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German natural history collectors in Southern Africa, 1815-1867

Arnold, Katherine (2021) German natural history collectors in Southern Africa, 1815-1867. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004402


In the early nineteenth century, most of the commercial natural history collectors in southern Africa were Germans. They were imperfectly integrated into the (white) social fabric of the region and are now rendered marginal in popular conceptions of the British Empire. For too long, historians have overemphasized Susanne Zantop’s analytical approach in Colonial Fantasies to discuss German imperial desire in the pre-nation-state period without thoroughly investigating cases representative of German complicity in imperialism prior to their period of formal colonialism. While they were not first and foremost interested in subverting British control in the Cape, this thesis will show how these Germans certainly embraced the role of the colonizer through their commercial mentality. The pursuit of specimens encouraged ambition and risk-taking: the collector’s search was inherently tied to networks that encouraged increasing physical and intellectual control over African peoples, and which facilitated an uninhibited extraction of flora, fauna, and human remains from colonial environments. Due to their familial and professional ties to the German states, these collectors sold their specimens throughout central Europe, giving Germans-speaking botanists privileged access to these collectors and their herbaria, rather than British botanists in the imperial center, to begin the process of classifying and determining the unique flora of southern Africa. Challenging many of the traditional spatial understandings which govern interpretations of a “homogenous” British Empire, this thesis extends this argument by visualizing German cities as crucial nodes of imperial knowledge production beyond the Empire’s well-established boundaries. Thus, it contributes to revisionist assessments of the ways in which global exploration and empire were part of a common European project.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Katherine Arnold
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DD Germany
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Motadel, David and Lewis, Joanna

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