Esperanto Wor(l)ds

Postcards and letters that came to Dundee from rural Finland, Norway, Tsarist Russia, Bohemia, and Bulgaria in the early years of the twentieth century inspired the exhibition “Esperanto Wor(l)ds: Scotland, Postcards, and the Creation of an International Language”. These postcards triggered our curiosity: what were people doing with a constructed language that only had come to live in the late 1880s?

The exhibition zooms into the life of John Beveridge, a Presbyterian clergyman born in Ayr in 1857 who spent most of his life in Dundee. John Beveridge and two of his daughters, Lois (a teacher) and Heather (a chemist with a degree from St Andrews), were among the founding members of the Dundee Esperanto Club in 1906.

The archival material around the Beveridge family, held at University of St Andrews Special Collections, are a rare gem in the world of Esperanto. Letters, postcards, congress programmes, records of social events, and Esperanto magazines allow for a unique insight into the wide cast world of Esperanto in the early 20th century. Family members including John and Lois Beveridge visited international congresses in Antwerp in 1911 and Kraków in 1912. They embarked on these journeys with fellow Esperanto-speakers from Aberdeen, Glasgow, Perth and Edinburgh and, once abroad, they mingled with thousands of people from across the world.

The letters and postcards displayed in this exhibition illustrate how Esperanto linked local Scottish Esperanto-speakers, John, Lois, and Heather Beveridge, with an international network of Bible translators, scholars, and people interested in exchanging ideas on topics ranging from Norwegian wedding traditions to beekeeping. The exhibition showcases how Esperanto-speakers networked, communicated, and shaped a vibrant international language community. It invites questions about the role of (constructed) languages, cultures, and communities across borders.

“Esperanto Wor(l)ds” will be on display at the Wardlaw Museum from 13 April to 29 May 2023. It is curated by Dr Guilherme Fians, Claire Taylor and Dr Bernhard Struck and is part of the collaborative research project “Esperanto and Internationalism, c. 1880s-1820s” based at the School of History at the University of St Andrews.


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