restricted access 4 Restructuring Ethnology and Imperialism
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71 CHAPTER 4 Restructuring Ethnology and Imperialism F elix von Luschan’s emphasis on “primary” collecting had resulted from an interplay between museological competition and the fact that colonial residents lacked proper collection methods. Primary collecting, however, also meant that artifacts became secondary to an understanding of the mental culture of their producers. Such concern once again resonated with existing colonial projects in the metropole and German New Guinea. It gained particular significance from a general restructuring process affecting the German colonies following 1906. Acquisition struggles among museum officials ceased to be an abstract anthropological affair and started to draw wider circles involving high-ranking state and federal officials . Under the rubric of “scientific colonialism,” Bernhard Dernburg, the newly appointed secretary for colonial affairs, invited participation from all segments of German society involved in imperial ventures. German anthropologists interpreted the challenge by building “scientific colonialism” into their civil ventures. Dernburg expected his idea to have a broad effect on Germany’s African colonies. However, for anthropological projects, the peripheral colony of German New Guinea reigned supreme. The outcome was a multitude of anthropological projects in New Guinea that have recently collectively been called an age of expedition.1 Deeply embroiled in national politics, German New Guinea once again accentuated the interplay between metropole and colonial periphery in the final decade before the First World War. While museum officials conceived artifacts as a means to understand indigenous mentalities, colonial officials started to regard artifacts as national treasures and important colonial resources. Similarly, where museum officials employed the nascent restructuring process to serve local civic goals, colonial officials attempted to transcend museum squabbles in an effort to integrate anthropological work in a national platform addressing colonial administration. RESTRUCTURING GERMAN IMPERIALISM In the second week of January 1904, the colony of German Southwest Africa became the center of attention as indigenous pastoral, cattle-raising Hereros took up arms against the small German community. Since the turn of the century, epidemics had decimated the cattle population of the Hereros, severely threatening their livelihood. Moreover, the Hereros also faced increasing demands by the German colonial administration in tax payments and land confiscation. In early 1904, the Herero people took advantage of the absence of the majority of the German colonial forces to launch an attack. They soon overran the meager remaining German defenses, interrupting communication in the territory, destroying railway lines, and besieging major German settlements. Within days of the uprising, more than one hundred German settlers and colonial soldiers lost their lives. News of the rebellion spread to Germany immediately. The uprising’s timing and the inability of the colonial administration to cope effectively with this conflict triggered a major crisis in German colonial politics. The full extent of the crisis became apparent when in October the indigenous Nama joined the Hereros in their rebellion. With the outbreak of the MajiMaji rebellion in German East Africa in 1905, warfare now shook the two largest German colonies. Although German colonial troops—ironically called protective forces, or Schutztruppen—slowly managed to control the situation, indigenous guerrilla actions against the German colonial presence continued until 1906 in East Africa and until 1907 in Southwest Africa.2 This crisis exacerbated preexisting opposition to colonialism within the German empire. With the exception of smaller colonies (such as Togo and Samoa), the German territories were not economically self-sufficient. The private business sector, however, eschewed investments in the German colonies . Furthermore, there were mounting accounts of abuses against the colonial populations, and colonial tensions (such as the 1906 Morocco crisis) had created an explosive situation within Europe, pitting Germany against other established colonial powers. All of these concerns needed to be addressed by the German government, and the cry for reform turned even supporters of colonial expansion into its detractors. Germany was a relatively young colonial power. It was only in 1884 that the German government under Otto von Bismarck had moved ahead to annex areas in Africa and the Pacific Ocean. Chancellor Bismarck was a reluctant colonialist and tried to transfer the administrative costs of these territories to a number of chartered companies. Most of these efforts, however, resulted in utter failure.3 Eventually, the government had to assume administrative duties in the colonies. Such increasing governmental involvement 72 Chapter 4 in colonial affairs led to the establishment of a Colonial Division within the German Foreign Office by 1890. Four years later, this office gained more independence through the appointment of a colonial director. Few German civil servants desired...


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