- The Persistence of Race: Continuity and Change in Germany from the Wilhelmine Empire to National Socialism eds. by Lara Day and Oliver Haag
The history of race in modern Germany has been an expectedly prominent topic. Given the significance of National Socialism looming over the German past, the question of how deeply rooted were the extreme racialism and antisemitism promoted during the Third Reich has been a crucial one in the historiography. More recently, these concerns have been broadened by placing German understandings of "race" within a wider international framework. Applying debates and models derived from other national and imperial contexts—particularly the United States and the British empire—to German history has been a very fruitful line of inquiry and led to significant revaluations of the German colonial experience and engagement with other cultures. This has often been interlinked with debates on the extent to which Germany itself was a colonial power within its own European borders, paying attention to migration into and out of the German lands and the practices of rule in the non-German speaking regions of the German states. The history of the human sciences has also engaged with connected problems, that of a supposedly dominant "liberal" and potentially "non-racist" period in the German ethnological and anthropological sciences in the late nineteenth century, which was swept away by the rapid upsurge of more explicit [End Page 631] racialist thinking after the 1890s and 1900s. However, some problems have been drawn out of this idea owing to the strong racial currents in the earlier nineteenth century, and the persistence of liberal ideas into the 1920s and 1930s.
The historiographic context sets a wide potential frame for this edited collection, the chapters of which present a kaleidoscopic overview of engagement with "race" across the German lands and their wider global entanglements. The chapters themselves cover a broad chronological span from the 1880s to the end of the Third Reich, and deal to varying degrees with the titular issue of "continuity" and "change" in racial conceptions. They also follow a more general trend in the literature of asserting the need to look transnationally and comparatively to understand German developments—both in terms of German ideas being influenced by trends in other places and in terms of developments in Germany potentially being manifestations of much broader global and transnational processes.
The chapters deal not just with a wide chronological and geographic context, but also with a variety of different methodological perspectives, and will repay readers coming from a range of disciplines. The chapters include philosophical studies, like Ulrich Charpa's analysis of narratives of Germanic origins in novels and academic works, and more literary ones, like Eva Blome's chapter on the prevalence of themes of miscegenation and primitivism in colonial literature during the Wilhelmine and Weimar periods. A couple of the chapters are strongly biographical, examining respectively Ernst Lissauer's engagement with "Germanness," and the life and works of the cultural critic Paul Schultze-Naumburg. These ambiguous figures are used to show the complexity and variability in racial conceptions across the chronological span of their careers. Some of the most interesting chapters involve the integration of themes and topics from distinct historical fields into understandings of race in modern Germany, with Oliver Haag's chapter on German views of Australian aborigines (shifting between disparagement and idealization), Volker Zimmerman's on the use of criminal statistics in Prussia's Polish provinces, and Pablo Dominguez Andersen's on whiteness and race in Weimar film and media culture, being particular highlights.
The introduction is perhaps slightly too keen to move away from the major debates about race in German historiography, presenting instead a more general case that we should adopt an approach which is "not one of either-or, but that the national, local, transnational, cultural, and biological were intermingled and resulted in conceptions of race that were simultaneously rigid and adaptable" (1–2). While this promises a nuanced and multivalent...