Tag Archives: Special Collections

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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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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Welcome to The Eleventh Hour!

This blog is my space to share interesting finds from the Mitrinović archive, part of the University of Bradford’s Special Collections. This collection represents the life’s work of Serbian-born philosopher, poet and thinker Dimitrije Mitrinović and the New Atlantis Foundation established after his death to carry on his projects and encourage the study of his ideas. Find out more about the New Atlantis Foundation, now the Mitrinović  Foundation, here. For futher information on Dimitrije Mitrinović, try the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (your public or university library should have a subscription).

NAF9 11th Hour Blog Header

We’re currently at the start of an exciting project to catalogue the complex records created by Mitrinović and his circle, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about some of the interesting items I’m unearthing. Mitrinović was in contact with philosophers, thinkers, writers and artists across Britain, Europe and further afield. His friends and contacts included Wassily Kandinsky, Ivan Meštrović, Gavrilo Princip, Erich Gutkind, Nobel Prize winner Frederick Soddy, H.G. Wells, Gabriele Münter,  and A.R. Orage. Mitrinović believed in the value of the wisdom of the past, and encouraged the study of works from all periods of history on religion, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and the arts. He created a library, which also fortunately has survived and his now divided between the University of Bradford and the University of Belgrade. Mitrinović’s wide-ranging interests and the fruits of his studies are also reflected in the archive, meaning there really is something to interest almost anyone here!

And why ‘The Eleventh Hour’? Dimitrije Mitrinović was constantly establishing and dissolving various groups in pursuit of his aim to radically alter society, the economy and politics. In 1931 he established The Eleventh Hour Flying Clubs, which became known as The Eleventh Hour Group. The name conveys the sense of urgency that ran throughout his many ventures. Groups of individuals all working towards personal and societal transformation were the cornerstone of Mitrinović’s approach to achieving utopia. It seemed fitting to take the name of one of his groups and use it to help bring this collection to a wider public.

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