- German Colonialism and the Age of Global Empires
If one considers the scholarship of Antoinette Burton, Tony Ballantyne, Jürgen Osterhammel, Frederick Cooper, Jane Burbank, Ann Laura Stoler, Sebastian Conrad and John Darwin, among others, it is easy to draw the conclusion that in present undertakings to pen transnational histories of the world, the history of colonialism/empire constitutes perhaps the most exciting ingredient and is commensurate with global history during the late 1800s and early 1900s.1 It was this age of global empires that witnessed the zenith of Russia and the United States as supplanting societies achieving massive continental empires. It saw European powers scramble for Africa, grasp for Asia and extend to all corners of the world in search of resources, status and influence. It led to complex, entangled, and uneven processes of contact and mutual exchange that operated on different scales from the local to the global and remade the metropole as well as the colonies. Relationships of power and hierarchies of differentiation were enforced, negotiated and contested in everyday lives and in discourse, while intensifying, intertwined and interdependent globespanning networks and rivalries recalibrated commerce, state power and culture. Usually Germany, the newly created Kaiserreich, plays only a junior role in the discussions of global empires. The “usual story” claims Germany as a “late” arrival to the world of empires (and consequently absorbed in building its influence in Europe). It also typically features a reluctant Bismarck averse to creating an overseas empire in general and acquiring formal colonies in particular. Also prevalent is the assertion that because the period of formal German colonial rule proved short-lived (starting in the mid-1880s and terminated by World War I) it was also insignificant. Equally common are suggestions that Germany’s primary contribution was in providing settlers for other empires, mainly the United States. While all these factors mattered in shaping Germany’s role during the age of global empires, they do not even begin to cover the full story.
There seems little doubt nowadays that the scholarship on German colonialism is booming. The field is bursting with energy as studies adopting fresh theoretical outlooks and multidisciplinary frameworks, untangling novel significances and connections, and championing subtle and culturally sensitive understandings reexamine, reconceptualize and debate the history of the Kaiserreich and the Weimar Republic as well as the Nazi regime as imperial and colonial history. The recent vibrancy appears all the more significant since not long ago the field barely existed outside the efforts of a few noteworthy practitioners.2 Much of the current upswing was first made evident in the histories of colonial violence, on studies exploring the genocidal dimensions of German actions against the Herero and the Nama in German Southwest Africa and the possible linkages and parallels those events had with the Holocaust. Even if somewhat tempering down, this deliberation is still very much an ongoing one.3
Not a study of colonial violence as such, in her dissertation-turned-monograph, Violent Intermediaries: African soldiers, conquest, and everyday colonialism in German East Africa, Michelle R. Moyd deepens our knowledge of colonial armies and soldiers by spotlighting the African troopers, known as askari, who served in the German colonial military, Schutztruppe, during the conquest of German East Africa between 1889 and 1918. More precisely, Moyd examines the askari identity and their roles and significances in determining and enabling German rule. Challenging the two prevalent...