Aleida Assmann defines an exhibition as an arrangement of historical texts, images and objects in a room (Assmann Aleida: Geschichte im Gedächtnis, (Munich) 2014, p. 151,). In addition to the texts and pictures, the physical exhibition included a number of artefacts from the American Civil War, both in original and reproduction. This was supplemented by a number of editions of the two books which have primarily influenced the German view of the war -  Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851) and Gone with the Wind (1936) and the film Gone with the Wind (1939). Books and films are not just texts or images, but objects, the physicality of which can also act to trigger memories. 

All the artefacts were photographed so as to make them available via the online exhibition. Turned into images and thereby removed from their original context, they are unable to form a unity with the texts and images, but can only act to supplement them. The decisive interpretative act is that of the photographer, not their arrangement in space.

We would like to thank Wolfgang Hochbruck (University of Freiburg) for lending us the objects.

1. Onkel Toms Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 - 1896)


Published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is a clear and relentless depiction of life as a slave, which polarized American Society in the ante-bellum period. Meeting the author in 1862, Abraham Lincoln is said to have greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe with the words “so you’re the little women who wrote the book that started this great war”. Although perhaps not the cause of the war, the book represents a milestone of American literature

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Born on 14 June 1811 in Litchfield/Connecticut

1836 Marriage to Calvin Ellis Stowe

 1841 Publishes her first novel The Canal-Boat

 1851 Serialization of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the National Era

 1852 Publication in book form

Harriet Beecher Stowe published a further 25 books and publications

 Harriet Beecher Stowe died on 1 July 1896 in Hartford/Connecticut

The plot

Uncle Tom‘s Cabin was set in Kentucky of the 1840s. The slave “Uncle Tom” is sold by Farmer Shelby after many years of service. Separated from his wife and children, who remain on the Farm, Tom is taken South and sold to the family St. Clare, who treats him well. The family decide to sell Tom after the death of their daughter Eva. Sold to the drunkard Legree, Tom is repeatedly mistreated. Indeed, he often provokes his poor treatment through regular display of his faith in mankind. Tom labours hard and is regularly whipped. Although the son of his earlier owner Mr Shelby gathers the money to buy back Tom, he is too late and Tom dies. 

The book addresses a number of issues 

  • The immorality of slavery, depicted e.g. by Tom’s sudden separation from his family.
  • True Womanhood: Stowe viewed motherhood as the foundation of American society.
  • Christian Faith: as a Puritan, Harriet Beecher Stowe sought to demonstrate the incompatibility of Christianity and Slavery.

The development of the book

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a protest to the Fugitive Slave Law of that year, which forbade assistance to slaves on the run and legalized the work of bounty hunters. The result was that not only fugitive slaves, but also free African-Americans were captured in the North and taken to the South. As such, the book is the product of a long debate over the nature of freedom and democracy.



  • 30,000 copies in the USA are sold in 1852 – a sell-out
  • 200,000 copies are sold in Great Britain in 1852

Whilst the book introduced the readers of the North to the realities of slavery, the book was banned in the South. The twentieth century even saw the development of an “anti-Tom” movement seeking to promote a positive image of the South. The most well-known example is Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936).  

Film adaptations:

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one of the earliest film adaptations in Cinema. The first of ten silent pictures was released in 1907; this was followed by talking pictures and a number of spinoffs. A German film was released in 1965.

Onkel Tom in Freiburg

On 14 June 1879, the headline of the Freiburger Zeitung screamed

“The Blacks are Coming”

(Freiburger Zeitung, 14.06.1879, Tagesausgabe, 3. Seite; vgl.

The Breisgauer Zeitung told its readers:

“A strange invasion is impending”

(Breisgauer Zeitung, 14.06.1879, o. S.; vgl.

Referring to the arrival of the Messers Jarret and Palmer’s American Negro Society, the theatre troop were to put on three performances of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the town theatre. Reporting the event, the Breisgauer Zeitung wrote

“The original idea of portraying the unmourned system of slavery using former slaves, negros, mulattos, mestizos and their wives, daughters and sons speaking in German found great interest wherever it was performed."


The theatre had made the necessary application to the town authorities to show the piece as early as May 1879, hoping not only that the performance would prove profitable, but educative. The shows were all sold out and the public were reported to give great applause. The reporter spoke of a

“picture of directly from Lincoln’s days, which now legally prohibited, is at least far less diffused.”

The report continued:

“the pictures presented are of especial interest for German viewers, as our imagination has been captured by the pictures conjured up by Mrs Beecher-Stowe […] a truly American view of life. […] Messers Jarret and Palmers’ Negro troupe will be welcome wherever they go.”

(Oberrheinischer Kurier, 18.06.1879, o. S.)

2. Gone with the Wind

Magret Mitchel (1900 - 1949)


The location of Margaret Mitchell’s famous novel Gone with the Wind  - rural Georgia during the Civil War – was subject to General Sherman’s Hard War, a campaign of resource and infrastructure destruction designed to break the morale and ability to wage war of the Confederacy. Still a matter of intense controversy, the novel provides a romanticized Southern view, in which barbarous Northern troops disrupt what had previously been a peaceful and happy world. The period of Reconstruction, during which the South was restored and reintegrated into the Union was also depicted. The novel shows Northern profiteers exploiting the South. Ignoring this one-sided view of history, the book is in essence a story of four young protagonists seeking to come to terms with monumental change.

Published in 1936, Gone with the Wind remains a best-seller to this day. A film based on the novel and released in 1939, remains one of the most successful Hollywood pictures of all time. In view of its success and influence, it requires criticism.

The plot

Growing up in a rich family in antebellum Tara (Georgia) the 16-year old Scarlett O’Hara dreams of a life married to Ashley Wilkes. Attending a large party, her hopes are dashed when she learns that Wilkes is to marry Melanie Hamilton. Only Rhett Butler knows of her true feelings. Downcast, she accepts a marriage proposal from Charles Hamilton, Melanie’s brother. Her new husband soon dies in the early days of the American Civil War. Moving to live with her sister-in-law Melanie in Atlanta (Georgia), Scarlett suffers from her status as a widow. Only Rhett Butler – by now a famous Confederate blockade runner – ignores convention and talks to her.

The attack on Atlanta by Sherman’s union forces puts an end to the last vestiges of pre-war stability; Scarlett and Melanie only manage to escape at the last minute through the assistance of Rhett Butler. Reaching Tara at the end of their strength, they find Scarlett’s mother dying and her father almost mad. Faced with starvation and ruin, Scarlett puts all her energies into saving her family plantation, whilst still in love with Ashley.

Despite her best efforts, the planation continues to suffer ill fortune and her father dies. In desperation, Scarlett offers herself to Rhett as a lover in return for financial assistance. Rejected by Rhett, Scarlett decided to marry Frank Kennedy, her sister’s fiancé. Only in this way can she come into funds and save both her family plantation and her luxurious lifestyle. This marriage comes to a swift end after Frank is lynched by a mob. Very shortly after the funeral, Rhett appears and proposes to Scarlett, who accepts on financial grounds.

A period of relative peace descends and Scarlett and Rhett have a daughter Bonnie. Still in love with Ashley, Scarlett views her child as a burden. Rhett finds happiness as a father, yet understands that Scarlett will never love him. Bonnie’s death in an accident drive the family further apart, as does the death of Melanie in childbirth. Scarlett finally has the chance to win Ashley, but realizes that she never really loved him. Her discovery that Rhett is the man for her life come too late: she has driven him away and she returns to her family plantation.

Text and pictures from “Gone with the Wind”

The Film

Director: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood

Script: Sidney Howard, Ben Hecht

Producer: David O. Selznick for Selznick International (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Year of release: 1939  

Awarded: 8 Oscars (1940)


  • Vivien Leigh: Scarlett O’Hara
  • Clark Gable: Rhett Butler
  • Olivia de Havilland: Melanie Hamilton
  • Leslie Howard: Ashley Wilkes
  • Hattie McDaniel: Mammy
  • Carroll Nye: Frank Kennedy
  • Rand Brooks: Charles Hamilton
  • Others

The good old world of race relations in Gone with the Wind

Source: Spiegel Online, 15 December 2014, 12:12

By Marc Pitzke, New York

Gone with the Wind is widely viewed as one of the most successful Hollywood films ever. It is also one of the most racist films ever made.

"There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Filds called the Old South... Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow.. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave... Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind..."

Signalling the start of almost four hours of kitsch, these words projected onto a scarlet sky, opened the epic film from 1939, Gone with the Wind. Winning ten Oscars, it is widely viewed as a masterpiece of Hollywood cinema. It is also one of the most racist films ever to come out of Hollywood, romanticizing as it does, the institution of slavery. Even more worrying is the failure amongst many whites, to understand that a problem exists at all. The racism prevalent at that time is now widely denied. 

The suffering of noble slave owners

It can only be luck that ordained the date of the commemorative screening of Gone with the Wind for September and not today, with the thousand-strong protests from Black Lives Matter. Those looking for an explanation for the continuation of racism in contemporary America need only watch the epic and see the homage it pays to the “good old times” of slavery. The opening of the film laments the loss of a time of Masters and Slaves. A cotton field, singing cotton pickers: “I’m the foreman around here” intoned Big Sam, the cliché of the African-American giant suitable only as worker or fool as he saved Scarlett from molestation.

Beginning in 1861 and the start of the American Civil War, Gone with the Wind ended with the collapse of the Confederacy and the end of the good old days built on the blood of slaves. The film mostly ignores the fact that the war was fought to end slavery, concentrating instead on the lives and loves of noble Southerners pursued by bloodthirsty Yankees. The institution of slavery is taken as granted; the slaves themselves are nothing more than extras.     

Inexcusably racist

Gone with the Wind romanticizes crimes against humanity” wrote the film producer Lamonia Brown on the African-American blog The Grio. Esquire called it “A racist classic” almost without irony. Although the sentiments expressed in Gone with the Wind are far from unique in the Hollywood of its time, it remains an indestructible legend. Moreover, the novel on which it was based was even worse and openly praised the Klu Klux Klan. Time called the novel “inexcusably racist” but it still went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and went on to become an international bestseller.

The novel chimed with the mood of the time, praising the South, demonizing the Yankees and depicting the Southern defeat as the tragic destruction of the Southern way of life. The few African-American characters are nothing more than caricatures: the good-natured but naïve Big Sam; the infantile pain-in-the-neck Prissy and the tubby but wise housekeeper Mammy, always on hand with an encouraging word, and who remained in Scarlett’s service even after her “emancipation.”   

Hattie McDaniel, herself the daughter of slaves and a talented singer and comedian was forced to satirize herself. Although she won an Oscar – the first ever for an African-American role – she also endured much criticism from other African-Americans. Her response: better to play a servant than to be one.

Toilet segregation

Not just the script was coloured by racism – the entire production reflected the prejudices of its time. The African-American cast had separate toilets and although the producer toned down certain words following pressure from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the language was still discriminatory. Terms such as “Darkie” are no less racist than “Nigger”. The segregation laws meant that Hattie McDaniel was barred from attending the premiere of the film in Atlanta and she even had to sit at a separate table during the Oscar ceremony. In her short acceptance speech, she said "I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race..." . After donating the Oscar to the African-American Howard University it has been lost. Legend has it that Civil Rights activists threw it away in the 1960s.

3. Display case

A TYPICAL WOMEN’S HAT (Late 20th century replica)
A UNION CAP (Late 20th century replica)
A PACKAGE OF CONDOMS (Late 20th century replica)
A PACKAGE OF CONDOMS (Late 20th century replica)
LITHOGRAPH OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE (n.d. Deutsche Photograhische Gesellschaft in Berlin)
RIFLE CARTRIDGES (c. 1861 – 1865)
A UNION UNIFORM BELT (late 20th century replica)
AMMUNITION POUCH AND BELT (late 20th century replica)
WATER BOTTLE (late 20th century replica)
HARD TACK: TYPICAL MILITARY RATIONS (late 20th century replica)
BAYONET (late 20th century replica)
BACKSIGHT FROM AN ENFIELD RIFLE (late 20th century replica)
BARREL AND RAMROD (late 20th century replica)
SHAFT OF AN ENFIELD RIFLE (late 20th century replica)
RIFLE WITH BAYONET (late 20th century replica)
ENGRAVING ON A RIFLE STRAP (late 20th century replica)
Photographs by Fionn Große (