Switzerland in 1817
July 25, 2008 6:12 AM   Subscribe

ObscureHistoryFilter: Any pointers to resources about how Switzerland was like in 1817? What was life like? What was the political and economic situation? What technology was around? I'm trying to create a Call of Cthulhu campaign based in that place and time, and I'm trying to be as realistic as possible (aside from the cosmic horrors).

What I know so far: the year before was the year without a summer, which led to mass starvation. The year before that, Switzerland was formally recognised as an independent country again, after some years of French occupation.

Basically, I've read the Wikipedia articles on Swiss history, which, while reasonably good, aren't detailed enough. And they don't tell me how people would have dressed or thought or spoken in that place and era, what their worries and goal were, how easy it was to travel, how open they were to strangers, etc.

I'm particularly interested in the situation in Berne and in Appenzell and the surrounding area.

(Why yes, this is thoroughly obscure.)
posted by Zarkonnen to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like a job for a librarian, who should definitely be able to point you toward useful source documents. Any chance you are affiliated with Cambridge University? Even if you're not, it appears you should be able to at least read the books/materials there: http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/usingthelibrary/borrowing.html
posted by tractorfeed at 6:33 AM on July 25, 2008

Response by poster: tractorfeed: Coincidentally enough, l live in Cambridge, and used to go to uni there. And conveniently, I know several PHD students, who seem to have borrowing rights at the library. Thanks for the tip.
posted by Zarkonnen at 6:41 AM on July 25, 2008

Thomas Raffles' Letters during a tour through some parts of France, Savoy, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands in the Summer of 1817 might provide some background colour. Chapers XVIII-XXIII are concerned with the Swiss leg off his journey.
posted by misteraitch at 6:43 AM on July 25, 2008

John McPhee's book, La Place de la Concorde Suisse, might be helpful. It's a study of the Swiss Army. I read it quite a while ago and liekd it but I can't recall how much of it is actual history. There is a lot of fascinating stuff in it, no question. Should be readily available from any good library.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:54 AM on July 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses so far. A quick note: I'm fluent in German/Swiss German, so the resources don't have to be in English.
posted by Zarkonnen at 7:01 AM on July 25, 2008

Scarily you will find that Appenzell will have change remarkably little. It should be reasonably easy to find information on costumes and so forth in this area I remember visiting several excellent stocked museums in this area as a child. There will have been very little mobility, and the people will have been unfriendly to strangers. This is hearsay, granted, but it's based on personal experience with a culture I was brought up in. For rural German speaking Swiss, Appenzell is a kind of cultural heartland. Oh, and goats, Appenzell really smells of goats, goats and pipe smoke.

Re: research. The history of Appenzell stops in 1597, when it was divided into two seperate administrative areas. So you need to research either Appenzell (Ausserrhoden) or Appenzell (Innerrhoden).

these are the appropriate pages from the Dictionary of Swiss History

Ausserrhoden Innerrhoden Sadly in German, but Google translate should make a good fist of
posted by munchbunch at 7:08 AM on July 25, 2008

Prieview wurde nicht gedruckt, Ich sehe du kommst ohne Google damit klar ; )
posted by munchbunch at 7:11 AM on July 25, 2008

There's a copy of Louis Simond's Travels in Switzerland in 1817, 1818, and 1819 at the Cambridge University Library, as well as several titles under the subject heading "Switzerland--Description and travel--Bibliography" that may point you to other useful material.

I'd also take 10-15 minutes and browse the other Switzerland-related subject headings - it looks like there are some subject encyclopedias, gazetteers, etc. in there that may be useful.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:37 AM on July 25, 2008

Browse through This OAISTER search (if link doesn't work just go to the OAISTER search page and search for Switzerland and 1817) -- many of the results appear to be of interest to your project.
posted by cog_nate at 7:48 AM on July 25, 2008

Mary Shelley documented an 1816 trip in History of Six Weeks' Tour through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, with Letters Descriptive of a Sail round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni and recycled many details into Frankenstein, as annotated in The Essential Frankenstein. You might also check out Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard for a meticulously researched fantastic novel set at the time (may not have much Swiss content, though.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:47 PM on July 25, 2008

Oh, and Dr. Frankenstein is Swiss, and, though he made the monster in Ingolstadt (in Bavaria), the monster follows him to Geneva, and they first speak on a glacier near there. Frankenstein's exact time-setting isn't well-defined, but it was published in 1818 and seemed to have been intended to be a contemporary novel. It'd be an obvious choice to work the good doctor and his monster in. (Maybe too obvious.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:59 PM on July 25, 2008

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