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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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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