Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012) and History Stardom

The death on October 1 of Eric Hobsbawm at the age of 95 marks the end of an era.  Indeed, Marc Mulholland calls him “the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Historian.”  (The Guardian‘s obituary is here; more comments here).

Eric Hobsbawm, 1917-2012 (Photo BBC) 

For those who fear that his passing also heralds the demise of Marxist history, there is comforting news from England, where reports of a young generation enthralled by Hobsbawm will certainly make many a (male) historian’s heart beat faster.

For Manhood and Empire

A short note on the Olympics, before they’re over (August 12 is the last day!): Louis Menand has an entertaining review of their history in modern times in The New Yorker (Glory Days).  He recalls the great moments, especially in athletics, like Ethiopian Abebe Bikila Imagewinning the Rome 1960 marathon running barefoot, signaling Africa’s enormous potential to the world at the height of decolonization.  (I am too young to remember that race but old enough to remember Bikila’s next Olympic marathon in Tokyo, in 1964, which he also won, now with shoes.)

Bikila’s heroics coupled with today’s marvelous win of the US team in the Women’s Soccer final, before 70,000 spectators (!), put an ironic spin on the original purpose of the modern

Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times

Olympics.  As Menand points out, when Pierre de Coubertin launched the games in 1896, he was inspired by the efforts of the British physician William Penny Brookes who had started a few years earlier the Wenlock Olympian Games in the town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, “as a means of fortifying British manhood.”  “Britain’s culture of sports,” de Coubertin maintained, “is the reason for its empire.” To quote Brookes:

If the time should ever come when the youth of this country once again abandons the fortifying exercises of the gymnasium, the manly games, the outdoor sports that give health and life, in favor of effeminate and pacific amusements, know that that will mean the end of freedom, influence, strength, and prosperity for the whole empire.

Student Dissidence at Dartmouth, Antebellum Edition

In the summer of 2010, Ore Koren (’12) conducted research in Dartmouth’s Special Collections on student life in the 1820s-1850s.  The results of his project are now available for viewing on the department’s Exhibits webpages.


Newspapers, letters, pamphlets, and college catalogues of the Jacksonian era show remarkable evidence of strong student opinions on the salient issues.  As Ore comments:

Different interpretations of religious ideas and of states’ rights, of abolition and Colonization, and of personal rights, all unsettled the region. A microcosm of New England and, due to the relatively large number of students from Southern states, of the United States, Dartmouth College (and the Town of Hanover) was a harbinger of the changes that perturbed the country before, during, and after the Civil War. The College’s student body, with its growing tendency to challenge the College’s faculty and its conventions were the locomotive that drove these changes.

Of the classes of the 1820s, the Class of 1827 was worth particular examination. Its members demurred the status quo on at least two occasions. On one occasion, after believing that one of their fellow classmates has been maltreated by the faculty, the class members embarked upon a three-day rampage, in which they stoned members of the faculty, burned the president in effigy, and burned down a barn. On a second occasion, upon hearing that Edward Mitchell, an emancipated slave from the south who passed the entrance exams, was denied admission, the students submitted a petition denouncing the faculty’s decision and demanding the immediate admission of Mitchell. This petition is a unique document and the language used in it is immensely progressive, especially when bearing in mind the time and place in which it was written.

During the 1840s several student publications appeared. The most famous one, of course, was The Dartmouth, which represented the prevalent opinions of the time and place in which it was written. The Dartmouth ridiculed various minorities, from French Canadians to Native Americans, and sometimes explicitly portrayed slavery in a positive light. Nevertheless, other of its articles were unique, particularly the one defending Shakespeare’s Shylock.

At the same time other publications appeared, which were satirical in nature even if very crude. The target of these publications’ mockery was almost always members of the faculty, most notably the College President and champion of slavery Nathan Lord.

The majority of my research revolves around the Dartmouth OEstrus, a satirical publication printed by the students between 1854 and 1857. Unlike other satirical publications, the writers of the OEstrus showed rather refined writing and humor, and the ideas mentioned in this publication appear many times uncharacteristic of what is expected from an early 19th century New England institution of education. I made every attempt to contextualize this publication by providing information about the names and events mentioned in the four volumes of The OEstrus.

Another contemporary satirical publication was The Waif. Based on the writing used in The Waif, it was probably written by the same writers as the OEstrus, who were members of the Class of 1856. I also discuss The Waif in this study.

The goal of this website is to present a picture of the winds of change that blew through Dartmouth College during the first part of the 19th century. By examining student dissidence I intended to illuminate a part of Dartmouth history that is relatively less known, but that is always relevant.

Hemingway Letters Update

Back in April 2010, I noted that in the past half century Hemingway biographies have largely ignored the papers he left behind at Finca Vigía, his Cuban home, in 1961, and I reported that in 2009 copies of most of these materials had finally become available at the Kennedy Library in Boston, which houses the extensive Ernest Hemingway Collection.

Consolidation of the papers and growing international cooperation among Hemingway scholars have now resulted in a massive project, The Cambridge Edition of the Letters of Ernest Hemingway, to publish his approximately 6,000 letters, of which about 80% have not yet appeared in print.  The first volume, covering the years 1907–1922, has already been published; a dozen or more volumes are planned.

The Introduction to the edition by Sandra Spanier, the general editor (Vol. 1, pp. xi-xxxiii), has more on the vagaries of the Hemingway archives.  An interview with Spanier is here.

Goodbye, Class of 2012

We’re saying goodbye to the 95 History majors who are graduating from Dartmouth College the day after tomorrow, June 10, 2012.  Here’s a sample of their plans for the immediate future:

Kelsey Carter:

I will be working as a history teacher at a charter high school with Teach for America in Brooklyn, New York.

Angela Y. Cheng:

I’ll be around Dartmouth for another year working as the 2012-2013 Presidential Fellow for Advancement.

Cody Curran:

I will be moving to New York and working at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

Michael Dimitrief:

I will be working at Barclays Capital as an Investment Banking Analyst next year in New York City.

Christopher T. Dooley:

I will be working at Deerfield Academy in Massachussetts, teaching English and coaching soccer and lacrosse through the Academy’s Teaching Fellowship program.

Liz Faiella:

Next year I plan to stay in Hanover to do independent research that will build on my thesis work.  I’ll be studying the experiences of conscientious objectors in New Hampshire during World War II, with funding assistance from a Dartmouth General Fellowship.  I hope to be speaking on the topic around the state with help from the New Hampshire Humanities Council.  I will also be playing traditional New England and British Isles fiddle music in the Upper Valley.

Daniel Harper:

I will be working in New York City as a paralegal.

Paul Jarvis:

I will be working at Palantir, a tech firm that produces big data analytics software for government and financial applications, in Palo Alto, CA.

Nathaniel Kanefield:

I will be doing consulting for Oliver Wyman in New York City.

Saagar Kaul:

I will be in New York City, working as a litigation legal assistant with the corporate law firm Cravath, Swaine and Moore. Looking forward to it though I don’t want to say goodbye to Hanover.

Glenn S. Kim:

I will be teaching social studies somewhere in Connecticut as a Teach for America corps member.

Amanda Lee:

I will be teaching English in Thailand through a Fulbright Grant.

William Lehmann:

I will be working in venture capital in Boston.

S. N. Tyler Melancon:

I will be a Presidential Fellow next year at Dartmouth working in the Office of the President. I will also be applying to medical school.

Claire Michaud:

This summer I will be moving to New York City where I will be working for the executive search firm Russell Reynolds. Though graduation will be bittersweet, I’m glad that many of my classmates will also be moving to New York! I’d like to thank all of the wonderful faculty in the history department for defining my academic experience here at Dartmouth. A special thank you to my adviser and mentor Professor Lagomarsino. I can only hope that one day I will be as good at my job as Professor Lagomarsino is at teaching history!

Elizabeth Molthrop:

I will be living in New York and working in merchandising at Quidsi.

Rocco Pallin:

I will be getting my masters in public health at Tulane University.

Anastassia Radeva:

I will be working as a second grade literacy teacher at a charter elementary school in San Francisco, California for the next two years, and then after that I hope to live a relatively semi-nomadic lifestyle and move to New Orleans to work in environmental education for a while before moving abroad.

James C. Reed:

I will be working next year as a Healthcare Investment Banking Analyst at Stifel Nicolaus Weisel in New York City.   I am extremely excited about the opportunity.

Nicholas Resendes:

I will be attending the Roger Williams University Law School in Bristol, RI

Madison Rezaei:

I’ll be in Boston working at Altman Vilandrie & Co., a consulting firm specializing in the Telecom, Media, Tech, and Energy industries.

Jake Shoemaker:

I will be working at Eastside Prep in East Palo Alto, California. I will be working in a residential faculty position at the school which serves talented but under-resourced students from the Bay Area.

Elizabeth A. Short:

I will be teaching History and coaching track next year at Emma Willard, an all-girl’s school in NY. I will also be getting a Masters in History from Union.

Peter Sutoris:

I’ll be spending much of the year as a Lombard Fellow (through the Dickey Center) in Nepal, working on an impact evaluation study of an education program run by a small Kathmandu-based NGO called ‘The Learning Center’ and looking to enroll in a graduate program in the Fall of 2013.

Maarten van Ess:

I will be saying goodbye to cold winters, pastels, Boston sports teams, and Cape Cod vacations and saying hello to cowboy boots, “ten gallon” hats, and year-round summer when I move from New England to the Lone Star State after graduation. I will be working in Houston, TX at an energy trading company doing logistics.

Xinyu Yang

I will be attending University of Pennsylvania Law School next year.

Lucy Zuraw:

I will be working in Atlanta Georgia at Mcmaster-Carr in business management business training.

Good luck to you all, and please stay in touch!

(Responses for previous years are here, 2010, and here, 2011)

Don’t Climb Every Mountain

Freddie Wilkinson, an alumnus of this History department and experienced high-altitude mountaineer, reports in today’s New York Times on the prospects for the upcoming climbing season at Mount Everest:

Sadly, events on the south (Nepalese) side of Mount Everest this season suggest that while the risks inherent in climbing the mountain have never been greater, a majority of Everest climbers are increasingly estranged from the decision-making process. Two intersecting trends are to blame: the rising number of people attempting the mountain, and the cumulative effects of global warming, which is slowly yet steadily drying out the Himalayas, resulting in rockfalls, avalanches and sérac collapses.

Those Maps Will Lead You Anywhere

Time for a pop quiz.  Quick, who died (almost exactly) 100 years ago?  No, don’t peek at Wikipedia.  Yes, Karl May, and 2012 is Karl May Year.  On 30 March 1912, just days before the Titanic set sail from Southampton on its maiden voyage, Karl May died in Radebeul near Dresden, Germany, at the age of 70.

Karl May as Old Shatterhand, 1896 (Photo: Karl May Gesellschaft)

At that time, he probably ranked as Germany’s most successful writer, with 1.6 million print copies sold.  By the 1970s, sales of his collected works in German ran in the 80 million copies, not counting translations in multiple foreign languages, from Afrikaans to Volapük.  Sales are reportedly around 200 million now.  Although his most famous characters, Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, roamed the American West, Karl May is practically unknown in the U.S.  I remember vividly my nagging disappointment on my first trip to the States in the 1980s when, visiting the Badlands and other areas West of the Mississippi I knew through his novels, I found lots and lots of native American and “Western” lore but nobody who had ever heard of Karl May–or of Winnetou, for that matter.  Although his popularity may now be on the wane in continental Europe and his native Germany, previous generations had been practically raised on his stories.  I read them in Dutch when I was in my early teens, in a cheap paperback series advertised “Voor zoon en vader” (“for father and son,” though girls certainly read them too).  I still have several of the twenty-five volumes, starting with the Winnetou Trilogy,

Karl May, Winnetou III (1950-60s ed.)

followed by the moving The Son of the Bear Hunter and reaching a climax in his best work, The Treasure of Silver Lake.  They all purported to narrate May’s own experience as Old Shatterhand, a “trapper” gaining fame for his marksmanship and his all-powerful “shattering” uppercut, but also for his friendship with Winnetou and other native Americans, to whom he brings “in all humility,” the greatest good of his civilization. i.e. his Christian faith.  The dozen or so North American stories ended with the Death of Winnetou (boys were of course supposed to stoically endure this event) but May applied the formula with just as much gusto to other areas of the world: there followed stories of his exploits as Kara ben Nemsi, the hero of the Orient, famous there, too,

for his aim and his all-powerful fist, and for his friendship with Hadschi Halef Omar, his Muslim guide, and with all natives suffering under Ottoman rule; and, as a light encore, a few tales set in Latin America.

All of these written of course without having set foot in any of those lands. Like a modern-day Sir John Mandeville, May would embark on his voyages ensconced in his study and armed with a few popular

May’s study (Photo: Karl May Museum)

ethnologies, a set of the Brockhaus encyclopedia, an atlas or two, and his lively imagination.  Story-telling, make-believe, faking it: it was not only his profession but may have stood at the very core of his being.  Born in abject poverty as the son of a weaver in Saxony in 1842, May survived as a con-man and petty thief, spending almost ten years in jail, before he realized that the safest and most lucrative way to utilize his gifts was by turning his compulsive self-promotion into an art form and sell books.  Along the way he adopted a doctoral degree (“Dr. Karl May”) whose authenticity he then attempted to demonstrate by adding a (fake) honorary degree from the Universitas Germana-Americana (in Chicago!).  A local gun smith fabricated three guns that May alias Old Shatterhand was supposed to have brought back from the States (the Bärentöter or “Bear Killer”, the Silberbüchse or “Silver Gun” and the Henrystutzen or “Henry Rifle”); these he then exhibited as artifacts in the handsome home in Radebeul that he bought with his staggering sales and re-named Villa Shatterhand. Trips to the US and the

May at Villa Shatterhand, undated. He had shot the lion “straight through the heart” — but where? (Photo: Karl May Gesellschaft)

Orient late in life helped to shore up his knowledge of the regions after the fact, but scandal followed him throughout his writing career, up to his last days, which included a dreadful marital imbroglio.  A learned and very readable recent biography (only in German, alas), Helmut Schmiedt, Karl May oder die Macht der Phantasie: Eine Biographie (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2011), reflects on the writer’s apparent megalomania and the final transformation of his self-image into that of a Christ-like savior preaching world peace in those tense days leading up to the Great War.  It is hard to decide whether he had not come to believe his own legend.

I certainly believed it.  The books not only “felt” authentic: they came with a brief editorial comment about “Dr. May”’s travels, a terse but straightforward timeline (“this story occurred between 1860 and 1870”), and a map How I loved those maps, with all the thrilling, exotic names (New Orleans, San Francisco, Llano Estacado, Cairo, Rio de la Plata, Kurdistan), a sinuous route that by its very shape evoked an exciting venture, swirling mountain roads, perilous desert trails—and all more or less in the right places!  True, by the end of the series, when I was perhaps eleven or so, it did occur to me that May had traveled an awful lot in a short time, and my budding sense of time and place was jarred a little when Winnetou—in what otherwise seemed a masterstroke of imaginative as well as economic plotting—joined Old Shatterhand Kara ben Nemsi in the Sahara for Winnetou and the Bedouins (Orig. title: Krüger Bei and Satan und Ischariot), but then there were these maps!  How could this not be true?!  Curiously, it was May’s ardent patriotism that did him in for me. Eventually I grew weary of the fact that virtually every hero of the West (and to some extent of the East), every famous scout whom Old Shatterhand encountered was, like him, German, or more accurately, from Saxony.  Or alternatively from Pommern. (No slackers from Bavaria admitted here!)  This, I thought, defied credibility, and I have been a skeptic of nationalist feelings ever since.

And yet, and yet: I credit May with instilling in me at a very young age an interest in the world, in other people’s experiences, in learning about their history.  I learned about the Mahdi (In the Land of the Mahdi, set against the backdrop of Muhammad Ahmad‘s 1881 rebellion along the Nile) years before I read anything “serious” on Islam or African history; indeed, my knowledge of Ottoman history—such as it is—still owes a lot to From Bagdad to Istanbul and Through Wild Kurdistan, with a little help from Seven Pillars of Wisdom years after that.

Loss of interest in this writer among younger readers has been sort of compensated in recent years by academic enthusiasm—not surprisingly, since Karl May’s oeuvre combines elements of orientalism, the myth of the Noble Savage, colportage novels, eventually also Nazi censorship/propaganda, all rolled into one.  Even before his death, the “Karl May Phenomenon” created its own commercial universe, with Karl-May-cards as candy supplements, Karl-May figurines, puzzles, even kitchen utensils.  Now there are comic books in multiple languages, at least one play for the stage (Hadschi Halef Omar), several TV series, numerous radio plays, pop songs, and of course, inevitably, parodies and satirical takes.  Truck Stop, a German country music band (they exist!) scored a smash hit in 1991 with their Winnetou, oh Winnetou, containing the memorable lines (best left untranslated):

Ich suche mir eine neue Squaw

Ich hoffe nur, ich find sie bald.

Die alte Silberbüchse

Hat schon so lange nicht mehr geknallt.

Perhaps the most spectacular product of the Karl May industry was the series of seventeen (17!) German westerns and easterns produced between 1962 and 1968, mostly featuring the striking Pierre Brice as Winnetou and the Hollywood actor Lex Barker, Johnny Weissmuller’s successor in the Tarzan role, whose 6’4” frame made him the ideal Old Shatterhand / Kara ben Nemsi.  Yes, American readers: before Sergio Leone and his Spaghetti Westerns, there were Frankfurter Westerns. In fact, some of the latter even introduced actors who became stars in the former, like Terence Hill and Klaus Kinski.  And they had Herbert Lom.

I just found out that Dartmouth’s media library owns a videotape of The Shoot (“Der Schut”), the 1964 film based on May’s story of the same title involving Kara ben Nemsi’s pursuit of a villain in the mountains of Montenegro/Albania, “somewhere between 1860 and 1870”.  We probably owe that to Gerd Gemünden, my colleague in the German department, who is an expert on German film and has published on the East German, anti-capitalist Indianerfilme, and to the late Susanne Zantop. Dartmouth students, what treasures do you have right here at your fingertips!

Update: The German Karl May Jahr site announces an American exhibit on May opening in..uh, May.  At the Apache Spirit Ranch in Tombstone, Arizona.  That looks like the right place for it.