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German History, Multiculturalism

East Africa: Propaganda and Manifest Expansion During the Weimar Republic

As my students in the Afro-German course know, Germany’s colonies have not been a dominant topic among scholars for a long time, but the recent decade or so has certainly made up for that lapse. This afternoon, I attended two lectures on Germany’s colonial history.

First, Luke Springman from the University of Bloomsburg addressed the role of colonialist propaganda between the World Wars in his talk “East Africa: Propaganda and Manifest Expansion during the Weimar Republic.”

Springman argued that contrary to conventional wisdom, colonial propaganda was clearly visible in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany. It’s true, so Springman, that the better known general histories of Weimar treat colonialist propaganda as a peripheral phenomenon, but that might be due to the fact that a lot of that propaganda happened in media that are not easily accessible nowadays. Specifically, Springman mentions magazines and books targeted at young and young adult audiences, and says that we can measure their impact best when we use an understanding of propaganda called “sociological propaganda.” In other words, it’s propaganda that works so well because it does not come across as propaganda, but “just adventure” literature.

Springman mentioned some of the titles that transported the colonialist propaganda. Josef Viera’s novel Vigirimana: Eine afrikanische Robinsonade, for instance, tells a story along the lines of the Last Mohican, but set in Africa and with the Germans as heroes.

Other propagandadistic texts were films, often billed as documentaries. Zum Schneegipfel Afrikas was one of them, and while the film did not mention the colonies at all, the book of the same titled, published by the film’s director, does and thus retroactively includes the documentary film in the revisionist propagandistic efforts.

The second talk by Gregory Weeks, titled “Ostmark and Ostafrika: German Colonial Movement in Austria,” looked closely at how the Nazis and Adolf Hitler treated the colonial question. Weeks cited several sources that show how Hitler, contrary to what is commonly said, never renounced Germany’s right to the colonies that had been taken away under the treaty of Versailles.

What I found really interesting were the connection between the argument for the colonies and an apparent plan to come to an agreement with Great Britain about a dividing up of spheres of influence in Africa.

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About GG

Gundolf Graml is Associate Prof. and Dir. of German Studies at Agnes Scott College. He has a Ph.D. in German Studies from the University of Minnesota and has published articles on German and Austrian film and tourism. He is currently writing a book about tourism and Austrian national identity after 1945. Other research projects include critical whiteness studies and, most recently, investigations into the connection between memory and nature. At ASC, Gundolf Graml teaches courses on a broad range of topics, from German 101 to German and Austrian Cinema and Afro-German History and Culture.

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