Friday, 4 August 2017

Air: an Exhibition and a Symposium

Air: an Exhibition and a Symposium

Exhibition: ‘Air: Visualising the Invisible in British Art, 1768-2017’, Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, 16 June – 3 September 2017

Symposium: ‘Breath, Flight and Atmosphere: The Theme of Air in British Culture’, Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, 26 June 2017

At first sight, the theme of ‘Air’ might not seem very promising for an exhibition.  Rather nebulous, airy-fairy, you might think. But the show I have recently co-curated at Bristol has proved to be immensely satisfying, bringing out important interlinked themes in historic British art as well as tapping into the current preoccupations of many contemporary artists.

The idea for the show began as a sequel to The Power of the Sea, an exhibition that I co-curated at the RWA with the artist Janette Kerr in 2014. Once again, I worked with an artist, Stephen Jacobson, and with Gemma Brace, the Head of Programmes and Exhibition Curator at the RWA. I was responsible for the historic section.

A wish-list of possible exhibits was rapidly drawn up: sky studies by Turner and Constable, Millais’s notorious Bubbles, paintings of air balloons, musical instruments, windy days at the seaside, polluted urban landscapes, aerial activity in the two world wars – all provided different ways of approaching the central theme.

Top of our list, however, was Joseph Wright of Derby’s painting, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768). This is a large and very important painting, which normally hangs in the same room as Turner’s Fighting Temeraire and Constable’s Hay Wain in the National Gallery.  We were all thrilled when the National Gallery agreed to lend.  I was especially pleased as my colleague at Brookes, Matthew Craske, is writing a major book on the artist, and he was able to contribute an essay on the painting to the catalogue.

Conservators from the National Gallery hanging Joseph Wright’s Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump


The contemporary section included a pair of lungs in glass, by Annie Cattrell, the artist who made the installation, Resounding, that hangs above the Forum in the John Henry Brookes Building. Themes of the fragility of breath and the dangers of atmospheric pollution were prominent in the contemporary section. Coincidentally, the opening of the exhibition coincided with the first national Clean Air Day.


Annie Cattrell, Capacity (2007), borosilicate glass made by human breath to form the intricate structure of human lungs


A week after the exhibition opened, we held a Symposium on the theme of ‘Breath, Flight and Atmosphere’. The speakers included the artist Polly Gould, whose delicate glass globes, based on her research on the watercolourist Edward Wilson, were in the exhibition, two literary scholars, Erin Lafford and Elsa Hammond, and a Brookes alumnus and independent art historian, Jan Cox. 

Polly Gould’s Observation Hill, Anamorphic Landscape Series (2012), with Jemma Grundon’s series of cloud images, Mono no Aware, behind


Subjects ranged from the underfunding of research into Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease to the responsibility of artists and art institutions to take action on climate change. Along the way, we heard about the discovery of carbon dioxide, the war paintings of C. R. W. Nevinson and Paul Nash, the poetry of William Cowper and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was a day of lively debate and stimulating exchanges.

The next element to be explored is ‘Fire’ – tentatively scheduled for the late 2019/early 2020.

The catalogue for ‘Air’ is for sale from Sansom and Company, price £25.

Christiana Payne

Friday, 28 July 2017

“Alcohol, Psychiatry and Society” – International Research Symposium, 29-30 June 2017

Academics of eleven different nationalities gathered for a symposium to address the historical links between alcohol, psychiatry and society (Convened by Professor Waltraud Ernst, Oxford Brookes University, and Professor Thomas Mueller, University of Ulm/Centre for Psychiatry, Suedwuerttemberg Ravensburg). We learned that definitions of excessive drinking, drunkenness, alcoholism, and addiction varied across national contexts and that what was an acceptable – or even desirable – level of drinking in one culture, was considered problematic in another.  Alcohol could be a sign of civilisation or individual status; it could be perceived as a medical treatment as well as a poison; and as a source of tax revenue or mental degeneration.



The symposium took us from the “gin craze” of eighteenth-century London to the streets of fin-de-siècle Paris, where drunk horses, dogs and cats made public nuisances of themselves, and onto post-war Japan, where a drinking culture developed despite the inability of the Japanese to metabolise alcohol effectively. The complexities of alcohol in the colonial settings of Algeria and Nigeria were addressed, as were the deliberations of early twentieth- century Greek psychiatrists who were divided between those who condemned alcohol for its adverse effects on health and those who recognised its value to the Greek economy.  We heard about drunk Irish asylum nurses in the nineteenth century and the use of alcohol to build up the strength of women suffering from puerperal insanity. A variety of approaches to the treatment of alcoholism were discussed, from the administration of LSD to work therapy and self-help groups.

French psychiatrists, who recognised the link between “lunacy” and “inebriety” in the late nineteenth century, propagated the belief that alcoholism was inheritable and would ultimately lead to the degeneration of society, thus fuelling anxiety about mental and physical degeneration across the continent. By the end of the century even moderate drinking was frowned upon by the German state. In the USSR and communist Czechoslovakia, alcohol was believed to compromise a citizen’s ability to work and to threaten productivity.

The papers highlighted the influence of transnational networks in terms of responses to the social and individual problems caused by alcoholism, but they also revealed that alcohol can be perceived very differently in different national contexts and cultures. 


Jane Freebody, cand. PhD, Department of History, Philosophy and Religion, Oxford Brookes University

Thursday, 13 July 2017

‘The Man without Desires’: A review of an Exhibition about Max von Baden, the Last Chancellor of Imperial Germany

In the secret correspondence that preceded the last restructuring of the German government before the end of the First World War, Max von Baden featured under the code name “the man without desires” (“der Wunschlose”). Prince Max who would eventually become the last chancellor of imperial Germany has always been a somewhat enigmatic figure. The regional archive of Karlsruhe has dedicated a major exhibition to him that was first presented at Karlsruhe, is now shown at Salem and will finally go to Berlin. Salem manor is a particularly well-suited place for the exhibition. The manor house (formerly Salem monastery) together with its park, the medieval Cistercian church and the world famous Salem public school form a unique ensemble that is well worth a visit all by itself. Large parts of the Salem premises are still in the possession of the Baden dynasty.  

Max von Baden (1867-1929) was the cousin of the Grand Duke of Baden. He only became the head of the house of Baden in 1928 a few months before his death. The exhibition draws attention to Max’s favourable position in the intricate network of aristocratic families that still governed Europe at the beginning of the 20th century.

An entire room of the exhibition is dedicated to the personal contacts and interests of the prince. Even though he made a good career in the Prussian army, Max seems not to have been too interested in Reich politics, the court and aristocratic representation. Kaiser Wilhelm II who features in the exhibition in a series of sketches for ‘court’ portraits never formed any kind of meaningful relationship with the aristocratic officer from the South German province. The exhibition presents Max as a keen mountaineer, enthusiastic Wagnerian and sophisticated aesthete. He moved in the heterogeneous circle of intellectuals the theologian Johannes Müller gathered at Elmau manor (that last made headlines during the G7 summit of 2015) where the prince established contact to liberals and social democrats, among them Anton Fendrich. Whereas some of the Elmau circle later on turned to the extreme right, Max von Baden kept his distance from any kind of extremism. The tone of this part of the exhibition is private, almost intimate. Personal possessions and private papers of the prince are on display that offer a glimpse into his daily life and personal feelings.

Even though Max von Baden had already retired from the military, he served again in the general staff after the outbreak of the Great War. After retiring from active duty due to his failing health prince Max began his real work during the war: He arranged support for prisoners of war inside and outside Germany. Max organized large scale exchanges of prisoners of war between Germany and other nations. A number of original documents including newsreels rightly emphasise Max’s humanitarian activities and achievements. 



The fact that Hindenburg und Ludendorff, the de facto military dictators, tried to use Max’s honest efforts for their propaganda does not lessen the merits of the prince. Given his international reputation and his connections to the Social Democrats, Max von Baden was almost the ideal candidate when the German Reich needed a new chancellor after the fall of von Bethmann-Hollweg and the resignation of von Hertling. It was clear that it would be the most invidious task of the new chancellor to admit defeat and to arrange the surrender of Germany. The exhibition presents a number of original documents including a placard with an entire speech by Max von Baden in which he tries to sketch terms for peace. Still, it would have paid to say even more about the last weeks of the war, Max’s negotiations with the Social Democrats, especially Friedrich Ebert, and Max’s fight against Ludendorff that ended with the latter’s downfall. We learn almost nothing about the constitutional reform of October 1918 that completely redefined the role of the Reich parliament vis à vis the monarch, and about Max’s decision to force Wilhelm II to finally abdicate.

The last part of the exhibition is about Max’s relation to Salem public school he helped to found in 1920. The fact that Max von Baden publicly urged Reich president Ebert in 1923 to fight both Communists and Nazis more vigorously is mentioned but not explained any further. More could have been said about Max’s memoires, originally published in 1927.

The exhibition strikes a good balance between original text documents and other exhibits. It is necessarily somewhat ‘talky’ but never ‘chatty’. Indeed, a little more background information might have helped to understand the complicated developments of 1918 better.

The exhibition certainly succeeds insofar as it helps the visitors to understand the ‘man without desires’ somewhat better. Even though it is in part based on primary sources that came into the possession of the Karlsruhe archive only in 2014, the exhibition admits that it offers new insights but no spectacular news that would answer all open questions. One might see it as part of the success of the exhibition that it modestly refrains from trying to explain the enigmatic figure of the Baden prince fully. One of the most impressive exhibits is a statuette the prince had created according to his own wishes: It shows Max von Baden in his officer’s uniform complete with ceremonial sabre. Avoiding the beholder’s glance, he stoops down to read in a large book his balances awkwardly in one hand.

Review by Professor Johannes Dillinger

Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10am-6pm, Sunday and bank holidays 10:30am-6pm
Admission fee (including the exhibition, the manor, the park – plus two mazes - , Salem monastery church and school grounds): 9 Euros

The special exhibition ‘Der Wunschlose. Prinz Max von Baden und seine Welt’ is on display till October 3, 2017.


 A collection of essays about Max von Baden is available at the museum: Konrad Krimm (ed.), Der Wunschlose (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2016).

IMAGES:
A: Max von Baden
B: Max von Baden surrounded by released prisoners of war.
D: Salem manor

Friday, 7 July 2017

Beyond Brutalism: Architecture, Citizenship, and Space as a way into 20th-century British Architectural History

A great privilege of academic life is the opportunity to convene with scholars in one’s field and share new research. Most recently, this took the form of the conference ‘Architecture Citizenship Space: British Architecture from the 1920s to the 1970s,’ that I convened with Dr Alistair Fair of the University of Edinburgh. Held here at Oxford Brookes on 15-16 June, it was funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, with additional support from the Research Fund of the School of History, Philosophy and Culture.

Re-thinking how we do architectural history

In convening the event we had a number of aims.  Central was to bring together excellent scholars – from early career to emerita professor - who are producing excellent work in the field of twentieth century British architectural history – and to give them an opportunity to share their research and enjoy a conversation about it. 

More particularly, we wanted to bring together scholars who are working on that history in a particular way. All the work presented at the conference took as its starting point an understanding of architectural production in the widest sense, encompassing not only completed buildings and unbuilt projects but also texts and the media, clients, builders, and users. That is, we are all part of a turn in twentieth-century British architectural history away from primarily formalist accounts of style (we’re just a bit bored with Brutalism). This new architectural history – now beginning to consolidate itself - is rooted in the archive and asks how cultural production functioned as a vehicle through which to explore such ideas as modernity, identity and community. In essence, the material and spatial culture of architecture is conceived as a commentary on these ideas, whether by embracing or resisting them. 

The Pivotal Decades: Re-thinking Architecture and Nationhood 1918-1939 

The conference began with a focus on the 1920s and 1930s, which, speakers argued, was the period when architects and others self-consciously began to re-evaluate the purpose and nature of architectural culture as Britain entered full democracy. This would be done through the creation of prototypical new sites (such as the Pioneer Health Centre, discussed by Elizabeth Darling), through architectural journalism (Jessica Kelly on the Architectural Review) or through a re-invention of the architectural profession, especially in the wake of the inter-war Registration Acts (Neal Shasore on the RIBA). 

What emerged in these papers was the idea of the building, as the creators of the Pioneer Health Centre put it, as ‘an inter-facial membrane’: an active and dynamic set of spaces in and through which ‘publics’ could be or become modern.

Elizabeth Darling explored this idea through a consideration of the concept of the ‘Centre,’ and the examples of the Pioneer Health Centre, the Building Centre, the Housing Centre and the Community Centre. These addressed a number of publics – another key theme in this session. This might be a working-class public, as was the case at the Pioneer Health Centre, enabled to assume a fuller role in society through improved health care and access to birth control, or a more affluent, middle-class public who, through access to information about modern products for their homes at the Building Centre, could create domestic settings as modern as they were.

Speakers were careful to note the difficulty of the term ‘public,’ noting a tension between the intentions of middle-class/upper middle-class reformers, journalists, architects, and the audiences they addressed. Jessica Kelly’s paper showed how the Architectural Review  negotiated a relationship with a reading public from the late 1920s onwards, when it became a proselytiser for architectural modernism. From problematising a (middle-class) public (and equating femininity with poor taste in articles such as ‘The Architectural Consequences of Women’) and which thus needed to be instructed about the new architecture, she charted the emergence of an idea that the architectural press might collaborate with its readership in the advocacy of a specifically national form of modernism. 

Neal Shasore showed how the architectural profession similarly sought to engage with a middle-class public through a new headquarters building (opened 1934) notable for its openness (in contrast to other profession’s more monumental and private institutional interiors) and a newly-founded PR committee: its aim to create the idea of architecture as a public service and the architect as indispensable in the formation of the commonweal. 

This linking of the architect/architectural culture and the public realm; buildings as some form of setting for transformation; and more national or regional forms of modernism would find full expression in the reconstruction of Britain after the Second World War. Subsequent sessions explored their manifestation in the fields of education, urban planning, and the cultural sphere.

Educating the Nation after 1945

In this session speakers considered how the new Welfare State’s concern for citizens from cradle to grave, began with a massive school (and later university) building programme. Roy Kozlovsky showed how a concern for children’s emotional well-being (largely stemming from the experience of wartime evacuation) led to carefully designed, domestic scale, school environments, settings for a more informal education with the ultimate aim of creating the child as a (proto) ‘social democratic self.’ 

Catherine Burke picked up this theme of the school as an early training in democracy – so important to a nation reconstructing. She also demonstrated how a new understanding that all children were entitled to the best was manifested in how architects (now very much public servants) designed these new schools meticulously: from structure to fixtures and fittings. In such attractive settings children received an education in culture as well as the 3 Rs.

This nurturing was continued through to higher education buildings, the subject of Louise Campbell’s paper. Again, the state understood education not simply as a means to an end, but a good in and of itself; the university was a site to train a new generation of engineers, civil servants and so on, but more generally to enable generations to become cultivated citizens of both a modern Britain and a modern Europe.

Architecture Citizenship Space: Beyond the Academy

Discussion took a slightly different tack in our final session of day one, a roundtable to which we had invited the blogger Municipal Dreams (John Boughton); the Manchester Modernist Society’s Jack Hale, and Verity-Jane Keefe, who runs the Mobile Museum

Working beyond the confines of an academic context, each engages with the architecture of the period under discussion with a particular emphasis on its lived experience and its enjoyment and appreciation. How often the architecture of the Welfare State (and indeed pre-war social architecture) has come to be dismissed and understood as a generic misstep in social policy, was a theme that quickly emerged. Thus work to remind a wider public and politicians that, for example, council estates are not anonymous agglomerations of housing, but Places inhabited by communities, or that Manchester’s modernist office blocks and highways might be important markers of a local identity, is a central activity of all our discussants whether through community workshops, blog writing or walks and publications. Emphasis was also placed on the importance of grassroots responses to local architectures versus the parachuting in of outside bodies unfamiliar with the particularities of a place.

Where and how to live

Day two saw our final sessions. In the first, new ideas of urban form and dwelling, as well as new methods of designing them, formed the subject of discussion. Otto Saumarez Smith explored post-war urban planning, favouring the concept of ‘urbanity’ as a lens through which to understand design rather than stylistc tropes like Brutalism or the New Empiricism. Urbanity – a term deployed by architects and sociologists working together – argued for higher-density city redevelopment that drew on the traditions of Georgian town planning to create urban spatial forms that retained the social relations of working-class communities but in much better designed and spatially generous surroundings. 

Christine Hui Lan Manley considered a different form of urbanity - this time a more visual form - in her discussion of Frederick Gibberd’s work at Harlow and Hackney. Gibberd sought to blend local references be that to Georgian architecture in an urban context or vernacular in a more rural setting with the more usual tropes of modernism to again create decent well-designed homes and neighbourhoods. 

Ruth Lang’s paper offered a parallel commentary on the development of modern ways of working through her discussion of the London County Council Architects’ Department’s method of design organization. She showed how small teams comprising not just architects but other specialists (including sociologists) worked communally on projects: experts dedicated to serving a post-war public that warranted - without question - the best of environments. 

Culture and Democracy

Finally, and in keeping with the theme that the post-war world required a cultured citizenry, speakers explored the nationalisation of culture from the mid-1940s onwards. Alistair Fair argued that for both Left and Right, the theatre was understood as a site in which all people could enjoy access to culture (as opposed to the less highbrow, and American, forms of culture such as the cinema). Through the Arts Council, successive governments in the 1960s and early 1970s supported the building of new civic theatres which, in their combination of performance with social spaces for mingling and eating, created sites of cultivated leisure. As Fair pointed out, the plays put on might not, however, always be to locals’ taste: in response to a play rich in its language, excused by its director as ‘idiom’, a woman complained ‘what you call idiom, I call filth.’ 

Reflecting the tensions in that letter, and also raised in the first session’s papers, that the intentions behind such projects were not always met on the ground with appreciation, Rosamund West’s paper outlined the London County Council’s policy of including artwork (usually sculpture) in its housing estates. This might be understood as a further echo of the policy of surrounding children in their new schools with well-designed furniture.  While some work was very popular, locals did not always appreciate the modernity of the sculptures commissioned.  

Lesley Whitworth’s paper showed how a parallel organization to the Arts Council, the Council of Industrial Design (COID, founded 1944) similarly sought to foster an awareness of the importance of design and the designer in the formation of a modern Britain. This most certainly had an economic motive: the purchase of consumer goods would help the British economy and fill the homes of those re-housed in the estates designed by Gibberd et al. But, more particularly, as Whitworth noted, and reiterating the idea of the importance of the arts per se, the objects that the COID approved as examples of good design, were talismanic for those who promoted them, and those who bought them. They were signs of Britain’s and Britons’ modernity.

These papers were all delivered in an atmosphere notable for its friendliness and collegiality, and each session ended in useful and constructive discussion. We finished with the observation that having considered the historical moment when culture was seen as transcendant, rather than tied to measurable outputs, and that the provision of spaces and things through and in which individuals might negotiate their place in democracy was the goal of architects, designers, their clients and their users, we were rather a long way from our present reality. The theme of architecture, citizenship, space, seemed therefore especially timely.  

Dr Elizabeth Darling, Reader in Architectural History 

Image one: Elizabeth Darling & Alistair Fair introduce the conference
Image two: Roundtable speakers

Monday, 3 July 2017

The Witchcraft Exhibition at Ravensburg: A Review







The municipal museum of Ravensburg (Baden-Württemberg, Germany) is currently hosting a major witchcraft exhibition. ‘Hexenwahn 1484. Frauen auf dem Scheiterhaufen’ (‘Witch Craze 1484. Women at the Stake’) is the somewhat curious title of the event that includes the exhibition itself, a series of public lectures, and the publication of a collection of essays about the witch hunts in Ravensburg and the surrounding Lake Constance area.

Ravensburg is clearly a good place for a witchcraft exhibition, since it has largely escaped the air raids of WW2 and large parts of the old town centre are still intact. A number of buildings mentioned in the Ravensburg witch trials therefore still exist. The former imperial free city of Ravensburg, one of the more affluent semi-republican city states that had flourished in South Germany in the late Middle Ages and experienced a slow but steady decline in the early modern period witnessed some of the earliest German witch trials. 

The municipal museum ‘Humpis Quartier’ is a unique place that would be well worth a visit all by itself. The museum is not really housed in a building. Rather, it houses itself in a number of late medieval buildings. The modern museum space integrates a courtyard and some old buildings into a complete new system that is artificial and yet seems to have grown organically out of medieval architectural roots. The symbiosis of ancient half-timber, rough masonry, concrete and glass is almost in itself ‘magical’. At times, the visitor may wonder where exactly in the architectural space and where in time he is.


The exhibition uses what is in Germany sometimes called the ‘taxi approach’ to the eternal problem of getting the general audience interested in a very specific academic question: You’ve got to pick them up where they stand. The visitors are greeted by three screens with videos that talk about modern concepts of the witch most visitors would be familiar with. The screens present witches in the popular imagination (long noses and red hair seem to be of the essence), literary witches (‘Faust’ and fairy tales), and the witches of the Southwest German street carnival (male mummers wearing grotesque wooden masks). In order to see these screens the visitors have to go through a comparatively dark and narrow corridor. This corridor leads into a big open space under a high class roof. 

The room itself is a symbol: Here, the exhibition ‘illuminates’ and ‘clarifies’ matters. A series of reproductions of pictures with explanatory texts present the five elements of the demonological definition of the witch: A witch is a person who has made a pact with the devil (1). She (the witch is usually female) has sex with demons (2). She meets regularly with other witches. This so called witches’ Sabbath is usually not imagined as a ‘Black Mass’ but rather as a peasants’ feast (3). In order to join these secret gatherings quickly and without being seen, witches fly magically through the air (4). Witches use magic to do harm (5). This essential part of the exhibition is much too ‘talky’: The explanatory texts matter, the (not very well chosen) reproductions of pictures do not. It seems as if the organizers of the exhibition simply wanted to get the basics out of the way. The visitors cannot help a feeling of anti-climax. The fantastic open exhibition space and the three screens that made the visitor think about various concepts of the witch seem to be wasted.

The next room presents a number of most interesting artefacts: talismans and bits of paper with magical writing and symbols. While these are clearly the most interesting pieces of the exhibition, they have hardly anything to do with witch trials: All of these items belong to the huge area of folk magic. They were supposed to ward off misfortune, illness and any kind of evil influence, at times including witchcraft. However, contrary to popular knowledge, folk magicians were usually not accused of witchcraft. Nevertheless, the room does provide a glimpse into actual magical practices from the early modern period that the visitors will appreciate.

So far, we have learned little about the actual Ravensburg witch hunt of 1484. The next sequence of rooms is dedicated to it and to one of its key players, the witch hunter Heinrich Kramer. Kramer, also known as Institoris, was the author of the notorious demonological manual ‘Malleus maleficarum’ (Hammer of the Witches). A local clergyman invited Kramer to Ravensburg so that he could lead an investigation against witches in his capacity as papal inquisitor. Kramer preached sermons against witchcraft and tried to talk the people of Ravensburg into denouncing their neighbours as witches. However, the crop of actual trials was rather scanty. Six women ended up in court, only two of them were found guilty and executed. 

The exhibition tends to overlook the basic fact of the Ravensburg witch hunt. Even though Kramer was an inquisitor, the court that tried the alleged witches was not an inquisitorial court. It was the municipal court of Ravensburg i.e. a secular, not an ecclesiastical court. Without the active support of the town authorities, Kramer would have failed utterly. The two women executed were persons of ill repute whom the people who mattered in Ravensburg saw as likely disciples of the devil. This exhibition fails to make the interrelation between Kramer, the local authorities and the inhabitants of Ravenburg sufficiently clear. Indeed, the selection of exhibits and the explanatory texts re-affirm the old misunderstanding that the inquisition was responsible for the witch trials. 

Visitors who have no prior knowledge are not likely to learn about the basic findings of witchcraft research, therefore. Almost all witch trials were conducted by secular authorities, not by the church. The driving force behind the witch trials were the so called common people, peasants and town people, not learned witch hunters. Instead of teaching this essential (and certainly somewhat disillusioning) lesson, the Ravensburg exhibition goes into details of individual trials and torture. The visitors are confronted with an executioner’s sword, and a torture device used for the ‘strappado’ the most common and most simple form of torture. Strangely enough, the organizers of the exhibition decided to include the so called ‘torture chair’ in the display, a rather ridiculous forgery from the 19th century that has a lot to do with modern sadomasochistic fantasies about the so called ‘dark’ Middle Ages but nothing at all with early modern criminal trials. 

One display case presents an original text from a Ravensburg witch trial, interestingly one that documents an acquittal. Audio tapes play excerpts from trial records. A most helpful map identifies buildings and places connected with the witch hunts in Ravensburg: The visitors may continue their tour outside of the museum and go to the actual places that can still be found in today’s Ravensburg. These include the Green Tower where the alleged witches were imprisoned and a nice residential neighbourhood near the town centre, formerly a bit of woodland just outside the city walls where the witches’ Sabbath supposedly took place. This is clearly relevant and important. However, the exhibits do not stress the big inconvenient truth that the local authorities - not just the learned outsider Kramer - were responsible for the Ravensburg witch hunt.

Kramer used the experiences he had made in Ravensburg and other places in the German South when he wrote his manual for witch hunting, the ‘Malleus maleficarum’. The point of the book was to convince secular authorities that they should take a more pro-active stance toward the alleged threat of witchcraft. One early modern copy of the ‘Malleus maleficarum’ is on display. A series of panels without any original exhibits informs the visitors about Kramer’s further career and witch hunts that took place in some South German principalities. The last room of the exhibition confronts the visitors with the contemporary witch hunts that are taking place right now in large parts of Africa. Many experts agree that one of the main factors that hinder the further economic and political development of African societies is the fear of witches and actual witch hunts. There are a number of informative texts and photographs, but no original exhibits whatsoever.

The Ravensburg exhibition is highly informative. Visitors with little or no expert knowledge will learn something about the history of the witch hunts. However, some the explanatory texts are clearly misleading. There are too many of these texts and not enough original exhibits. It would be highly unfair to compare the Ravensburg exhibition to the big historical witchcraft exhibition in Karlsruhe in 1994, clearly the best one so far, or even to those in Berlin 2002 and Speyer 2010. The municipal museum of Ravensburg simply does not have a million-Euro budget to spend on an individual exhibition. Still, it would have paid to invest just a little more time and effort into the exhibition. The wonderful historical sights of the Lake Constance area are always worth a visit. So, if you go there this summer anyway, make sure to include the Ravensburg witchcraft exhibition in your itinerary.

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 11am -6 pm (Thusday 11am -8pm)
Admission fee: 5 Euros

The special exhibition about witchcraft ‘Hexenwahn 1484. Frauen auf dem Scheiterhaufen’ is on display till October 3, 2017.

Images
  1. Cradle with a pentagram (five-pointed star) that is supposed to ward off evil spirits who might threaten or steal the baby
  2. Modern mummer from Ravensburg wearing a wooden witch mask. Strangely enough, no such mask was on display in the exhibition
  3. Executioner’s sword


Review by Professor Johannes Dillinger, Historian of Witchcraft and Magic

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Professor Beverley Clack on the philosophy of religion


I’m a Philosopher of Religion. I’ve always been interested in how people make or find meaning in life, and one of the most significant ways in which people make meaningful lives is through adopting forms of religious belief or practice.

That is not to say that religion is always a Good Thing: the final chapter of the book I wrote with my brother Brian Clack in 2008 on the Philosophy of Religion considering the relationship between Religion and Terrorism, and sadly this connection has not diminished in the years that followed its publication.



But perhaps this connection should not surprise us: after all, religion is a human phenomenon, and thus it reflects the kaleidoscope of positions open to human beings. We might note that societies committed to atheism have not been averse to dealing cruelly with their citizens. I am interested in the way in which religion can add something creative and positive to life, and in an age where human experience is increasingly being shaped by information technologies and the possibility of Artificial Intelligence, it is not a bad thing to think about the ways in which human beings might create meaningful lives from reflection on their place in the cosmos.

I’m particularly interested in how psychoanalysis has helped us explore the strangeness of the connections human beings make as they seek to make sense of their place in the world. My most recent book was on Freud, and I explored his ideas explicitly against the backdrop of psychotherapeutic practice. 




My next book is on failure. I’ve become fascinated by how a dominant cultural narrative of what makes for a successful life has meant we are more miserable and anxious than ever. To be a success - so the story goes - demands attaining status, money and possessions. By exploring the shadow side of success - failure - it is possible to arrive at a different way of thinking about the meaning of life. I’m particularly interested in the way in which death has increasingly been constructed as a form of failure, when in fact it tells us something significant about the role loss and vulnerability play in determining human existence. We are not godlike creatures, separate from each other and the world. We need each other, and reflecting on loss and failure shows just how dependent we are. Instead of greeting the fact that loss and death are fundamental aspects of life with shame, we might instead allow these realities to shape better ways of living that ground us in an appreciation of this mutable world. And my book closes with suggestions about how we might do this!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Dr Mark Cain on the human mind


I’m a philosopher interested in the human mind: what exactly are minds, how do they work and how do they develop? These questions have been at the core of my academic life since I started studying for an MPhil way back in the early 1990s. Back in those days I was rather sniffy about the relevance of science to what I thought of as distinctly philosophical questions. However, under the influence of philosophers such as Jerry Fodor and Daniel Dennett I went ‘naturalistic’ coming to see philosophy as being continuous with science. Hence, I became an enthusiast for cognitive science, the interdisciplinary study of the mind that unites philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and Artificial Intelligence. Several years later this interest manifested itself in the publication of my book The Philosophy of Cognitive Science (published in 2015 by Polity) in which I wrestle with some of the biggest questions about the mind from an empirically informed perspective. 




Being a naturalistic philosopher of mind has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, I do seem to be interested in questions which most intelligent and curious non-philosophers can relate to and see as important and interesting. I’m reminded of this whenever I go to my local book store and look in the popular science section that is stuffed with books about the mind and brain popularising, the kind of research that I reflect upon on a daily basis. As a philosopher I can’t overemphasise what a relief it is not to be regarded as some kind of crank engaged in a pointless endeavour. On the minus side, I have to remain on top of a rapidly expanding literature that straddles several demanding disciplines. This sometimes makes me feel ignorant and overwhelmed but I’ve found that running miles and miles every week along trails in the Chiltern Hills helps keep me positive. 



I’m currently writing a book for Routledge entitled Innateness and the Cognitive Mind. Here I will address the question of which aspects of the mature human mind are learned and which are innate, arguing that much more is innate than is often thought. If the trail running helps keep my anxiety levels down this book should be completed by the end of the year.


Details of my published books can be found here.