Esperanto and Internationalism, c.1880s-1930
Ču vi parolas Esperanton aŭ vi estas muglo? Do you speak Esperanto or are you a muggler? (AKA a non Esperanto-speaker) Esperanto is an easy language to learn. Its grammatical rules are simple and fewl!
The summary of the rules can be learned in 30 minutes (seriously, compare that to Czech or Russian). The vocabulary is built on a blend of Romance and Germanic languages (mainly), some Slavic and a logical structure of suffices and prefixes. Linguists say the effort to learn and converse in Esperanto is about 1/5 compared to French. So why not learn Esperanto?
That question may have been on the mind of some 40 Esperantists that we see in a photo taken in Craibstone near Aberdeen in 1919. We do not know much about these 40 individuals, yet the photo is a microscopic lens into the fascinating and multi-faceted Esperanto world in the early twentieth century and into a new interdisciplinary and collaborative project “Esperanto and Internationalism, c.1880-1930”.
The Esperanto society in Aberdeen was founded in October 1904 at a time when clubs mushroomed across Europe: in Dundee, Montrose (and elsewhere in Scotland), in Pardubice, Kutné Hoře, and Prague in Bohemia, in Saxony, in Warsaw and western Tsarist Russia, in Finland, Catalonia, in the English Midlands, and rural Bavaria as well as in the US, in China and Japan at the time. The movement bridged generations, it brought together women and men, it attracted Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Free Thinkers. It attracted teachers, scientists, engineers, doctors, later on workers and civil servants.
The language was created by the Polish-Jewish doctor, Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof (1859-1917). He grew up in Bialystok (today’s Poland) in Tsarist Russia. In the 1870s in Bialystok, with a large Jewish population, you would have heard Polish, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew along with another handful of languages and dialects. As a young medical student in Warsaw the young Zamenhof witnessed the anti-Jewish pogroms in 1882/83 that raged across the region. It was against this backdrop of rising ethno-nationalist tensions, at a time of globalisation, internationalism, and nationalism, that Zamenhof published his first two Esperanto manuals, Unua Libro and Dua Libro in 1887/88, first in Russian, and swiftly translated into other languages. With Esperanto, Zamenhof and his many followers hoped (Esperanto translates as “the one who hopes”) to give the world a neutral, non-national communication ground for a better, peaceful future of mankind.
The photo of the Esperanto group from Aberdeen provides the backdrop to the research questions for our new project hosted in the School of History and at the Institute for Transnational and Spatial History (ITSH): How did the movement spread? Who learned the language? How was Esperanto lived and organised at a local, regional, and transnational level? How did Esperantists live and communicate in Esperantoland a far-reaching, organised, yet non-territorial language community as teachers, engineers, and doctors, as Scots, Bohemians, Germans, Fins, and French? Were they internationalist, affiliated with other international organisation and attending the Universal Esperanto Congresses, or were they rather local-internationalists who did not attend congresses, but preferred to exchange postcards in Esperanto between Dundee, Bohemia, India, and Oslo?
Currently, the projects brings together four researchers with distinct, yet interrelated topics. Marcel Koschek joined us in September 2019 with degrees in History and Political & Social Sciences from the University of Würzburg and Bonn. He is working a PhD project “Local Internationalists. Polish and Central European Esperantist Networks between the local, national and global, 1880-1920s”. The projects aims to showcase how Polish Esperantists interacted in different spheres and examines their personal backgrounds, professions and interest.
Pilar Requejo De Lamo came to St Andrews in 2018 for an MLitt in Intellectual History and with a degree in International Relations from King Juan Carlos University in Madrid. Her PhD is entitled “Early Esperanto Communities in Spain: Tensions between Local, Regional and National Organisations”. The aim of this PhD is to bring into discussion the development of the auxiliary language in 20th-century Spain, and particularly in Catalonia.
Manuela Burghelea joined the Esperanto-Project at St Andrews as a continuation of her Master research on Esperanto between universal ideals and local cultural practices. She holds a joint MA degree in Intercultural Mediation (Lille) and a Bachelor degree in Philology (Bucureşti). Manuela conducted European volunteer work in Esperanto associations in France and in the Netherlands and is currently administrating the online citizen media translation community Global Voices Esperanto. Her project is entitled “Wandering Language: Senses of Place and Belonging among Esperanto Millenials”. In a socioanthropological and historical perspective, the project analyses motivations, aspirations, and agendas of young Esperanto speakers in current day Rio de Janeiro.
Working on a monograph on Modern Europe. A Transnational History, 1760s-2000s (Bloomsbury) Bernhard Struck started reading around the Esperanto movement and fell in love (academically). Taking an explicit local and regional starting point, his own research focuses on Scotland, the Midlands, Saxony, and Bohemia in the early twentieth century. Beyond the transregional focus around these four Esperanto regions, his current interests revolve around Esperanto experts as ‘epistemic communities’ by looking at doctors, architects, city planners in the Esperanto movement.
While research on Esperanto exists, the movement as such has never been studied as what it truly was: a cross-border, translocal, and transregional, and, in fact, global community. While all of our projects follow discrete questions and local and national particularities, they follow an explicit transnational perspective: a spatial and scalar perspective that starts from the local and individual and builds outwards to the regional, national, and transnational. The project builds on a complex linguistic and far-spread archival base from local and private archives, to city archives, museums, and national archives. It has a spatial and Digital History component by data mining of sources and visualisation of local memberships, journal publications, and international congress participation.
We would like to thank a number of sponsors of the project: the University of St Andrews, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the CEDIES (Luxembourg), ESF (Esperantic Studies Foundation).