Podcast: CSMCH Showcase 4 with Julie Gibbings

Our fourth CSMCH Showcase podcast is now online!

My guest was Julie Gibbings, our recently appointed lecturer in the history of the indigenous Americas. Amongst many things, we talked about how Julie got interested in Guatemala, what it means to work on a post-conflict society, and how indigenous knowledge can reshape our understanding of time and space. We also explored some of the main themes of her new book, entitled Our Time is Now: Race and Modernity in Postcolonial Guatemala (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

To listen to the podcast, click on the Audiomack link below or subscribe to our podcast channel (just search for ‘CSMCH Edinburgh’ from your favourite podcast app).

Join me next time when my guest will be Ismay Milford, with whom I’ll be talking about the revolutionary dreams of East and Central African activists in the decolonising moment.

— Emile

Podcast: CSMCH Showcase 3 with Kate Ballantyne

Our third CSMCH Showcase podcast is now online!

My guest was Kate Ballantyne, who is our resident postdoctoral fellow in modern and contemporary history (you can find out more about her in an autobiographical blog post she wrote earlier this year). In our interview, we talked about the mythologies of the American South, the challenges of writing about activism, and the echoes of the past in today’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Over the course of the conversation, Kate mentioned a number of op-eds, Twitter threads and books, and I’ve included the link to these at the bottom of this blog post.

To listen to the podcast, click on the Audiomack link below or subscribe to our podcast channel (just search for ‘CSMCH Edinburgh’ from your favourite podcast app).


— Emile

Podcast: CSMCH Showcase 2 with Joe Gazeley

Our second CSMCH Showcase podcast is now online!

My guest was Joe Gazeley, who is finishing his PhD on Malian foreign policy since the 1960s. In our wide-ranging conversation, we talked about how Joe came to work on Mali, and what his research can tell us about the specificities of post-colonial sovereignty. We also explored the controversial notion of “la Françafrique” and how foreign powers have exploited or ignored Mali since independence.

To listen to the podcast, click on the Audiomack link below or subscribe to our podcast channel (just search for ‘CSMCH Edinburgh’ from your favourite podcast app).

My next guest will be our resident postdoc, Kate Ballantyne, with whom I’ll be discussing the wonders of Tennessee and the history of student activism in the American South.

— Emile

Jake Blanc is the first guest on our new CSMCH Showcase podcast series

Like everyone else in the university sector, we have had to suspend our activities because of the COVID-19 epidemic. This has been particularly hard for us because the purpose of a research centre is to foster intellectual exchange and encourage conversations, all of which happen far more easily in person than over the internet.

However, we do have one asset: our members.

Here at Edinburgh, we’re fortunate to have a wonderful community of modern historians. And, since we are temporarily unable to welcome any visiting speakers or fellows into our ranks, we thought we’d take the opportunity to introduce you to some of our best and brightest minds.

We’re doing this in the form of a new podcast series called ‘CSMCH Showcase’.

As the title suggests, the purpose of this series is to showcase the work of some of our members. This will mostly come in the form of short interviews with some of our staff and PhD students. We hope that this podcast series will allow you to share in some of the research that is happening in Edinburgh and allow you to maintain a connection with us until we are next able to meet in person.

My first guest was Jake Blanc. When we met virtually, I talked with him about his own biography and his experience of left-wing political engagement; the history of rural political movements; and the importance of looking at Latin America from the inside out. Check out the podcast by clicking on the Audiomack link below or via our podcast channel (just search for ‘CSMCH Edinburgh’ from your favourite podcast app).

My next guest will be Joe Gazeley, who will be discussing his doctoral research on Malian foreign policy. Join us then!

— Emile

Teach-out on indigenous movements and revolutionary politics in Latin America

In the midst of the ongoing UK-wide strike action, the Centre organised a teach-out event on indigenous communities and left-wing politics in Guatemala and Mexico with Nat Morris (UCL) and Julie Gibbings (Edinburgh). Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz was there to send this report.

A map of the indigenous peoples of Latin America

Julie and Nat opened the teach-out by briefly introducing the three case studies of revolutionary moments and indigenous movements in Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Nat spoke about the context of indigenous struggles in Mexico after the Mexican Revolution that started in 1910.  Between the accession of Álvaro Obregón to Mexico’s presidency in 1920, and the end of Lázaro Cárdenas’s presidency in 1940, the federal government sought to politically, culturally and economically “incorporate” the country’s Indian peoples into the nation-state, predominantly via the efforts of the maestros rurales (rural schoolteachers) of the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Secretariat of Public Education, SEP).

However, the process was complicated by the elites’ lack of knowledge of how to integrate them in terms of the social structure, history, language and the ways in which they understood the world, which clearly differed from the new state born in the revolution. Moreover, as was highlighted all through the teach-out, land reform that the revolutionaries promised earned lots of support from indigenous people but became a problem when the revolution stabilised.

Nat highlighted was how the concept of progress and modernity had little place for indigenous people. They realized that the revolution meant the onset of a project to “modernise” their own existence by making them into mestizos – a concept derived from the Spanish Empire for mixed races between indigenous and Spaniards.

The example of the Huichols, an indigenous group in Sierra Huichola, illustrated their resistance to  incorporation into the new nation-state. It also showed the problems within the federal education system itself, and more importantly, the behaviour of its local representatives that galvanised this opposition. Racism, paternalism, land reform, and violence made the incorporation of the Huichols impossible in post-revolutionary Mexico.

Emile introduces Julie (second on the right) and Nat (first on the right)

In her opening remarks, Julie compared the situation of Mexico with Guatemala, which has always been overshadowed by its larger and more powerful neighbour. There are fundamental historical differences between the two: while Mexico was key to the Spanish colonization, Guatemala was a colonial backwater.  After independence, indigenous people were the largest group in the country.

Economically speaking, Guatemala depended on the exportation of coffee that was harvested and transported through mandamiento (forced wage labour), which was applied mainly to indigenous people. There had been a long conflict in the nineteenth century over the question of mandamiento – for instance, over the racial differences used to defend forced labour in the indigenous community. This persisted into the twentieth-century.

Because of Guatemala’s proximity to Mexico, there was a lot of intellectual exchange, especially, during the Mexican Revolution. During the Guatemalan Revolution (1944-1954), president Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán introduced the decreto 900 land reform bill.  While the idea was to redistribute unsusedland to local peasants, compensating landowners with government bonds, and thereby modernising Guatemala’s economy from pseudo-feudalism into capitalism, it benefited mainly indigenous groups, deprived of land since the Spanish conquest. It also helped many indigenous people to feel that they had found dignity and autonomy after centuries of conquest and deprivation.

However, in the context of the Cold War and because the redistribution angered major landowners such as The United Fruit Company, as well as the United States, which construed Guatemala’s land reform as a communist threat. The US ultimately used this as a justification for the 1954 coup that deposed Árbenz and instigated decades of Civil War.

Finally, both Julie and Nat spoke about Nicaragua, which, like the other two also experienced a revolution, sometimes referred to as a Second Cuba in Latin America. The case of the Miskitu and the Mayangna populations after the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua offered an intriguing opportunity to explore the dynamics of ethnic politics, as well as Latin American ethnic mobilizations, inter-Indian relations, and the failures of leftist revolutionary  movements to engage with indigenous bases of support.

As Nat explained, while the territories of the Miskitu and the Mayangna were never part of the Spanish Empire, and they were helped by the British pirates who gave them guns, they joined Nicaragua in 1860. When the revolution happened and the Civil War broke out, the Miskitu allied with the US and, in the historical narrative, it has always been said that they “tricked” the Mayangna, another indigenous groups whose relations with the Miskitu were never good, to fight against the Sandinistas.

Since the Sandinista government denied the importance of ethnic difference in Nicaragua, this allowed Miskitu nationalists, using the language of religion, to co-opt Mayangna leaders, while subsequent Sandinista violence turned Mayangna civilians against the revolution.

This discussion of the Nicaraguan case highlighted how indigenous peoples interacted with revolutionaries and their ideas of progress and modernity. As Nat explained, the legitimacy of Miskitu domination crumbled as violence on the coast escalated, but the return of the Mayangna to Nicaragua from Honduras, where they were exiled, only became possible after a genuine shift in the Sandinistas´ own nationalist ideology.

With an acknowledgement that real, important differences existed not only between mestizos and a unified “Indian” other, but also between distinct groups of Indians, the Sandinistas demonstrated their growing understanding of the history and culture of the coast. This enabled the Mayangna to rebuild their relationship with the revolution, as equal partners rather than voices lost in the crowd.

Nat and Julie’s presentations were followed by questions from the audience on contemporary indigenous politics. Amongst other things, members of the audience asked about gender, the neo-liberal model of multiculturalism, and the question of land and land reform. In their answers, Nat and Julie provided ample evidence of the importance of studying indigenous histories as part of a broader wave of radical political movements in Latin America.

Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz is a PhD student in History. His research interests lie broadly in the history of the European left, political theory, political violence and historical memory. His thesis focuses on the political commitment of Eric Hobsbawm and his passion for politics in a transformed world (since 1977). He is a CSMCH steering committee member.

[A write-up of this teach-out was also featured in the History, Classics and Archaeology student magazine, ‘Retrospect’. The link to the article is here.]

Kristoff Kerl on ecstasy, cultural revolution and counterculture in the 1960s-1970s

Every year, our CSMCH-IASH Fellows present their work to the Centre’s research community. This year, it was the turn of Kristoff Kerl (Koln) to discuss some of his work-in-progress on Western countercultures in the 1960s and 1970s. Rory Scothorne sends this report – and you can follow the link below to hear Kristoff discuss his work in a short interview with the Centre director, Emile Chabal.

On Tuesday evening, students packed out a basement room to explore the radical, mind-expanding possibilities of sex, music and psychoactive substances. Kristoff Kerl’s talk on “Ecstasy and Cultural Revolution” never risked turning into an impromptu rave, but it did offer some valuable insights into the ambiguous “politics of ecstasy” which suffused the western countercultures of the 1960s and ‘70s.

The structure of Kristoff’s talk

“Ecstasy” here means not the eponymous drug – not popularised until subsequent decades – so much as a type of experience, in mind and body, which countercultural theorists believed could overcome the neurosis, repression and violence of modern life. Kerl focused on West Germany, but the counterculture he described was spread across the western world, from a focal point in Berlin to London, Berkeley, Paris and even – albeit much more muted here – Edinburgh.

The various strands that made up this diverse and complex drift against an equally vague cultural and social order shared a conviction that a particularly insidious form of social power was exercised through culture, and had to be challenged there too. This included areas that had been hitherto less politicised, such as bodily and sensory experience. For theorists like Sven Reichardt, Peter Bruckner and Raymond Martin, counterculture meant the pursuit of authenticity and liberation against the “alienation of the senses” and “sensorial deformation” that resulted from repressive structures like the bourgeois family, the state and the workplace, and were reinforced through much of mainstream culture. Overcoming this could be achieved, individually and collectively, through various experiences of “ecstasy,” which was portrayed as a kind of psychic weak spot in the walls of alienated life, attained via things like sex, dancing, confrontations with the police, yoga and psychedelic substances.

Historically, psychedelics – along with other, more established mind-altering substances like alcohol – have been viewed by some radicals as a means of reinforcing the status quo, enabling temporary escape rather than emancipation. The new counterculture of the ‘sixties, however, saw ecstatic experience as a means of self-improvement, enabling the reshaping of the self by making and reflecting upon new, horizon-expanding experiences.

It was also framed as an ingredient of collective action: “have a joint, transform your hatred into energy,” as one slogan put it. Yet the old concerns remained – theorists like Bruckner argued that there was also an “ecstasy of affirmation” or “ecstasy of philistines”, whereby drugs facilitated a retreat into strictly delimited scenes that failed to challenge the wider social order. Ecstasy had, therefore, to be somewhat deliberate and political if it was to produce radical change.

“Ecstasy” is therefore politically ambiguous, and Kerl demonstrated similar concerns in its application to pop music, sexuality and transnational networks. The music producer and festival organiser Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser was also a prominent countercultural theorist, and argued that pop music risked producing an order-affirming ecstasy if it didn’t break down the barriers between performers and listeners – something that could be achieved through rhythms that “let the masses go crazy,” elaborate light shows and the heightened sensory experience enabled by psychedelics.

Psychedelics were also seen as a means of heightening sexual experiences and reducing inhibitions, allowing people to discover their authentic selves. But this radicalism was hollowed out by the often highly heteronormative and patriarchal views of its advocates: acid-evangelist Timothy Leary, for instance, saw homosexuality as a perversion to be cured by LSD.

Psychedelics also played a role in the formation of new transnational countercultural networks, with Berlin becoming an international capital of ecstasy thanks to the greater availability of substances and the localised networks that grew around them. Kerl’s account of the international “hippy trail” – travelled and promoted by figures like Allen Ginsberg – stressed the role of orientalist caricatures. Counterculturals believed that the experience of psychedelic ecstasy was heightened by the innate authenticity of places that had been reimagined from afar. In fact, such far-flung experiences often happened in places frequented by westerners, allowing expat communities of ecstasy to form at sufficient distance to preserve the exoticism of foreign cultures through closer contact.

Angela Bartie (Edinburgh) offered a short comment, which was read in her absence by Centre director Emile Chabal. Angela noted Edinburgh’s own role in the currents of transnational counterculture. Amongst other things, she pointed to the small rhino’s head sculpture on the Informatics Building that commemorates the old site of Paperback Books, established in 1959 by the American Jim Haynes, who became a key participant in international countercultural networks.

Reflecting on Haynes’ involvement in founding Suck – Europe’s first “sexpaper” – and the Wet Dream Film Festivals in 1970-71, Bartie considered the heavily gendered politics of counterculture that Kerl had also mentioned. In its celebration of sexual “ecstasy”, how far did countercultures incorporate perspectives which challenged the male gaze rather than reinforcing it? Bartie noted the testimony of Sheila Rowbotham, whose memoir stresses the immense pressure on women in the 1960s to “liberate” themselves into a (hetero)sexuality that was still defined by and for men. Bartie’s comment reinforced Kerl’s own suggestion that the countercultures of the 60s and 70s were defined by highly contradictory tendencies – ones which could incorporate alternative cultures into existing power structures even while attempting to challenge them.

Understanding that complex process of incorporation – which Kerl mostly just hinted at – would mean a longer view, and I would have liked to hear more about his sense of the broader historical context. Is there a longer tradition of the “politics of ecstasy”, going back through Walter Benjamin’s experiments with – and writing on – Hashish, into the lifeworlds and politics of interwar surrealism, and deeper still into the intoxications of Baudelaire and Dumas? How does this carry forwards, too, into the chemically-fuelled intersection between rave culture and “DIY politics” of the late 1980s and ‘90s? Answering these questions would be a much bigger project, but Kerl’s work provides a stimulating basis for further exploration.

Rory Scothorne is a PhD student in History. His research interests lie broadly in the history of social movements, the development and contestation of the public sphere in the twentieth century, and the political thought of the radical left. His thesis focuses on the relationship between the radical left and Scottish nationalism from 1968 to 1992. He is a CSMCH steering committee member.

Introducing Kristoff Kerl, our CSMCH-IASH Fellow for 2019-20!

One of the innovations of the CSMCH when it was set up in 2017 was to introduce a 3-month visiting postdoctoral fellowship in modern and contemporary history, in collaboration with the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (IASH). This fellowship was designed to bring an early-career scholar to Edinburgh for a short research visit, with a view to pursuing interdisciplinary research that tied in with the Centre’s chosen theme. After Rakesh Ankit’s residency in 2017-8 and Ljubica Spaskovska and Claudia Stern’s visit in 2018-9, we’re delighted to introduce our fourth CSMCH-IASH Fellow, Kristoff Kerl.

Kristoff Kerl

Kristoff studied German studies, history, social sciences and educational science at the University of Cologne and at the Bergische University Wuppertal. He subsquently completed his PhD in Anglo-American history at the University of Cologne. His thesis dealt with manhood and modern antisemitism in the South of the United States between the 1860s and 1920s and was published in 2017 with Böhlau Verlag. His latest contribution to the study of the history of antisemitism is: ‘Oppression by Orgasm. Pornography and Antisemitism in Far-Right Discourses in the United States since the 1970s’, which is forthcoming in Studies in American Jewish Literature.

After completing his PhD, Kristoff was a research associate and lecturer at the University of Cologne and at Ruhr-University Bochum. From October 2017 until September 2018, he was a fellow at the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies at Tel Aviv University, and he has also held various fellowships at the German Historical Institute in Washington, at Harvard University and at the German Historical Institute in London.

During his time at the CSMCH, Kristoff will be exploring the emergence of countercultures in western countries such as the United States, Great Britain and Western Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Differing from other factions of the New Left, members of countercultural milieus tried to initiate a cultural revolution and create alternative spaces beyond the influence of capitalist sociation. They countered what they understood as the human alienation in capitalist consumer societies with a politics of the self that was supposed to establish solidarity among communities oriented towards sustainability, ‘naturalness’ and holism. In this context, body politics and body practices played a crucial role. In particular, Kristoff is interested in how counterculturists conceived of ‘politics of ecstasy’ as a means to liberate people from so-called capitalist alienation.

Kristoff will be presenting his work to the CSMCH seminar on 11 February and he is organising a conference entitled ‘Ecstatic Communitarization/Sociation: Ecstatic States of the Body and Social Group Cohesion from the 19th Century to the present’, which will take place on 26 March. The call for papers for the conference can be found here.

I hope you will join me in welcoming Kristoff to the CSMCH and to the university!

— Emile

Sarah Badcock on Russia’s revolutions from a provincial perspective

A seminar on revolution would be incomplete without some consideration of the Russian Revolution, one of the great world-historical events of the twentieth century. Fortunately, we were able to persuade Sarah Badcock (Nottingham) to come and talk to us about her “kaleidoscopic” perspectives on 1917. She gave a wonderful panorama of the Russian Revolutions in the plural. Anita Klingler was there to hear it.

Sarah began her talk by stating what it was she would be arguing against, namely the notion, still widespread, that revolutions ‘belong’ in capital cities and that all that spreads beyond the urban centres are ripples. Instead, she wanted to put forward the idea that an opposite dynamic is often at play, wherein the elites’ decisions and actions are shaped and determined by what is happening in the provincial hinterland. To this end, she said she would be examining structures of power and powerlessness during the Russian Revolutions of 1917, looking at people on the margins of society, and examining the case study of the food crisis. Her ultimate aim, she said, was to show why regional studies matter and what they can add to our understanding of history.

Sarah introduces the key themes of her presentation

As Sarah was primarily concerned with examining Russia’s revolutions from a provincial perspective, she first reminded her audience of the complexities of the term ‘peasant’. Far from denoting just one particular life experience, ‘peasant’ could apply to a multitude of different people living away from Russia’s urban centres, doing many different kinds of work, and could even include the identities of ‘worker’ and/or ‘soldier’ simultaneously.

The term ‘peasant’ therefore is an abstract generalisation and rather a blunt tool, while more specific regional studies can help us understand more individual experiences. Furthermore, Sarah made sure to draw the audience’s attention to the vast geography of the Russian landmass, which, though described as one national whole, is so varied that regional approaches may be a very useful way of explaining and understanding historical processes away from the urban centres of power.

Looking at the year 1917 and the local committees established all over the country once the Provisional Government had come to power in Petrograd, Sarah elucidated how it was the elected representatives who were accountable to the people and who were feeding back the people’s demands to the Provisional Government, while the Provisional Government – nominally the centre of power – often found itself unable to implement its decision, for example on land use, in the provinces. Power was thus not a one-way process: without appropriate means of implementing central decrees, local communities were empowered vis-à-vis the Provisional Government and often ignored or rejected their decisions.

However, Sarah was quick to point out that this empowerment was also imperfect and excluded certain marginalised groups along the lines of ethnicity, gender, as well as along a rural-urban divide, and, given the revolutionary context, access to weapons. Young, urban, ethnically Russian, armed males were the ones most empowered in this process.

Nevertheless, within the diffuse space and time of revolutions, marginalised groups were able to stake their claim to power. As an example, Sarah cited the case of the ‘soldiers’ wives’, who, when their husbands had been drafted into war, were granted an allowance from the state. By 1917, however, this allowance was no longer sufficient to meet the needs of daily life and the wives coalesced into an unmistakable collective voice, pressuring local governments all over Russia. Writing petitions in a noticeably empowered language, the ‘soldiers’ wives’ worked effectively outside the structures of power, but also within them. In Kazan province, the Soviet became concerned enough about public order to eventually meet the women’s demands. Power, therefore, did not only lie with the Provisional Government in Petrograd, but also with those who lived and took action in the provinces.

Another example Sarah gave was that of the food crisis. The efficient distribution of food across the vast Russian space was a defining challenge for Lenin’s new Bolshevik government. While some regions produced a surplus of food, sustenance was needed particularly in the cities as well as for the army. But surplus regions were unwilling to sell their surpluses to the state at below-market prices, thus exhibiting their power to defy the authorities. The central state failed to define the discourse surrounding food distribution and found itself unable, yet again, to implement its policies in the provinces.

Sarah added that it was most certainly not the case that local people simply failed to understand the official decrees and language of the revolution, but rather that they consciously chose to defy it and take power themselves to act as they saw fit. When Lenin, after asking his generals in October 1917 about the state of the army, learned that men were deserting in their thousands, Sarah argued, these individual decisions, taken on a mass scale, shaped Lenin’s ability, or rather inability, to negotiate favourable terms at Brest-Litovsk.

Thus, Sarah concluded that political elites often had their scope of action defined by the actions of ordinary, often provincial, people. Regional studies, which Sarah identified as a fresh and exciting field of research with plenty of potential for future work, can help us uncover these actions which had a forceful potential to upset traditional power structures.

In her short comment, Anna Lively (Edinburgh) acknowledged how regional approaches help complicate out understanding of the Russian Revolution, or indeed revolutions. She raised several historiographical points, asking whether the current ‘regional turn’ will lead to new narratives of the Russian revolutions. Furthermore, she wondered how we might reconcile regional studies, and the specific insights to be gained from them, with the increasing move towards global as well as transnational histories of this revolutionary period. She also contemplated the challenges of working with silences, for example of women, in the historical record.

Lastly, Anna encouraged Sarah and the audience to consider the problems with the notion of just one Revolution; the chronology of the Russian revolutions; as well as to what extent the involvement of many different ethnicities and several national independence movements complicate the notion of a ‘Russian’ revolution.

In the wide-ranging concluding Q&A session, audience members raised issues from the importance of transport links across the vast Russian spaces, to the influence of the Church, to the role of other religious groups, national movements, education and more.

Anita Klingler is a PhD student in History. Her research interests lie broadly in twentieth century European history, political and colonial violence, and coming to terms with a violent past. Her thesis compares attitudes towards political violence in interwar Britain and Germany. She is a CSMCH steering committee member.

Courtney Campbell on women revolutionaries in Brazil

We kicked off the new semester with a closer look at the history of Brazil’s “rebellious” and “revolutionary” women. Courtney Campbell (Birmingham) was there to help us navigate this complex and understudied field, and her talk was a perfect way to escape from a particularly blustery Edinburgh evening. Joe Gazeley sends this report.

A picture of Dilma Rousseff when she was a young revolutionary.

In this exciting seminar, we got a sneak-peak at a developing project that explores the narratives surrounding revolutionary female figures in the Brazilian popular imagination. In particular, it looks at how these narratives often mirror the evolving national identity of Brazil itself

Courtney began by outlining the lack of space in Brazilian popular media for complex depictions of revolutionary women. She showed two clips from the film O Que É Isso, Companheiro? (Four Days In September), which tells the story of Vera Sílvia Magalhães, a member of the group Movimento Revolucionário 8 de Outubro (MR-8). She became publicly known due to her involvement in several high-profile bank robberies where her use of two .45-calibre pistols and a blonde wig earned her the nickname ‘Blonde 90’.

The poster for the film O Que E Isso Companheiro?

Whilst Magalhães was undoubtedly a strong character for whom revolution was a part of her life in the MR-8, she was also a slight and attractive woman who had to navigate a patriarchal society. In the film, the filmmakers could not reconcile these two aspects of her personality. Instead, they created the new character of the slight and girlish Renée to more easily fit the complexity of the real-life Magalhães into established stereotypes about women. For the purposes of the narrative presented in the film, Magalhães could be the fierce revolutionary or the feminine seductress but not both.

This example served as the jumping-off point for Courtney’s discussion of how legendary women in Brazilian popular culture have been interpreted over time, and how those interpretations shifted along with the developing idea of the Brazilian nation itself.

She explained that her project will be broken down into sections exploring these revolutionary women by category. These include:

    • Indigenous women such as the fictional Iracema who has been symbolically adopted as the mother of the Brazilian nation.
    • Enslaved women such as Chica de Silva who, in the popular imagination, escaped the restrictions of her place in society through marrying her slave-owner to achieve freedom and wealth
    • Religious rebels such as Jacobina Mentz Maurer, who led an unsuccessful revolt against the state and was seen by her followers as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
    • Soldiers and bandits such as Maria Bonita, a notorious bandit who fought the Brazilian police and authorities throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
    • Sex symbols such as the singer Carmen Miranda.
    • Politicians such as Dilma Rousseff, who was a part of the Marxist revolutionary group Comando de Libertação Nacional (COLINA). She was arrested and tortured by the state, before going on to a career in politics eventually serving as President of Brazil from 2011 until she was impeached in 2015.

Courtney also explained that initial impetus for this project was the story of German-Brazilian icon Olga Benário Prestes. She was a Jewish, German, Communist revolutionary who was trained by the COMINTERN in Moscow before being sent to Brazil with the leader of the Brazilian Communist Party, Luís Carlos Prestes, in 1934 to assist him with the anticipated uprising.

She and Prestes went into hiding together after the failure of their attempted revolution in 1935 and she was arrested in 1936. Pregnant with the child of Prestes, her lawyers attempted to prevent here extradition through arguing that her unborn child was a Brazilian citizen and therefore could not be extradited under any circumstances. However, this argument was rejected and in September 1936 she was extradited to Nazi Germany where she was imprisoned until the birth of her child, which was returned to the Prestes family after 14 months.

Olga was then transferred to a concentration camp in 1938 and then a death camp in 1942 where she was murdered by the Nazi regime. She went on to become a well-known figure in Brazil and East Germany where she has streets named after her and appeared on stamps as a hero of the revolution.

Courtney concluded her talk by considering the tragic nature of most of these stories of female revolutionaries who, despite their later status and acclaim, often suffered greatly and died violently after witnessing the failure of their political projects. This contrast between how these women are regarded now and how they were regarded in their own time is important in understanding their evolving legacy and the extent to which these legacies have been interwoven with the grand narrative of Brazilian nationhood itself.

Jake Blanc (Edinburgh) offered a short comment, which reflected on the importance of this work for the overall field, given the relative decline of work on Latin American revolutionary women from a high point in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Amongst other things, he suggested that Courtney’s innovative approach has much to contribute to a revival of work in this field. Using gender as a lens to take in the broad sweep of Brazilian history is an ambitious but important and necessary contribution. By looking at snapshots of these women’s lives, and then tracing the developing narratives that surround these women over time, it will be possible to compare their image in the popular imagination with the snapshot of their lives to see how they have been represented and for what purpose.

Joe Gazeley is a PhD student in Politics working on the historical foreign and security policy relationship between Mali and Europe. His research focuses on recontextualising the 2013 military intervention in Mali and moving beyond ideas of state weakness by exploring the historical agency of a supposedly ‘weak’ state within an extraverted foreign policy relationship. He is a CSMCH steering committee member.

Martina Reiterová looks back on her stay in Edinburgh

At the end of 2019, we hosted Martina Reiterová, a doctoral student from Charles University in Prague. In this farewell blog post, she tells us about what she got up to while she was here.

The main purpose of my two-month research stay in Edinburgh was to gather and study archival materials connected to the Scottish side of my research project on the organisation An Comunn Gaidhealach and its activities at the turn of 19th century.

Martina hard at work in the National Library of Scotland

I gained the most from two archival institutions – the National Library of Scotland (NLS) and the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections (CRC). The materials I focused on were mostly of an individual nature, especially correspondence. In particular, I have uncovered “behind the scenes” interpersonal relations that played a role in the formation of the public image of the Gaelic language movement at the time. Such insights are extremely valuable as they allow me to go beyond a discourse analysis of printed sources.

Probably the most interesting material I found were the minute books of An Comunn’s councils. Since these have been donated to the NLS very recently, almost nobody knows that the National Library is in possession of the archives of An Comunn. I was not aware of the existence of this material and its availability until very late. I discovered them only during the last week of my stay in Edinburgh.

An invitation to a Gaelic event in 1891

For this reason – and the fact that I was not allowed to take pictures of the materials – I plan to come back to Edinburgh later this year for a week or more in order to finish the study of these documents.

As regards the sources stored in the CRC, there were two very interesting archival collections, both of which are potentially important for my research.

First, The Carmichael-Watson Collection, which consists of papers belonging to Alexander Carmichael, the most influential Scottish folklorist of the second half of 19th century, and to his family members. Secondly, the Collection of Professor Donald Mackinnon, which does not unfortunately contain personal archival material, only lecture notes, and religious texts and songs. Even though I expected these collections to be richer in personal documentation, they nevertheless contained significant sources for my research.

In addition to collecting my sources, I had great opportunities to talk about my topic with various scholars in the field, especially Rob Dunbar, the Chair of Celtic Languages, Literature, History and Antiquities in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures. Unfortunately, I did not manage to visit scholars at other the University of Glasgow and the University of St Andrews. I hope to make these connections in the near future, potentially at the 3rd World Congress of Scottish Literatures, held this year in Prague.

Overall, then, my stay in Edinburgh has brought an extra dimension to my dissertation project. Not only have I widened my primary source base, I also have a better understanding of the peculiarity of the Gaelic language movement in the broader European context of the second half of the 19th century. This, combined with the student life experience and excellent study facilities at Edinburgh, made this an extremely rewarding trip.

Martina Reiterová was a Visiting Research Postgraduate Student in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology and the CSMCH in October and November 2019. She is a third-year doctoral student at the Charles University in Prague. Martina has studied in Prague, Budapest and Paris. She is conducting research into the formation of collective representation at the turn of the 20th century in the Celtic countries under the influence of local revivalist movements. During her time at Edinburgh, she did archival work, particularly in the university special collections and the National Library of Scotland.