Heathens, 'Hottentots', and Heimat: Colonial Encounters and German Identity in Southwest Africa, 1842-1915

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Heathens, 'Hottentots', and Heimat: Colonial Encounters and German Identity in Southwest Africa, 1842-1915

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2017-04

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At the turn of the twentieth century, depictions of colonized African peoples were prevalent in the German metropole. Tobacconists catered to the erotic fantasies of colonial enthusiasts with images of Hereromädchen (Herero girls) in their advertisements. Coffee companies used portraits of black African women to affirm the quality of their beans. Youth magazines allowed children to escape into “exotic” domains where their imaginations could wander unhindered by “civilized” social expectations. Anthropologists shifted the paradigms of scientific analysis by studying Naturvölker (“natural peoples”) as faceless objects. Novelists published romanticized accounts of faraway conflicts, a practice that over time made the realities of colonial bloodshed palpable for a continental audience. Though characterizations like these typified the contemporary discourse on Africa and epitomized Europe’s dominance over the continent, they belie the significant degree to which Africans in turn influenced German colonial policy. These portrayals also tell us little about how events in German Southwest Africa (DSWA) altered collective perceptions of the imperial project in Germany. "Heathens, 'Hottentots', and Heimat: Colonial Encounters and German Identity in Southwest Africa, 1842-1915" reorients our understanding of the relationship between Imperial Germany and its overseas empire in southern Africa. The principal objective of this study is to expose the other side of imperial domination, specifically how African peoples manipulated German rule and the degree to which colonial encounters overseas altered German national identity in the metropole. My focus on colonial encounters in DSWA shows that peoples in Windhoek, Swakopmund, and Otjimbingwe were as integral to Germany’s national development as the merchants, soldiers, and settlers who first ventured abroad in 1884. I emphasize encounters in DSWA as a means to illuminate the multifaceted composition of Germany’s imperial project in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This study contends that colonialism strengthened visions of identity that saw cultural difference and national belonging not just as competing phenomena, but also as forces that together fortified Germany’s presence abroad. By focusing on colonial encounters in DSWA, I show that African, German, and indigenous people in Southwest Africa were just as integral to Germany’s national development as the merchants, soldiers, and settlers who first ventured abroad in 1884. The dramatic increase in scholarship on German colonialism has been a welcomed development in the historiography. Much of this recent work has concentrated on colonial-era violence and the emergence of segregationist politics before and after the First World War. These inquires have raised important questions about the inherent role of violence in European colonial systems and have placed Germany’s overseas empire at the center of notable debates about the origins of mass murder in Europe and Nazi genocide. Apart from an emphasis on colonial genocide, historians have also started to investigate the transnational orientation of the German colonial project in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This dissertation builds on this research by examining how colonial interactions in DSWA affected collective impressions of the Heimat ideal in Europe. Though an inherently abstract idea, the concept Heimat denoted a local or national sense of place that was grounded in emotional attachments to local surroundings. I argue that after 1884, colonial conquest provided Heimat greater rhetorical and social mobility. In particular, it enabled missionaries, settler-colonialists, and politicians to appropriate Africa as a natural extension of German culture, memory, and tradition. An emphasis on colonial encounters in DSWA provides a means to illuminate the multifaceted composition of Germany’s imperial project in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation.April 2017. Major: History. Advisors: Eric Weitz, Gary Cohen. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 285 pages.

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Blackler, Adam. (2017). Heathens, 'Hottentots', and Heimat: Colonial Encounters and German Identity in Southwest Africa, 1842-1915. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/190470.

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