Exhibit Review, January 2007

 

 

“Orbis Pictus – Landkarten aus der Sammlung der Franckeschen Stiftungen,” Austellung im Historischen Waisenhaus November 5, 2006-- January 14, 2007

 

Reviewed for H-German by Kelly Whitmer, Department of History, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

 

Somewhere In-between Near and Far: Maps and the Legacy of the Francke Foundation in Halle/Saale

If maps are--in the words of geographer David Livingstone--simultaneously “repositories of trust” and “controlled fictions” deeply engaged in the construction of the realities they claim to describe, then an exhibition of European Landkarten from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would seem an ideal place to explore the implications of this tension. [1] How do maps as objects help their viewers visualize and reproduce knowledge that has already been gathered, transmitted (often over vast territorial expanses) and adapted to meet the needs and demands of those who want to see--to witness, to know--what is contained inside? What kinds of inscription techniques do these maps apply in their quest for authenticity, for universality? What kinds of stories do they tell and why?

The current map exhibit in the main building of the Francke Foundation Waisenhaus provides a welcome space in which to ask these and related questions of the cartographic objects on display. It also offers visitors the opportunity to become acquainted with the Foundation archive’s extensive map collection and to reflect on the city of Halle’s relationships with distant peoples and places. In making this offer, the exhibit must explore a different, yet related tension, between local legend--including the Francke Foundation’s place in local lore--and a need to integrate Halle into a larger, more expansive narrative about the city and Foundation’s international significance. As a result, an exhibit about eighteenth-century maps becomes a space in which to reflect on the degree to which the Foundation acts as a propagator of “controlled fictions” about this significance and as a repository of trust for the community of Halle. Charged with passing down the story of its founder August Hermann Francke and the activities of his organization (i.e. the establishment of Pietist mission stations in southeast India and Georgia or its trade in pharmaceutical regimens) to residents of the city through frequent exhibitions designed to appeal to a local audience, this current exhibit makes clear the Foundation’s ever-increasing interest in passing the story of its founding, activities and historical significance on to the rest of the world. The attempt to bridge a perceived gap between these two audiences, or between the Foundation’s local and global significance, is very much at the heart of the current exhibit’s ethos.

Indeed, drawing researchers’ attention to the extensive map collection of the Francke Foundation library may be one of the most pressing goals of the exhibition. Originating with a donation of approximately 600 maps to the Foundation from the personal library of Halle University law professor Johann Samuel Stryk (after his death in 1715), the collection has continued to grow and now stands as one of Germany’s finest examples of eighteenth-century cartography [2]. Current holdings include 1,702 maps and 54 atlases, which, as co-curator Axel Oberschelp explained to me, have generally been underutilized as historical sources. As the Francke Foundation archive increasingly becomes a prime destination for scholars of early modern German history, it makes sense that the current directors would be interested in putting some of the lesser known components of their impressive collection on display.

And yet, another stated goal of the exhibition’s sponsors is to draw local visitors’ attention to the Francke Foundation’s role as an international organization that has helped the city of Halle acquire an international reputation and focus. [3] After all, the year 2006 has been a Jubiläum year for the city, marking 1,200 years of Kultur an der Saale. Taking into consideration the Jubiläum’s theme, “Die Welt statt der Province--Die internationale Dimension Halles,” organizers of the current exhibit are intent to show just how indebted the city of Halle is to the Francke Foundation’s activities abroad for the fostering of an international spirit among local residents. But this is not an easy task. The city of Halle is currently wrestling with some of the highest rates of unemployment in all of Germany, has a reputation of being the occasional site of neo-Nazi activity and is not known to be especially welcoming towards the international residents in its midst. In some ways the Francke Foundation--often in tandem with the University--offers some of the only opportunities to counteract this trend, whether it be through attracting local residents to its exhibits, concerts or other community-oriented events, through its school outreach programs or through its printing press. But this also means that the Foundation is in a position to shape and determine how narratives about its significance are fashioned and handed down.

After an extended stay in the city, one can see that the history of the Francke Foundation is intimately bound up with Halle’s collective memory. There is a standardized narrative circulating here about the Pietist Professor August Hermann Francke and the founding of his famous orphanage, a narrative that Foundation press publications urge local residents to take pride in. The story is often replicated in the scholarly literature and goes something like this:

Before the Reformation, Halle was a Catholic city (part of an archbishopric centered in Magdeburg) and was quite wealthy because of its participation in the salt trade. During the Reformation, the city became a hotbed of Protestant activity. In the seventeenth century, because of its status as a Protestant city still part of a Catholic archbishopric, it became severely contested territory and suffered greatly during the Thirty Years War. By 1680, Frederick III of Brandenburg-Prussia had incorporated Halle into a newly created province of Magdeburg-Halberstadt; but the city itself was in a state of distress. Disruption of the salt trade combined with major wartime damage contributed to a climate of economic depression; a series of plagues in the 1680s also wiped out a large portion of the adult population. Orphans abounded (hence the need for a new orphanage in Halle) and even children who still had surviving family members were not going to school or receiving any occupational training. Enter August Hermann Francke (1663-1727).

In the 1680s, Francke was a theology student in Leipzig, where he first became acquainted with the writings and influence of Pietist theologian, Philip Spener. After undergoing a conversion experience (in Lüneburg in 1687), Francke was invited to meet Spener in Dresden where the latter was serving as Saxon Elector Johann George III’s Senior Court Chaplain. Francke emerged from this encounter as possibly the most ardent supporter of the Pietist cause, emphasizing popular piety, the devotional study of Scripture and a collective reaffirmation of the Reformation’s original, revolutionary mandate. In 1691, upon the advice of Spener, Friedrich III of Prussia appointed Francke Chair of Greek and Oriental languages in the newly created University of Halle's Theological Faculty--a post that was to include a small pastorate in Glaucha, a parish just outside the walls of the city. Predictably, he found the parish in a state of disarray and set out to remedy the manifest poverty, illiteracy and itinerancy--which Francke saw as manifestations of spiritual/moral degeneration--by setting up institutions for the care, maintenance and education of the poor.

Now a local legend, Francke’s story almost always involves some discussion of the Pietist patriarch’s reliance on “Divine Providence” (i.e. donations from private benefactors) for help with the building of his Waisenhaus and affiliated schools, apothecary, hospitals and printing press. Narratives about the Foundation also emphasize Francke’s search for strategies for the elimination of social problems beyond the reach of state and local authority. Historiographically, this issue is far from resolved, but there remains a tendency to see Brandenburg-Prussia and the Francke Foundation as engaged in a relationship of mutual benefit that disappeared (along with the Foundation’s autonomy) when A. H. Francke’s son Gotthilf took over the institutions. And it may remain, at least in part, because the Francke Foundation continues to function as a private enterprise and a Schulstadt (several schools are still in operation on the premises) with an ongoing relationship to a German state also struggling with how to present itself in relation to its Prussian past.

The city of Halle’s decision to celebrate its 1,200 year anniversary by highlighting its international dimension has coincided with the Francke Foundation’s own interest in reconfiguring its historical narrative to include its extensive ties to a world beyond Prussia--to take the components of the story every local knows (a city in distress, lots of orphans, Francke the hero) and to re-plot them within a narrative structure that has been broadened, extended--and thereby supposedly made more accessible to inhabitants of a global village. The curators of the current Landkarten exhibit depict a profound tension between big and small versions of the Francke Foundation’s history. And it is this tension, this separating out of big or small, that becomes part of the controlled fictions at the heart of the exhibit--metaphorically resident in the maps on display but presented as truth, or at least as typical of how Europeans understood their place in the world at the time in which the maps were produced.

As one enters the first room, one immediately discovers a series of images projected onto a screen of the atlases from the Foundation library’s collection. This is partly because the atlases are mostly enclosed in bound editions much too awkward to display, but it also helps illustrate the exhibition’s movement from large to small representations of the world. This first room is aptly entitled: Das Weltbild. Next to the projected images of atlases are cartographic expressions of large world views that actually extend beyond the earth itself. For example, a copper-plate engraving from Johann Gabriel Doppelmayer presents the viewer with detailed illustrations of the Copernican system, including a brief pictorial sketch of planetary motion. [4]

 

 

 

An almost eerie depiction of the moon’s surface looms on the adjacent wall, complete with a long discussion of lunar oceans, seas and the terrestrial components of the moon’s landscape. [5] Also from Doppelmayer is a visual representation of a solar eclipse seemingly intended to explain the phenomenon to the viewer, to render it knowable and legible, alongside a few beautifully illustrated expressions of astrological symbols (Gemini, Capricorn, Taurus etc.). [6]

 

After viewing the astronomical maps, the charts, the textbooks for the teaching of astronomy and geography as well as the Schrittzaehler and golden Theodolit from 1700 on display in the Weltbild room,one encounters the maps in the second room--organized under the title das vertraute Welt--as jarring in their depictions of the mundane, lived-in world of Halle/Saale and their environs. They offer a stark contrast to the other-worldly quality of the first room, in effect, presenting the local visitor with a mirror image of the perceived sense of dislocation and antagonism they may feel between their world en-micro and a world existing somehow outside their own. Maps on display include a “Geographical Chart of the Duchy of Magdeburg and Halle” as well as a variety of Grundrissen (or ground-plans)--outlines, compendiums of Halle/Saale as seen, as by a bird, from above. [7]

The oldest Grundris dates from 1720 when the city of Halle had about 20,000 residents. These depictions of local landscape are especially appealing to the current resident, who may be surprised to find the name of her street or to learn that the basic of layout of the city (marketplace, church, and major streets radiating out from them) has not changed much in 300 years.

 

The following rooms of the exhibit are organized thematically to fall somewhere in-between the binary tension between near and far that the curators establish at the outset. They all somehow interrogate the idea of a “worldview” but at the same time seem to invite the viewer to participate in an ordering exercise--to decide for themselves where, along the micro/macro axis a particular selection of maps should fall. Thematic groupings include the politische Welt, a room that includes several maps of European nations that serve to represent new expressions or notions of territorial sovereignty, the unbekannte Welt, the städtischeWelt and (grouped together towards the end) the Schicksalhafte, the Religiöse, the Vergangene and the Besondere.

This reviewer found the maps on display in the “unknown world” room to be especially visually engaging but challenging because of their tendency to elicit a “look at how much more we know” reaction from the visitor. Instructive is a representation of North and South America that seems simply strange because of its startling inaccuracy. Most regions of the world are at least recognizable, albeit slightly distorted, but this particular map stands out because of its literal visual representation of an unknown portion of globe. Well over half of the North American continent, including what is today Alaska and all of northwestern Canada and the U.S. is simply not depicted as landmass but as ocean, with an exaggerated Baja peninsula stretching all the way up to what would now almost universally be understood as the Oregon coast. [8] Here it became difficult to disengage my sense of superiority as a viewer who now “knows” what was simply “unknown”--as the title of the room suggests--at the time in which the map was created.

This map and others like it throughout the exhibit invite the viewer to become an arbiter of the truth about our world now and to place it in opposition to the world then. S/he becomes a participant in an exercise that re-affirms or standardizes what is now known--we like to think universally--about the world. Visitors, despite being local residents of Halle, can and do know, just like a local resident of any other city in the world can and does. The Francke Foundation is then able to act as the facilitator of this knowing, thereby enhancing its status as a repository of trust for both the local and global audiences it is reaching out to. Of course, first discerning and then attempting to mediate a tension between big and small requires accepting that there is a significant gap between local and international worlds (or audiences). But what if there is not?

Even a brief visit to Halle suggests that here the lines depicted by the historical Landkarten--between big and small, near and far--have been historically quite blurred. The University of Halle’s capacity to attract some of the greatest minds of the eighteenth-century (Christian Wolff, Georg Ernst Stahl and Friedrich Hoffman, to name just a few) meant that a world of new knowledge circulating throughout the European continent found its way here and intermingled with local forms of knowing-- as it continues to do today. There existed then, as now, the need for maps to make visible boundaries that are not otherwise intelligible. The maps on display in the Francke Foundation’s most current exhibit both clarify boundaries that otherwise would not exist and invest the sites they depict with an intrinsic meaning or significance. Indeed, the maps of the Orbis Pictus exhibit teach the viewer how to understand near and far as separate sites. And the Francke Foundation’s possession of these maps is a powerful tool. This most current exhibit is a testimony to the Foundation’s capacity to use Landkarten in its own boundary-making exercises and in the re-evaluation of its own significance for the history of Halle, Germany and beyond.

Notes

[1]. David N. Livingstone, Putting Science in its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge ( Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), p. 160.

[2]. Brigitte Klosterberg, “Die Kartensammlung der Bibliothek der Franckeschen Stiftungen,” Katalog zur Austellung der Franckeschen Stiftungen “Orbis Pictus--Landkarten uas der Sammlung der Franckeschen Stiftungen,” 5.November 2006--14. Januar 2007 ( Halle: Verlag der Franckeschen Stiftungen zu Halle, 2006), p. 19.

[3]. The current director of the Francke Foundation, Dr. Thomas Müller-Bahlke, expressed this objective in his remarks at the exhibit opening, 5.November 2006.

[4]. Systema Solare Et Planetarium: ex hypothesi Copernicana secundum elegantissimas Illustrissimi quondam Hugenii deductions, kolorierter Kupferstich (Nürnberg: Johann Baptist Homann [18.Jh.]): Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: BFSt: 60 C 16(2).

[5]. Tabula Selenographica: in qua Lunarium Macularum exacta Descriptio secundum Nomenclaturam Praestantissimorum Astronomorum tam Hevelii quam Riccioli Curiosis Rei Sidereae Cultoribus, klorierter Kupferstich von Johann Baptist Homann nach einem Entwurf von Jann Gabriel Doppelmayer. (Nürnberg: Homännische Erben [zwischen 1717 und 1725]): Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: BFSt: 60 C 16(11).

[6]. Theoria Eclipsium: in qua variae Solis occultationes, obscurations Terrae et Lunae verae, stellarum occultationes à Luna aliaque Phaenomena huc spectantia sistuntur, kolorierter Kupferstich nach einem Entwurf von Johann Gabriel Doppelmayer ([Nürnberg]: Homännische Erben [ca.1742]): Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: BFSt: 60 C 16 (13); Globi Coelestis in Tabulas Planas Redacti Pars III in qua Longitudines Stellarum fixarum ad anum Christi completum 1730 tam Arthmetice quam Geometrice, kolorierter Kupferstich nach einem Entwurf von Johann Gabriel Doppelmayer ([Nürnberg]: Homännische Erben [18.Jh.]): Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: BFSt: 60 C 16 (18).

[7]. Geographische Charte des Hertzogthums Magdeburg und Halle: Nebst etlichen angräntzende Orthen und Fürstenthume, kolorierter Kupferstich von Pieter Schenk ( Amsterdam [18.Jh.]): Franckesche Stiftungen: BFSt: 86 A 33(124); Grundriss der Stadt Halle an der Saale, kolorierter Kupferstich ( Halle: G.C. Knapp, [ohne Jahr]): Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: AFSt/A I/5/I.

[8]. Novissima et accuratissima Septentrionalis ac meridionalis Americae Descriptio, kolorierter Kupferstich ( Amsterdam: Frederick de Wit [um 1690]): Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen: BFSt: Kt: 266.