Historical & Special Collections •

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!

852 RARE: A Refresher from Historical & Special Collections

Welcome to campus! Longtime followers of Et Seq. may know that the Library’s Historical & Special Collections staff often submit posts under the heading “852 RARE.” With the start of a new academic year, we wanted to provide a quick reminder of how the name “852 RARE” came to be. The name pays homage to the MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) designation for items in the rare book collection; in other words, in Harvard’s HOLLIS catalog record, the 852 RARE field identifies the materials in the Library’s collection which are part of its Historical & Special Collections.

Watch this space for occasional 852 RARE announcements about new exhibits (one is coming soon!); stories about fascinating, unique, beautiful, and occasionally weird items from our collections; and information useful to those who wish to use HSC’s collections – and we hope many of you do.

In addition to rare books, Historical & Special Collections encompasses early and modern manuscriptsprints, photographs, objects, and The Red Set—a collection of Law School faculty, organizational, and student publications made famous in The Paper Chase.

Welcome, and we hope to see you soon!

– From the staff of HSC: Karen Beck, Jane Kelly, Ed Moloy, Mary Person, and Lesley Schoenfeld

Last Chance to See Summer Exhibits!

If you find yourself in or around Langdell Hall next week, stop by the Caspersen Room to see our two exhibits, both in their final week. It was a Dark and Stormy Semester: Portrayals of Harvard Law School in Literature and By Popular Demand, an exhibit of items from Historical & Special Collections selected by HLS students, are both on view Monday-Friday from 9-5 through Friday August 14.

852 RARE: Open for Research: The Papers of Abram Chayes and Louis Jaffe

Historical & Special Collections is pleased to announce the opening of two Modern Manuscript collections for research: The papers of Abram Chayes and Louis Jaffe.

The Abram Chayes Papers cover the entirety of his professional career as a Harvard Law School professor, lawyer, and public servant. The collection spans from the 1930s up to his death in 2000, and contains correspondence, casework, teaching materials, publications, and research materials. The majority of the collection is of a professional nature, though there are some personal materials, as well. His academic career is represented by a large amount of administrative and teaching materials, including memoranda, meeting minutes, exams, and course handouts. His work as an international lawyer is documented through a copious amount of court documents and correspondence. Meeting minutes, speech drafts, mementos from work-related events and trips document Chayes’s time as the Legal Advisor for the State Department.


Meeting Notes

Notes from a meeting discussing options during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Abram Chayes Papers, box 276, folder 6


The Louis Jaffe Papers cover Jaffe’s professional career, which included clerking for Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, serving as dean at the University of Buffalo School of Law, and as a professor at Harvard Law School. Professor Jaffe received national recognition for his arguments and positions on the scope of judicial review of agency decisions, and for his analysis of the role of courts in the review of administrative agencies. The collection ranges from the 1930s up to his retirement in 1976, and contains correspondence, teaching materials, publications, case notes, writings and readings. The majority of the collection is of a professional nature, though there are some personal materials as well.

Both collections are open to all researchers and have an online finding aid: Louis Jaffe Papers and the Abram Chayes Papers. Anyone interested in using these collections should contact Historical & Special Collections to schedule an appointment.


852 RARE: A Controversial Execution in 1818 Edinburgh

In December 1818, Robert Johnston, age 24, was executed for robbing Mr. John Charles of some £600 in pounds and notes, plus a watch key and chain. This single crime, trial, and execution ignited a swarm of controversy – evidence of which can be found in our collections. We recently acquired a pamphlet, Letter to the Magistrates of Edinburgh … with Regard to the Execution of Robert Johnston, which joins several others in our collection that describe the trial and gruesome execution that followed.

Letter to magistrates

Letter to the magistrates of Edinburgh, 1819, HOLLIS 14401279

Opinion diverged about Johnston and the severity of his punishment. Some noted that Johnston, a 24-year-old carter, had repeatedly been in custody on various charges; in fact, he had only been out a few days before robbing Mr. Charles. Others noted that his parents were “honest and industrious,” and pointed out that Johnston had been thrown out of work due to economic distress in Scotland. These writers thought his only choice was to steal or starve.

All agreed that the punishment – execution by hanging – was severe. Other carters had recently committed crimes in Edinburgh; perhaps local magistrates wanted to make an example of Johnston. Citizens interceded on his behalf, to no avail.

On the day of the execution, a noose was slipped around Johnston’s neck, and he mounted a table, which was supposed to drop suddenly at Johnston’s signal. Unfortunately, the table did not drop completely, leaving him half standing and half suspended, struggling. As the crowd realized he was still alive, they urged the attending magistrate to halt the execution. Soon the crowd threw stones at the magistrate, overpowered the police, cut Johnston down, partially revived him and carried him off. The police eventually recaptured him, dragged him to the station, and continued their attempts to revive him before returning him to the gallows. During all this time Johnston appeared conscious but did not speak.

When the execution resumed and the table dropped once again, Johnston continued to struggle for about 20 minutes before finally expiring. The whole gruesome business lasted almost two hours.

Witnesses agreed on the sequence of events, and all were shocked at the inhumane and error-ridden execution. However, they vehemently disagreed about whether the magistrates exercised their duty to ensure a working scaffold and secure a competent executioner. Some blamed the magistrates; others blamed the crowd (which they called a mob) for cutting Johnston down and thereby prolonging his suffering.

Robert Johnston trial account

Authentic account of the trial … of Robert Johnston, 1819, HOLLIS 4390803

Letter to the citizens of Edinburgh

Letter to the citizens of Edinburgh; in which the cruel and malicious aspersions of an “eye-witness” are answered, 1819, HOLLIS 4388450












For historians of crime and punishment, it is useful to consult materials like the pamphlets here, which offer multiple perspectives, reminding us that there is often more than one “truth.” These pamphlets also shine a light on issues that concerned the populace and the police nearly two hundred years ago. They show that controversy over the death penalty was, and remains, a recurrent theme in other legal systems as well as our own.

Go On A Blind Date With A Book!

BlindDateWithABookThis summer, the Harvard Law School Library Historical & Special Collections Department’s latest exhibit, “It Was a Dark and Stormy Semester … Portrayals of Harvard Law School in Literature,” is on display in the Caspersen Room on the fourth floor of Langdell Hall. This exhibit highlights prominent examples of literature that reflects or is inspired by Harvard Law School. In conjunction with this exhibit, the library is also offering two ways for visitors to get involved. The first is our “Blind Date with a Book” program that encourages visitors to take a deeper dive into this literature and the second is our online display, which offers everyone a chance to contribute to our list of titles that include depictions of HLS students, faculty, alumni, or the campus itself.

In this post, Carli Spina explains a bit about these interactive components of the exhibit:

1. So what exactly is “Blind Date with a Book”?

In “Blind Date with a Book” programs, books are wrapped in plain paper to hide their titles and authors and a brief description of the book is written on the front. The descriptions focus on who might like the book and the genre and visitors are encouraged to pick a book that sounds appealing without seeing the cover or reading the synopsis. You won’t know exactly what you have until you stop by the Circulation Desk to check the book out. The goal is to encourage people to branch out into new authors and genres that go beyond their normal reading patterns. Hopefully you’ll find a book that you never would have picked up before!

2. What about this exhibit made you want to bring the program to HLSL?

Ever since I read about other libraries hosting “Blind Date with a Book” programs, I’ve wanted to bring it to HLSL. I think most of our visitors focus on Harvard’s academic collections, but HLSL and the other library’s at Harvard University also have an impressive collection of other books including ranging from mysteries, to thrillers, to graphic novels, and memoirs. With its focus on depictions of Harvard Law School across literary genres, this exhibit was the perfect opportunity to highlight this diversity. Hopefully this exhibit will introduce visitors to some of these other materials that they might not have considered in the past.

3. What types of books will I find on the “Blind Date with a Book” cart?

We’ve tried to include something for everyone on the cart. You might pick up a graphic novel, a memoir, a romance, or a historical novel. Part of the fun is not knowing exactly what you will find, but rest assured that the cart offers a wide variety of options to appeal to all tastes. The only certainty is that the book you select will have a connection to Harvard Law School.

4. Can you talk a little bit about the exhibit’s virtual components? 

In addition to the “Blind Date with a Book” cart, the exhibit also has two virtual components. First, there is a the exhibit website, which will tell you more about portrayals of Harvard Law School in literature even if you aren’t able to visit the exhibit in person. In addition, we have also created a virtual display that shows books featuring Harvard Law School that weren’t included in the exhibit. Best of all, anyone can submit other books to be added to this display, so that we can learn about books we may have overlooked!

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 10.40.07 AM

The cart is available in the Caspersen Room on the fourth floor of Langdell Hall during normal exhibit hours. Stop by to find a new summer read!

852 RARE: Of Butchers, Bakers, and Cordwainers

Among the appeals of older books and manuscripts are the fascinating glimpses they may provide into earlier times and their inhabitants. Recently a slim volume in a plain, nondescript binding crossed my desk. The title was in typically long eighteenth century style but straight-forward: A copy of the poll, taken the eighth day of September … 1780 at the Guildhall, in the Borough of New Windsor … at an election of two representatives to serve in the ensuing Parliament … . The poll in the title refers to a fifteen page alphabetical list of voters (only men, of course) and their occupations. This seemingly straightforward list provided an unexpected glimpse of life in a late eighteenth century English town, as well as a wealth of information about its residents.

TpThe town of New Windsor (now known simply as Windsor), 23 miles west of London, was a “free borough” and during the Middle Ages one of the fifty wealthiest English towns. After a period of decline it experienced a revival when George III began renovations to the castle there in the late 1770s. The town’s growth seems to be reflected in the 1780 poll, which shows a significant number of citizens in the construction trades: carpenters, bricklayers, glaziers, painters, and stone masons, among others. The list reveals that the town was sophisticated enough to support a perfumer (Robert Calley), a jeweler (John Snow) and a watchmaker (James Turlis) and had enough overnight visitors to keep at least four “innholders” in business. The poll also reveals broad class and economic divisions, listing several labourers, along with several gentlemen. Adcock

The occupation of the very first citizen—Thomas Adcock, staymaker— sounds delightfully archaic to a modern reader. Yet there were at least three of them in New Windsor in 1780. How many staymakers are there anywhere now? Or, how many coopers, horsebreakers, rabbit sellers, cordwainers, soap boilers, collar makers, peruke makers, or tripemen? How many of today’s occupations will sound delightfully quaint (or mystifying) 235 years from now?




On the other hand, most of the occupations in the list are recognizable, even if the vocabulary has changed, and show how the necessities of life were filled for New Windsor’s residents. HsThere were several victuallers, shopkeepers, shoemakers, higlers, “taylors”, and bakers, and at least two butchers, a cheese-monger, fishmonger, brewer,  a physician, an apothecary, tea dealer, and a milkman. Among the town’s inhabitants were at least five attorneys and a gaoler (jailer), as well as a number of family businesses: Joseph and William Cantrell (bakers) and Henry and William Coombs (ironmongers). Of course, death and taxes are always with us, as they were for the people of New Windsor, verified by the occupations of Edward Edwards (collector of excise) and Charles Jarman (taylor and undertaker).

This seemingly unremarkable 1780 poll list reminds us that such routine documents are anything but dull and may, in fact, be rich resources for historical and genealogical research.

852 RARE: Art’s History

When we talk about the art and visual materials collection at the Harvard Law School considerable credit goes to Dean Roscoe Pound (dean 1916-1936) and librarians John Himes Arnold (librarian 1872-1913) and Eldon Revare James (librarian 1923-1943) for their work building the collection. However, the story of the collection dates back long before their time. In addition to the objects themselves, we are lucky enough to have supporting documents that provide important historical details about their acquisitions and early use.

A recent discovery that provides wonderful insight into early collecting efforts is a letter from Simon Greenleaf and Joseph Story to Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw (1781-1861) dated June 2, 1840. They write:

We are desirous of embellishing the Law Department of this Institution with likenesses of the distinguished Jurists of our country, of which we have commenced a collection: & having seen a striking likeness of yourself by Clevinger, we respectfully request you to place a copy of it at our disposal for that purpose.

For some context, the Law School, founded in 1817, had been housed in Dane Hall since the building was erected in 1832. In 1840 Greenleaf and Story, the Royall and Dane professors of law, were the school’s only instructors.

A similarly worded letter dated May 29, 1840, to an unknown recipient, can be found in the Greenleaf Papers. On the back of the page is written “Circular for busts”–perhaps this was a draft in preparation for letters like the one sent to Shaw.

Dane Hall Classroom_HLSL_olvwork364037

Classroom in Dane Hall, Harvard Law School, c.1880 Record ID olvwork364037

Not all documentation comes in manuscript form. For example, we can verify where portraits were hung thanks to the above photograph of a classroom in Dane Hall, c.1880, showing one of the Law School’s  John Marshall portraits, as well as portraits of Daniel Webster and Nathan Dane.

The full-length portrait of John Marshall (1755-1835) visible in the above mentioned picture (to the right of the desk) was painted by Chester Harding (1792-1866). Given to the school in 1847 by a group of faculty and students, the portrait is a replica of Harding’s full-length portrait commissioned by the Trustees of the Boston Athenaeum in 1830. Along with the portrait we also have a subscription list dated September 2, 1846, that includes the donors’ names and their pledged amounts. Our records indicate this subscription list was drawn up and circulated by Professor Greenleaf.

Detail of Subscription list of contributors to the purchase of
Chester Harding’s full length portrait of John Marshall, September 2, 1846
HOLLIS 9680277

This is just a small sampling of some of the supporting documents we are aware of. We look forward to future discoveries that will help tell the story of this wonderful collection.