Academic journal article German Quarterly

Popularizing the Nation: Audience, Representation, and the Production of Identity in Die Gartenlaube 1853-1900

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Popularizing the Nation: Audience, Representation, and the Production of Identity in Die Gartenlaube 1853-1900

Article excerpt

Belgum, Kirsten. Popularizing the Nation: Audience, Representation, and the Production ofIdentity in Die Gartenlaube 1853-1900. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1998. 237 + xxx pp. $50.00

In German academic discourse Die Gartenlaube serves as a shorthand reference to the sort of popular culture frequently dismissed as unworthy of serious comment. Yet in the last four decades of the nineteenth century more Germans read the Gartenlaube than any other publication in German history until that time. What was it that made this family magazine so popular? What role did it play in shaping German attitudes toward the nation during a period of political unification, industrialization, and colonization? Perhaps it is time to take the Gartenlaube seriously, which is just what Kirsten Belgum does in her excellent new study.

Certain external factors contributed to the phenomenal growth of the Gartenlaube, including increased literacy rates in the German public and advances in printing and distribution techniques. From the beginning, however, the Gartenlaube's broad appeal stemmed from its varied but consistent dedication to the problem of defining German national identity. Articles frequently introduced readers to different regions within Germany, implicitly encouraging them to view specific locales as part of a greater whole. German identity extended beyond political borders to include "ethnic" Germans elsewhere in Europe, and also the millions who emigrated to the United States, Canada, and Brazil.

As Belgum observes, the nationalism of the Gartenlaube contained conflicting impulses, at times evoking memories of a common past, while at others celebrating German progress toward modernity. Thus we find images of old Germanic heroes together with articles on the latest advances in military technology or industrial trade fairs. Both impulses come together in reports on Germany's national monuments. The German fascination with monuments like the Hermannsdenkmal is well known, but as Belgum points out, relatively few individuals actually saw them in person. They were much more likely to read about them and see pictures of them in the Gartenlaube. Such monuments immortalized events and individuals of the past through materials manufactured in contemporary industrial society; they could thus inspire pride in both ancient heroism and modern technology. Reproduced and distributed in the press, these images of the nation also took on the status of a commodity, and Belgum cleverly shows how national symbols vied for space with advertisements for sewing machines and digestive pills. …

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