19 March 2013

"Crisis and Mobilization Since 1789" Conference, Amsterdam, Netherlands, February 22-24, 2013

Manuscript of Morris's "Why I am a Communist," one of IISH's holdings.

Part I: The Venue, The International Institute of Social History

Recently, the International Scholars' Network History of Societies and Socialisms (HOSAS) hosted its second conference at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In addition to the IISH, other co-sponsors included Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Duitsland Instituut, and the Jena Center. The conference theme was "Crisis and Mobilization since 1789."

A more perfect venue could not be had. The International Institute of Social History was founded in 1935 by Nicolaas W. Posthumus, a leading light of Dutch social and economic history. A social democratic insurance company De Centrale supported the Institute in its early years, allowing for it to save archival materials related to left-wing movements from all over Europe.

Before World War II, the Institute played a key role in saving papers by and about Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels from the Nazis. As the Institute's website explains, "In the period 1935-40, attention was focused on saving material from all over Europe. The most important collection acquired in this period was the archival legacy of Marx and Engels. The Institute's extremely active first librarian, Annie Adama van Scheltema-Kleefstra, actually smuggled Bakunin's manuscript (part of the famous Nettlau collection) out of Austria, just before the Nazis marched into Vienna. Libraries of Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries who had fled Russia were also brought to Amsterdam."*

Forced to close the Institute during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam, Posthumus had already smuggled the most valuable papers to Britain. The Nazis removed most of the archives to Germany during the war, and it took the Institute nearly a decade after the war to return to a state of normalcy. Since 1989, it has been housed in a former cocoa warehouse in Amsterdam's Eastern Docklands area.

Although the IISH is most well known for its Marx and Engels collection, it has significant holdings related to William Morris's socialist activities. Among the items related to Morris are the papers of the Socialist League, the Hammersmith Socialist Society, and the manuscripts of "How We Shall Live Then," "As to Bribing Excellence," "and Why I Am A Communist."**

Jason D. Martinek
Assistant Professor of History
New Jersey City University
Jersey City, New Jersey

*"History of the IISH," International Institute of Social History, http://socialhistory.org/en/about/history-iish.

**"William Morris," International Institute of Social History, http://www.iisg.nl/archives/morris/.

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