In: H-Law
Author: Bianca Premo
Reviewer: Norah L. A. Gharala

Bianca Premo. The Enlightenment on Trial: Ordinary Litigants and Colonialism in the Spanish Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. xiii + 361 pp. $36.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-19-063873-3; $105.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-063872-6.

Reviewed by Norah L. A. Gharala (Georgian Court University) Published on H-Law (July, 2018) Commissioned by Laurent Corbeil (Laboratoire interdisciplinaire d'études latino-américaines, Université du Québec à Montréal)

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The Enlightenment on Trial explores, in the legal spaces of the Spanish Empire, how colonial subjects interpreted Enlightenment concepts and pushed for particular applications of the law. Bianca Premo proposes that, as everyday people sued their social superiors, “litigants’ practices and their lawyers’ arguments demonstrated the popularization and everyday reworking, in the moment, of dynamic ideas of rights, freedom, and merit” (pp. 15-16). Stressing the “in the moment” nature of this process, the author reconstructs a dialogue between and among married women, indigenous commoners, enslaved people, practitioners of law, and colonial authorities that gradually shaped the Enlightenment. Ordinary people propelled legal ideas into the civil courts, thus forcing authorities to reconsider, and sometimes reinterpret, the law. Premo’s argument centers ordinary litigants within the shift from an older, casuistic legal culture to a more modern one. The author finds that the rate at which people of different social and legal statuses challenged more powerful individuals in court increased markedly in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Within a general rise in civil suits, certain litigants in New Spain and Peru became more likely to use the king’s courts to press cases against husbands, Indian nobles and leaders, and slaveowners.

The distinction between Latin America as a receiver or a producer of historical events and ideas will be familiar to many readers, as will the call to move the Enlightenment beyond the lettered elites of Europe. Premo does acknowledge elite creoles as agents of the Enlightenment, but this work offers a wider range of people as legal strategists and thinkers. The Enlightenment on Trial generally affirms historians of the Bourbon Reforms who argue that colonial subjects actively interpreted and challenged Bourbon policies, even in the absence of violent rebellions. Premo goes further through close readings of civil cases to prove that some of the ideas most central to the Enlightenment actually originated among everyday people, not just philosophers and jurists. The book adds to the legal history of the Andes, in which historians have analyzed the impact of women and enslaved people in colonial courts and political spheres using case studies ranging from Popayán to Arequipa. By constructing a broad study that encompasses many legal and social categories, Premo demonstrates that people across Spanish America were involved in civil litigation toward Enlightenment goals. The book describes not only the content of Enlightenment legal discourse but also how people applied it and, through what Premo often underscores as their “initiative” and drive, created an archive. This focus on the assembly of a civil case on the part of litigants is a valuable contribution of this work to a growing historiography that looks at the production of archives from the ground up. The decisions and goals—as far as the historian can understand them—of ordinary people in formal and informal legal spaces are the sustained focus of this work.

The Enlightenment on Trial compares civil cases in New Spain (Mexico City and the alcaldías mayores of Teposcolula and Villa Alta in Oaxaca), Peru (Lima and Trujillo), and Spain (Valladolid and Montes de Toledo in Castilla-La Mancha). Part 1 contains chapters that consider legal sources from the standpoints of production, policy, and changing legal values. Premo offers detailed descriptions of the physical life of documents, how litigants created them, and who else (if anyone) assisted in the process. They included a wide array of colorful characters roaming the streets of Spanish America, ready to offer legal advice or scribble a note that might be acceptable in court. This chapter addresses an open question in the historiography of civil and ecclesiastical legal histories from below, namely “whether ordinary people were speaking for themselves” (p. 31). Describing agents, practices, protocols, papers, and places, Premo argues that litigants had a variable degree of influence over their lawsuits. Asking readers to envision a lawsuit as a series of lived moments, rather than a final product, has the effect of rendering the experiences of everyday people and their impact on lawsuits more tangible. At the levels of handwriting, costs, and word choice, the chapter describes moments beyond the physical courtroom.

The second chapter analyzes the ideas of legal experts of the period, like Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro and oidor José Pedro Bravo de Lagunas y Castilla, to walk the reader through changing conceptions of justice and law in the early modern world. Premo discusses the gradual shift toward legal modernity found in the Bourbon desire to move a variety of legal conflicts from the ecclesiastical to royal civil courts. Premo acknowledges the influence from above of jurists and monarchs, but their writings were sometimes the result of calls from the colonies for legal reform. Yet, rather than a simple conflict between imperial actors and local litigants, what emerges is a complex mosaic of legal interpretations. Premo identifies a dynamic eclecticism as a framework for understanding legal Enlightenment thought among powerful men and ordinary litigants.

Chapter 3, along with two appendices, explains the quantitative methods this work employs, which draw from the social sciences. The author methodically lays out the numerical evidence in support of the observation that ordinary people were increasingly able to access civil courts in order to sue their superiors. The main finding readers will note is the increase in lawsuits in the latter part of the eighteenth century in New Spain and Peru, in contrast to Spain. These findings are not, for Premo, a reflection of changes in demography or bureaucracy but an indication of a shift in legal values and culture. As they sought resolutions to conflicts in civil court, rather than extrajudicial solutions, ordinary people “separated the law from the social world of community-based justice” (p. 116).

The second part traces the advancement of key Enlightenment ideas among ordinary litigants preoccupied with very real applications of natural rights, merit, freedom, and secular legal subjectivity. While the book lingers on litigants’ internal motivations in going to court, the author shows the impact of these legal actions beyond the individual cases. First, the author considers the rise in civil litigation among women, who increasingly cast themselves as individuals with natural rights threatened by tyrannical men. Preferring secular to ecclesiastical courts, women litigants in Spanish America participated in the general shift toward characteristic Bourbon regalism. Native communities and their leaders are the subject of the following chapter, which claims that “indigenous people’s contests over the law simultaneously shaped native tradition and legal modernity” (p. 159). Indians who were not nobles by birthright put forward the idea that their status was earned through merit, as they sought greater participation in local politics. Caciques and principales, Indian nobles, pushed back against these arguments by claiming that their customs supported justice and harmony over litigation and law.

Finally, Premo adds to a rich body of scholarship on slavery and freedom in Latin America considered from the perspectives of enslaved people. Historians will recognize engagement with a broader historiography of enslaved people’s use of legal spaces in the Andes and New Spain. Premo’s contribution centers on the conception of freedom, often taken as a given in Enlightenment thought. Premo draws the conclusion that “slaves themselves were instrumental in plotting out the liberation teleology that so dominates Western thought” (p. 192). In this chapter, enslaved people “forged a civil subjectivity as litigants” (p. 191), which contrasts with previous studies of criminal, inquisitional, and ecclesiastical courts of the seventeenth century. Enslaved people sued at rates far greater than other litigants and using novel ideas about freedom as a destination, rather than an inherent condition, of humanity. Premo’s analyses of the term “freedom” in this chapter ask what enslaved people said about freedom as an idea specific to the eighteenth century, how they and their legal representatives conceived of the possibility of becoming free.

According to this work, the actions of these ordinary colonial subjects did not diverge markedly from the goals of Bourbon centralizing policies. Over time, smaller legal actions and decisions “by subject and sovereign cumulatively curtailed the authority of the political intermediaries that stood between them, including caciques, masters, and husbands” (p. 226). This process meant that the courts allowed people to seek relief without resorting to violent rebellion. These litigants were not the only people who sought to influence justice, but they were the ones who wanted a formal, legal solution to what they saw as a problem. For any readers who do not accept the Iberian world as a viable source of Western modernity, Premo’s conclusion presents a worthy challenge.

Each of the categories Premo analyzes had a specific meaning in the colonial world, which will explain the presence or absence of various groups. Historians have established the growth and influence of large populations of castas in parts of late colonial Spanish America, but such people figure only occasionally in this work. One intriguing case appears on p. 175 and treats questions of caste labels like chino and zambaigo in local Indian councils. Premo’s work invites additional research questions regarding the extent of the impact of free people of color, like mestizos or mulatos, on legal culture and the Enlightenment.

This work will interest scholars and students of history, law, gender, and race. By historicizing social theories, jurisprudence, and theories of the Enlightenment to the present moment, Premo asks provocative questions that will challenge historians to rethink modernity and law. At the crossroads of multiple disciplines, geographies, and historiographies, Premo makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of who had a hand in making the legal Enlightenment.

Citation: Norah L. A. Gharala. Review of Premo, Bianca, The Enlightenment on Trial: Ordinary Litigants and Colonialism in the Spanish Empire. H-Law, H-Net Reviews. July, 2018. URL:

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Author: Yoshiaki Yoshimi
Reviewer: Scott W. Aalgaard

Yoshiaki Yoshimi. Grassroots Fascism: The War Experience of the Japanese People. Translated by Ethan Mark. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. 360 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-16568-6.

Reviewed by Scott W. Aalgaard (The University of Chicago) Published on H-Japan (June, 2015) Commissioned by Simon Nantais

Timing, William Shakespeare famously said, is everything. That Ethan Mark’s elegant translation of Yoshimi Yoshiaki’s Kusa no ne fashizumu (1987)--rendered in English by the translator as “Grassroots Fascism”--should be made available in an historical moment marked by the approach of the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Pacific War on the one hand, and Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe’s (et al.) apparent determination to rewrite the history of that war on the other, is nothing short of fortuitous, and is sure to add a crucial level of complexity to the global scholarly discourse on the nature of Japan’s war, and indeed on the social mechanics of war in general.

This richness and complexity stems from the fact that Yoshimi’s work chooses to see the war not from the standpoint of geopolitics and military strategy, but from the level of everyday actors (the “grassroots” of the title) seeking to survive the war on terms beneficial to them, both on the homefront and in Japan’s former colonies. In its examination of the ways in which individuals navigated the circumstances of war and the demands of the state, Yoshimi’s work calls to mind such important and pioneering works as Sheldon Garon’s Molding Japanese Minds (1997) and Louise Young’s Japan’s Total Empire (1998)--but its scope is considerably more expansive. Yoshimi has scoured dozens of firsthand and official accounts to tell the stories of individuals who are sometimes ecstatic, sometimes despondent, often conflicted, but always driven by the quest for survival (even posthumous survival, in some cases). In its most effective moments, in other words, Yoshimi’s work can be considered an empirical manifestation of important theoretical insights from thinkers from Baruch Spinoza to Gilles Deleuze, and makes an excellent companion to other works that grapple with questions of survival in times of crisis, such as, for example, Ken C. Kawashima’s The Proletarian Gamble: Korean Workers in Interwar Japan (2009).

The book is headed by an excellent translator’s introduction, wherein Mark helps to familiarize the reader with the historicity of war and fascism as revealed by Yoshimi in the ensuing chapters, and with some of the dominant analytical approaches to war and fascism as considered on both Japanese and global scales. Indeed, an important insistence of the author here is that “Japan” and “the global” are always already inextricably intertwined, a reality that informed both the manner in which Japanese fascism, fueled in part by imperial anxieties, developed, and the ways in which the experiences of war and fascism were narrated after the fact (p. 9). Mark provides a concise overview of the conceptual routes by which Japanese fascism was typically approached by postwar analysts--as a consequence of feudal remnants, for example, or as a freakish and tragic misstep on the path to (capitalist) modernity, or, as Maruyama Masao argues, as a sort of combination thereo--and situates Yoshimi’s contribution amidst the historical discourses dominant at the time of the work’s release. In the midst of an analytical climate that tended to situate the fountainhead of fascism at a variously envisioned “top” of society, Mark insists that “what ultimately sets Yoshimi’s approach apart is his combination of an empirewide perspective with a focus on the rise of fascism from the ‘bottom up’” (p. 20). And, crucially, the translator sets the groundwork for a critical understanding of precisely how and why fascism intertwined with many social actors at the grassroots of this period by pointing out that fascism’s “greatest support came from those whose skills equipped them with the social potential and ambition to enter the middle class, even as--or perhaps precisely because--their achieved social and material positions did not (as yet) match this potential” (p. 22).

The body chapters of Yoshimi’s work itself are very (sometimes brutally) engaging, though they tend to lean more toward an empirical explication of individual experiences and strategies at varying moments of Japan’s war than they do toward critical analysis per se. In this we can clearly hear Yoshimi's response to the historical moment and attendant analytical culture of its original production (as noted by Mark)--but while innovative, this emphasis on the experiences of the grassroots at the expense, perhaps, of critical clarity appears today as something of an ambiguous strategy, one that both enhances and undermines the strength of the book in terms of its value to contemporary scholars. Chapter 1 (“From Democracy to Fascism”), for example, provides both an important overview of some of the structural (economic) factors that contributed to the rise of fascism--including the exacerbation of unevenness between urban and rural areas, and the reluctance on the part of middle-to-lower social actors to translate discontent with the state and socioeconomic conditions into actual resistance to war, owing to the belief that the state’s (mis)adventures would ultimately improve the conditions of their own lives--against the backdrop of the lived experiences of diverse actors in the early-war period. Some of these examples--such as that of Akita teacher Kimura, whose war experiences fed a desire for social engineering that could truly be considered fascistic, a project that he pursued in earnest on his return from the front--are extremely illustrative of the relation between war and fascism. Other examples, however, while clearly brutal examples of (anti-Chinese) racism and the acidic side effects of nationalism, seem less concretely tethered to the development of fascism itself--and as I shall discuss below, it is this ghostly, omnipresent treatment of (something called) “fascism” that threatens to frustrate attempts to lay concise critical hold thereof.

Chapter 2 (“Grassroots Fascism”) serves to continue the discussion of the ways in which individual actors navigated Japan’s war years and how the choices that they made tied into “imperial fascism.” At this point in the narrative, “imperial fascism” speaks to the mechanics (including, for example, the kyokoku itchi taisei, which involved the dissolution of political parties) of a (self-)imposed “oneness,” one manipulated by conjuring a gravitational pull of a national body centered upon the emperor, and the manners in which this conceptual “oneness” served to bolster fascism. Of particular interest here is Yoshimi’s attention to the desires of women, who are depicted as having cooperated enthusiastically with state policy in order to raise their own stations and standards of living, and to movements such as the lifestyle reform movement of Okinawa, which aimed at the eradication of dialect and “backward” customs as means by which to draw nearer to an imagined Japanese center. Central to Yoshimi’s critique here, of course, are the ways in which desires for inclusion and belonging weaved their ways through the choices made by grassroots actors--and particularly marginalized grassroots actors--in the imperial period. Lurking behind these specific critiques, however, lay rather uneasy slippages between patriotism and nationalism, and fascism. While the former are clearly problematic in their own right, one is left wanting of a more surgical excision of the fascistic, in order to lay it bare and potentiate a critique thereof that is not necessarily limited to historical conditions of war. The question of precisely where “oneness” ceases to constitute solidarity (for example) and begins to devolve into fascism is also of great importance to this sort of critical exercise.

In chapter 3 (“The Asian War”), Yoshimi shifts his focus to how the war was experienced (by Japanese actors, for the most part) in Asia and introduces some of the ways in which geographic specificity impacted the complex and ambiguous ways in which Japan’s war was greeted and comprehended by actors in the colonies. In an intriguing sort of twist on Maruyama’s understanding of imperial fascism, Yoshimi reveals the ways in which Japan’s “holy war” and its purported missions were disparaged as “groundless” by degrees--the nearer one was to local residents and their lives in Asia, in other words, the more dismissive Yoshimi’s actors appeared to be of any merit to Japan’s war (p. 173). Highlighted in this chapter is Yoshimi’s attention to the sometimes unpredictable ways in which the actual lived experience of war in geographically disparate locales shaped the outlooks of individual (Japanese) actors: it was not “fascism” as a universal, somehow “Japanese” contagion that served to bolster the war, but rather a reciprocal relationship to history that served to bolster fascistic outlooks--but sometimes alternative outlooks as well. Yoshimi introduces us, for example, to an actor named Ida whose pacifism and later esteem for the postwar, war-renouncing Japanese constitution could be traced to his wartime experiences. It is, in fact, this reciprocal relationship to history that seems to hold the conceptual key to releasing fascism from its confinement to moments of war--a leap, as I will suggest below, that is of crucial importance to ongoing studies of fascism as social phenomena.

Indeed, it was precisely such historically and geographically specific experiences that, in Yoshimi’s formulation, finally brought about the undoing of support for Japan’s war. As the author points out in the work’s final chapter (“Democracy From the Battlefield”), “war weariness” rooted in material shortages and the outright terror of the bombing of the homeland “contributed greatly to the collapse of the Japanese people’s will to fight” (pp. 220-222). The concrete historical experience of impending defeat led, in other words, from a shift in emphasis from sacrifice for the state to self-preservation, and as a result, “[c]onfronted with the severely negative side of war, the people were finally beginning to separate from the fascist state” (p. 235). But as Yoshimi notes with some puzzlement and apparent dismay, this did not instantaneously lead to an abandoning of “imperial outlook” and seizure of “the opportunity to free themselves from the constrictive power of the imperial state.” It is, perhaps, precisely in this befuddlement over the misalignment between historical reality and social directionality--itself seemingly rooted in a lurking assumption that war provides both the foundational, potentiating conditions for fascism and, in its cessation, the conditions for its demise--that we can detect the presence of the analytic premise most demanding of further scholarly attention.

As would be expected from its title, fascism (or something called “fascism”) haunts all corners of this work, permeating the strategies and desires of Yoshimi’s actors even as it is bolstered and solidified by the same. But as a wise teacher of mine once said: if fascism is everything, then it is also nothing. For all of its focus on Japanese fascism, in other words, it is precisely (and paradoxically) fascism that remains something of a translucent, shape-shifting specter throughout the book, playing at the corners of our peripheral vision and seeming to vanish as soon as we attempt to bring it into focus. To be sure, Yoshimi’s understanding of the nature of “emperor-system fascism” and its dual-pronged consequences of mobilization and suppression (here, as Mark points out, Yoshimi shares much with Marxist scholar Furuya Tetsuo) is distilled effectively in the introduction to the work. But as I have noted above, most of the empirical narrative unearthed and presented by the author concentrates (understandably) on individual experiences in the war and the various strategies deployed to survive its horrors. This is, of course, highly illuminating--but the strategy seems somehow to render elusive the fulfillment of the work’s critical potential, and presents unanticipated challenges for understanding these narratives as narratives of fascism, as opposed to war or nationalism. Many of the experiences revealed by Yoshimi are heartbreaking and brutal, to be sure--but what, precisely, makes them “fascist,” or ties them to “fascism” as social phenomena? Fascism (as is well indicated by the introduction to the book) is infuriatingly difficult to define concisely, and thus to lay critical grasp of. I by no means wish to suggest that Japan did not experience fascism during the war years of 1931 to 1945 (I am convinced that it did), but the danger inherent in equating fascism to nationalism or to wartime strategies of survival is that we risk reproducing precisely the analytical error committed by Edwin O. Reischauer and others--that is, the error of committing fascism to moments in history animated by war, which amounts to a premature exorcism of a ghoul that continues to haunt the world, in Japan and beyond (pp. 3-4). There seems, in other words, a pressing need to disentangle the mechanics of fascism from the experience of war and the ambiguous potentials of nationalism, in order to render it visible before it reveals itself to us on its own terms. This is crucial work that, hopefully, will be pursued by area studies and history scholars in the years to come, and it is my fervent hope that the reader will view the comments herein not so much as criticisms of Yoshimi’s very fine work, but rather as modest suggestions concerning how scholars might build upon the important foundation that it provides.

By situating fascism in the realm of the everyday, Yoshimi Yoshiaki was far ahead of his time when he released Kusa no ne fashizumu in 1987. Situated alongside other pioneering works that aim to shift the emphasis of investigations into the social from state policy and superstructure to the ambiguous ways in which individual actors aim to navigate the conditions of their own existence, Yoshimi’s extremely important and highly engaging work--and Ethan Mark’s elegant, insightful, and eminently readable translation thereof--is sure to prompt further discussion about the nature of fascism and its relationship to history, paving the way to ever more concise and critical engagements with both. And if there has been any moment in recent history when such a discussion is pressing and timely, surely that moment is now.


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Citation: Scott W. Aalgaard. Review of Yoshimi, Yoshiaki, Grassroots Fascism: The War Experience of the Japanese People. H-Japan, H-Net Reviews. June, 2015. URL:

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Author: Eliezer Schweid
Reviewer: David H. Aaron

Eliezer Schweid. The Philosophy of the Bible as Foundation of Jewish Culture. Philosophy of Biblical Narrative. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2008. x + 212 pp. $70.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-934843-00-0.

Reviewed by David H. Aaron (Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati) Published on H-Judaic (March, 2009) Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Schweid on the Bible: Philosophy or Ideology?

Eliezer Schweid’s Philosophy of the Bible is actually a two-volume work. The first volume is a “Philosophy of Biblical Narrative,” the second is a “Philosophy of Biblical Law.” Except for the first chapter of the first volume and the last chapter of the second volume, these books are loosely structured around themes and biblical passages that are relevant to those themes. The primary focus of the first volume is the book of Genesis, followed in significance by a treatment of Moses and the Egyptian enslavement. The second volume treats specific laws and ideas of justice and social organization as elucidated in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. There are incidental references to Psalms, and scattered treatments of passages from prophetic literature and the histories, but otherwise, this is predominantly a book about the potential relevance of the Pentateuch to a contemporary Jewish culture--title notwithstanding. The themes considered reflect Schweid’s personal interests rather than the Bible’s agenda. So, for instance, there is hardly mention of purity laws, and the sacrificial cultic attracts little attention. My comments here will pertain exclusively to the first volume on biblical narrative, and predominantly the thirty-nine-page introduction at that, which places before the reader Schweid’s motivations and goals. 

This is fundamentally an ideological work, in the sense that Terry Eagleton would define a work whose purpose is the “social determination of thought.” Schweid is not interested in evoking new critical approaches to biblical literature, nor does he provide any original philosophical insights. Rather, he is focused on showing how a return to "ole time religion" might help save Jews from the contemporary postmodernist catastrophe. After a very brief and historically selective survey of Enlightenment-era biblical studies--almost exclusively focused on Baruch Spinoza as a “prophet of political Zionism” (p. 9)--Schweid makes clear that his two closely related foci are: (1) the emptiness of Israeli culture, and (2) the vacuous character of Diaspora Judaism. Both suffer from the effects of postmodernism, which has caused a loss of cultural rootedness. For Schweid, the Bible should constitute the foundational basis for all forms of Judaism--from religious orthodoxy to secular Israeli Zionism. But the Bible has been displaced by a variety of sociological developments. Schweid’s goal is to show a path back toward Judaism’s roots (manifest in “long-term cultural memory”), which he believes are best found in the Bible.

Diaspora Jews, Schweid argues, do not know Hebrew, and this is also a fundamental barrier to integrating the Bible into their lives. Schweid never considers the possibility or value of translating works into other languages. I surmise this is because he sees language as an essential part of culture and collective memory. Nor does he see the inherent contradiction in his notion that primary languages are a key to cultural vibrancy. He ignores the fact that Christians do not seem to be hampered by a lack of familiarity with Hebrew and Greek in developing rich religious lives centered on biblical literature. Nor does Schweid demonstrate cognizance of Yiddish or Ladino or Judaeo-Arabic, instances where Hebrew was subordinated to rich “Jewish” vernaculars. As for the Israeli paradox, Schweid recognizes that Hebrew usage has not saved Israelis from nihilism, but this is because Hebrew “has become emptied of its traditional cultural content and filled with resonances of the contemporary life-flow, bearing linguistic influences of the countries of origin of immigrants and especially American English, for Israel grows culturally closer to the United States with every passing generation” (p. 21). Without knowledge of the Bible--a knowledge which implicitly must be rooted in its original language--no long-term cultural memory is possible. And without this form of memory, a society will float aimlessly upon the seas of globalization and private egotism. 

Indeed, what has caused this degradation of Judaism in its various guises--Diasporan and Israeli-secular--are today’s “rampant individualism together with the globalization of mass-media culture” (p. 21). As noted, the culprit behind these phenomena is postmodernism. Schweid understands “postmodernism” to spawn a “competitive individualism” and tendencies toward globalization in all aspects of society. The “ideological, interest-serving nature of this outlook,” charges Schweid, is evident from “the heavy prices of a psychological, existential, ethical, social and cultural kind,” both in terms of the family and the community (p. 22). How are these manifest? “These are paid in the form of loss of identity, of solidarity, of the fragmentation of ways of life, of the sense of responsibility to the other and to the community.” Schweid’s socialist leanings have him draw attention to the particularly deleterious impact of this ideology on those with less means. “Everyone pays these prices, but especially those whom this economy of abundance exploits more than it satisfies their needs. The rifts in society portending upheaval are all too recognizable. It is therefore imperative to address the factors of post-modernism for the sake of a collective reorientation” (p. 22). Without this reorientation, individualism and its destructive “egotism” will pursue unbridled “apocalyptic solutions” against the interests of society at large.

The critique becomes reactionary against change in society. Traditional culture, Schweid declares, has irreplaceable value for contemporary society. “To be wedded to the set patterns that flow from the rhythmic cycle of human life is regarded as conservativism in the negative sense, tedious and boring” (p. 25). But for Schweid, in those rhythmic cycles and the traditions that have spawned them, we are to find cultural salvation. The individualism of postmodernity only benefits people selectively. Here Schweid breaks things down according to “class”--not exclusively economic, but also intellectual: “To a creative personality that has absorbed a broad cultural background, it [postmodernism] offers a feeling of limitless freedom for creation [sic] expression of one’s inner spirit. But from the standpoint of ordinary people dependent on a culture, or of collective humanity, it is defective and harmful. It offers a kind of entertainment that is stimulating and arousing but superficial and lacking in depth” (p. 25). The conclusion is that postmodernism results in an “ethical, social and philosophical bankruptcy, the same bankruptcy that totalitarian philosophies arrived at in an earlier generation” (p. 26).

Diaspora Judaism has been particularly ravaged by the impact of postmodernism. Long-term memory has been replaced by dangerous short-term memory. Both “the mystique of the Holocaust” and the founding of the State of Israel have come to inform Diaspora Jewish identity as an element of short-term memory. As such, these trends are shallow and ultimately connected to trends within the materialist history of the twentieth century. “There is no substitute for long-term [cultural] memory,” argues Schweid, “for it alone carries those constant perceptions that serve as the foundation for the sense of group identity of a culture, as well as the sense of individual identity of a person who internalizes the values of that culture as a basis for new creativity” (p. 29). Schweid then launches into a brief discussion of cultural socialization, the role of education, and how the restoration of the Bible’s central role in these processes will help transform both Diaspora and Israeli Judaism. 

But why the Bible? Why not the Talmud, or the Midrash, or Maimonides, or all of them together? These literatures are briefly discussed in the introduction, but ultimately the canonical characteristic of biblical literature brings it to the top of the literary inheritance. “There is something exceptional in [the Bible’s] literary character that stands at the basis of its acceptance as a canonical work and its propagation beyond the circle of authority of the religions that institutionalized it” (p. 31). And what would that exceptional character be? The Bible, “as a sacred work deals directly with the fundamental timeless questions of human existence” (p. 31). Even when ideas are problematic for modern thinkers, “it is a matter of supreme eternal importance to grapple with” the biblicist’s issues, so as to forge one’s own response. By grounding contemporary Jewish culture--secular, religious, Zionist, and Diasporan--in this "philosophy of the Bible," Judaism will regain the deep, long-term cultural memory it requires to provide people with meaningful lives. 

Once the introduction has concluded, Schweid continues with a series of quasi-homiletical treatments of a broad array of themes. The second part starts with the question of whether there really is “philosophy” in the Bible. Naturally, given the title of this work, the answer is affirmative, but Schweid offers little more than shallow reflections on character development and broad biblical themes. Revelation, the role of the prophet, and some general theological notions--such as the creator God, human destiny, and history itself--are not situated within a history of ideas or contemporary scholarship. Morality, idolatry, particularism (Israel’s chosen-ness) and universalism (God of the world) are explained on the basis of biblical stories with no critical reflection whatsoever. There is hardly any exploration of questions of historicity, ideology, or literary development. Some aspects of Torah are related to as “myth,” others as actual history, and yet others as history “[raised] to the plane of myth”--an idea left rather vague. There are essentially no references in this work (other than a periodic note by the translator). Schweid shows no interest in situating biblical ideas against the backdrop of ancient Near Eastern societies, although he does not hesitate to speak of the “ethical-political world of ideas embodied in the Joseph narrative” (p.111, and then 182-85) (quite astounding given the crude exploitation of the peasantry described in Genesis 47:13-27). There are numerous ideas invented by Schweid that have no basis in any text whatsoever, such as the notion of “the Torahite law of freedom in Israel,” which is to be contrasted with enslavement in Egypt, and “the democratic character of the regime of God’s governance that is based on covenant.[1]

If one is looking for homiletical reflections on biblical passages, then this book may prove meaningful. From a scholarly perspective, however, I find little to recommend in this volume, even accepting its designated target audience. There are numerous extensive critiques of postmodernism currently in print, but Schweid neither references nor takes advantage of any of them: not Jürgen Habermas; not Christopher Norris; not Sheldon L. Wolin; not James N. Rosenau. Instead, he focuses generically on the hideousness of egotism and the rampant destructiveness of globalism. The critique is too simplistic to be taken seriously. Schweid’s socialist-communitarian leanings--leanings to which I am positively disposed--might have been grounded in any number of sophisticated treatments of contemporary culture. Authors such as Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, David Harvey, Alex Callinicos, and Leszek Kolakowski--to name some of the more prominent champions of or writers about Marxist criticism today--have all offered critiques of postmodernism that are far more eloquent and insightful than Schweid’s own. These are all philosophically rich works, none of which is reactionary, and none of which naively ascribes to a single phenomenon--postmodernism--the deterioration of contemporary society. 

In effect, this is an extended personal essay. The author felt no obligation to situate his ideas within any given speech community of writers on the Bible or philosophy. This greatly compromises the value of Schweid’s program. He would have benefited by drawing upon people who have pursued parallel tracks. His insistence on the Bible’s unique, sacred framing of “fundamental timeless questions of human existence” (p. 31) undermines any notion that there is “philosophy” in this book. This is squarely a book of ideology, one in which propositions are put forth without any critical scrutiny.

Essentialist claims are exactly the target of postmodernist thinkers, but Schweid does nothing to redeem their wounds. Ironically, Richard Rorty, who embraces a strong anti-essentialist neo-pragmatism, happens to explore ideas that are quite close to some of those Schweid prescribes for a healthy society. His lay-targeted book, Achieving our Country (1998) might have helped Schweid avoid ascribing all of society’s woes to the anti-foundationalism of postmodernism. After all, Rorty’s own anti-essentialism should prove that one can still find one’s way to a just, moral, and culturally rich society, without believing in the sanctity of a canon. Rather than turn uncritically toward notions of the Bible’s intrinsic value (notions that have no philosophical defense whatsoever), Schweid might have found particularly useful Rorty’s chapter, “The Inspirational Value of Great Works of Literature.”There, Rorty advocates on behalf of “romantic utopians” who are “trying to imagine a better future.” In a nutshell, that is fundamentally what Schweid’s book is all about--imagining a better future through the development of a richer Jewish culture. And if nothing else, Schweid’s work is infused with a romanticism about the value of ancient literature and stable cultural values, a romanticism which unfortunately isolates the author from those who are actively embracing projects that are very much like his own. Schweid, the philosopher, is essentially looking to foster a religion founded upon a certain attitude toward literature; not literature in general, but ancient Hebrew literature in particular. Rorty, the philosopher-turned-reader-of-literature, might have been sympathetic to this project--only without its essentialism. How ironic, then, that Rorty, not Schweid, brings his reader the following passage from Dorothy Allison’s “Believing in Literature,” where imagination and inspiration are rightly harnessed in the service of a rich cultural spiritualism:

There is a place where we are always alone with our own mortality, where we must simply have something greater than ourselves to hold onto--God or history or politics or literature or a belief in the healing power of love, or even righteous anger. Sometimes I think they are all the same. A reason to believe, a way to take the world by the throat and insist that there is more to this life than we have ever imagined.[2]

Schweid would apparently like nothing better than to take the Jewish world by its throat, so as to shake into it some cultural sense. But for serious readers of Torah, and much religious literature beyond (Jewish or otherwise), best to stay clear of Schweid’s angry grip. There is little to be gained in attributing the causes of cultural emptiness to external enemies like postmodernism and globalization. Better that the philosopher and religionist look critically at the content of their literary inheritance, so as to evaluate with clear eyes whether that inheritance can really speak cogently to a world whose only consistent force may be change itself.

Postscript: I have not commented on the quality of the translation, but the reader will note how awkward some of the quoted phrases are and might conclude with me that the translator did not render either the most felicitous or flowing prose. This book is published by a relative newcomer to the academic publishing scene. We should all applaud the appearance of a new academic house in a world that is, indeed, diminishing an author’s options outside of the big corporate publishing houses. That said, the book, while handsome at first appearance and in hand, is poorly printed. The type is neither black enough nor sharp enough. In some places, one can actually see pixilation. A standard, off-the-shelf laser printer today yields results infinitely superior to what appears in this book. If Academic Studies Press wishes to attract more manuscripts, it is going to have to drastically improve its product. There are also other annoyances. Placement of page numbers and the chapter headers do not conform to standard practices. The opening lines of paragraphs, rather than being indented, are backspaced into the left margin the equivalent of three letters. No explanation is given for this unconventional printing format. The book has a subject index, but no verse citation index, which is standard for Bible-related books. There is no bibliography, but that is because the book only cites a handful of writings by others in passing.


[1]. Both of these ideas appear in a variety of places in the first volume, but they are more thoroughly explored in the volume on biblical law; see p.3ff. and 34-45.

[2]. In Allison’s collection of essays, Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature (Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1995), 181; cited in Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 132.

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Author: Thomas W. Zeiler
Reviewer: Susan Ariel Aaronson

Thomas W. Zeiler. Free Trade Free World: The Advent of GATT. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. xii + 288 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8078-2458-0.

Reviewed by Susan Ariel Aaronson (George Mason University) Published on H-Business (June, 1999)

One of the world's most misunderstood organizations sits on the glistening shore of Lake Geneva, in Geneva, Switzerland. Its 450 international civil servants toil in a former palace. Despite their tony digs, they have little power or clout. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is a member driven organization. Its 132 members meet to develop rules to govern trade among nations. Decisions at the WTO are not made by these officials, but by consensus among all members. And consensus is not quickly or easily arrived at.

At this writing, the WTO is some four years old, but it has a little known history. It was built on a multilateral trade agreement, the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), established in 1948. The GATT was supposed to be a temporary measure, superseded by a formal international organization to govern trade. This organization, the International Trade Organization (ITO), not only included the GATT's agreements on commercial policies (tariffs, quotas, exchange controls and other border measures that can distort trade) but also rules on economic policies that could also distort trade such as employment policies or business practices.

The ITO was the most comprehensive international agreement ever negotiated. In my opinion, it made the WTO look simple. Had it been approved, the ITO would have required Congress to change some U.S. laws and regulations--beyond the traditional turf of trade policy. But Congress never voted on the ITO. Republicans and Democrats alike were preoccupied with the spread of Communism throughout Eastern Europe, instability in Asia, hunger throughout the world, and inflation in the United States. President Truman made NATO and the Marshall Plan his legislative priorities in 1948-1949 and did not press for its approval. He was satisfied with the achievement of the GATT.

This is a complicated history and it gets more complex. The U.S. Congress also never approved U.S. membership in the GATT. The GATT was built on America's reciprocal trade agreements act, first passed by the Congress in 1934, during the Great Depression. With this law, for a limited period, Congress granted its traditional authority to make trade policy to the Executive in the hopes that bilateral trade liberalization would yield economic growth. The GATT was tailored to fit the limitations of this legislation as well as Congressional reluctance to cede control over trade policy either to the Executive or to a formal international organization. This act allowed the United States to negotiate bilateral trade agreements that mutually reduced border measures such as tariffs that distorted trade. The GATT then generalized these agreements among its contracting parties. They were called contracting parties because the authors of the GATT, in particular State Department official John Leddy, recognized that Congress would not like the term "members." Moreover, the United States accepted the GATT's provisions only insofar as it did not interfere with its existing laws. As a result, the United States could continue to protect and subsidize its agricultural producers without breeching the very trade agreement it had created. To reiterate, the trade agreement used to reduce protectionism allowed protectionism and was built to accommodate protectionism. And the trade agreements act did not allow U.S. policy makers to convene discussions about the many other policies (such as labor or competition policies) that distorted trade among the United States and its trade partners. Thus, the GATT was not built on a very stable foundation, because the trade agreements act had to be renewed every couple of years. Until 1995, when the United States joined the WTO, the GATT was simply a trade agreement, a club, because the reciprocal trade agreements act did not authorize the executive branch to sign a treaty or build an international organization.

Tom Zeiler, an associate professor in the history department of the University of Colorado at Boulder, has worked hard to shed light on this complicated history in his new book, Free Trade, Free World: The Advent of GATT. Knowing that the historians of foreign economic policies have not focused on the GATT, Zeiler tries to fit its history into American foreign policy. This is an important objective. He argues that this multilateral trade agreement was "designed to ensure American values and security, not just profits" (p. 2). And he argues that "by liberalizing trade while protecting domestic economies--a bargain consistent with U.S. trade law, practice, and history--GATT facilitated American foreign economic and diplomatic objectives" (p. 5). GATT was flexible, because it facilitated a global compromise on free trade and protection. And thus, Zeiler concludes, because GATT was a protectionist/free trade compromise, GATT endured.

Zeiler reviewed archival documents in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. Thus, he examined policy makers' view of the same policies and decisions with many different perspectives. By so doing, he has raised the bar for other historians attempting to assess the development of economic internationalism. But Zeiler's research is also incomplete. He ignored the views of other important nations such as the Netherlands, France or Brazil which were also involved in the development of the GATT and the ITO.

Zeiler's book focuses on how "free trade" theory and tools had to accommodate political reality. He believes that the U.S. was thwarted in achieving "free trade" by foreign policy realities--the economic and political problems of her allies; the Cold War, etc. But "free trade" was never a goal of U.S. policy makers or U.S. business. There is no evidence in the State Department files that the policy planners sought free trade as a goal. And the best evidence of this is the tools they used to encourage trade (trade agreements). The GATT (and all trade agreements) are not designed to free trade--but to regulate it. Such trade agreements regulate how entities may trade and how nations may protect. They help forge "freer trade" but free trade is nonexistent. There are always times (whether to protect consumers from unsafe food or producers from dumped imports) that nations must protect. And in democracies, there is always strong pressure for protection. Thus, the U.S. led global efforts to free trade while protecting its textile, sugar and steel industries, among other sectors. (The design of the GATT, as noted above, makes this clear).

Zeiler's model hamstrings both his analysis and his presentation of the characters in this complex story. He lumps business, labor, and government leaders into two camps: protectionists or free traders. Because he presumes that "free trade" was the only goal of the postwar planners, he underplays other objectives valued by postwar planners such as Harry Hawkins (a foreign service officer) and Clair Wilcox (an economics professor serving the government). These equally important goals were to prevent a revival of the Great Depression and to find ways to encourage full employment. He also mischaracterizes the views of senior leadership as pure free traders. Will Clayton, a businessman who served in government as the senior Undersecretary of State responsible for trade, and President Harry S. Truman had very different views about balancing trade and other economic policies. And they had very different views about how best to encourage trade while encouraging employment. Yet he lumps these four men into the same category: free traders. For example, he describes Clair Wilcox as "steeped in free trade doctrine" (p. 71). Wilcox was more concerned with full employment than with ensuring market access for American capitalists. (One can get this understanding by interviewing one of his former students--William Diebold--or by reading Wilcox's own views in his Charter for World Trade.) Or Zeiler cites Truman as committed to free trade (p. 75). But in none of his writing did Truman show how much he valued "free trade." He never went to any of the trade agreement conferences; and he made little effort to defend trade agreements before Congress. Even businessmen Will Clayton was not a doctrinaire "free trader." Why simplify their complex views if the goal is to enlighten the reader into the development of U.S. trade policy?

Zeiler also misunderstands the relationship of the GATT (an agreement governing commercial policies such as tariffs, quotas, and exchange controls) and the broader ITO, which was designed to subsume it. The ITO failed to gain broad U.S. support because it was so comprehensive--it included rules governing employment, business practices, and investment. It clearly was designed to regulate both border measures (the traditional stuff of trade policy) as well as national policies that can distort trade. Thus, it affected national sovereignty and was bound to be controversial, as the WTO is today. Those people advocating for the ITO and the GATT were creating rules and defending rules that delineated how nations could protect. Thus, it is illogical to call them "free traders." They were trade policy realists--freer trade, not free trade was always the goal. But Zeiler persists in believing "free trade undergirded a Free world" (p. 180).

This review was very difficult for me to write. Tom Zeiler is a superb researcher, a good writer, a solid analyst, and a friend, who has generously given of his time to critique and improve my own work. His first book, American Trade and Power, developed new insights into Kennedy Administration foreign economic policy. However, we must await additional studies of the global development of the GATT to understand its evolution and limitations.

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Author: Jennifer Jenkins
Reviewer: Katherine B. Aaslestad

Jennifer Jenkins. Provincial Modernity: Local Culture and Liberal Politics in Fin-de-Siècle Hamburg. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003. 329 S. $52.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8014-4025-0.

Reviewed by Katherine B. Aaslestad (Department of History, West Virginia University) Published on H-German (July, 2003)

In Jennifer Jenkins's study of culture and civic liberalism in the former republican city-state of Hamburg, the towering figure of Alfred Lichtwark, much like the 1906 mammoth statue of Otto von Bismarck overlooking the harbor, dominates Hamburg at the turn of the twentieth century. Lichtwark, a native school teacher, art historian, prolific writer and speaker, and director of Hamburg's Art Museum, plays the most prominent role in Jenkins' study on redefining local culture in Hamburg. Within the city of Hamburg, Jenkins sees connections between three central themes: political liberalism, modernity, and local culture. Her work emphasizes the liberal impulses in cultural politics on a variety of levels within Hamburg's civic life, featuring the crucial roles of Bildung and locality. Focusing on aesthetic education and the art museum, Jenkins offers alternative views of Heimat, liberal activism, and modern culture in imperial Germany.

Hamburg, in the midst of demographic, economic, and political upheaval following its inclusion in the Empire, represents an excellent site to examine the inter-relationship between new forms of public culture, German modernism, liberal suffrage deliberations, and new communal visions. Jenkins recognizes the state's repressive politics in citing Richard Evans' Death in Hamburg in her introduction, but disputes the death of liberalism in Hamburg.[1] She locates a lively and active liberalism in the city's cultural politics.

Jenkins describes Hamburg's political history in Chapter One, emphasizing the role of the Buergerrecht or the local citizenship in providing a context for her arguments on liberalism and suffrage. Focusing on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, she traces the meanings of Buerger and the legal codification of citizenship from the Principle Recess in 1712, to a moral and patriotic vision of citizenship fostered by civic and enlightened concerns during the mid to late 1700s, to a range of calls for citizenship and suffrage reform throughout the nineteenth century. This question was solved neither by the new constitution in 1860 nor the unification of Germany in 1871; in fact, Jenkins points out that the number of citizens shrank as the city's population rose. The redefinitions of suffrage (extension followed by restriction) at the turn of the century illustrates the contested notion of suffrage expansion which essentially meant "turning working people into citizens" (p. 37). According to Jenkins, a crucial element in this debate centered on the role of elites and institutions in transforming public life and shaping future citizens.

Following an overview of cultural life in Hamburg, Chapter Two introduces Lichtwark, his programs for the Art Museum, and their role in fostering Bildung. Jenkins identifies the ideal of aesthetic education as central for "Hamburg's civic development and Germany's liberal national culture," since it "served as a foundation for ethical social education" (p. 49). She views Justus Brinckmann's Museum of Art and Industry and Lichtwark's Art Museum as public educational institutions (Erziehungsanstalt). Lichtwark sought to transform the museum from a private collection intended for the elites to a public institution committed to popularizing art education. Such cultural education was essential to his effort to educate consumers as a means of reforming Lebenskultur and revive local and regional culture necessary for an authentic and viable national community. Jenkins presents Lichtwark's program as a kind of cultural democratization in which aesthetic education would generate values and norms to knit the community together. The museum would thus form a central institution within Hamburg's web of sociability and social communication. Local museums, in Lichtwark's words, were charged with the "necessity of making citizens of the masses of new arrivals and their children" (p. 65). The educated middle class, according the Lichtwark, were the custodians of culture, responsible for preserving local traditions and acting as the "people's educators" in working class sub-cultures.

The following two chapters trace a range of activities among middle-class professionals and reformers, working-class intellectuals, and cross-class associations, motivated and inspired by Lichtwark's call to popularize aesthetic education. Jenkins places their efforts in the context of the growing popularity of the Social Democrats, as the reformers were worried about both the dangerous implications of the SPD's political strength and the material poverty evident in Hamburg's notorious working-class slums. She argues that the rise in the SPD's popularity actually generated divisions between Hamburg's middle classes, generally the "old society" merchant elites objected to the reformist-oriented professionals' effort to popularize culture and eventually expand suffrage. In reality, it was through the combined efforts of members of Hamburg's prominent families like Wilhelm Hertz and young university educated professionals like Walther Classen that the development of new programs occurred, like the People's Home, the Hamburg Home Library, and the Foundation for the Commemoration of German Poets. Jenkins illustrates how these programs--more than charitable endeavors--sought to build bridges to the working classes through popular education, in particular the inculcation of middle-class values and regional sensibilities. She argues in chapter 4 that Lichtwark's words also inspired new public cultural organizations among the lower middle class and working classes as evidenced in the Literary Society and the People's Theatre. Here elementary school teachers played a crucial role as a "conduit to Hamburg's working classes" (p. 120). As new cultural authorities, teachers along with writers, editors of small newspapers, and organizers of worker's educational associations, lectured on art, history, and literature, published their ideas and instructive life stories, and hosted literary readings, recitations, and community discussions all the while celebrating the civilizing force of Bildung.

Teachers and Bildung combine with localism in the following chapter which examines Heimatkunde (study of the local place) as a pedagogical tool in aesthetic education. Jenkins explores the different meanings of Heimat in Hamburg, in particular its crucial role in generating the sense of community necessary for Buergerrecht. Far from preserving a conservative world-view, Jenkins argues, Heimat in Hamburg emphasized civics, urban culture, and productivity.[2] She emphasizes that local history, like art, became part of the public domain by the turn of the century. For instance, she traces the role of history in public schools, emphasizing a decisive turning point during the 1880s with the establishment of new teacher associations and practical innovative pedagogy in which teachers introduced their pupils, future Hamburgers, to local geography and culture through field trips and popular local histories.

The final three chapters continue to explore the importance of the local in defining modernity in both Hamburg as well as in imperial Germany. Chapter Six features Hamburg's Art Museum and Lichtwark's focus on capturing Hamburg's essence and character in three specific collections and in new commissions. Jenkins points out that Lichtwark had several goals located in his "Pictures from Hamburg" collection. He sought to preserve the memory of the city's natural and urban environment, to support local artists by providing commissions and exhibition space, to gain publicity for Hamburg as an artistic center within the Reich, and to teach Hamburg's public to see their city artistically. One result of these endeavors, argues Jenkins, is an "interesting mix of localism, modernism, Impressionism, and Heimat art" (p. 181). She illustrates the centrality of the Impressionist Max Liebermann's commissioned paintings of Hamburg to German modern art, and analyzes "Glimpses of Church Street" in detail. Painting the "atmosphere" of the city was a common project of both modernism and Heimatkunst, contends Jenkins. Presenting Hamburg's public with new visions of the city's unique natural and urban beauty was key to Lichtwark's goal of aesthetic education.

Modern visions and local spaces continue to shape the two remaining chapters: the first features Lichtwark's efforts to unearth Hamburg's cultural heritage and the second explores Fritz Schumacher's efforts to modernize the city's traditions in urban planning and building. Lichtwark and his admirers in the Society of Hamburg Friends of Art sought to preserve and popularize the memory of local buildings and traditions through art forms, in sketches by local artists of old merchant halls and through new interpretations of the development of artistic traditions tending toward modernism in Hamburg. In a city that generally evaluated buildings based on functional rather than artistic or historical merit, Lichtwark successfully located lost artworks--Gothic masterpieces by local artists--from Hamburg's medieval churches long demolished and almost forgotten. He also rediscovered the north German Romantic artist Phillip Otto Runge, hailed as a native son, and argued that his use of light and color marked him as a proto-typical modernist. With Runge "late nineteenth-century modernism thus acquired local historical roots" (p. 257). Jenkins relates Fritz Schumacher's urban planning to Lichtwark's museum in a common quest to revive local cultural forms. She highlights Schumacher's vision of harmonious urbanity and view of urban planning as a tool for addressing the social problems of the modern city, as she analyzes his designs for the city park, the Stadtpark north of Winterhude. She presents his "people's park" as a communal space where all members of the city could contemplate nature, participate in sports, and commune together, and thereby advancing the larger project of aesthetic education; the park was "a kind of open air public school" (p. 274). Combining modern functional architectural principles with a revival of the red brick regional style, Schumacher sought to "modernize tradition" or symbolically refer to the past without blatant historicism. Like Lichtwark's goals for art, Schumacher's urban planning agenda, Jenkins claims, is based on a liberal political vision that sought "to reform the city at its core rather than at its edges" (p. 266).

The book is well written and solidly grounded in the city's archives and memoirs. Despite the red thread of Bildung and Lichtwark's aesthetic education that resurfaces in each chapter, however, the book seems like a combination of two studies. One of these examines associational efforts to popularize culture and education as part of a larger political agenda, and the other features individual efforts to redefine the city and promote modern sensibilities. How the matters discussed in the last three chapters resonate within the broader urban community and the ongoing political debates remains underdeveloped. Jenkins clearly states the issue: who speaks for culture in Hamburg? Jenkins also suggests that, although Lichtwark was an inspiration for many, his views and those of his supporters--especially on modernity--were contested in the public realm. Moreover, to what degree did his "civic discourse on art and the public good" (p. 296) tangibly relate to the suffrage debates and organized liberalism discussed at the beginning of this study? Did Lichtwark himself recognize his ideals of aesthetic education reflected in the city's public life? This intriguing book thus provokes many new questions about the relationship between local and modern culture, politics and education, tradition and urban reform.

This study offers several contributions to German imperial historiography, in particular a nuanced cultural understanding of Heimat and an alternative view of civic liberalism. In addition, Jenkins recognizes the commercialization of culture as a complex sub-theme that shaped both the anxieties of her liberal reformers and offered them new opportunities to reach a mass public. If reformers bemoaned the flood of cheap books, steamy stories, and mass entertainment, they also sought to find a niche for their edifying regional stories, public lectures, and instructive theater. As she points out, the lines between education and entertainment were hard to draw. Moreover, commercial venues could view reformist programs as competitors as in the case with the People's Theatre, so the market more than local police harassment led to its demise, as Jenkins suggests. Even Lichtwark needed to attract the general public into his museum before they could be touched by its art and visions of modern urban life.

Jenkins amply points out that civic associations were central to Lichtwark's public endeavors and that the city's cultural institutions often began as modest citizen's clubs. Yet she seems to overemphasize the "newness" of their instructive cultural agendas. A greater continuity existed between the city's eighteenth-century associational life and sociability, and the late nineteenth-century popular pedagogy than Jenkins suggests. In the late-eighteenth century, numerous merchants, professionals, publicists, and writers were active urban reformers who tapped into the city's press and clubs to address and promote the role of local history and public memory, civic morality, and commercial culture in shaping a responsible Buergertum and urban community.[3] The late nineteenth-century associations moved beyond the traditional educated middle classes to include women (though as Jenkins points out they were not entirely welcomed) and the lower classes, but the questions they posed were remarkably similar to those aired in Hamburg a century earlier. Eighteenth-century publicists, reformers and social moralists also believed in the instructive power of popular education and local historical traditions. What does this thread of continuity as well as the ruptures within it say about the city's civic culture?

The lack of attention to the Museum of Hamburg History (earlier the Sammlung Hamburgischer Alterthuemer) as a cultural institution in a study which features historical memory and notions of Heimat is surprising. Formally established later than Brinckmann's and Lichtwark's institutions, it sought to do much the same in collecting, reinterpreting, and recounting Hamburg's history, traditions, and place in the Empire.[4] Perhaps, as Jenkins argues, art moved from the private to the public realm only at the end of the nineteenth century, but not so history. Popular awareness of local history was evident in areas beyond school curriculum in the eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century. The popular press and colloquial narratives in local almanacs and Handbuecher; civic festivals and parades; sermons and church memorial tablets; street names; and clubs like the Verein fuer Hamburgische Geschichte, the Museumsverein, and others kept local history in the public consciousness, especially following the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Fire in 1842, and the integration of the city into the Reich.[5] Indeed, the historical reinterpretation of the Hansa and a cultivation of a new Hanseatic identity was also central to popular history in nineteenth-century Hamburg.[6] As Jenkins affirms, popular interest in local history among Hamburgers was more concerned with redefining the city's present than uncovering an authentic past. The Museum of Hamburg History confirms one of Jenkins' most salient points, namely Heimat could find many meanings and representations in nineteenth-century Hamburg.


[1]. Richard Evans, Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830-1910 (London: Oxford University Press, 1987).

[2]. Arguing that local tradition in Hamburg was cast in a varied and modernist form, Jenkins differentiates her work from other studies on nineteenth-century notions of Heimat. For instance Alon Confino, The Nation as Local Metaphor: Württemburg, Imperial Germany, and National Memory, 1871-1918, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997) focuses on dominate images of the local as they relate to the development of national consciousness. See H-German review of Confino at (

[3]. Franklin Kopitzsche, Grundzuege einer Sozialgeschichte der Aufklaerung in Hamburg und Altona (Hamburg, 1990); Mary Lindemann, Patriots and Paupers: Hamburg 1712-1830 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990); Anne Conrad, Arno Herzig, and Franklin Kopitzsche, eds., Das Volk im Visier der Aufklaerung, Studien zur Popularisierung der Aufklaerung im spaeten 18. Jahrhundert (Hannover, 1999); and my forthcoming book, Place and Politics: Local Identity, Civic Culture, and German Nationalism in North Germany during the Revolutionary Era.

[4]. Joergen Bracker, "Von der Sammlung Hamburgischer Alterthuemer zum Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte," in Geschichte in Hamburg, Erforschen--Vermitteln--Bewahren, Festschrift zum hundertfuenfzigjaehrigen Bestehen des Vereins, published in Zeitschrift des Vereins fuer Hamburgische Geschichte, 74/75 (1989), pp. 259-272, points to competition between the three museums. See also Birgit-Katharine Seemann, Stadt, Bürgertum und Kultur: Kulturelle Entwicklung und Kulturpolitik in Hamburg von 1839 bis 1933 am Beispiel des Museumswesens (Husum, 1998).

[5]. Sebastian Husen, Vaterstaedtische Geschichte im republikanischen Stadtstaat, Studien zur Entwicklungen des Vereins fuer Hamburgische Geschichte (Hamburg, 1999); Joist Grolle, Hamburg und seine Historiker (Hamburg, 1997); and Volker Plagemann, "Vaterstadt, Vaterland, schuetz Dich Gott mit starker Hand," Denkmaeler in Hamburg_ (Hamburg, 1986).

[6]. See Rainer Postel, "Treuhaendler und Erben: Das Nachleben der Hanse," in Die Hanse. Lebens-wirklichkeit und Mythos (Hamburg, 1989); and Maiken Umbach, "History and Federalism in the Age of the Nation State," in German Federalism: Past, Present, Future, ed. Maiken Umbach (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

Copyright (c) 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the Reviews editorial staff:

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Citation: Katherine B. Aaslestad. Review of Jenkins, Jennifer, Provincial Modernity: Local Culture and Liberal Politics in Fin-de-Siècle Hamburg. H-German, H-Net Reviews. July, 2003. URL:

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Author: Peter Ufer
Reviewer: Katherine B. Aaslestad

Peter Ufer. Leipziger Presse 1789 bis 1815: Eine Studie zu Entwicklungstendenzen und Kommunikationsbedingungen des Zeitungs- und Zeitschriftenswesens zwischen FranzÖ¶sischer Revolution und den Befreiungskriegen. nster and Hamburg: LIT Verlag, 2000. 367 pp. EUR 19.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-8258-3164-6.

Reviewed by Katherine B. Aaslestad (West Virginia University) Published on H-German (December, 2005)

Saxon Press Elites and Publications during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Era

In the past twenty years numerous studies on European print culture during the revolutionary era have illustrated the dynamic role of the press in engaging, reflecting, and shaping fundamental political, social, and commercial transformations that constitute the emergence of a modern civic society. If scholars of France, Britain, and even North America associate closely the role of the press with emergent popular politics, research on German Central Europe generally regards the press as a central tool of Enlightenment and reform discourse.[1] Peter Ufer's work places the Saxon city of Leipzig in the same category with such eighteenth-century centers of Enlightenment as Hamburg, Weimar, Jena, Berlin, Göttingen, and Halle, and argues that Leipzig experienced a fundamental civic transformation documented by its press during the decades between the French Revolution and the Congress of Vienna. His study explores the personalities and ideas that shaped Leipzig's press and contests traditional historiography that the city peeked during the early Enlightenment only to remain a political and cultural backwater until the nineteenth century. His book portrays the emergence of a dynamic urban press culture in Leipzig and provides an important comparative perspective on the regional German press.

Home to a university and trading houses, Leipzig, as Ufer argues, was an anachronism in German Central Europe, both commercially and culturally. Furthermore, the dynamics of dynastic loyalty, political conservatism, and economic growth shaped the development of Leipzig's press. Ufer breaks his study into distinct chronological periods based on the influence of differing elites on the press. He commences his study with the decades following 1763 to illustrate significant breaks in the city's print culture between 1790 and 1815. Ufer highlights the personalities that directed the city's press and divides them into two groups: the established reform-conservative elites and the emergent reform-liberal elites, and distinguishes the ideas and interests that directed their publications. He introduces the establishment press comprised of the reform-conservatives who treated the press as a tool to support enlightened absolutism and economic mercantilism. Closely associated with the Saxon dynasty, these elites represented the power, goals, and needs of the state and employed the press to support the economy, culture, and the cultivation of good taste. The Leipziger Zeitung, for example, featured international events and court news as well as trade and exchange information. Of Leipzig's fifty journals prior to 1790, most were directed to small learned circles. His overview of these publications seems very familiar and comparable to print culture in other eighteenth-century German cities.

After 1790 periodicals produced by a new circle of Leipzig publishers appeared. These publications featured a new perspective on Enlightenment reform, supported an exchange of public opinion between different interest groups, and articulated progressive economic notions already prevalent in the English and French press. In fact, economic motives rather than political ones inspired the emergent reform-liberal elites. Specifically, this group viewed the press as a vehicle for articulating civic interests with an economic focus and a means of commercial success. Varied in its social and economic composition and clearly outside the traditional social hierarchy, this elite, according to Ufer, was independent from the academic philistines of the reform-conservative elite and beneficiaries of Leipzig's recent economic growth. Distanced from the state apparatus and dynasty, reform-liberal elites sought to liberate the press from the state and transform it into an independent commercial venture.

Ufer argues that despite censorship restrictions which focused on political writings, Leipzig's press between 1790 and 1805 articulated the desires and voices of the upper and middle classes. He provides a detailed overview of several papers and journals to support this claim. Leipzig's new publishers and editors directed their publications as commercial ventures to a broad and varied public, and he asserts that they succeeded in creating new markets for their publications. Like their predecessors, the reform-conservatives, economic reforms remained predominant for the reform-liberals even after the politicizing events of the French Revolution. Ufer offers the Journal für Fabrik, Manufaktur, Handlung und Mode as an example of the post-1790 periodical. It sought to reach a broad public of merchants, manufacturers, industrialists, bankers, state administrators, educated elites, and the fashionable world. Along with articles on finance, exchange rates, transport, materials, and textiles, it featured fashion and humorous anecdotes. It appeared both a pragmatic voice for economic reforms and a successful commercial venture.

Reading for entertainment and pleasure also shaped new periodicals as evidenced by journals on music, theatre, and, after 1795, fashion. Ufer views such emerging fashion journals as Zeitung für die elegante Welt as an expression of middle-class self-assertion in opposition to the nobility and claims it affirmed a liberal perspective of individual development with its focus on the family, the home, the garden, and the body. Entertainment and practical education also met in the Volksfreund, a conversational journal filled with advice on raising children, saving money, and selecting horses, as well as stories, songs, anecdotes, fables and puzzles. Each of these journals represented a new kind of periodical in Leipzig's print culture, attracted new circles of readers, and were neither financed nor supported by the state, all factors that characterize the publications of the reform-liberal elite.

After 1806 the French determined Leipzig's press. Ufer points out that the Leipzig Zeitung, now published by a member of the reform-liberal elite who viewed Napoleon as a great reformer, could only print political news from the Moniteur. Napoleon clearly understood the importance of the press and manipulated it to his advantage whenever possible. In fact, Ufer argues that Napoleon's attention to the political implications of the press finally persuaded the Saxon dynasty to regard the press as more than an informative and administrative tool. In response to the highly manipulated and international focus of the Leipziger Zeitung, the Leipziger Tageblatt emerged in 1807 as a product of the reform-liberal elite. It was apolitical, conversational, and clearly oriented to local news and announcements. This paper, directed to the middle and upper class of the city eventually emerged as the "voice of Leipzig" (p. 176).

New papers and journals also appeared during the Napoleonic Wars that stood in direct opposition to Napoleon and French expansion. Ufer introduces the Deutsche Blätter, and two journals, the Europäischer Aufseher and the Sächsischer Patriot, products of the liberal-reform elite; these publications espoused different notions of patriotic sentiment--ranging from German unity, to cosmopolitan and humanitarian reform, and local Saxon traditions and loyalty. Published in 1813 and 1814, these publications characterize the brief era of spontaneous freedom of the press and explosive growth in the printed word throughout German Central Europe. War lyrics, poetry, song books, pamphlets, and civic and military newspapers (Feldzeitung) proliferated during the period, leading one scholar to describe the wars as a "communication event."[2] Ufer's descriptive cataloging of Leipzig's publications supports analytical studies that illustrate that such terms as Volk, Vaterland, Patriot, Nation, and Vaterlandsliebe referred to different allegiances in different contexts during the Napoleonic Wars.[3] In Leipzig, as elsewhere in German Central Europe, such publications did not articulate a common national vision or goal aside from overcoming French occupation.

Ufer charts the monopoly of press under the reform-conservative elite and identifies a new liberal-reform elite emerging in 1790 with a specific emancipation program which disassociated the press from the state apparatus. Unlike the homogenous reform conservatives, the new reform-liberals came from a variety of social backgrounds that shaped differing mentalities and world views, but Ufer argues they shared a fundamental belief in the opportunities of the market place and individual development and endeavored to keep their publications free from state apparatus. By 1815 this new elite produced many novel kinds of publications. In particular, they championed the non-political local conversational paper and a range of journals that featured economic success more than political aspirations. Yet, the relationship between economic development and civic emancipation within the reform-liberal agenda remains unclear in Ufer's work. He seems to relate the notion of civic emancipation solely to a rise in middle-class individualism and opportunities of the market. Political discourse appears marginalized in this study on urban political culture, which never clearly connects how the carving out of new economic spaces and opportunities relates directly to a commitment to developing public opinion.

The transition from one press elite, the reform-conservatives, to another, the reform-liberals, remains inadequately addressed. Ufer points out that shifts within the urban social hierarchy began in 1763, but were not apparent until after 1789 when society appeared increasingly fragmented by special interests, and traditional political status and dynastic connections declined as arbitrators of social prestige. Without really engaging the literature or controversy of the Reading Revolution, known to contemporaries as the Leseflut, Ufer offers the emergence of a new reading public during the second half of the eighteenth century to account for the rise and influence of the reform-liberal elite. Although he features reading societies as the social headquarters for a new reading culture, he does not elucidate the role they played in society. He addresses the market for these publications, the readers, at the end of each chapter primarily to assert the expansion of reading and formation of new circles of readers including women. Thus, the connection between the publications, their reading public, and the formation of public opinion remains weak in this study. He also shortchanges such public spaces that stimulated print culture as coffee houses, taverns, and the Beygangsche Museum, Leipzig's most important library. He points out, for example, the rise in reading libraries after 1809, but fails to account for this phenomena during a period of intense Napoleonic censorship (p. 195). Ufer is clearly less interested in readers than in the periodicals themselves and their publishers. In fact, at least one third of the book comprises detailed appendices of all Leipzig publications and their publishers during this era.

In conclusion, Ufer adds to our knowledge of print culture at the turn of the nineteenth century by underscoring the emergent middle-class participation and commercialization of the press. He distinguishes between two elites that directed Leipzig's press. In contrast to the Habermasian model, he does not view the emergence of the public sphere as an oppositional response to state authority. Rather than criticize the state, the reform-liberals sought to distance themselves from it. Ufer regards 1790 as a key turning point in the development of Leipzig's press and public sphere, yet finds political discourse less important in the press than economic reform and commercial success. In Leipzig, the French Revolution did not appear to polarize and politicize the reading public, rather it engendered anxiety among the ruling elites who responded by intensifying censorship, which in turn tolerated the emerging reform-liberals new apolitical periodicals. He also suggests how the new print culture, especially those works that emerged during the Wars of Liberation, introduced shifting notions of community and regional identity. Yet, he neglects a central part of the transformation of the press in this crucial era, its transition from a source of facts and material of public discussion to an institution representative of public opinion and political reflection. Despite the emphasis on the different publishers and journalists, there is not significant attention to the emergence of the editorial voice and analysis of events that marks the modern press. He only suggests this transition periodically in his study by describing correspondence networks between Leipzig publishers and leading German writers, publishers, and book merchants. We are left wanting to know more about how these publications appealed to and fostered public opinion in Leipzig. Yet, as suggested above, the main purpose of the book is to introduce Leipzig's press as an important component of Germany's print landscape rather than a Saxon backwater. For scholars of Saxony, urban Germany, and the press generally, Ufer's study and his detailed appendices will provide a useful factual reference.


[1]. For a recent comparative analysis see Hanna Barker and Simon Burrow, eds., Press Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760-1820 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

[2]. Jürgen Wilke, "Der nationale Aufbruch der Befreiungskriege als Kommunikationsereignis," in Volk-Nation-Vaterland, ed. Ulrich Hermann (Hamburg: F. Meiner, 1996), pp. 353-368.

[3]. Ernst Weber, Lyrik der Befreiungskriege (1812-1815). Gesellschaftspolitische Meinungs- und Willensbildung durch Literatur (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1991); Jörg Echternkamp, Der Aufstieg des deutschen Nationalismus (1770-1840) (Frankfurt: Campus, 1998); Matthew Levinger, Enlightened Nationalism: The Transformation of Prussian Political Culture, 1806-1848 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Karen Hagemann, "Männlicher Muth und Teutsche Ehre". Nation, Militär und Geschlecht zur Zeit der Antinapoleonischen Kriege Preußens (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2002).

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Citation: Katherine B. Aaslestad. Review of Ufer, Peter, Leipziger Presse 1789 bis 1815: Eine Studie zu Entwicklungstendenzen und Kommunikationsbedingungen des Zeitungs- und Zeitschriftenswesens zwischen FranzÖ¶sischer Revolution und den Befreiungskriegen. H-German, H-Net Reviews. December, 2005. URL:

Copyright © 2005 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at

Author: Klaus Weber
Reviewer: Katherine B. Aaslestad

Klaus Weber. Deutsche Kaufleute im Atlantikhandel 1680-1830: Unternehmen und Familien in Hamburg, Cádiz und Bordeaux. München: C. H. Beck Verlag, 2004. Tables, charts, maps. 403 pp. EUR 59.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-406-51860-7.

Reviewed by Katherine B. Aaslestad (West Virginia University) Published on H-Atlantic (November, 2009) Commissioned by Jordana Dym

Comparative Commercial Families: Early Modern Germans on the Make in Atlantic Trade

Klaus Weber highlights three merchants at the beginning of his comprehensive and comparative study.  Johann Christoph Harmenson from Hamburg settled in Bordeaux and gained success with a lively trade in colonial reexports and wine.  His story partially represents the standard image of the early modern German merchant with an emphasis on the preeminence of the commercial relations between the Hanseatic north and the French Atlantic seaboard.  Augustin and Christian Franz Rautenstrauch from Bohemian Blotendorf settled in Cadiz, Spain; they marketed Bohemian glassware and expanded their trade to a broad array of German and English goods.  Eventually, they established branches in Lima and Mexico in New Spain.  The family’s ongoing commercial success in independent Mexico as well as throughout the Iberian Peninsula expands our understanding of the breadth and scope of early modern German merchants.  These examples of the 460 merchant families analyzed in this work demonstrate well Weber’s efforts to uncover the range of German merchants active in Atlantic trade between 1680 and 1830.  If he challenges the traditional view that German commerce was monopolized in “Hanseatic colonies” abroad, his comparative analysis of mercantile activities in Cadiz and Bordeaux also reinforces the importance of Hanseatic merchants and the centrality of Hamburg in Atlantic commerce.  Despite their importance, north Germans from Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck were not alone; German merchant communities drew from many inland regions, in particular Bohemia, Westphalia, and Bavaria.

For historians of the Atlantic world, Weber’s study makes an important contribution by exploring German merchants--their origins, trade, and family networks--active in the foreign merchant communities in the Atlantic ports of Cadiz and Bordeaux.  He corrects the traditional approach that tends to favor the British, Dutch, French, and Spanish in the Atlantic world based on their success in establishing colonies and commercial monopolies.  As no German colonies existed, German merchants have long been marginalized in traditional scholarship.  Likewise, traditional national interpretations of economic development focused on the development of the “nation” alone.  Weber, who mined archives in France, Spain, and Germany, emphasizes that this “national approach” to early modern trade and merchant communities is problematic.  This is especially the case with German merchants, since Germany did not exist as a state or national identity.  In the last three decades, historians have begun to feature the importance of cosmopolitan commercial networks in the Atlantic world.  Weber’s study contributes to this work as it uncovers German family networks that retained strong connections to their regions of origin.  Confession more than national origin, however, played the key role in social integration in commercial communities.  In his analysis of German merchant communities, he demonstrates how these family networks extended both internally to inland points of production as well as externally to the French and Spanish colonies where merchants developed new trade strategies for economic and political success.  This work reinforces the view that the “nation state” is not the best unit for analyzing and measuring economic growth.

The study is well organized and commences with a clear introduction and assessment of recent historiography on the early modern Atlantic world and German commerce.  The second chapter provides an interesting overview of trade between German territories and the Atlantic economy between 1650 and 1850.  Based on an assessment of secondary sources, Weber emphasizes the importance and breadth of colonial goods--sugar, coco, indigo, tobacco, cotton, coffee, and tea--in German central Europe as consumer items that influenced all social groups.  Furthermore, he points out that trade did not go in one direction by highlighting demand in colonial markets for European goods, especially ironwork, tools, and textiles produced in German central Europe.  He then provides a very concise summary of the development and regional sources of exports from German central Europe, in particular iron and metal goods, textiles, glassware, and clocks.  He concludes this chapter with a discussion of inland (river and canals) trade as well as transformation in foreign export trade after 1815.

The following three chapters explore the German communities in Cadiz and Bordeaux as well as the central role of Hamburg in European commerce.  The first two chapters share common structures that introduce the reader to each city, its foreign merchants, and economic relations between German merchants and the state.  These chapters also provide a wide range of case studies of family and commercial networks.  In fact, Weber argues that family structures and relations were central in connecting German manufacturing to plantation economies and Atlantic trade.  Comparing Cadiz and Bordeaux makes clear that German proto-industrial exports were in demand in Spain and Spanish colonies, whereas German goods, primarily textiles, were important exports from Bordeaux to African and Caribbean markets.  Low wages in German central Europe combined with demographic growth made German goods highly competitive in the Atlantic market.  Likewise, low labor costs in Hamburg generated an economy focused on processing such colonial imports as sugar, coffee, and tobacco.  Hamburg’s economic ties with French domestic exports (wine and luxury goods) and colonial goods were central to its role as a commercial transit hub. 

The chapters on individual cities are followed by a comparative analysis that explores family and business networks in inland proto-industry, plantation economies, and Atlantic trade.  Weber emphasizes the importance of family support, security, and structures in early modern commerce.  He follows different generations as they succeed (more often in France than in Spain) to integrate into social and economic life, and expand family businesses and branches.  He also highlights how the exports of German textiles and banking intersected successfully with the eighteenth-century slave trade, and argues that German merchants in Bordeaux benefited from the slave trade and plantation economies as much as did the French.  Finally, he points out that war on the high seas, economic blockades, and above all the Napoleonic Continental System ruptured the old regime Atlantic economy and initiated the decline of foreign merchant colonies.  Though some family networks endured, generally family structures lost their importance as mercantile families ceased to monopolize all commercial activities from shipping to banking to manufacturing.  Despite such breaks, he notes important continuities in inland industries as modern manufacturing, especially chemicals, had roots in early textile industries.

Weber provides his readers with several case studies of successful German merchant families.  Along with contextualizing them with other foreign merchants and methodologically assessing their economic performance in charts and graphs, he explores the geography of the merchant communities as well as marriage strategies, conversions, and intergenerational family structures.  This is commendable work. Yet there is little on merchant sociability, especially during the enlightened and sociable eighteenth century.  We know, in Hamburg, for example, that associational life and clubs were central to commercial and family networks.  To what degree did the mercantile associational life and sociability influence the family networks and economic success of merchant communities on the Atlantic coast or in the colonies?  In fact, the reader wants to know more about those merchants who expanded to Mexico, Peru, and the Caribbean.  Although the focus of the book is clearly German merchant communities in Spain and France, the role of England, Canada, and the United States and their varied German mercantile communities would have been a useful comparison.  Comparing German communities’ commercial success and social integration in Baltimore or Philadelphia (based on secondary sources) to those in Bordeaux or the French Caribbean could have been useful to this otherwise exemplary comparative study.  In fact, Weber’s comparative approach encourages more research on these early modern commercial networks in the Atlantic world and beyond.

The temporal emphasis in the book is clearly prerevolutionary and it is very solid.  Yet the reader might like to hear more about how these family networks attempted to survive international war and economic blockade.  The French and Napoleonic wars end this world too abruptly.  The period of the French and Napoleonic wars and the decades following read often like an epilogue than part of the analysis.  Yet Weber points out that some of the families managed to restore the portions of their earlier commercial status or shift into banking during the postwar period after 1815.  This reader would like to know more about how these families navigated those postwar years and the new economic models advanced by the English.  Weber’s overview of the postwar decades suggests that the merchant family networks became less important as the economy industrialized, which contests other work on kinship structures in the modern era.  Thus, his work raises some important questions for future researchers on the transitions within the German, European, and Atlantic economies between 1815 and 1830. 

The methodological study of 460 German merchant families in Cadiz and Bordeaux remains the strength of this study demonstrated by the many tables, genealogical charts, and maps located at the end of the book.  It provides insights into German merchant networks beyond the Hanseatic communities.  Weber surveys secondary sources in German, Spanish, French, and English, and examines commercial and state papers, family correspondence, wills, and consulate and notarized documents to formulate his comparative analysis.  Extensive research in Spanish, French, and German archives and engagement with mainstream historiography on Atlantic trade and proto-industrialization make this an important contribution to scholars working on Atlantic merchant communities.  It also enriches our understanding of the early modern import and export trade in German central Europe.  Weber’s work will hopefully encourage more comparative studies on commercial networks, families, and trade within and beyond Europe during these important transitional decades.

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Citation: Katherine B. Aaslestad. Review of Weber, Klaus, Deutsche Kaufleute im Atlantikhandel 1680-1830: Unternehmen und Familien in Hamburg, Cádiz und Bordeaux. H-Atlantic, H-Net Reviews. November, 2009. URL:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Author: Sarmila Bose
Reviewer: Amber Abbas

Sarmila Bose. Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. x + 239 pp. $37.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-70164-8.

Reviewed by Amber Abbas (University of Texas at Austin) Published on H-Memory (March, 2012) Commissioned by Catherine Baker

Sarmila Bose's new book makes a significant intervention into the historiography of the Bangladesh War of 1971. Bose has based her analysis on dozens of oral histories she collected in India and Pakistan, in part because many of the official sources remain classified. She uses these to launch a critique of the historiography of the war that is very well taken; many scholars would agree that this historiography is badly in need of revision.[1] The 1971 war, in the Bangladeshi nationalist narrative, was a calculated genocide perpetrated by a hyper-masculinized Pakistani military to cripple the resistance to West Pakistan’s exploitative economic and political strategies. While this narrative depends on accusations that the military perpetrated indiscriminate and irrational violence against East Pakistani citizens, including women, children, and noncombatants, this national narrative also silences many voices: those of women, non-Muslims, and non-Bengalis. As Bose points out, much of it is "relentlessly partisan," and the personal stories that form the bulk of published material on the 1971 war fall into the realm of literature or memoir and not professional history (p. 5).

In Dead Reckoning, Bose introduces new material that complicates representations of the conflict as a war solely between India and Pakistan (as it is seen in both of those countries) or a war of liberation (as it is understood to be in Bangladesh). The war that Bose exposes here is the "civil war" that raged in East Pakistan between pro-liberation Bengalis and those who either disagreed with their outlook (Pakistani loyalists) or represented the "Other" of the Bengali ethno-linguistic identity that the nation of Bangladesh represented (non-Muslims or non-Bengalis). To investigate these stories, Bose had to navigate "conflicting memories," national myths, and deep attachments to entrenched versions of the war/liberation struggle (p. 11). Bose is undoubtedly correct that there is much history left to be uncovered through dispassionate investigations of the 1971 war. It is unfortunate, therefore, that her book proves quickly to be anything but dispassionate or neutral.

Early on, the author states her intention: to "allow the material to tell its own stories" (p. 6). However, this laudable goal is complicated by the fact that these stories are often as partisan as the historiography she critiques. Oral interviews, Bose's main source, are a special kind of source, and any historian who turns to them must be aware of both their tremendous value and their limitations. In The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories (1991), oral historian Alessandro Portelli offers a succinct gloss on this challenge when he reminds historians that oral history is different because "it tells us less about events than about their meaning" (p. 50, emphasis in original). That is to say that oral history may not be a good source for determining a sequence of events, the dates on which events took place, how many people were there, or who, precisely, those people may have been. Documentary sources are more of a stable text for interpretation; remembered histories tell us as much about the present and how it is understood as they do about the past. The dynamic interaction of past and present, emotion and event in remembered history gives oral history unique depth and breadth but requires careful analytical attention that can help historians home in on contested meaning better than contested facts.

Much of the controversy about the Bangladesh War is ultimately about meaning, and conflicting narratives, figures, and perspectives are implicated in stories about the meaning of the conflict for different players. Throughout Bose's program of research, she has collected many stories that could help to deepen historical understanding of the meaning of the war and why its history is so fraught, but she frequently leaves the narratives insufficiently analyzed or uses the stories to challenge the prevailing knowledge about the details of the events. Bose has deployed memories and stories as facts, with scant attention to the effect of the passage of time on memories. This strategy undermines the value of her sources and exposes her to the challenge that, rather than providing a corrective to the Bangladeshi nationalist historiography, she has instead veered west and created an equally tendentious narrative and methodologically problematic work that privileges a different position.

Bose cites thirty-nine interviews that she conducted in Bangladesh, among whom she identifies ten of the participants as freedom fighters, muktijoddha (only in the appendix; throughout the main text she prefers to call them "rebels"). In addition, she cites thirty-three interviews she conducted in Pakistan, of whom only three narrators are not identified by military rank. Surprisingly, despite being Indian, she has not collected any data from either Indian archives or Indian informants. Bose places the stories that she collected in opposition to one another to verify the facts of a variety of events, and with a journalist's and a historian's attachment to the verifiable, the stories that Bose authorizes, more often than not, come from the side that held the authority in the conflict: West Pakistan, and particularly, its army. The striking imbalance in the perceived authority of her informants and the relative weight she gives to their testimony undermine her attempt to portray this work as a history of "how the conflict played out among people at the ground level" (p. 5). It rather appears as a history that uses the remembered stories of participants to fortify a different official narrative of the war. Though the army of West Pakistan could not claim victory in the conflict, it controlled the infrastructure in East Pakistan, deployed a professional army, and even mobilized semi-skilled loyalist militias. Earlier histories have focused on the imbalance of power between the Pakistan army and the Bengali muktijoddha, thus casting the Bengali resistance as "just" in the face of state tyranny.[2] Bose shifts the gaze by placing emphasis on crimes committed by Bengalis during the war and by aggressively discrediting the Bangladeshi nationalist narrative that portrays the Pakistan army as irrational and even demonic perpetrators of violence against innocent civilians.

The anxiety that seeped through the earlier historiography, however, was rooted in a history of at worst oppression and at best neglect during the period between 1947 and 1971, when East Pakistan was a marginalized province of a developing state. Bose does little to contextualize the 1971 war within the longer history of Pakistan and the movement that created it. If she had, the ethno-linguistic nationalism that distinguished pro-liberation Bengalis from others during the conflict would not seem so inexplicable. Rather, this movement would emerge as one of resistance to a homogenizing narrative of citizenship in Pakistan that had been deployed against Bengalis since 1948 and that created a tension between the east and west wings of the state. The history of the relationship between East and West Pakistan is important. It is the foundation for the conflict that resulted in the violence Bose examines--the violence that one Pakistan army general characterized in the epigraph to the first chapter as spontaneous.

In what is undoubtedly one of the most controversial aspects of the book, women are conspicuous in their absence in this narrative. The issue of the rape of women by the Pakistan army serves as the emotional lightning rod that has typically been deployed to generate sympathy for the Bangladeshi cause. It is often argued that the Pakistan army raped 200,000 women.[3] While Bose rightly takes issue with this use of unsubstantiated enumeration in her closing chapter, she offers little in the way of concrete and new information to challenge it. In avoiding the question of re-enumerating the rape statistics, Bose has obscured the question of the victimization of women throughout the book. Rather, women only appear when they do not appear. In the village of Satriarchora, when the Pakistan army crushed a rebel unit, "the soldiers did not harm women in any way" and in Chuknagar, after the army massacred fleeing Hindus, an informant told Bose, "he did not see any molestation or abduction of women by army personnel" and in several cases "female casualties … appear to have been unintentional" (pp. 88, 119, 164). The conspicuous absence of women obliquely challenges the narrative that the Pakistan army spent a good deal of its time raping women, but does not offer an alternative interpretation of this pillar of the Bangladeshi state narrative.

Bose's examination of the Bangladesh War of 1971, and her concentration on the question of the violence between Bengali nationalists and others (non-Bengalis and non-Muslims), is much needed. She has uncovered many gems. Her sources offer much that is useful and new, and they go a long way to prove the importance of her argument that a full picture of the 1971 war must include analysis of the fratricidal war in East Pakistan that is otherwise overlooked. She is able to reveal the extent to which Bengalis themselves were involved in organizing and perpetrating violence. However, Bose's approach often robs the oral historical sources of their dynamic value, and she frequently authorizes the "official" line at the expense of exploring the implications of the passage of forty years, the role of collective memory, and the power of national mythology. She frequently neglects the effect of trauma, the role played by fear, and the challenges of remembering. The reader is not left with the satisfaction that she has excavated a largely untold, controversial, but deeply important history that challenges the Bangladeshi narrative of the war by revealing additional complexity. Instead, what remains is a frustration that Bose's handling of the sources has minimized the value of the work as a whole.

Dead Reckoning offers little theoretical insight to the field of memory studies. It is a work of historical critique that employs remembered narratives as source material to contest the widely accepted, but sparsely documented, nationalist version of the 1971 Bangladesh War. Memories are not treated as social or cultural phenomena here but as artifacts overlooked by earlier versions. As such, these memories are not implicated in broader cultural contexts. When she attempts to address problems posed by memory, as when she questions the "narrative of victimization" typical of the Bangladeshi story, or when she tries to understand why Pakistani soldiers who showed mercy were believed to be Beluchi (as opposed to "Punjabi demons"), her analysis comes up short. There is much rich memory work still to be done on this conflict and these works must take seriously the complications of memory as a cultural experience.


[1]. Yasmin Saikia, Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011); and Bina D'Costa, Nationbuilding, Gender and War Crimes in South Asia (New York: Routledge, 2011). The 2007 and 2011 pre-conference academic gatherings on 1971 and Bangladesh at the Annual Conference on South Asia in Madison, Wisconsin, provide additional evidence that scholars are rethinking how to think and write about this history.

[2]. Anthony Mascarenhas, The Rape of Bangladesh (Delhi: Vikas Publications, 1971); Archer Blood, The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh: Memoirs of an American Diplomat (Dhaka: University Press, 2002); and Rounaq Jahan, Pakistan: Failure in National Integration (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972).

[3]. Samantha Power, "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 2002); and Yasmin Saikia, "Beyond the Archive of Silence: Narratives of Violence of the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh," History Workshop Journal 58 (2004): 275-87, 277.

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Author: John Field
Reviewer: Jihan Abbas

John Field. Working Men's Bodies: Work Camps in Britain, 1880-1940. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013. 272 pp. $100.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7190-8768-4.

Reviewed by Jihan Abbas (Carleton University) Published on H-Disability (July, 2016) Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison

Working Men's Bodies: Work Camps in Britain, 1880-1940 is an exhaustive exploration of the role of work camps and camp movements in modern British history. These work camps are conceptualized as a broad range of sites and colonies that were used to enforce work and discipline of various and diverse bodies, including the poor and unemployed, disabled people, and ideologues who saw work as a fundamental and important communal activity. Some camps were coercive in nature and aimed at idle bodies, while others were voluntary and tied to ideologies, such as escape from urban centers, the building of communal groups, and anarchism. The sheer scope of John Field’s analysis is impressive. Care is taken to meticulously explore and detail a wide range of issues related to the policies, public discourse, and various movements associated with the development, implementation, and running of these labor sites. One of the aspects that stands out is that, while this is indeed a definitive history of work camps, with a specific emphasis on how they shaped men’s bodies, the author also includes parallel strands within labor policies and their influence on work experiences of women, the poor, and the disabled, to name but a few. Thus, there is a real sense that Field’s attention to detail and examination of various historical threads paints a comprehensive portrait of the reach and impact of labor policies and camps. While the emphasis in this book is certainly on men’s bodies and their experiences, how women experienced camps and related labor is not ignored. This may seem out of place for a book where the title is explicitly about men, but women’s presence serves to strengthen notions about masculinity and the work that helped shape these sites, the ways men’s labor was understood, and the gendered nature of work.

Divided into ten chapters, the book leads the reader through a comprehensive investigation of labor policies and experiences. Included are the processes of settling the land; ideologies that shaped this process, such as the role of nationalism; the medicalization of work; questions related to notions of public health that situate work as both a cure and an integral part of broader eugenics campaigns; the role of work where citizenship and migration were concerned; ideas of masculinity and how labor helps shape these notions; an examination of British work camps alongside other international examples; and the important interplay between government, policymakers, faith, the voluntary sector, and employers. While the book will be of interest to readers seeking a comprehensive history of work camps, each of the ten chapters is so rich in content that many stand alone for readers seeking a glimpse into a specific theme. For example, chapter 3, on labor colonies and public health, will be of interest and value to scholars interested in the history of disability and the role of labor in shaping and managing impaired bodies. On this note, while the book is not always as explicit about impairment as some readers grounded in a disability studies perspective may seek, it complements the work of disability historians who have sought to better understand the importance of labor to the social construction of the body, as well as lived experience of working under segregated conditions. 

Of specific note is how the author pulls together various historical fragments, including media coverage of labor sites, to create a complex portrait of their origin, but also, and more crucially, insight into the lived experience of the people who occupied the camps. Field presents many detailed descriptions of life across six decades and in different locations and environments. These include the gendered nature of work; compensation; voluntary versus conscripted participation, including how citizens may have been persuaded; regimes and routines; details of living arrangements; levels of freedom; and the role of sport and leisure. Field’s analyses support the reader’s understanding of the laborers’ lives and give the reader a sense of the conditions and rhythms of work. The book fills important and neglected historical territory with its critical insight into specific aspects of labor under the controlled environment of work camps.

Among the issues explored are the roles of such organizations as the Salvation Army, the links between work and migration , and the government’s and employers’ support of their own needs through directed training and employment of work camp inmates. For example, work camp labor was used in the construction of the Piccadilly underground railway extension and to prepare land at London University. Reflection on other academic disciplines is offered, for example, the role of the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-84) within disability studies and notions around disciplinary power and inmate bodies. The author suggests the necessity of understanding work camps within their own unique contexts.

The book discusses important strands concerning the meaning of work and constructions of male bodies, and it will be of interest to a broad and interdisciplinary audience. It not only provides a rich and thorough history of work camps but also highlights the experiences of those living and working within them and the impact of policy decisions and labor practices. Field illustrates public understanding across space and time, the role of training, and the influence of labor policies. It is an important contribution to shared understandings of how bodies are shaped and managed through public discourse and policy interventions. Working Men’s Bodies will therefore also appeal to readers interested in sociology, labor policy, and the gendered nature of work.

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Author: Brenda A. LeFrançois, Robert Menzies, Geoffrey Reaume, eds.
Reviewer: Jihan Abbas

Brenda A. LeFrançois, Robert Menzies, Geoffrey Reaume, eds. Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies. Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press, 2013. xiv + 394 pp. $54.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55130-534-9; $49.99 (e-book), ISBN 978-1-55130-536-3.

Reviewed by Jihan Abbas (Carleton University) Published on H-Disability (February, 2015) Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison

Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies is a unique and excellent edited collection of works detailing the importance and evolution of mad studies, with a strong and much-needed emphasis on Canadian context and experience. While there are a number of significant contributions in this work, of specific note is the diversity of contributors, the book’s commitment to examining the intersection of activism and academia, and the importance of centering understanding on the experiences of psychiatric survivors. Taken from this perspective, one of the major strengths of this work is its ability to ground analysis in the experience of psychiatric survivors and, in doing so, provide a critical counter-narrative to the psychiatric empire. This standpoint is politically significant and positions mad studies within the critical work that activists and scholars are collaboratively undertaking as part of a broader social justice movement within disability studies. Over the course of the book, readers are able to recognize the roots and role of mad studies in countering how psychiatry operates through law, policy, and knowledge production.

Divided into five parts to include history, mad engagements, critiques of psychiatry, the role of law and public policy, and social justice, the editors have done a wonderful job of situating various contributions and chapters within a broader context that helps enable the reader to connect important strands within mad studies and activism to larger and more complex questions about the law, politics, policy, history, and knowledge production. While this interdisciplinary engagement is noteworthy in itself, within this work it also serves to provide readers with a more layered analysis that, over the course of the book, highlights the many ways normality and reason are shaped and upheld, and more critically, how mad studies and psychiatric survivors are actively providing valuable counter-narratives to confront these. The commitment to stimulate the reader’s understanding of grassroots activism and psychiatric survivor narratives provides an important context that uniquely situates mad studies as both a social justice movement and critical field of inquiry.

Part 1, including several chapters that explore mad people’s history (including Mel Starkman’s 1981 historical analysis in the first Canadian publication to engage this issue from the perspective of mad people), highlights narratives that have historically been ignored and silenced in other areas of scholarship that explore psychiatry.[1] A strength in this section lies in its ability to re-engage this history from the standpoint of psychiatric survivors. The chapters in part 2, highlighting mad engagements, illustrate the conflicts that exist between mad activism and psychiatric power. Again, the inclusion of powerful narratives demonstrate how the mental health system operates, and crucially, the impact this has on psychiatric survivors. Part 3, consisting of chapters critiquing psychiatry, focuses on the work of some of Canada’s leading mad activists and explores some of the most critical issues facing psychiatric survivors today, including engagement with community mental health, a powerful critique of electroshock, and the challenges in incorporating madness within the disability studies curriculum. Part 4 brings together chapters that explore the politics of resistance as it relates to laws and policies that shape mad struggles. Here contributors illustrate how various mechanisms of power within the public sphere operate in ways that oppress, marginalize, and erase the experiences of psychiatric survivors. While significant on their own, taken together these chapters also provide valuable illustrations of how power operates and is experienced, and the many ways in which neoliberalism exacerbates and shapes these experiences. Finally, part 5, an exploration of social justice and identity politics, concludes the book by highlighting key and emerging issues in Canadian mad studies, including the practice of identity politics, engagement with other allied communities, notions of nationhood, and pressures of neoliberalism. In these chapters, the authors build on calls for intersectional analysis by fleshing out connections between mad studies and other structured experiences of oppression. This final section points to important issues and questions moving forward for mad studies in Canada.

The chapters assembled in this book make for an excellent resource for those new to mad studies, as well as those seeking much-needed Canadian scholarship in this area. While several of the essays are significant and can easily stand alone as a resource for scholars, activists, and allies, a real strength of the collection lies in the way the editors have brought together and framed this work. Read as a whole, the contributions provide readers with a thorough and detailed account of mad studies within Canada that remain centered on how psychiatric survivors experience historical legacies, policies, laws, and power. In doing so, this book does indeed make a strong and compelling case that mad studies does matter and brilliantly connects the work of leading and emerging activists and scholars to a broader movement that is actively confronting psychiatric power and reshaping important histories, contributions, and activism in powerful ways.


[1]. Mel Starkman, “The Movement,” Phoenix Rising: The Voice of the Psychiatrized (1981), 2:3, 2A-9A.

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In: H-War
Author: Elliot Carlson
Reviewer: John Abbatiello

Elliot Carlson. Joe Rochefort's War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011. 616 pp. $36.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-61251-060-6.

Reviewed by John Abbatiello (Independent Scholar) Published on H-War (April, 2016) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

Elliot Carlson’s lengthy examination of Captain Joe Rochefort’s professional career is much more than a biography of an important yet understated naval figure. On the contrary, the author uses the life story of Joe Rochefort to synthesize important issues of cryptanalytic science, naval culture, and bureaucratic infighting. True, Rochefort’s code-breaking unit pieced together clues that led to an intelligence 
breakthrough about Japanese plans leading up to the Battle of Midway. But Carlson offers much more in a beautifully written narrative.

Thanks to Hal Holbrook’s portrayal in the 1976 film Midway, and a recent flood of literature about that pivotal American victory in the Pacific War, Rochefort’s role in breaking the Imperial Japanese Navy’s JN-25(b) code during the weeks leading up to the Battle of Midway is a well-known story. As one would expect, Carlson’s biography focuses on the months during which Rochefort served at Pearl Harbor as a code breaker. The author, however, also exposes pertinent details of the subject’s life and naval career. 

Rochefort grew up in Ohio and southern California in a hard-working Irish-American family, where he was the youngest of seven children. He enlisted in the US Navy at the close of World War One during the spring of his senior year in high school. Immediately after the armistice he applied for and was accepted into a Navy engineer school which earned him a reserve ensign’s commission after graduating from the program in June 1919. He went on to serve in a unique sequence of assignments—engineer in a number of naval vessels, cryptanalyst with the Navy Department’s Office of Naval Communications, Japanese linguist, and fleet intelligence officer—all of which prepared him to serve in his later capacity as chief of Station Hypo, the Hawaii-based radio intercept and cryptanalysis unit that failed to break key Japanese naval codes prior to Pearl Harbor but succeeded only a few weeks before Midway.

This study delves into Japanese encoding procedures and American methods to gain intelligence from enemy communications; key leaders in the Pacific and in Washington, DC, and the relationships between their respective staffs; and differences of opinion over naval intelligence estimates, especially between Admiral Chester Nimitz’s Pacific Fleet staff at Pearl Harbor and Admiral Ernest King’s US Fleet staff. Carlson clearly exposes the bureaucratic debate between the naval communications and the naval intelligence communities about maintaining primary responsibility over code breaking of enemy signals traffic. The author also highlights the issue of command and control—should code-breaking units have reported to their naval district commander, the fleet commander, or the Navy Staff in Washington, DC? In the end, it was Rochefort’s unique combination of experiences that enabled him to form his team, guide them in their daily code-breaking work, assist with filling in the blanks through his understanding of Japanese language and naval culture, and convince his superiors of the accuracy of Station Hypo’s assessments. Rochefort’s candor ruffled a few feathers during his career, and this likely explains the denial of a service medal for his contributions to the victory at Midway in 1942. Rochefort’s colleagues later campaigned for setting the record straight and secured posthumous recognition for their friend and mentor in 1986.  

Carlson, a career journalist, demonstrates his skill at storytelling throughout the book. For example, the description of the weeks before Midway reads like a Tom Clancy novel. Rochefort’s team knew the Japanese planned a major operation in mid-1942 but only possessed the thinnest strands of evidence that Midway was the target. The debate was over the two-letter code “AF,” a typical Japanese code 
group for a geographic location. In a flash of brilliance, one of Rochefort’s analysts developed a plan to have the American base at Midway radio in the clear to Pearl Harbor that their fresh-water distilling plant was out of commission. Japanese intelligence specialists picked up the transmission, and then reported what they discovered in an encoded message by radio. Station Hypo intercepted the message and was thus able to verify that “AF” stood for Midway. Such intelligence enabled Nimitz to position his outnumbered aircraft carrier forces in a way that contributed to American victory in early June 1942. 

Carlson mastered pertinent archival sources in the creation of this biography. Naval documents, oral histories, published memoirs, and even interviews with participants contributed to a fully researched study that left few stones unturned. The author chose the Naval Institute Press as his publisher, an organization willing to make room in the book for photographs of key characters and to publish the biography in eBook format. The publisher recently released this book in paperback. This is a lengthy study of 456 pages, not including front matter, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index. Carlson’s biography of Joe Rochefort is well worth the investment for those interested in the Battle of Midway, cryptanalysis, and naval culture.

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Citation: John Abbatiello. Review of Carlson, Elliot, Joe Rochefort's War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2016. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: James Hamilton-Paterson
Reviewer: John Abbatiello

James Hamilton-Paterson. Marked for Death: The First War in the Air. New York: Pegasus Books, 2016. 416 pp. $27.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-68177-158-8.

Reviewed by John Abbatiello (USAF Academy) Published on H-War (February, 2017) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

In 2010, award-winning novelist James Hamilton-Paterson published his first nonfiction work on aviation history, titled Empire of the Clouds: When Britain’s Aircraft Ruled the World, in which he traced the decline of the British aircraft industry after World War II. With Marked for Death: The First War in the Air, Hamilton-Paterson adds to his growing list of nonfiction books with a thematic investigation of airpower during the First World War.

The author largely focuses on the British experience and highlights the development of aviation in other military forces only briefly, usually when comparing the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Naval Air Service, and the Royal Air Force (RAF). Hamilton-Paterson emphasizes three important threads throughout the work. First, he argues that incremental technological advances in aircraft design and weaponry brought about clear tactical advantages for each side—at times with important strategic impacts—driving a back-and-forth aerial competition between the Entente and Central powers. Secondly, he demonstrates that despite the importance of technology, the war in the air depended on men flying in a very dangerous environment facing death every time they took to the sky. The personal experience of the air war, drawn from a respectable list of published memoirs, again focuses on the British perspective but with occasional peeks at German, French, and Italian views. Finally, he notes that the way military forces thought about the use of airpower and the status of aviators changed rapidly between 1914 and 1918. A mere novelty at the start of the war, aviation became an important supporting arm for land and naval operations, as well as a darling of the home front, by 1918.

The opening chapters focus on production, design, and weaponry. An important chapter titled “Combat and Other Missions” provides a useful description of the specific roles of aviation during the war. The thematic approach continues with sections on aviator training, squadron life, and pilot attitudes toward fatalism. Of particular interest is a chapter titled “Airmen and Medics” describing the development of aviation physiology and the infrastructure created in support of this new field of medicine. I lived less than a mile from Mount Vernon Hospital in the northwest suburbs of London and was pleased to learn that it was a facility that in 1918 served as the RAF’s Central Hospital. At Mount Vernon, medical boards examined pilot candidates and specialized in “all sorts of new orthapaedic procedures” required to mend aircrew patients surviving crash landings (p. 232).

Hamilton-Paterson departs from his thematic approach at the end of the book with chapters titled “Home Defence” and “Balkans and Mesopatamia,” topics that he justifiably includes due to their relative lack of attention within the literature of World War I airpower. The former chapter examines the role of airpower at the strategic level of war, again focusing on the British experience in defending the skies over London against German Zeppelin and Gotha raids and their own efforts to bomb the German homeland. The latter chapter summarizes the use of airpower in the Macedonian and Middle Eastern fronts, as well as air operations in Africa, Gallipoli, and the Italian Alps. Not surprisingly, he describes the challenges involving early aircraft unable to fly in hot climates where the glue holding fabric to wings melted.

A thoughtful postscript brings the reader to the present with comparisons of Great War aviation with current air operations featuring drones and very expensive combat aircraft. Hamilton-Paterson closes by calling aviators of World War I “unwitting test pilots, which is why so many were marked for death as they climbed up among the wires and spars into their tiny bare cockpits and called to the mechanic to swing the propeller” (p. 309).

Marked for Death is beautifully written, insightful, and generally accurate. A few minor mistakes, such as a statement about the absence of British fighter schools (they had them), do not detract from the value of the work. Meant for the general public, it lacks material from archival sources. However, historians of World War I—and airpower in general—will likely appreciate Hamilton-Paterson’s thematic approach. The chapters on training and early aviation medicine are particularly useful.

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Citation: John Abbatiello. Review of Hamilton-Paterson, James, Marked for Death: The First War in the Air. H-War, H-Net Reviews. February, 2017. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Martin Conway
Reviewer: Maartje Abbenhuis

Martin Conway. The Sorrows of Belgium: Liberation and Political Reconstruction, 1944-1947. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. 512 pp. $150.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-969434-1.

Reviewed by Maartje Abbenhuis (University of Auckland) Published on H-War (February, 2013) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

The Death of Belgium

This lovely book offers more than a history of the reconstruction period in Belgium between 1944 and 1947. It also presents a convincing and thoughtfully argued history of the collapse of the Belgian nation-state in the postwar era. It is a beautifully written book, based on extensive archival research. Once you get over the dense print on the pages, it is a remarkably engaging read.

Martin Conway borrowed his book title from Hugo Claus’s famous novel Het verdriet van Belgie (1983) and uses it as a metaphor to describe Belgian society “where private and public melancholy have become inextricably intertwined” (p. 2). At one level, the use of the metaphor is highly appropriate, especially given the context of the Second World War and his allusion to the “death” of Belgium in the post-Cold War era. However, as an overarching theme for the content of the book, which is largely about the manner in which various groups and individuals in Belgium influenced (or upset) the country’s political reconstruction in the period 1944 to 1947, it seems rather melodramatic. As Conway ascribes such a high degree of agency to the political actors of the time, his title somewhat undermines their stories, which were not of sorrow, on the whole, but rather of reconstructive hope. Still, given that the long-term outcome of the reconstruction was dire the title remains apt. At the very least, it heightens the irony of Conway’s commentary that political scientists in the 1960s celebrated Belgium as a model “modern” democracy. Today, they lament its demise.

The central concern of Conway’s book is explaining the juxtaposition between the political turbulence created by the Nazi-occupation period and the mild-mannered political reforms established in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. He asks how it was possible for the Belgian state to reestablish almost a carbon copy of its prewar political constitution while it underwent serious political challenges to its viability during the war, including the result of the occupation, the questionable actions of King Leopold III, and the impact of the pro-Nazi Flemish movement. He argues that given the context of crisis and upheaval, the potential existed for a radical challenge to prewar authority to assert itself. Instead of choosing a radical solution, however, the Belgian state reestablished itself in its prewar mould. The political structure remained the same, even though Belgian society had undergone fundamental change through the war years. Furthermore, Conway argues that the answers to the question “why did Belgium fail as a nation-state?” lie first and foremost in the reestablishment of an already outdated political structure that subsequently was unable to adapt to further societal change.

The value of this book is twofold. Not only does Conway do a thorough job of narrating the dynamics of postwar reconstruction (to which he dedicates most of his chapters), but he also does so within an important explanatory framework. He argues that Belgium’s success as a state in the postwar era was short-lived because by the late 1960s it no longer worked as a political system: the political structure did not keep up with fundamental changes in Belgian society. Therefore, according to Conway, the failure of Belgium was first and foremost structural and existed well before the crises of citizenship and identity that became so vocal and divisive from the 1960s on. In other words, Conway makes a strong case that it was the inability of the state to accommodate societal change at all levels that caused Belgium as a nation-state to fail. He explains that the failure to accommodate societal change applied at all levels, from the political elites to the working classes, from the politics created by linguistic difference between the Flemish and Walloons to the reassertion of the individual over the influence of the political-religious “pillars.” According to Conway, in the end, the crisis of Belgium was more a crisis of the state than of the nation. That is to say, it was not the rivalry of competing linguistic-nationalisms that brought Belgium to its end but rather the inability of the Belgian state to respond to the expectations of its diverse range of citizens. The crisis expressed itself as a linguistic-political one in the aftermath of the 1960s, but its origins lay in the inflexibility of the state to adapt. And this explains why Conway’s research on the reconstruction period is so significant, because if there had been a time that Belgium could have reconstructed itself fully it would surely have been between 1944 and 1947. But Conway argues that the failure to adapt already existed in the 1930s, and so, ultimately, his argument is one of continuities.

This is a beautifully constructed book that makes a very convincing case for the collapse of Belgium as a nation-state. It is much more than a history of the postwar reconstruction period, although it is that as well. It will be of use to academics interested in the construction of European political identities, political legitimacy, and the nation-state in the Cold War and post-Cold War world, as well as anyone working on the history or political environment of Belgium in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

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Citation: Maartje Abbenhuis. Review of Conway, Martin, The Sorrows of Belgium: Liberation and Political Reconstruction, 1944-1947. H-War, H-Net Reviews. February, 2013. URL:

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In: H-War
Author: Hunt Tooley
Reviewer: Maartje Abbenhuis

Hunt Tooley. The Western Front: Battle Ground and Home Front in the First World War. Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. x + 305 pp. $100.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-333-65062-2; $33.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-333-65063-9.

Reviewed by Maartje Abbenhuis (History Department, University of Auckland, New Zealand) Published on H-War (May, 2006)

A Western Front Perspective

Hunt Tooley's work,The Western Front: Battle Ground and Home Front in the First World War, has received mixed reviews to date. Tooley himself opens his preface with the words, "I think I have tried to achieve several, perhaps too many, goals in the span of a single volume" (p. vii). If anything, this self-assessment reflects many of the limitations of the book. The work consists of eight chapters. Beginning with a chapter on the origins of the war, which offers a functional introduction (if based on slightly dated sources), it proceeds to give a more or less chronological account of the western-front participants' history in the war, with lots of other interesting information slotted in here and there. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the years 1914 and 1915, while chapters 5 and 6 look at the years 1916 and 1917. The last chapter focuses on the military campaigns of 1918 as well as the armistice, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and repairing the damage done by the war in France and Belgium. The two better chapters are the thematic ones--chapter 4 on the political economy and centralization of government controls, and chapter 7 on the cultural impact of the war.

The book is certainly not without merit. While in parts it reads more like series of undergraduate lectures than an in-depth military, social and cultural analysis, it does offer a useful overview of important war developments, which would be especially useful for first-time students of the topic. It also has some engaging parts--most notably on the impact of the war on popular culture, especially in terms of songs and ditties, language development, and children's literature. I appreciated his analysis of the economic implications of the war, and the connections made between military planning, navalism and Social Darwinism. The sections on the battle of the Marne as well as the Verdun offensives were also compelling. Still, on the whole, the book does not gel well. In many places it is disjointed, for example, the links between home and fighting front are tenuously made throughout and Tooley fails to offer an analytical framework for the "disconnections" between civilians and soldiers that other historians supposedly focus so much of their attention on. In all, there is very little that ties together the complex web of subjects and topics mentioned by Tooley.

So much could have been done with the history of the western front. I, for one, would have welcomed a cultural analysis of the meanings attached to the western front by civilians and soldiers alike, or even a study of the legacies of the western front for western conceptions of war in the twentieth century. Instead, what Tooley has offered us is an overview history of the war, focusing on the major powers involved in the western military theater. While it is a useful overview of the history of this theater of war, Tooley has ended up retracing the traditional picture of the war as one that mainly concerned Northwest Europe, in the process perpetuating the idea that the war was won and lost "in the west." Recent historiography, most notably but not exclusively the excellent work by Hew Strachan, has clearly illustrated the inappropriateness of such an interpretation. This is not to say that Tooley does not acknowledge there is more war going on than the western front, but he fails to frame this front in the context of the conflict as a whole. There is no section that explains why the western front was so significant or how it related to the multitude of other theaters. At the same time, there seem to be real disparities between what is and what is not included in the narrative. While the United States receives a considerable amount of attention (perhaps this was purposively done for the U.S. market), there is very little about the actual experience of the western front for the people in the places where it was situated, namely much of Belgium and Northern France, a particularly obvious and important omission. At the same time, there seems to be an unequal amount of focus on "minor" western front participants: where Ireland, Portugal, Australia and Canada receive due mention, there is very little on New Zealand, Algeria or India.

Other reviewers have rightfully noted a number of errors, mistakes and irksome editing concerns in the content of the book, to which I (as a Dutch-New Zealander) would like to add two small but grating points: the Netherlands is not the same as Holland, and the plural of "Maori" is "Maori." Furthermore, I found the lauding of Fussell's mythical interpretations of the cultural legacies of the war as perplexing as Tooley's failure to analyze recent historiography on the Schlieffen Plan. I also cannot fathom why Tooley did not commission a few good maps.

Overall, The Western Front offers an interesting, if skewed, introduction to the history of the Northwest European theater of war. Undergraduate students will find the book especially useful. I, on the other hand, was rather dissatisfied with this version of the Great War.

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Citation: Maartje Abbenhuis. Review of Tooley, Hunt, The Western Front: Battle Ground and Home Front in the First World War. H-War, H-Net Reviews. May, 2006. URL:

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In: H-Pol
Author: Robert Booth Fowler
Reviewer: Philip Abbott

Robert Booth Fowler. Enduring Liberalism: American Political Thought Since the 1960s. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999. xvii + 331 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7006-0974-1.

Reviewed by Philip Abbott (Department of Political Science, Wayne State University) Published on H-Pol (June, 2000)

Robert Booth Fowler has written a series of books on American political thought in recent years. All of them have been thoughtful works characterized by fair and moderate assessments of contending interpretations of the American polity. The Dance with Community (1993), for example, carefully examined and categorized the often acrimonious debates between communitarians and liberals. Fowler, after reviewing each side, offered his own alternative which attempted to acknowledge the most important positions of both. Enduring Liberalism, his most recent effort, is probably his very best.

Fowler's focus is an extremely important one for he reviews the dramatic fracture in political consensus in America after the 1960s. Whether the Sixties will ultimately prove to be the great divide in both American political thought and practice that it now appears to be is, of course, a difficult question. At the moment, however, the Sixties is a fiercely contested historical moment with some asserting that the decade was a "comprehensive disaster for America" (Harvey Mansfield) and others asserting that it is still the "best hope for mankind" (Barbara Ehrenreich). Many students of the Sixties have concluded, as did David Steigerwald in his history of the decade, that this debate continues because no side completely "won" during the period and the American political culture has since been in a "social and political stalemate."

Enduring Liberalism is written in a broad sense against this backdrop. Fowler begins his analysis by reviewing the "fall of consensus" in American political thought since the Sixties. This consensus in political thought was most influentially and brilliantly presented by Louis Hartz in his The Liberal Tradition in America (1955). The "Hartz thesis" that American society was in the grip of Lockean consensus since its inception and that both conservative and radical viewpoints never seriously emerged was mercilessly attacked on numerous fronts. Hartz had failed to see the influence of republicanism in his analysis as well as racial and gender challenges to the liberal order. While many critiques better fit other theorists of the 1950s and early 1960s than Hartz whose work never celebrated consensus, Fowler notes that "over time, criticism of consensus metamorphosed more and more into alternative interpretations of American political thought and practice" (p. 97). "Diversity" became the same theoretical icon that "consensus" was before the Sixties and not only "corrections" of Hartz's analysis of particular periods such as the Revolution and the founding (which Fowler discusses in detail) but also new methodologies and approaches (a new conservatism, feminism, post-modernism, green political thought) rapidly emerged.

American political thought since the Sixties then shook off consensus for diversity and so too did American political culture at large. Or did it? Fowler agrees that consensus is dead, at least for the moment, but he is skeptical about the abandonment of liberalism that presumably is the core project of both post-Sixties radicals and conservatives. In detailed examinations of aspects of American society, Fowler discovers several important patterns. For example, despite the sustained demands of those on both the right and left (Robert Nisbet, Alan Ehrenhalt, Benjamin Barber, Jane Mansbridge and others) for the need for stronger forms of community in civil society and/or the political sphere, the American public shows "little inclination to repudiate liberal values or support community in some form beyond the family and thin civil society groups" (p.174). And while environmental political thinkers position themselves as a "point of redirection" as well by attempting to envision a holistic view of society and nature, many of their demands can, and are, reformulated in a liberal language of rights.

One can be tempted to conclude that, in the long run, Hartz's observations about American political culture will still prove to be correct. An analysis of the "post-Sixties" period some years hence will reveal patterns that Hartz himself described in the early 1800s and even in the 1850s and 1930s. There is much posturing and even open rejection of liberalism but ultimately the "tyranny of Locke" returns and the controversies will look more like "two boxers, swinging wildly, knocking each other down with accidental punches" than the liberation all sides think they are fighting for. Fowler does not reach this conclusion however. He more cautiously states that while this criticism "amounts to less than it appears," he still entertains the hope of an altered future in which there is a "slow, and incredibly diverse, drift of American civilization toward a reawakening ... to a more community-oriented society ..." (p. 252).

Enduring Liberalism is an important assessment of American political thought at the end of the twentieth century. It is thorough, fair and reasonable and thus will be essential to both novice and expert.

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Citation: Philip Abbott. Review of Fowler, Robert Booth, Enduring Liberalism: American Political Thought Since the 1960s. H-Pol, H-Net Reviews. June, 2000. URL:

Copyright © 2000 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at