Magic Lantern Empire: Colonialism and Society in Germany

Magic Lantern Empire: Colonialism and Society in Germany

by John Phillip Short
     
 

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Magic Lantern Empire examines German colonialism as a mass cultural and political phenomenon unfolding at the center of a nascent, conflicted German modernity. John Phillip Short draws together strands of propaganda and visual culture, science and fantasy to show how colonialism developed as a contested form of knowledge that both reproduced and blurred

Overview

Magic Lantern Empire examines German colonialism as a mass cultural and political phenomenon unfolding at the center of a nascent, conflicted German modernity. John Phillip Short draws together strands of propaganda and visual culture, science and fantasy to show how colonialism developed as a contested form of knowledge that both reproduced and blurred class difference in Germany, initiating the masses into a modern market worldview. A nuanced account of how ordinary Germans understood and articulated the idea of empire, this book draws on a diverse range of sources: police files, spy reports, pulp novels, popular science writing, daily newspapers, and both official and private archives.

In Short's historical narrative—peopled by fantasists and fabulists, by impresarios and amateur photographers, by ex-soldiers and rank-and-file socialists, by the luckless and bored along the margins of German society—colonialism emerges in metropolitan Germany through a dialectic of science and enchantment within the context of sharp class conflict. He begins with the organized colonial movement, with its expert scientific and associational structures and emphatic exclusion of the "masses." He then turns to the grassroots colonialism that thrived among the lower classes, who experienced empire through dime novels, wax museums, and panoramas. Finally, he examines the ambivalent posture of Germany's socialists, who mounted a trenchant critique of colonialism, while in their reading rooms workers spun imperial fantasies. It was from these conflicts, Short argues, that there first emerged in the early twentieth century a modern German sense of the global.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Short contends that both the elite and bourgeois of German society viewed colonial knowledge as information best suited for scientific exploration or economic growth. To most members of the working class, colonial knowledge was little more than entertainment, a means to ogle savages, animals, and artifacts . . . the book shines in its analysis of the actual and attempted interplay between the social classes as they tried to grapple with what colonialism meant for themselves and for the nation."—J.T. Rasel, Choice (July 2013)

"Short contextualizes the organized colonial movement more effectively than any other scholar, treating colonialists not as an atavistic force but rather as active and sometimes creative players in a very fluid environment."—Jeff Boersox, American Historical Review (Dec 2013)

"Magic Lantern Empire traces the unfolding interaction among colonial associations, German workers, and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) after 1884. . . . his work comes closer than any other to uncovering what the German working classes actually thought about imperialism, and how these thoughts did and did not translate into political action" —Matthew Fitzpatrick, German Studies Review (April 1014)

"In this substantially researched and concisely written book, John Phillip Short uncovers the complex influences of colonialism on Wilhelmine society in an age of mass culture and politics."—Michael Meng,Journal of Namibian Studies

"This welcome addition to our general understanding of colonial discourses in Imperial Germany is based on Short's careful research in municipal archives in places such as Augsburg, Leipzig, and Nurnberg. These are not the usual sites for such investigations, and that is one of the great virtues of his book: by taking us into colonial libraries in these cities, by introducing us to a range of populizers who actively promoted German interactions with the colonial world across Imperial Germany, and by identifying letters from seemingly naive citizens articulating their own visions of their possible futures in a colony Short provides us with a good sense of what people from the working classes were reading, seeing, and to some degree, thinking. He also shows how this compared to what members of the colonial lobby wanted them to read and think. The two were radically different. In that sense, Short's impressive social research provides us with a highly textured view of German interactions with the 'magic lantern empire'."—H. Glenn Penny, Journal of Modern History (March 2015)

"Magic Lantern Empire is a stunningly good book, among the very best works on German colonialism that I have read. It is deeply researched, beautifully written, and makes very significant arguments about German colonialism and about colonialism and metropolitan culture more broadly. John Phillip Short displays a brilliant and sophisticated understanding of colonial culture."—Andrew Zimmerman, The George Washington University, author of Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South

"Magic Lantern Empire is a stunningly original treatment of the colonialism of Wilhelmine Germany at the interface of imperialist politics, modern mass culture, and the restructuring of the public sphere. John Phillip Short's attention to the transformations of Social Democratic anticolonialism is particularly compelling."—Russell A. Berman, Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University, author of Enlightenment or Empire: Colonial Discourse in German Culture

"In this exhaustively researched account of the entry of the colonial overseas into the social and cultural experience of metropolitan Germany, John Phillip Short vividly illumines the landscape of politics before 1914, exploring the many different ways in which empire was remaking popular culture. He comes closer than almost anyone else to the outlook of ordinary Germans as they encountered the colonial effect."—Geoff Eley, Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History, University of Michigan, author of A Crooked Line: From Cultural History to the History of Society

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801450945
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
11/20/2012
Pages:
248
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

John Phillip Short is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Georgia.

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