Thursday, 22 March 2018

Christina-Rauscher-Straße: The Story Behind a Street Name

By Johannes Dillinger

The city of Horb in southwest Germany has named a street in honour of Christina Rauscher, a woman who helped to end the witch hunts in the entire region. Brookes historian Professor Johannes Dillinger discovered Christina’s extraordinary stories in the archives and brought it to the attention of the public. 

In the early modern period, the city of Horb belonged to the county of Hohenberg. Hohenberg was just one of many petty principalities ruled by the Habsburg archduke of the Tyrol, even though it was more than 200 miles away from Tyrol’s seat of government in Innsbruck and a number of non-Habsburg states separated both territories. The archducal government in Innsbruck found it very difficult to exercise any kind of control over the far away and self-assured Hohenberg towns, including Horb.

The Luziferturm, Horb am Neckar, where witches were incarcerated

Left to their own devices, the local elites of Horb and the other Hohenberg towns orchestrated one of the worst witch hunts in southwest Germany: at least 438 witch trials between the 16th and 18th centuries. This was a staggeringly high number compared to the approximately 3,000 households in the territory. Only 7.5 per cent of the accused were men, while 67 per cent of the male and 85 per cent of the female defendants suffered the death penalty. (As a comparison, about 1500 witches were executed in all of Britain.) While the peculiar political situation enabled local elites to conduct mass witch hunts, the driving force behind the persecution were the so-called common people. Crop failure had let to the breakdown of viniculture in the region which in turn caused a complete re-structuring of the regional economy. Many people lost their livelihoods and social trust eroded quickly. In the words of a contemporary: The region that had been “known as the lard pit became the hunger pit.”

Christina Rauscher came from a very affluent family in Horb. Her father, who rather ruthlessly tried to improve his already outstandingly good economic position, engaged in protracted conflicts with the city council. It had tried to force Christina's father to close the brewery the successful merchant had opened as a side business because it had. bought such massive amounts of barley that it drove up the price for bread. Time and again he managed to make the Innsbruck government intervene on his behalf. Christina supported her father in these conflicts. From 1598 onwards, she was rumoured to be a witch. Several alleged witches denounced her as an accomplice. For a number of years, Christina avoided a formal accusation. She sued the local bailiff for slander and threatened the Horb town council with further interventions by the Innsbruck government.

What followed was totally illegal even by the standards of the 17th century. In 1604 Christina was surprised in her home by a mob, captured and incarcerated in Horb’s town gaol. Her husband Johann Rauscher, who remained loyal throughout the trial, did his best to free her, bringing official documents from spiritual and secular authorities that demanded the immediate release of his wife. The town council which tried to defend its authority because it wanted to make an example of Christina, ignored all attempts at intervention. She remained in gaol for almost a year and was tortured repeatedly. At the time of her arrest she had been seven months pregnant. She lost her child under the torture.  However, Christina never confessed. When she was finally released she was, as a contemporary source had it, “as weak as a small child.”

After regaining her strength Christina began a legal battle against Horb town council and the bailiff that lasted for the rest of her life. She managed to alert the Innsbruck government to the blatant miscarriages of justice that went on in Hohenberg witch trials. In 1607, the entire town council of Horb was ousted at the command of the government. The bailiff lost his position. A new law was passed that protected basic rights of witchcraft suspects. Two year later, Christina was given a private audience with the archduke. He authorized her to lead an official investigation into the miscarriages of justice in Horb – an unprecedented honour for a woman. The mass witch hunts in Horb and Hohenberg ended abruptly. The great wave of witch hunts that struck many other German territories in the 1620s did not reach the Hohenberg region anymore.

There can be no doubt that the alleged witch, Christina Rauscher, was instrumental in bringing to an end witch hunts in the entire region. Almost 400 years after Christina’s death in 1618, her hometown named a street after her.

Professor Dillinger has written a monograph that deals with the Hohenberg witch hunts and Christina Rauscher

And you can find out more about:
Modern Horb at
& Early Modern Horb at

Picture Credit:
By Schlaier (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Trump one year on: how did we get here?

Recently there has been much commentary about the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States and his first year in office, a key theme of which has been whether it represents a victory for a resurgent populism in the West. Typically, the historical comparisons offered to help understand the Trump phenomenon are Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s – particularly given Trump’s re-running of Reagan’s mission to “Make America Great Again” – and Richard Nixon’s presidency (1969-74), which claimed to represent a “silent majority” of Americans (although it collapsed, and ultimately ended, amid national scandal).  However, as an historian of contemporary North America, it is increasingly clear that the most apt historical comparison for Trump is not with Reagan of the 1980s, but instead the Reagan of the 1960s and 1970s. 

Trump’s 2016 election victory is most comparable with Reagan’s political breakthrough when he became Governor of California in 1966. Just as Trump’s national political presence arguably began with his contribution to the “Birther movement” reaction to Barack Obama’s presidency, Reagan’s arrival on the national scene was as a supporter for the arch-conservative Barry Goldwater’s presidential bid in 1964. Reagan was consequently able to take advantage of his own personal “name recognition”, the Goldwater movement, and limited Republican talent in California, to ensure that he became his party’s nominee for Governor in 1964. Similarly, Trump’s celebrity, arguable authenticity, and the frustrations of the Republican base with its establishment politicians, meant that the former Apprentice host captured America’s Grand Old Party.

 Crucially, both Reagan in 1964 and Trump in 2016, despite their fame and fortunes, claimed to be citizen politicians who wanted to represent the “people” and challenge the political status-quo. Reagan’s campaign saw the former actor emerge as a master of electioneering in a television age, just as Trump utilised Twitter to speak directly to his supporters and antagonise his opponents. Despite the best efforts of their respective opponents – Governor Pat Brown for Reagan, Secretary Hillary Clinton for Trump – the political establishment could not make anything ‘stick’ sufficiently to stop the Republicans emerging victorious. 

Upon taking office in Sacramento, Reagan’s team did not have any idea about what a Governor should do and simply assumed that competent businessmen could organise State government. Those who were willing to work for a government salary found themselves to be an inexperienced and conservative executive branch working with – or against – an experienced, liberal Democrat controlled Californian legislature. While Trump’s frustrations with Congress could worsen after the upcoming mid-terms, he has certainly seen some of his domestic agenda falter, despite his own party controlling both Houses of Congress. Moreover, in an effort to ensure that his administration worked more effectively, the importance of the likes of Steve Bannon have been replaced by the effective drafting of Generals into key roles at the White House.

As Governor of California, Reagan was unable to act on his conservative ideals. For instance, he signed an extremely liberal abortion law, raised taxes and favoured environmental issues ahead over economic ones. Yet he left office in 1975 as the pre-eminent conservative in America – his rhetoric was more powerful than the reality of his record. Despite an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to usurp President Gerald Ford’s nomination by the Republican Party for the 1976 presidential election, Reagan was the darling of his party’s national convention. Likewise, Trump is yet to break ground on The Wall, but his supporters are still with him. Rather than contempt, familiarity ostensibly breeds success: ideas and image matter more than reality, especially if the messenger of those ideas is speaking for “the people” – or at least some of the people, who are prepared to back their chosen “insider” who claims to be fighting an outsider’s good fight against an establishment that allegedly no longer represents the interests of ordinary people. Given that many of Reagan’s supporters enthusiastically supported his tentative campaign for the presidency in 1968, just two years into his tenure as Governor, it can hardly be surprising that Trump has simply not stopped campaigning and recently appointed a Chair for his re-election campaign, ignoring all other obvious and potential banana skins. Trump 2020, here we come.       

For further reading, please see:

James H. Broussard, Ronald Reagan: Champion of Conservative America (London: Routledge), 2015, chapters 3, 4 and 5.
Iwan Morgan, Reagan: American Icon (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016), chapters 4, 5 and 6.

Dr James Cooper is a Senior Lecturer in History and teaches on the American history modules at Oxford Brookes University. He has written books about the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and U.S. Presidents and Northern Ireland. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Behind the Scenes at the Glass Tank Gallery

Last semester, I had the fantastic opportunity of working as an intern alongside the brilliant team at The Glass Tank, Oxford Brookes University’s very own public art gallery. The work I did throughout my time there counted as one of the modules for my History of Art degree, so not only did I have an amazing time learning about the industry and the roles involved, I gained work experience without taking time out of my studies.

My role could be characterised as an extra pair of hands for the team. From the many, many responsibilities that the gallery manager, Dr Joanna Walker, and the year-long gallery intern, Eve Gould, have to take on, I was there to assist and learn about these duties by getting stuck in. Each week was so different as the schedule was varied and fast-paced;  when it came to writing a weekly blog as part of my formal assessment, I had an absolute blast coming up with new and interesting ways to talk about everything.

One of the really exciting parts of my time there was meeting people and pushing myself to be a confident, professional representative of The Glass Tank. For example, early on in the semester, we took new pieces from the Student Art Collection to a local framers and collaborated with them to choose the perfect mounts and frames for each work. The experience was fascinating. I for one had never considered how many factors go into this process. On another occasion, I had the chance to sit in on a meeting with an artist. It was eye opening to watch how the paper plans of an artist could be brought to life in the gallery. I also had the opportunity to assist in the set up and running of a private view and a live panel event; both of these were highly rewarding as everyone involved put so much work into making the events run as smoothly as possible. It was lovely seeing how proud the curators and artists were as it all came together.

Image: Opening night of Rycotewood’s furniture design Thinking Through Making exhibition.

My internship was carried out under the umbrella of Brookes’s Independent Study Module option. This allows students to develop an independent project with supervision from academic staff as part of their programme of study. The ‘Glass Tank ISM’ is usually offered annually and I applied for its 2017-18 one-semester run. In my eyes, the module is a huge asset to what a degree can offer a student. Through hands on experience, I was able to build on my studies to date, and gain practical skills (e.g. building a gallery wall) as well as test my confidence, initiative and creativity in a work place environment. It made me think about my future and what career path I may want to consider after finding out my own strengths and weaknesses. It also made me think about the arts in a very different light, because all the behind-the-scenes decisions and small detail work of the gallery and curatorial staff  have an enormous impact on making great pieces of art look and feel phenomenal.

Layla Adams (second -year undergraduate studying for BA (Hons) Art History & Sociology)
(all photography by Layla Adams)