Historical & Special Collections •

852 RARE: MASS(achusetts) Incarceration During the Nineteenth Century

Recently, an intriguing folder containing six broadsides came to light in Historical & Special Collections. These are very different from our largest collection of broadsides, which are English trial and execution broadsides (sometimes referred to as “dying speeches”) printed for popular consumption.

1827 & 1828

These are single sheet Annual report[s] of the convicts in the Massachusetts State Prison their employment, &c., with a correct view of the expenses and income of the Institution … for the years 1823-1828 and it turns out they’re very rare. According to WorldCat only the American Antiquarian Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society have some of the issues. For those whose libraries subscribe to Readex’s “America’s Historical Imprints”, five of the reports are available digitally as part of “American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1”.

The state prison, located in the Charlestown section of Boston was built in 1805. With the completion of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Concord, in 1878, the prison population of the Charlestown prison declined. Among its later and better known inmates were Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, executed there in August 1927.

1825 close up

Detail of the 1825 report

The reports, signed by wardens Gamaliel Bradford (1823) and Thomas Harris (1824-1828), are statistical in nature and models of succinctness. While at first glance they may seem a bit dry, one can glean a great deal of information from them, including all of the prison’s expenses and income; the crimes for which inmates were imprisoned, ages, and lengths of sentences; and their prison employment. During this many period prisoners were engaged in cutting and transporting stone, working in the prison hospital, and picking oakum. Others were let out to contractors as cabinet and brush makers, as well as other skilled labor. The north wing built in 1828, was probably the “new prison” referred to in the reports starting in 1826 when 26 of the 313 current prisoners were working on its construction.

1827 close up

Detail of the 1827 report

Penciled notes on the Library’s copies of these broadsides provide some evidence of their provenance, and the piecemeal fashion in which they were acquired. The 1823 issue was a gift to the Harvard College Library from “Arthur G. Sedgwick of Cambridge” in November 1875–most likely the lawyer and writer who graduated Harvard College in 1864 and earned his LL.B. at the Law School in 1866. Sedgwick moved to New York City in 1875 to continue practicing law after several years in Boston. Perhaps his donation to the College was the result of office-cleaning in preparation for his move?

The back of the 1824 issue bears the signature of “Hon. Levi Thaxter.”

This may be lawyer Levi Lincoln Thaxter (Harvard College 1843, Harvard Law School 1845) who was married to poet and writer Celia Thaxter. “Gratis” is penciled on the front, so it was evidently a gift, but it is unclear from whom.

52256954 Sanborn

Harvard University – Harvard University Archives / Class Album. Class of 1855. HUD 255.704.1, Harvard University Archives

The 1825 and 1826 annual reports were also gifts, in 1865, of Frank B. Sanborn, Harvard College 1855. Here he is pictured in his Class album (HOLLIS 7505074).

The source of the 1827 and 1828 issues remains a mystery. A penciled note reads simply “no date of reception.” All six were transferred from the College Library to the Law School Library in June 1924, possibly in a batch described in the Law Library’s accession book as merely “Miscellaneous material”. These broadsides and their miscellaneous collection of facts and figures offer an intriguing glimpse into the state of Massachusetts prisons in the early nineteenth century. We are thankful to the Harvard College alumni who thought to give these interesting documents to their alma mater and to the library professionals who over the years have sought to preserve them. And given recent interest and concern about prisons and mass incarceration, both nationally and locally, these nearly 200 year old reports are an especially timely find.

In Ruhleben Camp: Strike!

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. On or 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, No. 7, 12 Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 395

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 7, 12 Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 395

A live wire of debate, protest, and satire runs through the 12 September 1915 issue of In Ruhleben Camp, as we saw in the previous post. Divisions rifting the camp ramified both outwards—as in the “Ruhleben Medal” scandal—and inwards—as in the political strife to which we now turn.

In the wake of the Medal scandal, the Camp Captains, magazine editors, and others spent August of 1915 scrambling to repair the camp’s image. While these leaders galvanized Ruhlebenites into a unified front of chagrined humility, however, other sources of internal discord were corkscrewing through the camp. Calls for a more democratic Ruhleben and greater fiscal accountability in particular raised a vigorous new challenge to the Camp Captains.

The divas of this drama were among the most profitable groups in the camp: the entertainers. In August of 1915, the Ruhleben Dramatic Society (RDS), Musical Society and Orchestra, Irish, French, and German societies sent a letter to the Camp Captains protesting the structure of the Entertainments Committee (EC). The EC coordinated the schedules and budgets of performing groups, and was composed largely of men appointed by the Captains. Complaints about high ticket prices had been flooding the magazine all summer, as internees wished to know where their (and the British government’s) money was going.

Citing the EC’s autocratic approach, greed, and financial excesses, the irate organizations demanded greater representation on the EC, the ouster of the Captains’ appointees, and a copy of the EC’s “full Balance-Sheet” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 354). If change did not come quickly, these groups threatened to go on strike.

And strike they did. As one wag wrote in an August number of the magazine:

“But now a rabble fills the hall,
Where once the lofty-browed and wise
Were wont to take a tanner stall
And praise, expound or criticize.
Their seats are now profaned, worse luck!
The R.D.S., alas, has STRUCK!”
(Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 364)

After at least two weeks of silence in the Ruhleben theatre, the Captains grudgingly backed down and reconfigured the EC.

Negotiations had been resolved by the September 12th issue of In Ruhleben Camp, but the principles at stake remained hotly contested. The magazine’s cover (pictured above) captures the controversies swirling through its pages. A searchlight streaks across the dark page, illuminating the words “In Ruhleben Camp” against a span of barbed wire, as if catching an escapee in the act of scaling the fence. Like prior covers, the image declares this a prison publication, but the searchlight carries other associations: it streams from the bottom left corner like the footlights of a stage, and hits the fence in an unusually crisp square reminiscent of a movie projector. It might be the screening of a film called “In Ruhleben Camp.”

Indeed, there was such a film. Ruhleben’s “Cineomatograph Theatre” [sic] was inaugurated on August 21st with a screening of a film by and about Ruhleben internees, featuring many “Camp celabraties” [sic] (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 422), according to the Captains’ announcement. The pet project of the Captain-of-Captains Joseph Powell, a cinema owner in Leeds before his internment (Stibbe, p. 2), the Cinematograph Theatre doesn’t seem to have lived up to its glamorous beginning. Although it was a coup for German public relations, J.D. Ketchum remembers it as “usually sparsely attended,” which he attributes to the passive gratification it offered. Ruhlebenites needed “concrete goals” such as the creation of a weekly play or promenade concert, Ketchum contends, “they needed to be active, and their activity had to be purposeful” (Ketchum, p. 208).

This theory helps explain why temperatures ran so high when the theatrical and musical organizations stubbornly lowered the curtain in August. By refusing to work, these groups deprived the camp of a critical resource. But Ketchum also hints at a thorny contradiction: what the prisoners needed most was distraction, a method of “getting rid of Time,” as one magazine contributor calls the camp theatre (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 359). When the distractions worked too well, though, they could blot out the ongoing war and compromise the camp’s image back home.

Ruhlebenites could only win sympathy from the British public by striking a balance between cheerful activity and needful distress. Too much of the latter meant they had no backbone; too much of the former meant they were mollycoddled.

From that angle, going on strike didn’t look much better than soliciting military honors. A caustic satirical piece in the September 12th issue, titled “Towards a Complete Concentration Camp,” opens with dry sarcasm: “Now that the Cinema is well established in our midst, with a frequent change of programme and no change of atmosphere, we find one of our most pressing needs supplied.” What should come next? Perhaps a “billiard saloon,” “Roller-skating Rink,” and “Turkish Bath and Hydropathic Establishment”? Cheekily echoing the Captains’ announcement of the “Cineomatograph Theatre” in this same issue, the author (evidently a magazine insider) cries out for a “madame Tausaud’s” [sic] since “our supply of celebrities is so immense” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 418).

In short, the road to self-indulgence was paved with good distractions. With a coolly impartial swipe at Medal-grubbers, the autocratic EC and strikers alike, complacent Captains and their cinemas, the author concludes by musing: “On second thoughts, however, perhaps the best suggestion we can offer would be to pool all the inexhaustible funds that this wonderful camp seems to possess, and build a comfortable “Home for those who have lost their perspective”” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 419).

Bibliography & Further Reading

Ketchum, J. Davidson. Ruhleben: A Prison Camp Society. With a Foreword and Postscript by Robert B. MacLeod. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Foreword (Ithaca, NY, April 1964)

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

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: No. 7, September 1915

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. On 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. 

The first five issues won’t be covered in proper sequence here, as they were printed from June through August 1915, and their anniversaries passed while I was abroad, searching for Ruhleben material at archives in London and at Leeds University.

“Ruhleben Bed Notice.” In Ruhleben Camp, No. 7, 12 Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 396.

“Ruhleben Bed Notice.” In Ruhleben Camp, No. 7, 12 Sept 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 396.

The fall of 1915 was a bustling time in Ruhleben Camp, as the cogs and wheels of bureaucracy began, somewhat squeakily, to turn. The administrative, educational, and recreational committees established over the summer were suffering growing pangs, while inmates watched the war drag into its second year outside.

Frustration runs like a humming wire through the seventh number of In Ruhleben Camp, published on 12 September, 1915. This issue is one of the liveliest productions of the editorial staff under the direction of T. Arthur Barton, and its pages buzz with fiery debate and acerbic satire, including an open letter from the much-maligned Captain of the Camp, Joseph Powell, who testily asks that anyone with a complaint not hide behind a penname, but “come forward like a man” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 416).

The hottest debates came down to what exactly a civilian internment camp was. Without historical or legal precedent to govern their position, the internees recognized that their fate rested in the delicate scales of public opinion back home. Were they national heroes? A national embarrassment? Whose money should support the prisoners, and to whom did profits earned within the camp belong? Was it unethical for anyone in the camp to turn a profit? Could the Camp itself be a money-making operation? Would this affect the status of the Relief Fund? How democratic should its administration be? Were organizations justified in going on strike, or was that shirking their duty to the camp?

Events over the summer hardened many of these questions into concrete problems. Unbeknownst to the Camp Captains, a group of internees wrote to the British Foreign Office asking that a Ruhleben “Medal” be stamped in honor of their sacrifice. A chilly response was sent directly to the Captains, who quickly distanced themselves from the request. To smooth out the camp’s image, a general “Anti-Medal Meeting” was called, at which internees overwhelmingly voted against the “childish” idea of “souvenir badges” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 310). Typed and signed statements condemning the request are still held among the private papers of former internees in the Liddle Collection at Leeds University.

To further rehabilitate the name of Ruhleben, prisoners wrote to the magazine’s editors suggesting that the camp endow a “Ruhleben Bed” at a Red Cross Hospital, to help British soldiers. The editors took the idea up with gusto, and the inside cover of the September 12 issue bears a forcefully-worded announcement advising readers that “as a Britisher You are expected to make some sacrifice for this object not merely to give of your superfluity” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 396). As will emerge in the following issue, however, this charitable scheme itself met with vigorous criticism.

Nor did the drama stop there. Where resources were scarce, money became an especially ripe apple of discord, and in August 1915 some of the camp’s most profitable organizations—its entertainers—went on strike. In the next post, we will turn the spotlight on this fracas.

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: No. 1, June 1915

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. On 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, No. 1, 6 June 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 152.

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 1, 6 June 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 152.

On the opening page of the first issue, which appeared on 6 June 1915, the editor in chief T. Arthur Barton declares his hopes that In Ruhleben Camp will be a “real expression of Camp life,” not representing a particular faction but acting as a “mouthpiece” whose columns may “let the fresh air of public criticism blow into dusty corners” and perhaps enable “our fellows to lead a freer and more active life” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 154).

The camp’s burgeoning organization had made the journal possible, but that same administrative bureaucracy also seems to have made it necessary. As a channel of communication between “the Camp” at large and its “Captains,” the magazine positioned itself as a check against the pretensions of power. In this respect In Ruhleben Camp continued a proud British tradition of reformist satire: among its models one quickly recognizes the nineteenth-century magazine of humorous dissent par excellence, the almost miraculously successful Punch.

The first issue’s front cover reinforces this liberal vision of In Ruhleben Camp as a vehicle of mental, if not physical, freedom. On the cover, shown above or found here, a man stands casually by a barbed wire fence, flipping through a magazine with evident pleasure. Across the fence, another man in uniform gazes enviously through the barbed wire, craning his neck for a peek.

Which of these men is “behind” barbed wire? From where we (as the viewer) stand, the uniformed officer looks like the prisoner, the thin wires of the fence making a checkerboard of his body and face as he slings his rifle, half-forgotten, over his shoulder and gazes with absorbed, almost wistful interest at the journal. Being in Ruhleben Camp, the scene implies, means being in the know, in on the joke, in the company of a vibrant, even enviable community of first-rate fellows and fine wits.

If you look closely at the cover of the journal the two men are perusing, you will notice outlines of those same two men, with a mesh of cross-hatching resembling a fence, and a minute scrawl resolving into the words “In The Camp.” It is none other than the magazine you yourself are holding, of course. And if you are holding this magazine, you are almost certainly a Ruhlebenite, and may recognize the man lounging by the fence as none other than yourself: a loud, slightly boastful, gleefully self-sufficient Britisher.

To be “in Ruhleben Camp” also means to be “in” this magazine, the center of attention, the star of something worth a dash of British bravado. Educated Germans were besotted with English culture—they had practically claimed Shakespeare as their own countryman—and this magazine would be yet one more incitement to admiration.

In June 1915, we can thus see the effects of Ambassador Gerard’s visit resonating through the increasingly autonomous camp, as Ruhleben’s civil administration and blossoming cultural life are reflected in the pages of the magazine. Ruhlebenites have taken an inch of liberty and run with it, while the German military officer is forced to walk his narrow, meaningless beat, patrolling this fence that keeps him more thoroughly imprisoned than anyone “inside” it.

Nonetheless, the freedom asserted here is an illusion, and any Ruhlebenite knows it. Being “in” on the joke also means recognizing the dapper civilian as the true prisoner. He is free only through a visual reversal that still leaves him trapped within the Droste chain of nested magazine covers. Like a man caught in a revolving door, the mechanism that brings him outside, also inevitably drags him back in.

The irony crystallizes in the title, “In Ruhleben Camp,” which floats above the scene as if it longed to fly free of the fence, of the frame, and get out of Ruhleben Camp altogether.

Bibliography & Further Reading

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 153

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: “British Organisation”

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. On 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. 

“Sport.” In Ruhleben Camp, No. 2, 27 June 1915. Masterman, Box 2 Seq. 202

“Sport.” In Ruhleben Camp, No. 2, 27 June 1915. Masterman, Box 2 Seq. 202

In addition to paving the way for greater self-governance within Ruhleben, the American Ambassador James Gerard also helped the camp put its best foot forward in a more literal way: sport.

After Gerard’s visit, the German authorities lifted the ban on organized sporting competitions, including football (soccer). The return of sporting events to the field in March of 1915 transformed the camp. Sport stood at the heart of popular British culture, and the internment of several prominent British sportsmen at Ruhleben, including the celebrity footballer (later inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame) Steve Bloomer, made the matches an especial source of pride to the internees.

Apart from the benefits of rigorous activity and purposeful competition, sporting events allowed the prisoners to exercise the British value of sportsmanship, implying not just physical excellence but also team spirit, fair play, and good humor. Sports took off with a vengeance, and the organization necessary to arrange games, then leagues, then full seasons called for “a multitude of clubs, committees, and subcommittees” including the Ruhleben Football Association, Cricket Association, Rugby Football Club, Lawn Tennis Association, Hockey Club, Boxing Club, and Golf Club, among those that J.D. Ketchum recalls (Ketchum, p. 194).

Sport provided a model for increasingly complex bureaucratic structures. A Sports Committee was formed to manage sporting demands, and was complemented by the Entertainments Committee for theatrical and musical events, while the Education Committee took charge of the Ruhleben Camp School. All such committees answered to the Captains’ Committee, which held the purse strings for the camp. Surveying the administration that emerged, the Captain-of-Captains Joseph Powell would later subtitle his history of the camp, a “record of British organisation.”

Under the aegis of the Education Committee, the first issue of In Ruhleben Camp was published in June 1915, amidst this efflorescence of “British organisation. Positioning itself as a platform for public debate, the magazine began printing interviews with camp administrators, open letters to and from the Captains’ Committee, and zinging satirical articles and cartoons. It was also filled to bursting with reviews of theatrical and musical performances in the camp, reports from boisterous debating society meetings, updates on new groups such as the Horticultural Society, the Irish Players, the French and Italian language magazines, and so on—all liberally marinated in British sarcasm.

In subsequent issues, In Ruhleben Camp and its successor The Ruhleben Camp Magazine would reveal populist leanings, encouraging the camp to keep its officials accountable for their projects, budgeting choices, record-keeping, and attitude towards their fellow prisoners. Taking a humorously combative stance, the magazine demanded that the Captains, Committee Chairs, and other administrators justify their sense of self-importance—which it often delighted in deflating. As one wit quips in the opening pages of the first issue: “Consider the officials, how they grow!” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 155). Readers could finish the original verse sotto voce: “consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not” (KJV Luke 12:27).

The editors also recognized the vitality of sports in the camp. Towards the front of the first issue, readers found a review of the football season by “the English International, F.B. Pentland, of Middlesborough F.C. [Football Club].” Pentland, who had arrived just before the war to train the German Olympic team, relates a telling anecdote: “Passing through our Trafalgar Square some days ago,” he chuckles, “a man from Barrack 9 asked could he book the football ground for October 1st next. It sounded a strange request, of course, and an individual near remarked, “October indeed, what’s the matter with being at home by that time?”” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 161).

As Pentland well knew, sport brought structure to the blank tedium of camp life. Like theatrical performances, sport colored in the future—at least provisionally—and gave internees a reason to keep track of time. And like theatre, sporting matches could absorb the attention and erase the outside world so effectively that they jeopardized the prisoners’ sense of reality.

This problem would fuel the most heated debates and stinging satire in the camp magazine: could internees make camp life vivid without losing their perspective? In struggling for psychological survival, were internees reducing themselves to spoiled children, playing at war? Were folks back home right in imagining Ruhlebenites lounging in deck chairs, enjoying the “quiet life” while Europe burned?

Bibliography & Further Reading

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 155

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 161

Ketchum, J. Davidson. Ruhleben: A Prison Camp Society. With a Foreword and Postscript by Robert B. MacLeod. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Foreword (Ithaca, NY, April 1964)

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.

In Ruhleben Camp: “Home Rule” for Ruhlebenites

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. On 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. 

Pondside Stores. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 3, July 1915. p. 5. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 246

Pondside Stores. In Ruhleben Camp, No. 3, July 1915, p. 5. Masterman, Box 2 Seq. 246

The story of the magazine In Ruhleben Camp begins in March 1915, when James Gerard, the American Ambassador in Berlin, first visited Ruhleben as a neutral observer. His appalled response prompted quick action by the German military authorities, who prepared to build new barracks to ease crowding, and immediately fired the corrupt kitchen manager. Food preparation was placed under prisoner control, and by the time General von Kessel, supreme commander in the marches, visited two weeks later, Ruhlebenites were running an efficient and clean kitchen.

During the bustling summer of 1915, the prisoners established a post service, police force, and financial chain of command, building an autonomous civil administration alongside the cultural institutions (including a school, theatre, orchestra, and debating league) that sprang up in the camp. In September of 1915, Ruhlebenites were granted “Home Rule,” and became responsible for virtually every aspect of camp business save guarding the barbed wire itself.

Three significant changes in 1915 made “Home Rule” successful: 1) a Relief Fund provided by Great Britain; 2) a Camp Fund to pay internees employed in the camp, also underwritten by the British government; and 3) lowered restrictions on parcel deliveries to internees.

Parliament and the folks back home were initially suspicious of these supposed expatriates fiddling while the Western Front burned. When the government relented and set up a Relief Fund for civilian prisoners, the disbursements were limited to 5 Marks per week and were given on loan, to be paid back when the war ended. This amount was a pittance, but it enabled the poorest recipients to purchase basic foodstuffs at the Camp Canteen (also run by Ruhlebenites).

The Canteen, in turn, was internally subsidized by the Captains’ Committee, the central administrative body of the camp. Subsidies were financed by profits from less essential services such as the boiler house (which dispensed hot water for tea) and were put towards items like milk or margarine, according to public statements by the Captains (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 416-7). The profits were available because the Camp didn’t pay its employees: Gerard had also arranged a Camp Fund, underwritten by the British government, to pay the wages of critical workers, including kitchen employees and those on fatigue duty. All of these employees were prisoners.

Finally, the spring of 1915 saw a surge in private relief flowing into the camp, as German authorities lifted restrictions on parcel deliveries. Here, negotiating pressure played a larger role. The sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 provoked the large-scale internment of German citizens resident in Britain. These changed stakes made “both governments more willing to reach an agreement on a system of camp inspections and on the delivery of relief parcels from home,” which transformed conditions in Ruhleben, as historian Matthew Stibbe remarks (Stibbe, p. 111).

Ambassador Gerard also kicked off the keenest source of pride and internal organization in the camp, as we shall see: football.

Bibliography & Further Reading

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 246

John Masterman collection of Ruhleben British Civilian internment camp documents, 1914-1919, Harvard Law School Library, Box 2, sequence 416-417

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

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 – New Exhibit! One Text, Sixteen Manuscripts: Magna Carta at the Harvard Law School Library

Magna Carta posterFirst written in 1215, the ideas of liberty and human rights contained in and derived from England’s Magna Carta (the Great Charter) have persisted for 800 years. They have provided inspiration for developments in law now enshrined in constitutions and treaties across the world. The survival and resonance of those ideas is reflected in the manuscripts in this exhibit.

The Harvard Law School Library owns close to 30 manuscript copies of Magna Carta; a few of our favorites are presented here. Tangible items like these connect us with the past and allow us to approach the people who created, used and treasured these documents. Each manuscript tells a different story and raises many questions.

This exhibit was curated by Karen Beck and Mindy Kent, HLS Library. It is on view daily 9 to 5 in the Caspersen Room through March 11, 2016. An online companion to the exhibit is available. All our manuscript Magna Cartas have been digitized and may be viewed online.

In Ruhleben Camp: Civilian Interment during WWI

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. On 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. 

The mass internment of non-combatants during wartime was a disturbing development in the First World War. The idea of the “concentration camp” (as the British then called it) was not new, historian Matthew Stibbe points out in his article “The Internment of Civilians by Belligerent States during the First World War.” Systematic detention of civilians had been an element of both the Spanish occupation of Cuba and the British policy in the Boer War, and was a dark part of the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913. However, internment during WWI was implemented on an unprecedented scale. Hundreds of thousands of people from across Europe and European-controlled colonies were confined, many in labor camps.

Historians have identified a number of factors contributing to the expansion of internment. Universal military conscription on the European continent made every male civilian a potential recruit. Off the battlefield he might be “spy” or “saboteur,” in the language of war hysteria that drew from popular prejudices against foreigners. Extensive railway lines were available to transport people in large numbers. Especially vulnerable were civilians in occupied territories, imprisoned for punitive reasons or as conscripted labor to make up manpower losses. The labor historian Ulrich Herbert notes that the German conscription of several hundred thousand Poles and Belgians, among other nationalities, was economically vital to the war effort (see Stibbe, p. 9).

The mutual internment by Britain and Germany of one another’s citizens was among the less brutal—if more insidiously absurd—episodes within this vast network of POW and labor camps. When Britain declared war on Germany in August of 1914, around 10,000 British nationals were on German soil, while roughly 70,000 German and Austrian nationals were to be found in Great Britain. Before the year ended, men of military age within both populations would be behind barbed wire.

However, military prudence, mingled with a certain cultural respect, restrained both nations in their conduct towards each other’s civilians, who were generally treated like captured officers, spared hard labor, and fed on soldiers’ rations. Since neither the revised Geneva convention of 1906 nor the second Hague convention of 1907 included explicit provisions for protecting non-combatants, the unofficial pressures of reprisals, martial success, and (more vaguely) cultural esteem, were crucial to the experience of civilians during the war.

Initially, civilian detention in Germany and Britain was prompted in part by propagandistic (often fabricated) accounts of atrocious conditions for POWs, which stirred public belligerence, and in part by the need to boost morale in response to military setbacks. Germany interned some 4,000 British men at Ruhleben in early November 1914, after the First Battle of the Marne halted the German invasion of France. The sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 prompted Britain to a large-scale reprisal, resulting in the internment of over 30,000 German, Austrian, or Hungarian civilians by the fall of 1915.

Ruhleben, on which this series will focus, was the only camp in Germany to hold only British civilians. The shared nationality and language of this population, which hovered at a relatively stable 4,000 men throughout the war, enabled the creation of a new identity: that of the “Ruhlebenite.”

Bibliography & Further Reading

Stibbe, Matthew. “The Internment of Civilians by Belligerent States during the First World War and the Response of the International Committee of the Red Cross.” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 2006), pp. 5-19.

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.

Welcome to 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. On 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. 

Trafalgar Square looking to Y.M.C.A., Ruhleben Internment Camp. VIA record number olvwork427586

Trafalgar Square looking to Y.M.C.A., Ruhleben Internment Camp. VIA record number olvwork427586

Wilkommen in Trafalgar Square, Ruhleben, Germany. From here you can wander under the Marble Arch, or venture down Fleet Street to visit the offices of the local print journal.

If it doesn’t look much like London, no wonder: these flimsy, dirty wooden buildings and barren expanses of mud are the heart of Ruhleben Camp, an internment camp for British civilians erected in 1914 at a hastily vacated horse racing track outside Berlin. Over the next four years, this racetrack would house around 4,000 male British nationals, ages 17 to 55, with backgrounds ranging from saltwater tars to Society nobs, and including celebrity athletes and a future Nobel laureate in physics. Commonwealth and colonial subjects were also represented by Irish, Scottish, Jamaican, and West African prisoners, among others.

Sharing British citizenship and the fact of imprisonment, this hodgepodge would spend the course of the war transforming the bleak racecourse into a bustling barbed wire society with a civil administration, postal service, university, scientific laboratories, a garden, weekly theatrical productions, an orchestra, sporting leagues, and a full-color, illustrated magazine to serve as the camp “mouthpiece.”

Blending homesickness with a dash of dry irony, the inmates christened their dingy environs after iconic landmarks in the capitol of the British Empire. They reserved the names of areas around Berlin—Charlottenburg and Spandau—for the two latrines on either side of the camp.

The photograph above is one of hundreds housed in the HLS Library’s Special Collections, among the private papers of former internees Maurice Ettinghausen and John C. Masterman (Masterman was a hugely popular figure in the camp, and became head of counter-intelligence for MI5 during WWII). These collections also include copies of the Ruhleben magazine, written and edited by the prisoners, and professionally printed in Berlin from 1915 through 1917. This magazine offers a window into the busy life of what became a little British outpost on the Continent during the so-called Great War.

Bibliography & Further Reading

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

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.

New Series: In Ruhleben Camp

I’m pleased to announce a new series here at Et Seq.: In Ruhleben Camp.

Ruhleben Coat of Arms

Ruhleben Coat of Arms, 191401818. VIA record number olvwork418594.

In Ruhleben Camp will follow the production schedule of the magazine created by prisoners at Ruhleben, an internment camp for British civilians in Germany during World War I. On the day that an issue of the magazine was released one hundred years ago, our guest blogger Marissa Grunes will post highlights from that number and tell part of its story. (Note that the first five issues won’t be covered in proper sequence, as they were printed from June through August 1915, and their anniversaries passed while Marissa was abroad, exploring the archives at the Imperial War Museum, the British Library in London, and the Liddle Collection at Leeds University, one of the most extensive repositories of Ruhleben material.)

The Harvard Law School Library also holds two major collections of materials for the study of the history of Ruhleben: : The Maurice L. Ettinghausen collection of Ruhleben civilian internment camp papers, 1914-1937 and The John Masterman collection of Ruhleben civilian internment camp papers, 1914-1919. These collections contain manuscripts, newsletters, artwork, photographs, and other ephemera created by the prisoners, who built their own culture and society within the camp. You can explore Harvard’s Ruhleben collections at the Ruhleben: A Digital Exhibit website. Those of you who are local can view a poster for a Ruhleben cricket match on permanent exhibit on the 5th floor of the Library.

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.

We’re delighted that Marissa is sharing her knowledge of Ruhleben with us and look forward to reading and learning more about it. We hope you do too!