Posts tagged “history

Spirit Photography

The UK’s National Media Museum has digitized a collection of the Spirit Photographs of William Hope, one of the most well-known spiritualists and practitioners of spirit photography in early 20th century England. The classic spirit photograph captured the likeness of a living person or people, and the eerie spirits who accompanied them. These ‘spirits’ were created by multiple exposure techniques. All of Hopes’s photographs uploaded to Flickr Commons are dated 1920.

The image below is a very typical example of a Hope spirit photograph; a sitter and a spirit are posed in front of a dark background. The curator’s notes say that the reverse of the photograph reads “Why is the child always pushing to the front?’ and ‘Do we get messages from the higher spirits?” – possibly questions that the sitter had for her ghost.

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The image below is the only example of a mourning photograph in the online Hope collection; it depicts a woman and her son standing by their deceased husband and father, whose ‘ghost’ is also visible.

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This unique spirit photograph a couple pose by their car, which is occupied by the ghost of the dead son.

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We invite you to explore Flickr Commons and share the good stuff you discover.


The Demon Maguire

Late last year the British Library uploaded onto Flickr over one million high-quality scanned images images from its rich collections. As The Appendix explained, the images are in the public domain, free for people around the world to peruse and reproduce to their hearts content.

You can spend hours and hours looking through this treasure chest of historical illustrations and prints (we have!). The fantastic illustrations from Francis Grundy’s Australian children’s book “The Demon McGuire” published in Sydney in 1885 is one of the most exciting set of images that HiTM has discovered so far.

The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature describes the book as ‘a verse story… about an enormous demon who roams around Sydney causing havoc in his wake”. The Demon is a metaphor for a great wind or a storm. This villain “is finally exiled to the Moon by Father Christmas and Father Time” (The Oxford Companion to Australian Children’s Literature, 196).

Why do we like these illustrations so much? Well, first off it is one of the oldest examples of illustrated Australian children’s literature. In addition, the giant, ugly protagonist is very amusing, and you can catch glimpses of real Sydney architecture and landscapes in some scenes. For example, Government House and Sydney Harbour are visible in the title page below;

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(compare the illustrated turrets above to this contemporary photograph of government house)

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It’s not surprising that a book written in a port-city had strong maritime themes: several of the drawings (like the one above) depict the  demon destroying ships in port. Image

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Other illustrations show the demon threatening children, or at least terrifying them by his proximity (including a group hanging out on the roofs of their homes), which is befitting of a book that targeted a young audience.

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Unfortunately the British Library Flickr project only scans images, so you cannot read the full story online. The good news is that there are four copies in Australia between the National Library, and the State Libraries of NSW, Victoria and South Australia.


Book Review: Giles MacDonogh, After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift

colla book review

Expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia, 1945.

Bookended by the Second World and Cold Wars, 1945-1948 in Europe can often be a neglected period within the popular mind. However, as Giles MacDonogh’s 2007 publication After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift confrontationally demonstrates, it was a period analogous to the Second World War in its barbarity, yet distinct from the Cold War in its disorderliness. In the wake of the fury and carnage of the preceding years, it is perhaps easy to forget that many millions of eastern Europeans perished in the months following May 1945. They died from starvation and cold, at their own hands and those of others, in prisons and in foreign lands. They died because of the callous actions of individuals, the indifference and inefficiency of occupying forces, and the utter uniqueness of their circumstance.

I have now completed a handful of MacDonogh’s works on German history, and never to fail to exit them feeling somewhat dizzy. Descriptive detail is heaped upon descriptive detail, with the inevitable result that the wider picture is subsumed to a form of literary montage. In place of an argument, an impression remains. As such, they tend to reach a curious niche – neither ‘academic’ nor ‘popular’, neither strictly ‘political’ nor ‘social’. And true to form, After the Reich is by no means a conventional history. MacDonogh is content to pursue digressions for the sake of pure interest, and gives scant consideration to equivalent chapter or section lengths. Yet one cannot help but sense that he also reaches his most profound heights precisely when unfettered by custom. MacDonogh is a writer and critic of food and wine as well as German history, and although After the Reich offers little scope for exhibiting his skills in these specific fields, his skill in infusing history with the subjective is what sets this book apart. The distress heaped upon the defenceless women of Poland and East Germany defies quantification, as does the brutality with which whole populations were forcibly trafficked throughout central Europe by guards driven by both vengeance and indifference. This is a tale of human suffering, a topic to which MacDonogh’s method is perhaps better suited than that of more conventional histories, with their structures and institutions, impersonal forces and politics.

Still, while the author’s rich description compensates for his imbalance in focuses, there remain several problems with his method. Characters frequently reappear without reintroductions after many hundreds of pages, while the continued reliance on only certain individual memoirs can detract from the wider picture. The author by no means ignores the politics of the situation – the settlements hammered out in distant lands by distant leaders – but his eye remains firmly fixated on the ground level; on the ongoing misery, distress, uncertainty and fear of ordinary individuals. Winning the peace was always as vital for the Allies as winning the war, but this book is a savage indictment of how that peace was won. And while historians may forever debate the roles of logistics, political exigencies, emotion and comparative morality in causing such a deplorable state of affairs, the very prevalence of this brutality is a fact with which we have never adequately dealt. For all its flaws, After the Reich considers a most important topic, and is highly recommended to anybody with even the most passing interest in twentieth century European history.

– Marcus Colla


A teacher’s archive of confiscated toys

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This week the Vault (Slate’s history blog) has published amazing photographs of a London teacher and artist Guy Tarrant’s archive of confiscated toys taken from London schoolchildren in 150 different schools, over thirty years. Tarrant organised the toys into eight cabinents (modern curiosity cabinets?) currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Bored Panda blog reported that “the Artist called his project “Resistant Materials” to emphasize the resistance and opposition between rebellious youth and the strict academic environment they find themselves in”.

Many of the toys will be familiar to Australian Gen Yers and Millenials; the gameboy, pog slammers, a troll doll say something about the globalisation of play in the 1980s and 1990s. The gendered nature of toys is also explicit in Tarrent’s collection.