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  • Germany and the Black Diaspora: Points of Contact, 1250–1914 ed. by Mischa Honeck, Martin Klimke, and Anne Kuhlmann
  • Tiffany N. Florvil
Germany and the Black Diaspora: Points of Contact, 1250–1914. Edited By Mischa Honeck, Martin Klimke, and Anne Kuhlmann. New York: Berghahn Books, 2013. Pp. x + 262. Cloth $90.00. ISBN 978-0857459534.

Scholarship on Europe and the African diaspora has grown in the last thirty years. Work on Germany, in particular, has evolved from Sander Gilman’s On Blackness without Blacks (1983) to May Ayim, Katharina Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz’s Farbe bekennen (1986) and from Noah Sow’s Deutschland Schwarz Weiss (2008) to Oumar Diallo and Joachim Zeller’s Black Berlin (2013). This volume builds upon these works by examining the meanings of blackness from the thirteenth century through World War I. It brings together different fields to illuminate centuries of cultural contact, circulation, and exchange in city-states and empires. This transcultural, rather than transnational, approach enables the collection to address the intersection of the local and global histories of blacks and Germans.

In section one, Paul Kaplan’s opening chapter centers on European artistic renderings of individuals of African descent. He analyzes images such as Saint Maurice in the Calenberg Altarpiece (1515–1520) commissioned by Catherine of Saxony. With scant evidence, Kaplan argues that the images of blacks in German art reflect the possibility of their pious existence. Next, Kate Lowe theorizes three categories of the black presence in German-speaking regions during the Renaissance: the fictive, notional, and real. In terms of their fictive presence, she cites cases where white Europeans depicted themselves as black in pageants, plays, and masques on stage. Notional blackness represented the “heraldic device of the so-called Moor’s head” used in European families’ coats of arms (45). But the actual presence of blacks forced Europeans to reconsider issues of integration and the meaning of blackness.

Anne Kuhlmann’s chapter highlights visual images and the physical presence of blacks, maintaining that German royal courts served as a site for the cultivation of exclusionary stereotypes. Yet courts also offered blacks opportunities for social mobility, with religion helping them secure some professional advancement. Kuhlmann challenges the notion that they passively depended on their patrons. Also focusing on the royal courts, Rashid-S. Pegah attends to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century black entertainers. He explores how these blacks became prominent actors alongside whites, even as these non-European others became essentialized as uncivilized and different. Maria Diedrich concludes the section with an examination of black Hessians (Kasseler Mohren) during the American Revolution—mostly slaves and their families who escaped or were kidnapped as war booty. Through church, court, and military records, she traces their routes and identities, describing how they helped to form racial notions within their German communities.

Section two charts the thoughts of German and Afro-diasporic intellectuals about blackness and African descent. The chapters explain how rigid racial and [End Page 153] ethnic definitions emerged during the Enlightenment and how these civilizational discourses shaped encounters between blacks and Germans. Heike Paul assesses the reception of black literature, including the autobiographies of Olaudah Equiano (1792), Frederick Douglass (1860), and Josiah Henson (1878) as well as a Frank Webb novel, The Garies and Their Friends (1859). Through the process of translation, Paul contends, nineteenth-century Germans questioned these authors’ literary authenticity, agency, and autonomy. Jeannette Eileen Jones analyzes Heidelberg anatomist Friedrich Tiedemann, who rejected notions of black inferiority in his scientific theories on race. Tiedemann used his scientific work to draw links to the transnational abolitionist movement. Mischa Honeck delves into the separate German sojourns of J.C. Pennington, an African American abolitionist and reverend, and David F. Dorr, a quadroon slave who travelled with his master. Returning to the United States, both Pennington and Dorr used their European travels to formulate a “cosmopolitan nationalism” that reimagined ideas of belonging, human equality, and American citizenship. In this way, Germany served as “an inspiration for their visions of an egalitarian, nonracist society” (163). Examining popular print culture from the American Civil War era to German unification, Bradley Naranch reveals how journalists Friedrich Ratzel and Karl Andree popularized racial science before...


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