- Provincial Modernity: Local Culture and Liberal Politics in Fin-de-siècle Hamburg
The transition from a pre-modern world governed by an aristocratic elite with a stable membership based on birth, to the modern one dominated by the bourgeoisie, whose shifting membership [End Page 828] rests on worldly success, forms the basic template for historical change in the nineteenth century. Not so with Hamburg, argues Jennifer Jenkins. Hamburg's special status since the fourteenth century as an independent republic and a commercial hub with a constant influx of immigrants, resulted in a unique history in which associations of citizens played a determinant role. This history was one of contingency, discontinuity, and flux, with decisions often economically motivated.
In the late nineteenth century, however, continuity with the past and tradition was considered essential to individual, local, and national identity, which presented Hamburg's bureaucrats and intellectuals with the problem of how to interpret their city's history in a positive light. The solution? Hamburg constituted a precocious instance of organic development toward modernism, with its constant change, commercial culture, individualism, and disregard for the past. In a riveting narrative based on a wide range of documentary evidence—from police records to personal letters—Jenkins weaves together a dizzying array of information to present a cogent and convincing image of Hamburg's unique history and the way bureaucrats and intellectuals manipulated it to position Hamburg as Germany's first modern city.
In chapter two, "Culture in a City-State," Jenkins explains the pivotal role played by the Patriotic Society in determining the trajectory of Hamburg's development. Established in 1765, it was based on a belief in the individual's responsibility to contribute to the creation of an "enlightened, cultivated, and stable society" (47). As a result, Hamburg was a pioneer on a number of cultural fronts, including the founding of an art association (1822). The institutions supported by the Patriotic Society influenced the values of citizens in a city where private associations and government closely collaborated to achieve common goals.
A vast difference between the experience and objectives of the bourgeoisie and those of the working classes led to a rift, the reasons for and implications of which Jenkins does not fully elucidate. She cites the 1864 abolition of guilds and implementation of free trade as significant, but the details remain murky. In the subsequent chapter, some light is shed on the subject. There, Jenkins reveals how competition between various kinds of public associations—such as the exclusive Association of Art and Science, and the more populist Literary Society—were forums for the dramatization of class conflict and the struggle for social and cultural hegemony. Also in chapter two, Jenkins makes an often overlooked distinction between the kind of national identity promoted by enlightened liberals like the museum director Alfred Lichtwark, and that of xenophobes like Julius Langbehn, whose 1890 book Rembrandt as Educator (1890) was a major best seller.
Jenkins postulates that Hamburg's status as a commercial center made it particularly receptive to ideas from without. In chapter three, "Provincial Reformers," Jenkins discusses the inspiration that Walter Classen, who initiated the People's Home project, received from England. He modeled his own endeavor on Toynbee Hall, a late nineteenth-century initiative to solve London's social problems by establishing museums, libraries, and athletic associations in city slums.
There are many instances where Jenkins reexamines an issue, offering a compelling reinterpretation with the help of either new evidence or new attention to details. Such is the case in chapter four, "People's Educators." Here, she makes the point that the scholarly interpretation of the emergence of popular culture in the late nineteenth century has generally been simplistic. Jenkins shows how the standard argument—that commercial culture either produced cheapened forms of high culture or generated modern urban culture—distorts the actual consequences of this situation. She suggests instead that a complex interplay between popular culture and tradition contributed to the dynamic of cultural, political, and professional democratization.