Writing the history of German colonialism has never been simple. For decades,
scholars consistently underestimated its value by relegating it to a supporting
role in their larger accounts of German history, treating it as merely a second-
ary expression of a larger impulse toward territorial expansion in Europe.1
An
empirically rich story of overseas conquest and cultural change became instead
a rather straightforward rendering of government manipulation and political
consensus building. This did little to alter the dominant tone or trajectory of
historical research; it merely confirmed what was already known from other
sources about the dynamic but unstable nature of German society prior to
World War I. Despite its limits, this approach held considerable merit. It in-
spired scholars in West and East Germany to uncover detailed documentary
evidence of German colonialism’s systemic violence, extreme brutality, and
persistent corruption, thereby weakening the residual influence of Weimar and
Nazi revisionism, which had misleadingly argued that German colonial ad-
ministrators, settlers, and missionaries had played progressive roles in African,
Asian, and Pacific economic modernization.2
Studying the impact of German colonialism on Wilhelmine party politics,
interest group formation, and public opinion also yielded meaningful Cold
War–era lessons about the past methods used by imperialists to manufacture
domestic majorities in support of policies that exploited the lives and resources
of foreign others while silencing the voices of domestic critics by portraying
them as unpatriotic and racially disloyal. This research model is far from being
outdated or irrelevant today, but along with its undoubtedly good intentions
INTRODUCTION
German Colonialism Made Simple
Bradley Naranch
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