Archive for the ‘German(y)’ Category

Random Bullets of Hans Christian Andersen, that is.

While collecting some materials at the Landesarchiv Schleswig, I’m staying at an absolutely lovely Ferienwohnung (pension). Its only fault is internet speed as slow-moving as the glaciers which formed the Kiel Fjord (out there in the Ostsee). As this is actually probably beneficial for my internet addiction, I’m out this evening, writing this particular blog entry on paper.

I just took a stroll along the Schlei, where the sight of sea foam gathering on the rocks made me think of Hans Christian Andersen, naturally. So here is a list of random thoughts I’m having inspired by the storyspinner, unsullied by searching for actual information on the web.

  • Firstly, is that white stuff actually sea foam?  Any ocean-studying people out there want to tell me what sea foam really is?
 sea foam
  • The aristocratic family (the counts zu Rantzau in Breitenburg) whose papers I spent a fortune copying today [1] produced a son named Conrad. Conrad grew up, and, following that, became a semi-important figure in the struggle over the Schleswig-Holstein Question. [2] It’s hard to imagine it while walking around the sleepy town today, but this region was at least warmly contested between Denmark and Germany until a mere century and a half ago. Anyway, our Conrad served as a diplomat and minister during the border uncertainty and consequently acquired several Danish connections, including his membership in the Danish Order of the Elephant [3] and a friendship he cultivated with one Danish poet: Hans Christian Andersen. And you thought I’d completely lost the “point.”
  • Speaking of noble houses, do you know the story about poor HCA’s unrequited infatuation with his friend Edvard Collin, his patron’s son? Apparently Andersen, who was desperately in love with this guy, begged to be allowed the familiarity of using the informal “you” grammatical form—only to get shot down by his social superior. This story came up recently during a conversation about the tricky social mechanics of the German equivalent (the occasions to “duzen” someone) with the delightful Hillary and Brooke. It is just not as simple as beginning grammar books would have you believe. (Though at least I haven’t suffered as much as HCA!)
  • The pathetic tragedy of that story and other details of the real Andersen’s biography (e.g. overstaying his welcome at Charles Dickens’s house so long the novelist wrote in his diary about how much they were waiting for Andersen to leave) make me want to balance knowing these things with the also sad but endearing details of his funeral. I remember reading somewhere that there was a long parade of children at the affair, and it’s certainly true that HCA asked a composer to write music for the funeral to “keep time with little steps.”
  • From the sad to the sweet to the silly: I probably heard that story about Collin in a course with Jack Zipes. In addition to publishing a study of Hans Christian Andersen in 2005, he’s one of the most influential scholars on the Grimms, folklore in general, and children’s literature, and, I’m lucky to say, one of my teachers. Jack’s work has been important to shaping my ideas about fairy tales since before we met. [4] On one point I disagree with him, however: the 1952 Danny Kaye/Frank Loesser musical Hans Christian Andersen. Jack has described it as (I’m paraphrasing here) a schlocky and ridiculous piece of fiction.  I agree, it has almost nothing to do with the, shall we say, “historical” or “actual” Andersen, except: Stephen and I watched it on VHS repeatedly as kids, and I cannot abandon my affection for it. I mean just listen: “A swan? Me, a swan? Ah, go on!” … “What’s the difference if you’re very small?/When your heart is full of love, you’re nine feet tall!” … “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, friendly old girl of a town…“ It’s enough to make me want to hop the border this instant.
  • Coming round again to that sea foam, I want to close with a great photo my friend and former student Yueqin sent me. Here she is, in all her lovely, tragic poignancy—but not in Copenhagen Harbor! For the first time, the Little Mermaid left Denmark to journey to the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. Now you tell me, does that reincarnation as a celebrated world traveler redeem the story of her (literal) loss of self, or only underscore the cruelty of her sacrifice? I don’t know, I’m too busy listening to “The suit of clothes is altogether, but altogether, it’s altogether the most remarkable suit of clothes that I have ever seen…”
little mermaid

1. I think it was worth it, though: great children’s letters and school documents, as well as the longest and most elaborate collection of holiday “cards” I’ve encountered yet. Usually an archive file will hold one or two or five of these artful wishes for New Year’s or a parent’s birthday. This Abteilung has almost 50, and each is an extravagantly presented pamphlet of several pages.

2. I know I already posted this to thefacebook AND quoted it to everybody likely to read this blog, but I just have to offer the best of descriptions for this historical murkiness (borrowed from Wikipedia’s citation of Lytton Stracey’s 1921 book on Queen Victoria):  “‘Only three people,’ said Palmerston, ‘have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.'”

3. There it is, historical coincidence (or serendipity?) keeping the blog-naming justified.

4. I actually realized recently that my dear friend Rose and I used one of Jack Zipes’s books in an Agora Days class on fairy tales which we taught in high school.

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The longer it took me to get back into blog-writing, the more pressure I felt to write something really fabulous and meaningful, something of Great Importance. I ask you, is there any subject more important than pancakes?

After this long absence, it would serve me right if there were no longer any readers of this blog. I now see how easy it is to get out the habit!

This blog was conceived to help me contend with how rapidly my work-life was changing after finishing prelims and launching into dissertation research travel. But it was all that travel got the best of the blog this past year. (Really, how has it been a year‽‽)

Last spring, I returned from Braunschweig and Berlin for a couple more months in Minnesota. I officially moved out of my beloved Nordeast house in May and traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in the German Historical Institute Transatlantic Doctoral Seminar. The weekend was intense but rewarding, given the awfully smart work of the other participants and the exceptional organization of the conference (seriously, I’ve never attended a conference or workshop so thoughtfully designed). In June, supported by a travel grant from the Friends of the Princeton University Library, I spent a month at the incomparable Cotsen Children’s Library.

Travel does bring rewards: meeting dear friends' new baby

At the end of that month, I gave a paper on a panel I helped organized about “Representations of History for Children and Youth” for the Society for the History of Children & Youth conference, where there simply wasn’t enough time to revel in the experience of hundreds of people talking about the history of childhood.

July brought perhaps my most exciting trip of the year, to Beijing for a presentation at the World History Association with University of Minnesota professors & students (Mary Jo Maynes, Ann Waltner, Qin Fang, and Yueqin Chen). Not only was the location memorable, but exploring it with those friends was particularly special.

Peking University, where my family lived in 1996

Then it was back to Germany for late July and August, supported by a grant from the Conference Group for Central European History. This was my first experience in the south of Germany (Grüß Gott!), so I did some sightseeing in between reading some really intriguing family papers in several archives across Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.

Munich's International Youth Library

A few weeks at home in September while my parents prepared for their move from Illinois to Cape Cod also included a couple of trips back up to Minnesota.

But I’ve been settled now for four months here in Berlin, where I’m extremely lucky to be able to concentrate fully on my dissertation research with the support of a Research Grant from the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD). I’m definitely glad to be returning to this space while I work out new ideas, try to solve archive puzzles, and am alternately enchanted and perplexed by life in this exceptional city.

I may work up some backdated finds-of-the-day from collections in the Cotsen Library, the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, the Germanisches National Museum, and here in Berlin. I also plan to write a little about Berlin’s fabulous Lange Nacht der Museen, as well as some posts on marginalia and my research technology. And of course, some more elephants are likely to turn up (for such large animals they can be surprisingly stealthy):

…on a tea set I saw in Germany last year…

…in typography….

Did you know that the Swedish word for the “at-sign” (@) is “snabel,” because the curl around the a looks like an elephant’s trunk?  This makes me excessively happy. Apparently @ is also a snabel in Danish, but Italians see it as a snail, the Chinese as a little mouse, and the Dutch as a monkey’s tail. So much for globalizing technologies erasing regional difference! See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_sign.

…at the elegant Hotel Elephant in Weimar, which prefers to be remembered for hosting Goethe and Schiller, rather than Hitler’s balcony appearances…

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Back for Pancakes

[Almanzo] was making pancakes, not because Royal could boss him any more but because Royal could not make good pancakes and Almanzo loved light, fluffy, buckwheat pancakes with plenty of molasses. “How many did you eat while I was doing the chores?” Royal asked him. “I didn’t count ‘em,” Almanzo grinned. “But gosh, I’m working up an appetite, feeding you.” “So long as we keep on eating, we don’t have to wash the dishes,” said Royal.

For a land where heavenly baked goods abound like Milch und Hönig, Germany makes it surprisingly tough to bake at home for people used to American measurements, ovens, food products, recipes, and even kitchen tools. I had the hardest time even finding measuring spoons in Berlin, for example, and I keep having to look up the temperature equivalents for my gas mark oven. Combine this with my fairly average baking talents and you come up with some pretty crumbly, burnt, flat disasters.

But the single overripe banana which confronted me this morning demanded action. It wasn’t quite enough for banana bread, and I didn’t have a lot of fancy ingredients around. Fortunately, this recipe seemed simple enough for my transplant skills and limited pantry to handle.


After the banana was defrocked: 

I substituted applesauce for half the oil. German grocery stores carry great unsweetened applesauce known as Apfelmark to distinguish it from regular applesauce (Apfelmus).

I also used yogurt instead of milk. While I’m a picky milk drinker and it’s hard to find typical American homogenized skim milk here, endless varieties of delicious Müsli  can be found. So yogurt is what I had on hand.

On to the pancake-making

(Oh the terrible drama! Will the pancakes hold together and fulfill their promise of breakfast delight? Or will they turn out to be tasteless disappointments?)

I flipped the first one too early, before it was really done cooking, so I had to flip it back again. Not only did this make for a somewhat unevenly cooked pancake, but the inelegance of the process offended.

My stove gets very hot very quickly, so the second one made me glad I don’t have a working smoke detector. No worries, I just followed my German neighbors’ lead and opened a window to the crisp February air.

But like the familiar story, the third one came out just right.

My food photography skills could use some work, but here’s the general idea:


While these weren’t quite as tasty as my father’s cornmeal pancakes at home with the family, they weren’t half bad. And everything is better with tea, especially tea in a cozy!


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Even with a little more temporal proximity than I had during the fall, trying to write a blog post about the first major texts I read on this current research trip is making me realize how quickly memory can fade in the face of the overwhelming volume of records I’ve begun to collect. When I made a note to this effect three weeks ago, I’m sure there was a particular reason I thought writing about Johann Matthias Schröckh’s œuvre on this blog would be useful…but it’s completely escaping me now.

At any rate, it’s probably simply a good exercise for me to try to do some of the mid-research reflection and organizing that everyone seems to recommend and hardly anyone seems to have down.

Schröckh (1733-1808) was a professor of history and poetry, but so far I haven’t read much else about his career. From the Eckert-Institut’s terrific collection, I have notes on two different series, both of which were obviously popular enough to go through multiple editions (there were also English translations in the 1780s, according to WorldCat). One series is the Allgemeine Weltgeschichte für Kinder, a longer, more narrative work. Schröckh also revamped and republished an earlier history text by Hilmar Curas Einleitung zur Universalhistorie as his Lehrbuch der Allgemeine Weltgeschichte. I’m interested in how the title change (“introduction” –> “reader”), illustrations, tone, and content signal a shift to a targeted youth audience for the more modern textbook (Schröckh’s describes editing the original to make it more “comfortable” for young people). But I’m also curious about the meaning of Curas’s “Universalhistorie” versus Schröckh’s “world history.” In both cases, as with most of the late-Enlightenment world history schoolbooks I’ve read, “world” history is actually code for the history (biblical and classical) of the ancient Mediterranean.

Some tantalizing moments, for future thought:

  • Schröckh offers reasons for not providing sources for his history. What does this imply about historical pedagogy? Compare this to the emphasis on scientific credentials given by authors of later geography textbooks and especially of atlases for children.
  • In later texts, orientalist discussions of India and China begin to slip in the “Old History” sections. When does world history stop connoting what we would call ancient history today? (And why do both terms still obscure their Eurocentrism?)
  • After leaving the Jewish calendar chronology of “Alte Geschichte,” what matters? Christ, then Luther, then Napoleon. Also, why the absence of Old Testament heroines from the early sections?

One special discovery came with an edition of Schröckh’s Curas revision, where I really hit the jackpot on marginalia. In the next few weeks, I might write a blog post about the marginalia I found in various books this time, as well as some of the questions I have about what to make of such scribbles. Deciphering these notes is a rather daunting prospect, since these are in the old German Handschrift, which is really a different alphabet (also look for a future post on some of the interesting linguistic features of German handwriting and print choices that I’ve been encountering).

an example of the marginalia in a Schröckh volume

But fortunately that tortuous process is Future Emily’s problem. For now, I’m going to get back to my last few days of research time at the Staatsbibliothek Kinder- und Jugendbuchabteilung. (That’s right, folks, a whole library room just full of old children’s books and people who like them. Heaven…)


Note about Steve

After taking a couple of days off immediately after Steve Bodner’s death, I managed to get back to work at the library in Braunschweig. My mother reminded me that this was probably fitting, since Steve was so encouraging when I got into grad school and in our conversations during my coursework. Hence the return to regular bloggy topics. But I know that this site received more visitors by far for that post than for any other in its short duration, so if you have arrived here looking for more information about Steve, here are some links:

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Mark Helprin, who likes to leave messages on his friends’ answering machines in spurious (but highly convincing) dialects, inscribed several of his books in imaginary languages.  In A Dove of the East, he wrote Skanaarela tan floss atcha atcha qumble ta. Da bubo barta flay? Staarcroft.  I spent the better part of a decade trying in vain to figure out what that meant.”

– Anne Fadiman, “Words on a Flyleaf,” Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Since it’s now snowing on this very blog (what can I say? I couldn’t resist), I suppose the time has finally come to clear house of all these finds-of-the-day from Europe back in sunny September.  More pressingly, in fact, I’ll be leaving for another quick trip to Germany in the middle of January and I hope to be dazzling you then with new, spectacular discoveries from the archives, like:

Dear Future Historian, I am an 10-year-old middle-class child and I would like to tell you what I think about the books I read. First….

Anyway, until that letter comes my way, here are some more obscure “signs” of children’s reading. This past September in Braunschweig, I worked in the Georg-Eckert Institut für Schulbuchforschung library, which is possibly the nicest, most accessible research library I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring.  Among many terrific things they do is aim to collect as complete a collection of textbooks as possible, regardless of the physical condition of the copies they find.  What this means for historians of childhood is that the tantalizing scribbles normally cause for tossing an old book have been preserved in at least part of their collection.

Here are some of the endpaper signatures I found in my preliminary hunt through the historical holdings.  (I’ve indicated places where I’m not sure of the names or handwriting, and help  deciphering these is welcome!)


Louise Dähmert signed her copy of this secondary-school reader a year after publication, but by 1860 it was owned by someone named Breishov (?). Die höhere Töchterschule: Ein Lehr- und Lesebuch für Deutschland’s weibliche Lehr- und Bildungsanstalten (Beck, 1827)




One of my favorites is Friedericka Ludwig, who signed her short world history textbook not just once in 1830, but again in 1833.  Practicing a more grown-up hand?  Or perhaps she had an avaricious younger sibling who needed to be warned off. Kleine Weltgeschichte für Töchterschulen und zum Privat-Unterrichte heranwachsender Mädchen (Nösselt, 1830)






Many scribbles of different archaeological strata in the book pictured above, which I haven’t been able to identify or place in order yet.  But it looks like at some point during her ownership of this world history textbook, Natalie/Nathalie Gloeckler became Madame Nathalie Lejeune.  Is Natalie the artist of this so-appropriate illustration for a section on the geopolitical history of ancient India?  (click to see it more clearly) Lehrbuch der Weltgeschichte für Töchterschulen und zum Privatunterricht heranwachsender Mädchen (Nösselt, 1830)


I honestly have no idea on this one to the right: Strobel?  Since this is on the title page, it should by rights be Mr. Nösselt himself, but perhaps the reader was in the same misapprehension as young Anne Fadiman (see above). Lehrbuch der Weltgeschichte für Töchterschulen und zum Privatunterricht heranwachsender Mädchen (Nösselt, 1838)


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My long absence was part lovely Thanksgiving with the Porter family, part the SSHA annual meeting in Chicago. So to ease my way back into the blog, how about a little elephant round-up?

1.   The brilliant Minjie Chen’s portfolio led me to Tagxedo, which I expect will be providing far too many hours of fun in the future.  To begin with, here’s one of the best results of my fall fellowship-writing so far, an elephant version of my dissertation description:

Dissertation Description Cloud

2.  Some elephants from the Überseemuseum Bremen (“The Overseas Museum”), which I visited with my friend Sujata while I was in Braunschweig last September:

Elephants in an exhibit on evolution

Elephants in the background of a primate diorama









3.  My fantastic friend Bryan sent this video along from the British kids’ cartoon, “Peppa Pig.

I love jumping up and down in puddles, too!  We’re virtually indistinguishable, though apparently this Emily’s brother is named Edmond.

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Random Rant

(rant inspired by work during August research trip…though writing this post may, perhaps, not exactly qualify as dissertation progress)

Why do the French (and other Europeans) print their spine titles upside down?

I mean, certain minor differences between customs in the US and the rest of the world make sense to me (on their part): if the ground floor is 0, it makes it easier to know that you walk up one flight to the first floor, 5 flights to the 5th floor and so on.

seven with line through middle

Always crossing the middle of a “7” seems like a sensible plan for standardizing clear handwriting.

But while turning your head to the left vs. the right to look along a bookshelf maybe isn’t a big deal,* it is patently obvious when you place books flat on a table that their titles are upside down.  Do Europeans always lay their books on their stomachs?  (The books’ stomachs, that is, not the Europeans’.)

Fig. 1a, 1b

German & French books on their side with upside-down titles German books from the top

(click to embiggen and see the travesty more clearly)

Fig. 2a, 2b

American-published books from the side American books from the top

I’m (sort of) an historian of the book, but I have no idea where this split came from.  This doesn’t really shed any light.

Fig. 3

books together as if on shelf

(observe a graduate student in her natural habitat, i.e. actually working)

* Except when you have a mix of American- and European-published works jumbled together, which is just an extra dose of irritating.

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