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852 RARE Bonus Edition: The 25th Anniversary of Cohen v. Cowles Media

June 24, 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of Cohen v. Cowles Media Co., 501 U.S. 663 (1991), in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that freedom of the press does not exempt journalists from following generally applicable laws. Dan Cohen (HLS ’61), a Republican campaign associate in the 1982 Minnesota governor’s race, gave information about another party’s candidate to reporters at two local newspapers. Though Cohen had received a promise of confidentiality from the reporters, the papers divulged his name. Cohen lost his job and sued the papers in state court, alleging breach of contract. Cohen won at trial and on appeal, but the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed. Cohen appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The question before the Court was: Does the First Amendment bar a plaintiff from recovering damages, under state promissory estoppel law, for a newspaper’s breach of a promise of confidentiality? In a close 5-4 decision with two dissents, the Court ruled in favor of Mr. Cohen.

Cohen v. Cowles Media has been the subject of much debate and legal analysis in the past 25 years. It stands with New York Times v. Sullivan and a handful of others as a significant first amendment case involving the press.

Interested in learning more about what went on behind the scenes of this important case? Historical & Special Collections has the case files! Donated by Cohen’s attorney Elliot C. Rothenberg (HLS ’64), the collection consists of materials Mr. Rothenberg compiled and used in Cohen’s defense. HSC has many collections of case files, lawyers’ papers, and judges’ papers. If you are interested in a particular legal case, lawyer, or judge, search HOLLIS+ , the Harvard Library catalog.

HLS Class Marshal Elliot C. Rothenberg ('64). VIA record ID 8000950463

HLS Class Marshal Elliot C. Rothenberg (’64). VIA record ID 8000950463

We’re grateful to Mr. Rothenberg for sharing his collection with us, so we can share it with you. And his generosity does not end there: over the years, he has donated a number of HLS-related papers and artifacts to HSC, including the very baton he wielded as the Law School’s 1964 Class Marshal! Both baton and photo are on view through August 12, 2016 in the “academic regalia” section of the Library’s exhibit, What (Not) to Wear: Fashion and the Law.

852 Rare: Preserving Digital Media at HLS: First Steps

Whether you’re familiar with archives or not, unless you work in one all day you might think of them as mysterious locked rooms full of old (dare I say, “dusty”) books with intricate bindings, manuscripts crafted hundreds of years ago in no-longer-spoken tongues and script, and artifacts once owned by famous people. HLS Library’s Historical and Special Collections does contain “treasures” like these but a much larger portion of our collection is made up of manuscripts that tell the stories of the lives of legal scholars, lawyers, and judges, regardless of fame or fortune. These items make long physical journeys from someone’s home or office through archivists’ hands, workspaces, and many other processes before finally being ready for access by our researchers.

But digital media has turned traditional archiving on its head. With formats and technology evolving much faster than the technology of papermaking and bookbinding, how do we preserve today’s records? Over the past 5 years, we have been building a program that will support the imminent inundation of digital records and allow us to be more nimble through new practices such as on-demand collecting. We already house an array of historic digital media, such as floppy disks, computers and laptops containing twenty or thirty-year-old hard drives, zip disks, files on CDs, and much more.

Image collage of media from a recent acquisition.

A few pieces of media from a recent acquisition. Clockwise, starting top left: HP Omnibook, 1997; La Cie external hard drive, 1994; HP OmniBook’s internal hard drive, 1997; Apple internal hard drive and its laptop computer, ca. 1994; IBM ThinkPad and its internal hard drive, 2004.

To preserve these, we use digital forensics techniques (yes, similar to what law enforcement units do in a criminal investigation!) to safely transfer files off of obsolete media and stabilize them on a secure server space managed by HLS ITS. We have an array of equipment to read the media, such as 3.5” floppy controllers and an UltraDock writeblocker that connects to over 10 different types of media such as internal hard drives and SD memory cards. We have a computer equipped with the Linux-based open-source BitCurator environment to extract metadata and perform many other activities on the disks we’ve stabilized. We recently added a Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device Laptop (FRED-L) to our arsenal in anticipation of going out into the field and imaging media straight from donors’ offices or homes, without having to bring obsolete media into the archives at all (yes, I’m sorry to tell you, but that floppy disk is going to be unreadable someday whether you’ve got a working drive for it or not!).

FRED-L and UltraKit

FRED-L and UltraKit

But, all of this actually only solves the FIRST step of archiving – transferring files to the archive. A bit more complicated than going to an office to pick up boxes, but also pretty fun. We are currently working on the rest of the workflow – extracting files from stabilized disk images, migrating them to readable formats (WordPerfect for DOS, anyone?), and making them available through our finding aids in OASIS. I’ll be sharing more about these processes and milestones as we reach them, so come back to Et Seq for more digital preservation 852 Rare posts!

852 RARE: In Celebration of Pranksters and Practical Jokers: The Legend of Lady Ellesmere

April Fools’ day may have come and gone, but in the spirit of keeping the laughter going, let’s look back almost 70 years to a student prank involving the school’s portrait collection. As the story goes, two 3L students wanted to pull off a prank before graduation so they commissioned a young art student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts to paint a semi-nude female judge. The portrait, now fondly referred to as “Lady Ellesmere” was painted by Mrs. Vera Chvany Hussey, now Vera Chvany Hussey-Forbes. She was referred to the two HLS students by a friend with strong Harvard connections; Sally Mallinckrodt, the granddaughter of Edward Mallinckrodt. Early in the morning of March 24, 1948, the students made arrangements with janitorial staff to hang the portrait, an oil painting on heavy craft paper, in the Langdell South Middle classroom in the frame normally reserved for the portrait of Sir Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere, who had supposedly been removed for cleaning. Dean Griswold’s 10:00am class experienced the portrait in situ, which is memorialized in the photograph below. The prank received front page coverage in the Law School’s student paper the following week. Sadly, by the time the article went to press no one knew of the painting’s whereabouts.

Langdell South Middle Classroom, 1948

Dean Griswold can be seen in the lower left corner of the photograph. 
Miscellaneous Groups and Events Collection, Box 2
Historical & Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library

 

The portrait of Baron Ellesmere is currently in storage but we know that it was eventually returned to its frame and remained on display in the Langdell South Middle classroom until at least the 1950s, thanks to this photograph. You can see the left side of the painting on the far right of the photograph. For those wondering what he looked like, we have other images of Egerton in the collection, including the engraving below.

Sir Thomas Egerton

Sir Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere and Viscount Brackley, 1615?
Record ID: olvwork177013

Mrs. Hussey-Forbes believes that Griswold confiscated the portrait and hopeful that it might have made it into our collection she has contacted the Law School and other Harvard sources for more than 60 years trying to get more information. Sadly, we have not found it but it seems the incident did make an impression on Griswold, who memorialized it in a scrapbook of clippings, pamphlets, and photographs now in our collection. Griswold wasn’t the only one interested in the prank; the story spread from coast to coast and reached newspapers in California, Colorado, Nebraska, and Indiana just to name a few places. Mrs. Hussey-Forbes has written a memoir that includes the story of the painting and more recently published a blog post on the incident. She was kind enough to speak with me and shared a few more details that didn’t make it into the original news coverage. Vera’s relationship with HLS started long before the prank; she grew up on Everett Street and has memories of running through Langdell Hall as a kid. After the prank, Look magazine contacted her about doing a story, which they hoped would include Griswold giving the painting back to her. But when Vera contacted Dean Griswold to see if this was a possibility his response was that he would only give the painting back if she gave him the names of the pranksters. Vera refused and that was the end of the Look piece.

It is important to note that this prank was pulled off two years before Harvard Law School admitted its first class of women. Thankfully times have changed and multiple portraits of actual female judges adorn the walls of the school and their presence is neither a joke, nor an anomaly like Lady Ellesmere’s brief appearance in 1948.

Correction: April 25, 2016
This post incorrectly stated that Mrs. Hussey-Forbes first contacted Historical & Special Collections eight years ago. In fact she had been contacting numerous Harvard sources for the last 68 years with no success. Thanks to Mrs. Hussey-Forbes’ persistence in bring the story to light and recent digitization efforts, I was able to locate the article published in the Law School student paper, which served as the starting point for further research.

In Ruhleben Camp: A magazine by any other name…

In Ruhleben Camp follows the production schedule of the magazine created by prisoners at Ruhleben, an internment camp for British civilians in Germany during WWI. Around the time that an issue of the magazine was released a hundred years ago, Marissa Grunes will post highlights from that number and tell part of its story.

Cover. The Ruhleben Camp Magazine, No. 1, March 1916. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 608

Cover. The Ruhleben Camp Magazine, No. 1, March 1916. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 608

As March crept in, Ruhlebenites gratefully heralded the return of spring—and of their camp magazine along with it. Following a two-month hiatus, In Ruhleben Camp (IRC) returned under new editorial guidance, and freshly re-christened The Ruhleben Camp Magazine (RCM). As the slight shift towards formality suggests, a few things had changed, but not much.

The cover illustration gives the first hint that the same wry spirit prevails. As we discussed at the beginning of this series, the cover of In Ruhleben Camp’s inaugural issue back in June 1915 had sported a clever example of the “Droste effect,” a graphical technique popularized in advertising around the turn of the twentieth century. The cover had shown a man reading from an issue of IRC, on whose cover was visible a smaller image of the same man holding the same magazine, on whose cover one could imagine the same man…and so on ad infinitum.

The newly renamed Ruhleben Camp Magazine recreates this gambit for its own cover, except that the voluble Ruhlebenite is replaced by an unusually literate March hare, suggesting one thing that Ruhlebenites might be as mad as (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 608). The picture seems to shout: “Remember us? We’re back!”

Back with a familiar cast of characters, too. “The Mad Hatter” (now styling himself number “2”) continues gleefully mocking the antics of the Debating Society; the famous footballer Fred B. Pentland still reports sagely on the camp’s favorite game; a number of sketches bear the impress of a familiar hand, with chicken scratch signatures conjuring up the usual suspects.

Moreover, the new editor echoes his predecessor T. Arthur Barton in lamenting that the camp’s best writers are withholding their talent, forcing the editor to ply his pen to fill up pages. But just who is this new editor? A few former internees who were also the camp’s earliest historians, Israel Cohen, Francis Gribble, and the former “Captain of the Camp” Joseph Powell, identify the new editor as L.E. Filmore—perhaps the most beloved parodist in the camp, and a regular contributor to the magazine (Cohen, p. 156; Powell and Gribble, p. 212). Yet the man who signs off as editor in the Xmas 1916 issue is one C.G. Pemberton (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 799).

The reasons for the shake-up are also mysterious: the former editor T.A. Barton continues contributing to the magazine, which remains under the aegis of the Education Committee. If there had been any reshuffling of leadership or finances in the Education Committee, no chroniclers (that I have found) thought it worth mentioning, and the new editor diplomatically emphasizes continuity over difference. Moreover, in a “Publisher’s Notice,” the Education Committee chisels the magazine’s core commandments onto the first pages of RCM: that “as far as possible the magazine shall appear punctually, that it shall be produced by the co-operation of all those in the Camp who are able and willing to assist, and shall express the true sentiment of the interned,” in order to offer “diversion from the tedium of the prisoner’s life.” As part of a “fresh effort” to follow these commandments, and “in witness of the renewal of the paper’s original purpose,” the Committee announces that it “has made some changes which include that of its title” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 610).

Yet, as Powell and Gribble write in their joint history, “what differences of policy the editors may have been pursuing, I do not know; but the visible characteristics of the two papers do not seem widely opposed.” They share a sprightly resilience, it seems: “both were illustrated, and always light in tone and touch—always, one might say, modern. They took few things au grand sérieux” (Powell and Gribble, pp. 212-213).

Continuity of purpose was one of those few things taken with great seriousness, and at least one reader took this continuity seriously as well. A letter to the editor, published in this issue, renews the old protest against expensive theatre performances that boxed poorer internees out of warm indoor spaces. “Take up the cudgels once again in favour of” cheaper seats, the writer exhorts the editor, citing earlier issues of “your paper” that had championed this cause (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 648). And The Ruhleben Camp Magazine seems inclined to do just that. Already the first issue has taken up the satire and public debate once wielded by its predecessor, and sallied forth to do battle with boredom and camp grievances, trumpeting the Ruhleben motto: “Are we downhearted? No!”

Bibliography & Further Reading

Cohen, Israel. The Ruhleben Prison Camp: A Record of Nineteen Months’ Internment. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1917.

Powell, Joseph and Francis Henry Gribble. The history of Ruhleben: the record of British organisation in a prison camp. London: W. Collins Sons & Company Ltd., 1919.

Marissa Grunes is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Harvard University, focusing on transatlantic literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her dissertation project explores frontier architecture in 19th century poetry, fiction, and non-fiction of the United States.

852 RARE: David Sewall: Lawyer, Federal Judge, Weather Aficionado

It’s spring break at Harvard, although March can bring decidedly un-springlike weather to New England. After an unusually mild winter (except for one weekend of record-breaking cold), the first weekend of spring break started off as mild and sunny as a fine day in late April, and is now, well, very March-like. Weather is a perennial topic of conversation in New England (and everywhere else?). It affects us all and is a topic of conversation anyone can participate in and on which everyone seems to have an opinion.

Of all seasons, winter is perhaps especially ripe for discussions, whether one is marveling at, cursing, or boasting about record snowstorms, record cold, unseasonable warmth, and everything in between. Not surprisingly there’s nothing new about the weather as a rich source of conversation. As we approach the vernal equinox on March 20th this year, here’s a glimpse into the meteorological musings of David Sewall (1735-1825). Sewall was a 1755 Harvard graduate (and classmate of John Adams), a lawyer, and a judge, appointed by George Washington to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine in 1789, a position he held until his resignation in 1818.

Historical & Special Collections has a letter from Sewall, written from his home in York, Maine (then part of Massachusetts) to an unidentified correspondent, on January 17, 1795.

HOLLIS 2204095_p1

Sewall begins with the acknowledgement of a small book, then talks of politics. But soon the topic of the weather slips in, when in the third or fourth line, he comments: “The month of December as to mildness and agreeableness of weather has surpassed any that the most ancient among us, can recollect. We have now scarcely enough for slaying [sleighing] ….” Shortly thereafter Sewall turns back to politics and government, pondering Alexander Hamilton’s intention to resign as Secretary of State at the end of the month. He mentions meeting and conversing with the Rev. David Osgood (1747-1822) in a public house in Woburn (Mass.) and discusses court and legislative issues. But the next day, a Sunday, when he picks up his pen to continue the correspondence, his opening line sets the tone for most of the rest of the letter.

HOLLIS 2204095_p2-3

“Last Evening we had a pretty fall of light snow … The cold increases and N.N.W. wind blows about the Snow considerably this Evening.” He asks “how comes it that we ever have snow?” and launches into a long, detailed, and thoughtful musing on trade winds, precipitation, temperatures, and weather patterns along the eastern coast of the United States. He marvels at having “known the thermometer to be at 6° below 0 and in less than 9 hours to be above the freezing point” and notes that “I have known the snow to dissolve faster toward the close of Winter with a Southerly Wind of 24 hours (or a little longer) continuance than with a moderate Rain, of the same duration.” Had he lived in our era, the good judge from Maine may have settled down at the end of a long day to watch the Weather Channel.

March 10: The Magna Carta Lectures … and lunch!

Help us celebrate the closing of the Harvard Law School Library’s exhibit, One Text, Sixteen Manuscripts: Magna Carta at the Harvard Law School Library, by joining us for a program on Magna Carta through the ages. A light lunch will be served, but due to space limitations attendance is limited to 45.

Thursday, March 10, 2016, Noon – 1:30 pm, Caspersen Room, HLS Library, Langdell Hall, 4th floor

Program:

Magna Carta in the Fourteenth Century: From Law to Myth? Charles Donahue, Paul A. Freund Professor of Law, HLS

The Interpretation of Magna Carta in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries. Stephen White, Visiting Professor of History, Harvard University

Moderator: Elizabeth Papp Kamali, Assistant Professor of Law, HLS

poster magna carta lectures-blog

Sponsored by the HLS Library and the Harvard Committee on Medieval Studies.

Free The Law: What We’re Finding in the Case Reports

The HLS Library’s Free The Law project aims to provide free online access to our Library’s entire collection of U.S. court decisions. Every day we’re transforming over 100,000 pages into digital images. Eventually those images will become machine-readable text that lawyers, citizens, researchers and developers of all stripes will be able to access and use.

But along the way we’re making some amazing discoveries in the centuries-old print material we’re digitizing. The latest?

Take a look at what Digital Projects Archivist Kerri Fleming found in this Reporter’s Note from Volume 32 of the Georgia Reports, which includes cases decided in 1861:

 

FTL GA Case Reporter 1861

Reporter’s Note from volume 32 of the Georgia Reports (1861). (click image to enlarge)

The anonymous Reporter of Decisions explained in striking detail why the volume’s publication was delayed until 1869: “Early in 1862, the Reporter entered the military service of the Confederate States, and continued therein until he was disabled. … During the war, the house of the Reporter was burned, and his books and papers, including many of the cases in original manuscript, were destroyed. The printed part of the volume was destroyed with the Printing House in the city of Atlanta. … The close of the war, found the Reporter, like thousands of his fellow-countrymen, poor and destitute …  Sixty-five cases in this volume were destroyed, and had to be gotten up anew … ”

This extraordinary note highlights not only the historical and geographical context in which these decisions were published but also the dedication and professionalism of Reporters of Decisions, who continue their important public service today.

The Harvard Law School Library’s collection of manuscript and printed case reports spans the centuries from 1268 to the present, and includes jurisdictions around the world. As our work on Free The Law progresses and we continue to rediscover the print materials making this digital project possible, we hope to share more finds like this!

Post contributed by Kerri Fleming and Adam Ziegler.

Spotlight panel now available

spotlightWith Oscar buzz building through the month of February, you may be catching up on movie viewing. Whether you’ve seen it recently or saw it at the end of last year, if you appreciated Spotlight, which tells the story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the child molestation scandal and cover-up in the local Catholic Archdiocese, you will want to listen to the recording of the panel about the film that we and the HLS Dean of Students office hosted in November.

We had a great group of panelists who had a fascinating and often moving conversation about the film and the events that inspired it, and we’re happy to make available an audio recording of the event. You can also read more about it at Harvard Law Today.

Our panelists included:
Josh Singer, screenwriter (HLS ’01)
Mitchell Garabedian, Law Offices of Mitchell Garabedian
Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Jeannie Suk, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Jonathan Zittrain, George Bemis Professor of International Law, Harvard Law School

We also had two surprise guests in the audience who added additional insights to the discussion: Michael Rezendes and Ben Bradlee Jr., who were both portrayed in the film.

852 Rare: Colorful Collections – Picture Books in Historical & Special Collections

Although Historical & Special Collections items may sometimes have… colorful… content, you might not expect our material to be terribly colorful at first glance. Recent re-shelving work in the HSC stacks turned up two cheery picture books—an illustrated printing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, illustrated by William Wilson, and Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, written by Kathi Linz and illustrated by Tony Griego.

Two picture books that are part of Historical & Special Collections.

Two picture books that are part of Historical & Special Collections.

 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Illustrated by William Wilson.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Illustrated by William Wilson.

William Wilson’s illustrations that accompany the UDHR celebrate the 50th anniversary of the document’s adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1948. The book’s introduction states that the “vision [of the book] was to portray this historic instrument with the colours of life and the power of art: an artist is ‘a political being,’ as Picasso said.”[1] Each of the articles of the Declaration is laid out alongside Wilson’s illustrations, one of which is shown here. The goal of the book is to disseminate the entirety of the UDHR with the belief that “there is a vital and urgent need for the Declaration to be understood and learned.”[2]

Shelved just alongside this book is another picture book—Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws. The pen and ink and water color illustrations depict characters acting out strange offenses with the accompanying law prohibiting such behavior alongside it. Further explanation of (crazy) laws are answered in a series of questions throughout the book, including “What is the Oldest Set of Laws Ever Written?” “How About Having No Laws?” “We, the People of the United States, Have Rights, Right?”[3]

Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, Kathi Linz, Illustrated by Tony Griego

Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, Kathi Linz, Illustrated by Tony Griego

These books are just two examples of educational material that can be found in Historical & Special Collections that isn’t just aimed at law students. Many more surprising and illuminating (and illuminated!) items pepper the stacks in HSC, waiting for someone to take a closer look!


[1 & 2] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Illustrated by William Wilson. [New York]: United Nations, 1997, Title Page.

[3] Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, Kathi Linz, illustrated by Tony Griego. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

In Ruhleben Camp: A belated Merry Xmas and Happy 1916 from Ruhleben Camp

In Ruhleben Camp follows the production schedule of the magazine created by prisoners at Ruhleben, an internment camp for British civilians in Germany during WWI. Around the day that an issue of the magazine was released a hundred years ago, Marissa Grunes will post highlights from that number and tell part of its story.

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 557.

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 557.

He thought he saw the Lager “Rag” *
Appear when it was due.
He looked again, and saw it was,
Not a report, but true.
“Now, isn’t this top-hole” he said,
In time for Xmas too.”
(Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 580)

The final issue of In Ruhleben Camp for 1915 appeared around Christmas of that year, and it wears its holiday spirit with a difference. Peppered with humorously cynical cartoons depicting what might happen “If Santa Claus came to Ruhleben,” the Xmas Number also extends jovial greetings across the Channel to friend and foe alike. We will start with friends in this post, and look to foes in the next.

Having received special permission from the German censors to send the Christmas issue to Britain as a gift for loved ones, Ruhlebenites may have been both moved and amused by certain editorial choices. Between the handsomely printed covers, for instance, Ruhlebenites found a page thanking “the folks at home” for supporting “their Ruhlebenites,” as well as offering characteristically pragmatic advice: send butter, margarine, or dripping, please! (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 603) Meanwhile, the stiff back cover doubled as a pre-formatted card that could be filled out, detached, and sent separately, perhaps for those without the means to send the whole thing.

Cartoon. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 592.

Cartoon. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 592.

The editors may have had a bit of fun with their extended readership as well. In particular, a comic piece titled “The Ruhlebenite at Home” seems teasingly calculated to evoke the worst nightmare of a wife, mother, or sister who feared her Ruhlebenite would come home a changed man. The story is narrated by an internee who has been released early and has “arrived Home in time for Christmas” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 569). His convenient timing makes for a tongue-in-cheek homage to the disappointed hopes of the previous year, when men on both sides had assumed the war could only last a few months. A year later, it was harder to maintain that anyone would “be Home before Xmas” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 519) without being called a wishful thinker. By the end of 1915, no reader could avoid the cruel contrast between the narrator’s happy timing and the reality for most men, whether in camps or at the front.

Having finally arrived Home for Xmas—a year late and most likely declared “military unfit” for poor health—our Ruhlebenite soon finds himself in hot water with the women of the house. His crime? He does everything, including bathe himself, Ruhleben style. He bewilders his sister and her housemaid by complaining that “nothing is ever where it ought to be,” and is in turn baffled to discover that wash basins are not kept under the bed, but on the washstand, and that it would be more appropriate to bathe in his own room (and with less swearing) than out in the hall (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 569). At each turn, the story seems to guffaw: you can take an internee out of the camp, but you can’t take Ruhleben out of a Ruhlebenite.

The humor is darkened when one recalls the increased rate at which internees were hospitalized for mental breakdowns as the years dragged on, a danger which Ellis Loring Dresel of the U.S. embassy would observe in July of 1916 (Stibbe, p. 73). Has our protagonist been declared “military unfit” not due to physical illness, but because he has truly lost his “mental perspective” at Ruhleben? (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 513)

Still the story keeps a light tone, even as our hero’s Ruhleben habits enact a complete cultural inversion. The manners and customs of this respectable middle-class household are alien and barbarous to him, and he insists on “proper” behavior that only a Ruhlebenite would understand. Such a reversal of values offers the perfect formula for social satire, but the author doesn’t rise to the bait. There is no room for cultural relativism here: lampooning the sister’s shock would doubtless have struck too close to home. Instead, the jokes rely on the fact (or hope) that Ruhlebenite readers can still tell a hawk from a handsaw when in the presence of a lady, or at least know better than to toss bathwater down the corridor or to call one’s sister a “lazy beggar” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 570).

It is no accident that the author’s satire is entirely directed against the hapless Ruhlebenite. If the story plays on the apprehensions of womenfolk at home, it more pointedly reflects anxieties plaguing Ruhlebenites themselves. After so much time in a camp of 4,000 men, roughly a quarter of whom were sailors, many internees worried that they would never scrub the blue streak from their language, or remember how to comport themselves in mixed society. The Swiss physician Dr. Vischer’s research into “barbed wire disease” after the war suggests that these concerns were not unfounded, either.

As a kind of verbalized anxiety dream, then, waking up from this story may have been reassuring. After all, if readers laughed at its humor, understood that a free man need not carry around wire and nails for emergencies, and knew enough to reverse the protagonist’s complaint that his sister had “changed tremendously” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 572) during his internment, then hope was not lost.

What readers at Home thought—well, that too may have been part of the joke.

 

Portable Xmas Tree. N.D. VIA record number olvwork430260

Portable Xmas Tree owned by a Ruhleben internee. N.D. VIA record number olvwork430260

* Lager is the German word for “camp,” and was adopted by Ruhleben internees. Rag is English slang for a magazine or periodical.


Bibliography & Further Reading

Bing, M.D. and A.L. Vischer, M.D. “Some Remarks on the Psychology of Internment, Based on the Observation of Prisoners of War in Switzerland.” The Lancet. 26 April 1919. Pp. 696-7.

Stibbe, Matthew. British civilian internees in Germany. The Ruhleben camp, 1914-18. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2008.

Vischer, Adolf Lucas. Barbed wire disease; a psychological study of the prisoner of war. Tr. from the German, with additions by the author. London: Bale & Danielsson, 1919.

Marissa Grunes is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Harvard University, focusing on transatlantic literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her dissertation project explores frontier architecture in 19th century poetry, fiction, and non-fiction of the United States.