic and religious wars have appeared like a curse on the new map of world politics, creating large numbers of victims.

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Brunel, Locke and Stephenson: the engineering giants who shaped our world

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One hundred and fifty years ago today, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the greatest engineers in history, died at the age of just 53. His funeral in Kensal Green cemetery was attended by several hundred people, including Joseph Locke who, with Brunel, had opened up Britain to the railway. He was buried a year later, also in Kensal Green.

There was another mourner, that day, however: Robert Stephenson, a household name who had risen from humble origins in the Northumberland coalfield to the highest echelons of London society. Although of a similar age to Brunel, Stephenson was already very frail. His death, a few weeks later, prompted a national outpouring of grief: his body was committed to Westminster Abbey, with the cortège watched by thousands of people as it made its way through Hyde Park by express permission of Queen Victoria. Stephenson’s hometown of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, meanwhile, was plunged into mourning at the loss of its heroic son.

The passing of these three extraordinary men, so close together, robbed the country of an astonishing source of talent, energy and influence. The trio, who had done so much to accelerate the Industrial Revolution, were often portrayed by the press as rivals clambering to pursue their own agendas, but were in fact close colleagues and friends. Moreover, they were much more than engineers: they were consulted by (or sat in) Parliament and boardrooms, and advised foreign and colonial governments on railways, water supply and sanitation, dock and harbour improvements, land reclamation schemes and much more. They were titans of the Victorian age.

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Dementia may have been caused by the Second World War, says scientist

[Dr Ritchie's] claims are based on studies of French citizens forcibly expelled from Algeria in the 1950s.

Known as the ‘pieds noirs’, they had crossed the Mediterranean and many had settled in the coastal district around Montpelier, where the research was conducted.

She said: ‘They had suffered extreme stress, losing their homes, and having their lives threatened, sometimes by people who were once their neighbours.

‘The ones who had the worst symptoms (of dementia) now were those who had suffered most at the time.

‘These people needed help when they were ten or 20, not when they were 65.’
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A Data Deluge Swamps Science Historians

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In a vault beneath the British Library here, Jeremy Leighton John grapples with a formidable challenge in digital life. Dr. John, the library’s first curator of eManuscripts, is working on ways to archive the deluge of computer data swamping scientists so that future generations can authenticate today’s discoveries and better understand the people who made them.

His task is only getting harder. Scientists who collaborate via email, Google, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook are leaving fewer paper trails, while the information technologies that do document their accomplishments can be incomprehensible to other researchers and historians trying to read them. Computer-intensive experiments and the software used to analyze their output generate millions of gigabytes of data that are stored or retrieved by electronic systems that quickly become obsolete.

“It would be tragic if there were no record of lives that were so influential,” Dr. John says.

Usually, historians are hard-pressed to find any original source material about those who have shaped our civilization. In the Internet era, scholars of science might have too much. Never have so many people generated so much digital data or been able to lose so much of it so quickly, experts at the San Diego Supercomputer Center say. Computer users world-wide generate enough digital data every 15 minutes to fill the U.S. Library of Congress.

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(via Yorgos)

Obon Jour

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Christopher Hitchens in Slate –Japanese teenagers, babies and reconciliation:

This time every summer I begin to suspect myself of going soft and becoming optimistic and sentimental. The mood passes, I need hardly add, but while it is upon me, it amounts to a real thing. On the first weekend of every August, in Palo Alto, Calif., the Japanese community opens the doors of its temple and school in order to invite guests and outsiders to celebrate the Obon Festival.

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Japanese babies look like small-scale models of grown-ups in a way that makes one want to laugh out loud, while their old people achieve a sort of fineness and slenderness in bone structure and bearing that causes one to turn the head and also to wish to bow in deference.

I suppose that I am risking these generalizations (Japanese teenagers appear to look pretty much like teenagers everywhere, especially the males, so who knows what’s going on?) because it’s only a few decades ago that Japanese people were portrayed as especially ugly and misshapen and menacing. You don’t even have to look at cartoons and caricatures of the World War II epoch—more recent stereotypes from the economic rivalry of the 1980s were also pretty rough. And the first week in August is when we commemorate, or at any rate ought to commemorate, the first use of the atomic bomb. It is in living memory that this device was used on humans and the term yellow peril used to justify its use. (Japanese skin comes in several attractive shades. Yellow is a nice enough color but is not the word one would use for any of them.)

In the United States, and especially in California, the war against Japanese imperialism was also accompanied by collective punishment of Japanese-Americans and the sequestration of their persons and property. ()

China’s wild west

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As ever, history becomes politically charged – historical facts are regularly pressed into service and even falsified in current disputes. In Kashgar’s dusty, little-visited museum, there’s a sign reading: “In 60BC… local government was established under the Han dynasty. Since then Xinjiang has been part of the Chinese state.” That version was the official one for a long time but has now been dropped, as has the idea that the Chinese were the first inhabitants of the region. The magnificent Indo-European mummies found in the Taklamakan desert put paid to that claim. Xinjiang was on the Silk Road and has seen a mixture of races, cultures and warlords. It’s absurd to try to reduce it to a single influence.

On the other hand, dating the “colonisation of the province” to the arrival of the communists in 1949, as the World Congress of Uyghurs would have it (a view accepted by several French newspapers), doesn’t reflect reality either. The first Chinese political presence in Xinjiang dates from the Manchu dynasty in the 1750s. In the wake of rebellions, Daoguang, the eighth emperor, created the first “reconstruction offices” as part of a policy of assimilation in which the powers that be were reluctant to depend on local leaders as they were “corrupt and harmful to the policy of central state”. In 1884 the province became part of China. (By way of comparison, New Mexico became part of the US shortly before that (in 1846), as did California (1850).)

It’s true that history is not linear and Xinjiang has seen several bids for independence. The emirate of Kashgarie survived from 1864 to 1877 thanks to the recognition of the Ottoman empire, Great Britain and Russia. A short-lived East Turkestan Republic lasted from November 1933 to February 1934. And finally, a Second East Turkestan Republic, a vague satellite of the USSR comprising three northern districts, existed from 1944 to 1949. As Rémi Castets puts it, “the feeling of being heir to a powerful empire or kingdoms which have sometimes rivalled China” has left its mark.

Most Uyghurs are not in fact calling for independence, but greater justice and recognition of their identity. “We may be better off than we were a decade ago,” Abderrahman says, “but we’re still lagging behind.” GDP stands at 15,016 yuan per inhabitant in Shihezi (which is 90% Han), 6,771 in Aksu (30% Han), 3,497 in Kashgar (8.5%) and 2,445 yuan in Hotan (3.2%) (6).

These flagrant, ethnically based inequalities are pushing the Uyghurs towards Islam, the only vehicle for their opposition and means of affirming their identity. Already the sight of women in burqas is no longer a rarity. There is a clear danger that the fundamentalists will be the beneficiaries of this shift. Extremist groups are still marginal, but that could change if Beijing refuses to engage in any sort of dialogue.

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Image source: Unkar.jp

Knossos: Fakes, Facts, and Mystery

One enormous virtue of Cathy Gere’s Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism is that she leaves to one side the barren debate over whether Evans himself was a good or a bad character, either archaeologically or politically. Her subject is not so much the excavation of Knossos but the role that Minoan archaeology played within twentieth-century culture (and, conversely, how twentieth-century culture, from Evans on, projected its own concerns onto Minoan archaeology). It was at Knossos, she argues, that prehistory gave shape to a prophetic modernist vision, which repeatedly reinvented the Minoans as Dionysiac, peaceable protofeminists in touch with their inner souls.

Admittedly, they were presented in subtly different shades as time and politics moved on (more or less free love, for example), but they almost always appeared in stark contrast to the militaristic Aryan culture of their roughly contemporary prehistoric rivals, the Mycenaeans. From de Chirico to the Summer of Love, from Jane Ellen Harrison to Freud and H.D., theorists, artists, and dreamers found their future in the remote Minoan past.

Gere writes with clarity and wit, but she never sacrifices the fascinating complexity of her tale to a simple story line. She is excellent, for example, on the “blurry boundary between restorations, reconstructions, replicas, and fakes,” insisting that there is no clear and undisputed line that separates the processes of archaeology from those of invention or forgery. One of her most telling examples is the so-called “Ring of Nestor.” According to Evans’s own account (which is suspiciously vague on some of the details), this gold signet ring had been dug up by peasants on the Greek mainland near the site of Pylos, the legendary home of King Nestor, one of Homer’s heroes—hence the ring’s nickname. On the death of the finder, it passed to a neighbor, at which point Evans got to hear about it and “thanks to the kindness of a friend” (as he put it) he was shown an impression of its design. He immediately went to Pylos to acquire it. For, although it was not strictly Cretan, he believed that the intricate image on its bezel represented the Minoan Mother Goddess among scenes from the afterlife; and he was particularly excited by the vague traces of what he interpreted as butterflies and chrysalises (of the common white), “symbols of the life beyond.”

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The Memory That Will Not Die – Exhuming the Spanish Civil War

History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help or pardon.
—W.H. Auden,
“Spain, 1937”

Auden’s anthem to the doomed Spanish Republic, his somber warning, has rarely been more relevant.

Last September Spain’s homegrown “super-judge” Baltasar Garzón—best-known for his dramatic 1998 effort to arrest the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London— announced that he was investigating not only the whereabouts of the remains of the “disappeared” of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), but also the huge numbers of defeated Republicans executed by General Francisco Franco in the grim postwar years. His goal was to try to amass enough evidence to charge Franco’s regime posthumously with crimes against humanity. Could it be that, after so long, “help” and “pardon” were finally coming to the descendants of those who died defending the Spanish Republic?

According to the great Hispanist Hugh Thomas, the three-year Civil War claimed the lives of 365,000 Spaniards, a toll that includes both those loyal to the fascist rebel Franco and those who opposed him. Some historians put the figure higher. Both sides carried out brutal executions, the bodies of victims often ending up in unmarked mass graves.

When the Civil War ended in 1939, the victorious Franco regime executed an additional one hundred thousand-plus Republican prisoners, many of whose corpses were flung into yet more mass-burial pits. These unmarked mounds, visited stealthily by the families of the “defeated” during the dictatorship, are scattered the length and breadth of Spain.

Throughout the 1950s the Franco regime excavated and re-interred with full honors as many as possible of “their” mass graves—those containing the 60-70,000 soldiers and pro-Franco civilians murdered in the Republican zone during the war itself. The same efforts have never been extended to the Republican defeated. And here is the emotional crux of the debate, without which it is impossible to understand the passion and anger that the graves generate today.

There have been some gestures to honor the Republicans’ memory. In 2007 the socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero—himself the grandson of an executed Republican army captain—passed the Historical Memory Law. Facing a backlash from conservatives, the new law was a much-amended version of the sweeping measures some had hoped for, backing down on earlier promises to grant full posthumous pardons to those executed in the postwar period. The new bill merely promised support to the historical memory associations—the loose network of volunteer groups whose members include descendants of executed Republicans—without providing much in the way of state-led initiatives.

Thus, many welcomed Judge Garzón’s announcement last September. For the first time, the judiciary was taking the lead. The historical memory associations were the most fervent supporters of Garzón’s initiative.

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