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Reimann-Dawe, Tracey (2009) TIME, IDENTITY AND NATION IN GERMAN TRAVEL WRITING ON AFRICA 1848-1914. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Between 1848 and 1914 a wave of German explorers travelled to Africa, enticed by the promise of geographical, botanical and anthropological discovery. Each Afrikareisender composed a narrative account of his German-African encounters and so produced a characteristic mode of travel writing. These works reflect not only the author’s experience of their own identity, but also represent Germany’s evolving sense of national identity during a period of extensive internal political turmoil which saw the consolidation of the German nation-state in 1871, its emergence as a colonial power in Africa after 1884 and finally left colonial Germany in 1913 on the brink of the First World War.

German-African encounters in nineteenth-century travel narratives are the product of a dialectical combination of influences; firstly a cognitive interest in alternative regions of human experience, a positive, heterophilic desire to appreciate cultural heterogeneity; secondly, the opposite, expansionist, hegemonic aspirations fuelled by growing German nationalism and inter-European rivalry. The chief tool in analysing these conflicting tendencies is the representation of time, for the explorers’ ingrained understanding of time, their ‘time-set’, dominates the structure of these narratives. This ‘time-set’ informed all theories of historical development, cultural advancement and racial theory with the notion of linear-historicist progress and so set the norm for encountering the other. Hence initially, Afrikareisende travel writing projected received and unreflected concepts of western and German self-understanding onto ‘Africa’. Yet the move to Africa in fact exposes the fragility of these norms, so that the whole edifice which they support begins to crumble during the explorers’ process of narration. The popularisation of evolutionary theory modified later explorers’ time-set by opening up the vista of ‘deep-time’ and an awareness of infinite time-scales that produced huge changes through infinitesimal increments. This, combined with Germany’s particular route to nation-statehood, fuelled an interest in the paths of other peoples. Afrikareisende travel writing thus ended in a wholly unexpected manner: by projecting African otherness onto German domestic reality. Oddly, this writing at the same time paradoxically incited a ‘new’ German nationalism, for evolutionary theory was also employed to propagate concepts of racial hierarchy and cultural superiority. Here, the linear-time-set modulates into the time of Darwinian struggle. A struggle which was epitomised by inter-European national rivalries on African soil. Hence German activities in the late nineteenth-century in Africa not only express internal tensions in Germany at the time, but also, in some sense, express the internal tensions of nineteenth-century Europe. These neglected yet important texts provide insight into Germany’s metamorphosis from passive observer of international political developments to self-destructive would-be world power.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Modern Languages and Cultures, School of
Thesis Date:2009
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:11 Mar 2010 11:27

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