More than a “Winter in Vorderasien”. The Digital Edition of Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s Work and its Account of Archeological Sites and Expeditions in West Asia between 1933 and 1939

Elias Zimmermann (University of Lausanne)

7 October 2023 | 3:00 – 3:30 pm


The Swiss journalist, writer, and photographer Annemarie Schwarzenbach (1908-1942) became famous during her lifetime for the journeys she made between 1933 and 1939 to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Syria as well as several times to Iran and ultimately Afghanistan. She wrote more than 200 (photo-) journalistic reportages and feuilletons about her observations there, many of which appeared in renowned Swiss newspapers and magazines such as the NZZ, the National-Zeitung and the Zürcher Illustrierte. These articles formed the basis for the travel diary “Winter in Vorderasien” and the novel “Das glückliche Tal” as well as for two collections of stories published posthumously. A planned digital edition of Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s letters and short texts (‘Kleine Formen’), in which the photographs are integrated, will
make these texts and images comprehensively accessible for the first time. With the help of digital copies, transcriptions and commentaries, as well as an interactive map and timeline, her movements in space and time will become comprehensible. In the commentary and referencing (linking of historical and
geographical normdata), attention will also be paid to archaeological-historical contexts.

Until now, it has seldomly been analyzed that Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s motivation did not lie solely in the discovery of a contemporary ‘Orient’. Her travels, at least originally, sprang more from the desire to rediscover and reconstruct an ‘oriental antiquity’, for example by following the stations of Alexander the Great’s military campaign. This interest was grounded in a specifically German-language discourse that developed between 1900 and 1940 against the background of German excavations in West Asia (e.g. by Robert Koldewey, Walter Andrae and Julius Jordan). In addition to ancient Orientalists, many representatives of modern literature (Thomas and Klaus Mann, Else Lasker-Schüler, Alfred Döblin and others) also dealt with ‘Babylonian antiquity’. As a writer, a literary critic, and a historian with a doctorate,
Schwarzenbach pursued the topos with professional thoroughness; she undertook her first West Asian journey in 1933/34 together with a group of archaeologists. One of the sources she used to prepare for this trip was the Berlin Antiquities Collections, and she later still regularly sought contact with historians and archaeologists (e.g. Erich Schmidt, Joseph Hackin, Ernst Herzfeld and Leonard Woolley). Over the years, she visited excavations in Rihanija (Lebanon), Palmyra (Syria), Volubilis (Morocco, the only site not in Asia), Bagram (Afghanistan), Warka and Babylon (Iraq), Persepolis and Rhages (Iran). In 1934, she completed a three-month archaeological internship at the Rhages excavation site, which is the subject of various short stories.

The resulting written and photographic testimonies are not only of literary significance. Although Schwarzenbach described herself as an amateur excavator, her accounts shed light on archaeological practice and related knowledge transfers (interdisciplinary and popularising) as well as on political and scientific tensions within and between excavation expeditions in West Asia in the 1930s. Furthermore, Schwarzenbach’s descriptions and photographs document archaeologically significant sites and landscapes before the intensification of tourism and agriculture. In this respect, they could be comparable to Gertrud Bell’s testimonies, albeit on a smaller scale.

The planned editing team, representing German edition philology and cultural studies as well as digital humanities, is very interested in an exchange with specialists in archaeology and its history: What can their perspective contribute to the data presented? Which contextualising information is important to them,
which database referencing is useful? Finally, the digital edition of Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s work provides an opportunity to reflect on forms of interdisciplinary cooperation between philology, history and archeology within the frame of digital humanities

Cite this blog post
dabawa (2023, September 8). More than a “Winter in Vorderasien”. The Digital Edition of Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s Work and its Account of Archeological Sites and Expeditions in West Asia between 1933 and 1939. Digital Archaeology Bern - Ancient West Asia. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from

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