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Mirth and Subversion: Carnival in Cologne

James M. Brophy describes how the Carnival in 19th-century Cologne held a subversive hidden agenda of protest against Prussian overlordship.

Let no one jest you: fun is a serious matter. Why and how people laugh speaks volumes about their society and their political preoccupations. And when elaborate festivals are sustained over centuries, scholars are presented with a superb measuring rod to assess change and continuity.

Because most festivals legitimise themselves by evoking their 'timeless traditions' while simultaneously adapting to current conditions to remain vital, historians must look at ritualised festivity within the broader socio-political context to understand more fully the meaning and functions of organised revelry. For social historians the intersection of festivity and politics provides an especially interesting angle for viewing political culture. The masking, mockery, and misrule of carnival in Cologne, for example, offers an unorthodox but useful entry point for understanding the character and development of bourgeois politics in the Rhineland in the first half of the nineteenth century.

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