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2005-2006 Visiting Fellows

James Brophy
University of Delaware

How sites and forms of popular culture became media of the political public sphere in the Rhineland in the period 1800-1850 is the central question of my book, Popular Culture and the Public Sphere in the Rhineland, 1800-1850 (Cambridge UP, forthcoming).  The study examines the unconventional ways with which ordinary Rhinelanders encountered the new political ideas of the revolutionary period and how these communicative networks affected political agency. Although German scholarship has mostly emphasized the rise of associational life and its elite print culture as the motor of political modernity, this book examines the communicative interplay between popular and bourgeois publics.  Chapters on reading, singing, public space, carnival, tumult, and religion compose this six-chapter book on how a popular political sphere formed between the French Revolution and the Revolution of 1848/49.

Access to Princeton Library's collections in March 2006 sharpened the study's arguments on the transnational diffusion of ideas during the age of revolution.  Princeton's materials on French revolutionary song sheets strengthened my interpretive claims that the provenance of the Rhineland's increasingly politicized popular culture was linked to French politics.  The Rogers Collection of French revolutionary songs was particularly useful, especially when combined with the Special Collection's émigré publications from Koblenz, Kleve, and other Rhenish cities.  Of special value for my song chapter was the Mendel Music Library's seven boxes of Volkslieder, roughly 240 song pamphlets.  These boxes offered excellent material from the Wars of Liberation (1812-15) as well as from the Vormärz period (1830-1848).  Although the collection chiefly centers on patriotic military songs after 1850, the first two boxes of this collection offered solid materials for the first half of the nineteenth century. 

Various collections of Firestone Library and its Rare Books and Special Collection offered other source materials for popular opinion formation.  The Firestone is, for example, particularly rich with calendars, almanacs, and similar ephemera from this period.  I consulted dozens of Volkskalender.  Its almanacs and calendars from various German printing centers enabled me to assess whether the Rhineland's popularization of politics was typical or exceptional for German political life.  Such publications as Ludwig Ferdinand's Neue Klio. Eine Monatsschrift für die französische Zeitgeschichte (Leipzig, 1797-) and Politisches Rundgemälde, oder kleine Chronik des Jahres 1828.  Für Leser aus allen Ständen, welche auf die Ereignisse der Zeit achten (Leipzig, 1829) constitute outstanding examples of the new genre of popular political reportage.  No less interesting were pictorial chronicles of the new political period, such as Friedrich Strass's Der Strom der Zeiten oder bildliche Darstellung der Weltgeschichte von den ältesten Zeiten bis zum Ende des achtzehten Jahrhunderts (Vienna, 1804).  These and other texts led me to conclude that political ephemera affected calendar literature during and after the Napoleonic period.  Firestone's non-Rhenish German calendars furthermore gave me a comparative perspective to judge the popular political culture of the Rhineland.  Although the Rhineland's literacy rates, advanced market economies, and access to border printing centers in France, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland facilitated an extraordinary transnational exchange of political ideas, the Firestone's materials suggest that the cultural hinterlands of Leipzig, Munich, Stuttgart, and Berlin offer similar developments.  The Rhineland emerges as a heightened version of the norm.

The Library's collection of pamphlet material from the Revolution of 1848-49 also occupied a large portion of my time.  The oversized folio of over 100 pamphlets from Berlin in the years 1848-49 shed light on the intersection of popular culture and opinion formation in the 1840s.  Of particular interest to me was the 'implied reader' of this street literature and the political sophistication that authors assumed readers to possess.  The pamphlets adduced a wide array of evidence for song, singing practices, and political song sheets as a street commodity.  This collection furthermore contained compelling popular discussions on political charivaris during the 1848 Revolution as well as commentaries on Rhenish radical politics in 1849.

Finally, the library's collection of French, Belgian, and German pamphlets, periodical literature and books on political Catholicism and material pertaining to the Rhine Crisis of 1840 recast my views on how Rhinelanders constructed a regional political identity in the 1840s.  Of particular importance was the library's run of Journal historique et litteréraire (Liege, 1835-38), a Belgian periodical that played a crucial role in forming priests' opinions against the Prussian Protestant state.  State and Church paper in the Rhineland frequently mentioned this journal; in Princeton I was able to read and study the journal's arguments.

The combination of the Rare Books and Special Collections, the Mendel Library, and the Firestone's regular stacks provided a surfeit of information for my research project.  I remain indebted to the generosity and accommodating spirit of the Friends of the Princeton Library for affording me the time, access, and support to study these important materials.

6 July 2006


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