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  • Belonging to the Interwar WorldTracing the Travelogues of Colin Ross
  • Nico De Klerk (bio)

[End Page 72]

From March 2015 through February 2017, a team of four researchers, Katalin Teller, Joachim Schätz, Kristin Kopp, and this author, worked on a project, "Exploring the Interwar World: The Travelogues of Colin Ross (1885–1945)," about the Vienna-born German travel writer, fi lmmaker, lecturer, and journalist. The research was carried out under the aegis of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for History and Society in Vienna. Its late director, historian Siegfried Mattl (1954–2015), and Michael Loebenstein, currently director of the Austrian Film Museum, initiated the project. Funding was provided by the Austrian Science Fund FWF. The initiative's goals were to trace Ross's career, domestically and internationally; recapture the historical relevance of his travelogues as interfaces of geopolitical, cultural, and (mass) media conditions; uncover the underlying business model and marketing concepts; and create [End Page 73] database of his colossal media output. Although Ross did his best-known work in the interwar years, the archival resources we uncovered allowed us to extend our research into his activities during the two world wars.

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Figure 1.

Colin Ross looking through his Bamberg camera, Florida, late January 1939. Frame enlargement.

Courtesy of Austrian Film Museum (Österreichisches Filmmuseum).

We selected Colin Ross as the focus of this project not so much because of the quality of his work but rather for his simultaneous activities in various media and his sustained presence in the public eye between and during the two world wars. We were interested in him as a persona—a globetrotter, a geopolitical expert, a Nazi propagandist—that had been largely developed through his self-initiated enterprises. We explored the ways in which he reported about his own work and uncovered the support he received from a few leading and powerful cultural companies with which he worked closely, notably newspaper publisher Ullstein, book publisher F. A. Brockhaus, and film production company Ufa, to maintain that persona. Hence we excluded his brief involvement in fiction filmmaking in the late 1920s, when his contributions, although exploited in publicity, were subordinate. A circumstance, finally, that decided in favor of Ross as a research subject was the scale of readily available documentation: besides all of his thirty-plus books, there were the two dozen reels of unreleased fi lm footage of his 1938–39 American journey that his daughter Renate Ross-Rahte (1915–2004) had donated to the Austrian Film Museum; as well, there was a political biography. With an analysis of these sources, along with further archival research [End Page 74] and analysis of his released films, his journalism, his lectures, and the reception of his output, we aimed to create an in-depth study of his work and its evaluation. At the same time, the project provided a rich opportunity to examine the intermediality that was so typical of the travelogue form, yet has remained underresearched.

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Figure 2.

Colin Ross talking to farmers near Fredericksburg, Texas, early February 1939. Frame enlargement.

Courtesy of Austrian Film Museum (Österreichisches Filmmuseum).

After a prominent, largely successful career between the early 1920s and 1945, Ross's work disappeared into oblivion after World War II ended. Surely this condition was expedited by his and his wife's self-chosen deaths on April 29, 1945, in the Bavarian village of Urfeld, in the house that belonged to the brother-in-law of Baldur von Schirach, a National Socialist Party protagonist and one of the couple's friends. According to Ross's biographer, the couple's apprehension of what the Allied armies might do to those who had played a prominent role in the Third Reich was probably misguided. Although both had been staunch Nazi supporters, Ross's only official position in the regime, not counting a few NS Party–commissioned reporting trips, was a stint in the German Foreign Office's Amerika-Komitee, beginning in 1941. He was promoted as its head in 1944 and put in charge of its propaganda operations to undermine the reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.1 As he considered himself...


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