Thank you and Goodbye! (for the moment)

You’ve found the Mitrinović Project blog, brought to you by Special Collections staff at the University of Bradford between 2013 and 2015.  The blog explores the discoveries of Emma Burgham as Project Archivist cataloguing the archive of Dimitrije Mitrinović, his friends, family, colleagues and the groups he established. You will also find some entries that document the project itself and our activities.

We’re not currently adding new stories to this blog. Instead we will keep it as a record of the project work which has already begun opening up this fascinating collection to researchers.  We will continue to enhance the catalogue that has been the main focus of the project, and will share news, articles and events on our main Special Collections blog.


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Special Collections Symposium: Dimitrije Mitrinović and his Network (Part 2)

This week’s blog follows on from my last update, which discussed the morning lectures at our recent Special Collections Symposium held to launch the catalogue of the Mitrinović Archive, due to go online in November.

In the afternoon it was the turn of the collection to take centre stage. I spoke about the history of the Archive and Library, outlining how they came together, their care and growth under the management of Dimitrije Mitrinović’s circle, and the role of the New Atlantis Foundation (now Mitrinović Foundation) in ensuring the survival of the records and books with a real regard for the value of provenance.  The NAF was also instrumental in securing homes for the Mitrinović’s collection firstly at Belgrade, and later at Bradford, using their connections with Andrew Rigby, then of the Peace Studies department. The Foundation continues to support the collection, such as by funding this current cataloguing project.


Emma Burgham, Project Archivist

I tried to convey the research potential of the collection, listing some of the significant contacts the group Mitrinović had and a few of the numerous subject areas the collection covers from intentional communities to the history of psychology, Modernist art to Social Credit, and embracing such diverse figures as Nobel prize-winning chemist Frederick Soddy, Edith Sitwell and S.G. Hobson. Artists, politicians, writers, philosophers, political theorists, etc. all came into contact with Mitrinović, often with interesting results. I wanted to convey the complexity, and therefore the richness, of the collection. A multi-lingual collection where much of the archive cross-refers to, or results from the study of, other parts and connects to Mitrinović’s library make cataloguing challenging, but result from and create the breadth and depth that have become fully apparent in the course of this project.

We were fortunate to have Dr Tom Steele with us to bring in the local, Yorkshire side of Mitrinović’s story. Dr Steele discussed A.R. Orage and the Leeds Arts Club, showing the pioneering role the Club played in bringing Nietzscheism and the avant garde to a wider audience. Dr Steele showed how Leeds became a centre for modernism across the arts through such figures as Orage, Michael Sadler and Bradford’s Tom Heron. I had always been curious about the fact that Mitrinović’s first public lecture in Britain was delivered at the University of Leeds in 1915. Dr Steele’s portrait of the city made it clear that Leeds was an obvious location for Mitrinović’s talk on the sculptor Ivan Meštrović. It emerged that the intellectual currents that had seized hold of Orage were the same as those driving Mitrinović. No wonder Orage hired Mitrinović as a columnist for his radical journal, The New Age,  giving Mitrinović a platform for his ideas.

Martin Levy speaking

Martin Levy, independent researcher, author and Special Collections Assistant

Special Collections Assistant and author Martin Levy tackled a complex aspect of Mitrinović’s life when he chose to look at his relationship with the German philosopher Erich Gutkind. Levy described how the two met in 1914 after Mitrinović read and was utterly blown away by Gutkind’s Sidereal Birth. He would later state that if Gutkind hadn’t written the book, he himself would have had to, so central was it to his own philosophy. Together with Kandinsky they conceived a project to form an intellectual and artistic elite, the Blutbund, which would lead a change in the world. They planned to produce a yearbook as a follow-up to the Blaue Reiter Almanac. The First World War intervened, stirring up nationalist feelings and placing individuals in jeopardy. Mitrinović, for one, fled to England, taking Gutkind’s ideas with him. They would be core reading for anyone wishing to study with him for the rest of his life. Levy spoke about the hardship Gutkind faced when in 1933 and with Storm Troopers at his door, he and his wife Lucie fled to America. He struggled financially and his ideas never really took hold as he might have hoped. This lack of popularity led to an interesting discussion about the complexity of his and Mitrinović’s writing, its roots in poetic Russian philosophy and the possible purposes behind it.


Margaret Shillan, Mitrinovic Foundation trustee

Feedback I’ve received after the Symposium suggests that the final speakers of the day were the most intriguing. John MacDermot and Margaret Shillan are trustees of the Mitrinović Foundation who grew up in the community he and his circle established at Richmond. John’s talk looked at Mitrinović and the group as collectors of art, discussing their patronage of such well-known figures as Miro, Picasso, Magritte and Roy de Maistre. I found it interesting to hear how artworks were shared amongst the group. Never bought as an investment, but always chosen for their beauty and meaning, paintings, sculptures, antiquities and craft pieces were given as gifts. For example, John shared his memory of being given a walking stick by Mitrinović himself, who collected them.

Margaret Shillan looked at the elegant house of Norfolk Lodge, Richmond, which the group acquired in the 1940s and where Mitrinović lived out his days amongst his close friends. After his death, various members of the New Atlantis Foundation group continued to live in the house until it was eventually sold. Margaret described how each of the public rooms functioned, which neatly set the art collection in context and illustrated the sorts of activities the Foundation was engaged in. In both of their presentations and the subsequent discussion, Margaret and John gave us a sense of the community that formed around Mitrinović, bound to each other through what they termed a “Personal Alliance”. Both shared memories of Mitrinović and Norfolk Lodge that brought them to life. These were uniquely personal contributions, not often seen at an academic event and fascinating for those who were there.

Apple Cake

Delicious Serbian Lazy Apple Cake, one of the day’s highlights!

We were fortunate to find a range of speakers for our symposium, exemplifying some of the major subject areas represented in the collection. One of the exciting things about organising the event was the huge range of possibilities I had for subject matter. I felt that our programme succeeded in reflecting something of the breadth of Mitrinović’s life and interests, but it was a pleasant surprise on the day to find how well the various talks connected to each other. Themes emerged across the day: the influence of Nietzsche, Mitrinović’s skill as an operator – building networks and somehow obtaining funding for his ventures, the tensions between personal development and public action for societal change, federalism and devolution, all appeared in various lectures. The diversity of Mitrinović’s interests and activities means that there is a great deal to research in the Archive and Library, and indeed several speakers are already planning return visits. Together with the Mitrinović Foundation, we are considering how we might organise future events based around the collection after the current project finishes. Watch this space!


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Special Collections Symposium: Dimitrije Mitrinović and his Network (Part 1)

On the 8th of July Special Collections hosted a symposium to act as a kind of launch for the new Mitrinović archive catalogue I’m creating. Although the catalogue itself isn’t due to be finished until November, we felt that timing things a year into the project would ensure that we had sufficient collection knowledge and time to put together an event that would really showcase the research potential of the archive and library.

After welcome speeches from Grace Hudson, Head of Library Services, and Special Collections own Alison Cullingford, our keynote speaker Dr Dejan Djokić started us off by focusing on Dimitrije Mitrinović’s early years and his background as a Serb in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mitrinović was put into his political, cultural and intellectual context, with Dr Djokić discussing some of the figures who constituted the major influences on the young Yugoslav activist. Mitrinović’s own role was outlined, as author of the manifesto of Young Bosnia. Something that struck me was how from quite a young age Mitrinović seemingly had a gift for securing funding from various backers for his different groups and ventures. This theme would continue throughout his life, as he always found those willing to support his unusual activities and lifestyle. We learned that Mitrinović was nicknamed “Mita Dynamica” at this stage in his career, perfectly summing up of his great energy and drive.



Keynote speaker Dr Dejan Djokic of Goldsmiths

Mitrinović‘s focus at this time was the promotion of Yugoslavism, and Dr Djokić showed the influence of the artist Ivan Meštrović on him in this respect. He discussed wider currents of thought amongst the Balkan intelligentsia and beyond into wider society, where a Southern Slav federal state may have had more appeal than is sometimes thought. In particular Djokić drew our attention to Mitrinović’s work for the Serbian Legation once he came to London, arguing that the Serbian government’s support for Mitrinović suggests that they were not opposed to the idea of a federal Yugoslavia with equal authority distributed between its constituent parts.

Sticking with Mitrinović’s earlier career, Professor Mike Hughes was our next speaker exploring his relationship with then then well-known journalist and travel writer Stephen Graham. Graham would ultimately become Mitrinović’s brother-in-law, marrying his sister Vera after many years together. This relationship would lead to a falling out between the two men, but Hughes strongly argued that they had already fallen out intellectually by the time Vera became an issue. Prof. Hughes succinctly discussed aspects of Russian philosophy, and particularly the work of Vladimir Solovyov that inspired Mitrinović and Graham. Where the two men came to differ was in the degree to which they should be focused on inward, spiritual change versus practical, outward change. Put simply, as Mitrinović’s energies increasingly went towards establishing the London branch of the Adler Society, Graham felt that spiritual development was being left behind. This tension between public and private initiatives, spiritual and practical change in the world would run through some of Mitrinović’s other ventures and relationships.

Watching presentation

Returning to the theme of federalism, our final morning speaker was the University of Bradford’s own Dr Gábor Bátonyi of the Peace Studies department. As Dr Bátonyi had previously studied R.W. Seton-Watson and the federalists around the New Europe Review (dubbed the “New Europe School” for clarity), he came to the archive looking for connections between them, Dimitrije Mitrinović and the New Europe Group. His study of the records has revealed a multitude of connections, not with Seton-Watson himself, but with Henry Wickham Steed (Editor of The Times), Harold Nicholson and others. Dr Bátonyi also showed how both groups were heavily influenced by the Czechoslovakian politicians Masaryk and Beneš, particularly after the Munich crisis. In the years following the Second World War, European federalist thinking would influence some of those at the Foreign Office who ultimately helped to create the European Union.

Archive Display, Art

In my next blog, I’ll discuss the afternoon’s sessions, including my own talk on the Mitrinović Archive and Library, lectures on A.R. Orage and the Leeds Arts Club, Erich Gutkind and the Blutbund, and the art collection of Mitrinović and his circle.

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The Home Front

In a previous blog entry I looked at those amongst Mitrinović’s friends who joined the armed services. However, not everyone was of an age, or was suitable, for active service. They nevertheless made their own contributions to the war effort.

Mitrinović himself found some interesting ways to contribute. Even before war broke out, this man who worked so hard for peace in Yugoslavia, Europe and globally, came to believe that the only way to defeat Hitler was by force. He foresaw the need for an “Atlantic Alliance” with America in the 1930s, making his case in lectures and articles.  Once Yugoslavia was thrust fully into the war with the brutal 1941 attack on Belgrade, Mitrinović offered his help to the British authorities as an expert on the region. He wrote to the then Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, offering his services in an advisory capacity. Eden accepted his offer of a memorandum on Yugoslavia.

NAF 1-8-2-20 Letter from Eden's Secretary, [1941]

Mitrinović put his art collection at the service of the cause, loaning a number of artworks to a very grateful British Council, which was staging a touring exhibition of Yugoslavian art to bolster feelings of solidarity and support amongst the British public.

NAF 1-8-2-28 Letter from Allied Art Exhibition, British Council, 1942

Mitrinović also provided a detailed critique to Churchill and others of a BBC broadcast, “Salute to Yugoslavia”, in 1941. And, whilst ill health and the difficulties of hiring space and getting audiences for lectures and discussions meant he was less publicly active, Mitrinović kept the New Europe Group going. The Group published pamphlets and managed to stage some lectures despite difficulties.

NAF 3-3-1-16-12 Letter from WGF to P.T.R. Kirk 1941

Keeping New Europe going wasn’t down to Mitrinović alone. Harry Rutherford, Niall MacDermot, David Shillan and Ralph Twentyman all remained or returned to Britain in the war years, and formed a constant core for the N.E.G. They then built on this foundation to continue its work on until 1955. The women in the group, particularly Ellen Mayne, Winifred Gordon Fraser and Valerie Cooper, were vital during this period. They embarked on a great project to gather up records of lectures, discussions, and teaching sessions held from around 1925 onwards. Fraser took on the mission of sorting and typing out fair copies of these records. We might speculate that faced with Mitrinović’s own failing health, and of war time destruction on a huge scale, the women of the group in particular felt compelled to ensure the survival of Mitrinović’s ideas. In so doing they could also re-visit their teacher’s ideas and prepare the ground for a “new order” in the post-war world. Similar work would be undertaken by Fraser’s successors in the 1960s, 1970s and finally 1990s, when word processed copies were produced (often with an eye to publication).

Researchers using the Archive today have reason to be extremely grateful for all of this activity, as it not only ensured the preservation of original records, but often transferred those records to more usable, legible forms. The practical difficulties of carrying on with the usual public lectures, discussion groups and publications in wartime created a focus on the records of previous activities, helping to establish a pattern of caring for the Archive that ultimately led the New Atlantis Foundation to donate their collection to the University of Bradford.

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Joining Up: The New Europe Group and the Second World War

NAF 5-4-5 Photo from Ellen Mayne & Group c1943

Because of his involvement in the Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia) movement and friendship with the notorious Gavrilo Princip, there has been an understandable focus on Dimitrije Mitrinović’s activities during the First World War amongst historians. Even here in the Archive we’ve tended to focus on his dramatic escape from Germany in August 1914, and his bold attempts to establish himself as a journalist and teacher in his adopted British home. In the inter-war years, Mitrinović positioned himself at the heart of a large network of psychologists, artists, writers and intellectuals. In the space of a few years he founded the Adler Society, Chandos Group, New Europe Group, New Britain Movement, Eleventh Hour Flying Clubs and House of Industry League. As might be expected,  those organisations that were still operational when war broke out in 1939 were all severely affected. The only organisation that emerged intact in the 1940s was the New Europe Group, though it too suffered losses.

Some group members joined the armed forces, breaking up Mitrinović’s “Senate of Youth” organisation. Orion Playfair became an RAF pilot and died in an air crash in 1941. A great favourite with Mitrinović, he was mourned by the New Europe Group.

NAF 3-2-2-10 Photos of John Harker, WWII, Reading

John Harker became a somewhat reluctant army surveyor, serving in East Africa. His letters grumble about “militaristic nonsense” and document his efforts to maintain an intellectual life in difficult circumstances. His great comforts when far from home were the novels of Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope. Harker was curious about Africa, recording his observations about the people, languages and wildlife he encountered. Harker’s story reminds us of just how truly global the war was. He was killed in 1944 when his transport ship was torpedoed off the coast of Madagascar.

NAF 5-4-5 Photo of Ellen Mayne, May 1944

Others in the Group were more fortunate, including one of the women in the group who had also ‘joined up’. Ellen Mayne joined the Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.) in 1939. Her experiences there are recorded in a charming series of photographs, notes and printed ephemera which seem to convey a sense of genuine camaraderie amongst the women involved.

NAF 5-4-5 Photo of Ellen Mayne, Army Service, WWII

Not all members of Mitrinović’s circle were of an age or inclination to join the Services. However they were far from inactive during the war and a future blog post will explore their experiences on the Home Front.

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Update on Serbo-Croat Letters

NAF 1-8-3-3 Postcard, frontWe’ve had a great response to our call for volunteers to help us translate letters from Serbo-Croat into English, and the results are starting to show. We’ve been sending out scanned and photocopied documents to volunteers as close as West Yorkshire, and as far away as Canada, not to mention volunteers in Serbia and Croatia. Volunteers have worked with everything from short, relatively simple postcards chatting about holidays, to long letters that bounce between widely varied subjects.

NAF 1-8-3-32 Postcard, Enghien-des-Bains, front

Through these translations we’ve discovered that the artist Sveta Vuković was delighted to have his work reviewed in the newspaper Politika, whilst Janko Lavrin didn’t think too much of Stephen Graham’s ambitions to write more for The New Age.

NAF 1-8-3-28 Letter from Janko Lavrin 17 Nov 1925, p.2 [crop, postscript]

Another translation has uncovered the fact that Dimitrije Mitrinović fell out with his sister Sophie Mirković (a.k.a. Mirkovitch), who tried to re-establish contact after twelve years of living in America. Letters from correspondents in Belgrade and Zagreb are beginning to shed light on a world of intellectual, artistic and esoteric groups in contact with their counterparts across Europe.

NAF 1-8-3-8 Letter, p1. crop

There are hundreds of letters and postcards in the collection, written in Serbo-Croat, awaiting translation. Our current volunteers are doing a truly wonderful job and we have been very impressed with their skill and thoroughness – as well as how generous they have been with their time! However, we still need more helpers to get the job done, so if you or anyone you know would like to get involved, it’s certainly not too late! You can choose your level of involvement – translate one letter or twenty – and we’ll try to tailor the content to your skills and interests. Email if you’d like to find out more.

NAF 1-8-3-35 Letter from Stojanovic, envelope

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Creating the Adler Society

The Mitrinović Archive is an excellent resource for researchers with interests in the history of psychology, the emotions and mental health. It’s not quite clear to me exactly how Dimitrije Mitrinović first became interested in psychology, and particularly the Individual Psychology (I.P.) of Alfred Adler, but he had spent time in Vienna and Germany before coming to Britain, which were the lively centres of the field.

NAF 3-1-5 Ticket for Adler Society lecture, 1926

By 1926 the Archive documents that he was thinking of establishing a British branch of the International Society for Individual Psychology, also known as the Adler Society. He was soon in correspondence with Adler himself, and the Archive has a wonderful file of letters and postcards from this pioneer of Psychology.

This rather pleasing example was sent from America. I particularly like Adler’s comment on debating with Freudians!

NAF 3-1-17-1 Postcard from Adler re Freudians

Many letters date from Adler’s lecture tours of America and discuss his success in establishing his ideas there. Others show that Adler was putting people in touch with Mitrinović. For instance when he was unable to lecture himself, he might suggest that Mitrinović or someone else from the London branch do so in his stead. The letters and postcards have a friendly, professional tone, suggestive of a good working relationship between these two men.

This last point is worth noting as the early years of the Adler Society would bring about their moments of controversy. As the discipline of Psychology developed there was a tension between those who thought that only medical doctors ought to practice as psychologists, and those who considered that anyone might be trained to practice. A variation of this debate took place within the London branch of the International Society for Individual Psychology A Medical Section was established early on for doctors who wished to keep a practice-focused, patient-based view of Individual Psychology. The rest of the London branch, meanwhile, had many members interested in the widest implications of Adler’s belief that altruism went hand in hand with good mental health. It is the individual’s ability to see him or herself as part of a wider group, and society, that shows him/ her to be well-adjusted. For Mitrinović and his circle, this meant Individual Psychology fit nicely with their political views and ideas for economic reform, such as Social Credit. Some of these formed the Chandos Group, as a platform for political discussions. Others in the Society felt this politicised I.P. too much. For those under threat from the rise of fascist regimes in Germany and Austria, especially, it may have been simply too dangerous to publicly agree with Mitrinović.

First, the Medical Section split off from the main London branch. This letter is rather brief and polite, but was there more of an emotional rift than it suggests? Or was the need for a formal division increasingly obvious to both halves of the group? In the latter case, the letter might just be a formal acknowledgement of what everyone already knew.

NAF 3-1-16-31 Letter re Adler Society Medical Section

The next division was even more serious. Adler was compelled to cut London off from the International Society for Individual Psychology.

NAF 3-1-17-19 Letter from Adler, 1933

Mitrinović would continue to study and teach Psychology, giving talks and holding discussions on psychological topics. He may even have acted as a kind of Analyst. But his public focus moved elsewhere, and the Adler Society was the first of Mitrinović’s significant organisations in Britain to lapse – at least in its initial form. The London Branch’s Medical Section, alongside a later London-based group, ultimately formed the basis of the organisation known today as the Adlerian Society UK.


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