From the frontier to German South-West Africa: German colonialism, Indians, and American westward expansion

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This article argues that positive perceptions of American westward expansion played a major (and so far overlooked) role both for the domestic German debate about the necessity of overseas expansion and for concrete German colonial policies during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During and after the uprising against colonial rule (1904-7) of the two main indigenous peoples, the Herero and the Nama, of German South-West Africa (Germany's only settler colony), colonial administrators actively researched the history of the American frontier and American Indian policies in order to learn how best to "handle" the colony's peoples. There exists a substantial literature on the allegedly exceptional enchantment of Germans with American Indians. Yet this article shows that negative views of Amerindians also influenced and shaped the opinions and actions of German colonizers. Because of its focus on the importance of the United States for German discussions about colonial expansion, this article also explores the role German liberals played in the German colonial project. Ultimately, the United States as a "model empire" was especially attractive for Germans with liberal and progressive political convictions. The westward advancement of the American frontier went hand in hand with a variety of policies towards Native Americans, including measures of expulsion and extinction. German liberals accepted American expansionism as normative and were therefore willing to advocate, or at least tolerate, similar policies in the German colonies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-552
Number of pages30
JournalModern Intellectual History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


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