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Africa in Translation

A History of Colonial Linguistics in Germany and Beyond, 1814-1945

Sara Pugach

Publication Year: 2011

"Africa in Translation is a thoughtful contribution to the literature on colonialism and culture in Germany and will find readers in the fields of German history and German studies as well as appealing to audiences in the large and interdisciplinary fields of colonialism and postcolonialism." ---Jennifer Jenkins, University of Toronto The study of African languages in Germany, or Afrikanistik, originated among Protestant missionaries in the early nineteenth century and was incorporated into German universities after Germany entered the "Scramble for Africa" and became a colonial power in the 1880s. Despite its long history, few know about the German literature on African languages or the prominence of Germans in the discipline of African philology. In Africa in Translation: A History of Colonial Linguistics in Germany and Beyond, 1814--1945, Sara Pugach works to fill this gap, arguing that Afrikanistik was essential to the construction of racialist knowledge in Germany. While in other countries biological explanations of African difference were central to African studies, the German approach was essentially linguistic, linking language to culture and national identity. Pugach traces this linguistic focus back to the missionaries' belief that conversion could not occur unless the "Word" was allowed to touch a person's heart in his or her native language, as well as to the connection between German missionaries living in Africa and armchair linguists in places like Berlin and Hamburg. Over the years, this resulted in Afrikanistik scholars using language and culture rather than biology to categorize African ethnic and racial groups. Africa in Translation follows the history of Afrikanistik from its roots in the missionaries' practical linguistic concerns to its development as an academic subject in both Germany and South Africa throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Sara Pugach is Assistant Professor of History at California State University, Los Angeles. Jacket image: Perthes, Justus. Mittel und Süd-Afrika. Map. Courtesy of the University of Michigan's Stephen S. Clark Library map collection.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol


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pp. xi


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pp. xiii

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Introduction: African Studies and the Classification of Humanity

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pp. 1-20

In June 1946, four South African scholars published a joint article that paid tribute to their intellectual mentor, Carl Meinhof. Meinhof was a German expert in African linguistics and former pastor, and he had died in February 1944. Communications from Germany had been interrupted during World War II, and news of Meinhof’s death had just reached Africa’s ...

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1. Before the Fact: The Beginnings of African Studies on the Mission Field, 1814–87

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pp. 21-48

In 1806 Gustavus Reinhold Nyländer, then twenty-nine, arrived in Georgetown, Sierra Leone, to begin work for the Church Missionary Society (CMS).1 Prior to joining the London-based CMS, Nyländer, who was an ethnic German from Lithuania, had studied at a Berlin seminary.2 He started his missionary career in Georgetown but by 1812 had moved to an ...

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2. Beyond the Missionary Field: The Development of African Studies at the Seminar für Orientalische Sprachen in Berlin

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pp. 49-70

In the late 1870s, missionary attitudes toward German nationalism began to shift. Friedrich Fabri’s 1879 pamphlet “Does Germany Need Colonies?” was representative of this new era in the relationship of Protestant missionaries to nationalism. The essay, written by the onetime Rhenish Mission inspector who had become Bismarck’s main colonial adviser, went ...

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3. The Making of a “Great Africanist”: Carl Meinhof in Zizow and Berlin, 1886–1909

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pp. 71-91

After Büttner’s death it was Meinhof, his student, who became the central figure in African studies. Unlike Büttner, Meinhof was never a missionary. Yet he grew up in a world where the mission was all-important, and it played a dominant role in shaping his ideas and beliefs. Carl Friedrich Michael Meinhof was born on July 23, 1857, in Barzwitz (Barzowice), ...

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4. Anthropology and Linguistics United? Carl Meinhof, Felix von Luschan, and the Hamitic Hypothesis

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pp. 92-116

Carl Meinhof was the consummate networker. From the time he was training missionaries in Zizow, he was constantly visible both in the world of the mission as well as in that of the “colonial” sciences, dominating debates and forcing his opinions on others. This made him some enemies but also accorded him a commanding position in the field of African studies and ...

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5. Experimenting in the Metropole: The Theory and Practice of African Studies, 1908–19

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pp. 117-140

Carl Meinhof joined the Hamburg Colonial Institute in 1909. The new position afforded him considerable control over the growing discipline of African studies. Meinhof was chair of his own Department of Colonial Languages and assembled a sizable staff of European lecturers and African assistants. He founded the Zeitschrift für Kolonialsprachen and ...

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6. Of Conjunctions, Comportment, and Clothing: African Teaching Assistants in Berlin and Hamburg, 1889–1919

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pp. 141-159

In 1885 Njo Dibone traveled from Cameroon to Pomerania for the purpose of learning German from Meinhof. The specifics of Dibone’s reason for coming to Germany, as well as why he wanted to learn the language, are obscure. He seems to have made the journey with an Admiral von Holtzendorff, the fiancé of one of Meinhof’s relatives, who perhaps hoped that ...

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7. After the Colonial Moment: German Influences on South African Linguistics and Ethnology, 1920–45

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pp. 160-185

During World War I, German interest in African studies waned. With the exception of East Africa, Germany’s African colonies fell to the allies early and were of minimal priority. Moreover, many of the field’s most promising new scholars were young and military-eligible. August Klingenheben, later to become the first professor of African studies in Leipzig and ...

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Conclusion: The Legacy of Afrikanistik

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pp. 186-196

The German discourse on African languages and cultures was rooted in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when the discipline of comparative philology transformed the way scholars thought about origins and ethnicity. The Protestant missionaries who shaped the discipline of African studies were brought up in a pietist tradition, which held that ...


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pp. 197-252


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pp. 253-292


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pp. 293-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027774
E-ISBN-10: 0472027778
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117826
Print-ISBN-10: 0472117823

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol