The Devil's Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa

University of Chicago Press
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Germany’s overseas colonial empire was relatively short lived, lasting from 1884 to 1918. During this period, dramatically different policies were enacted in the colonies: in Southwest Africa, German troops carried out a brutal slaughter of the Herero people; in Samoa, authorities pursued a paternalistic defense of native culture; in Qingdao, China, policy veered between harsh racism and cultural exchange.
Why did the same colonizing power act in such differing ways? In The Devil’s Handwriting, George Steinmetz tackles this question through a brilliant cross-cultural analysis of German colonialism, leading to a new conceptualization of the colonial state and postcolonial theory. Steinmetz uncovers the roots of colonial behavior in precolonial European ethnographies, where the Hereros were portrayed as cruel and inhuman, the Samoans were idealized as “noble savages,” and depictions of Chinese culture were mixed. The effects of status competition among colonial officials, colonizers’ identification with their subjects, and the different strategies of cooperation and resistance offered by the colonized are also scrutinized in this deeply nuanced and ambitious comparative history.
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About the author

George Steinmetz is professor of sociology and German studies at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Regulating the Social: The Welfare State and Local Politics in Imperial Germany, the editor of State/Culture: State Formation after the Colonial Turn and The Politics of Method in the Human Sciences: Positivism and its Epistemological Others, and codirector, with Michael Chanan, of the documentary film Detroit: Ruin of a City.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Sep 15, 2008
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Pages
608
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ISBN
9780226772448
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Africa / General
History / Asia / China
History / Europe / Germany
Social Science / General
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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"A fascinating book and a pleasure to read.... Full of interesting details and insights." --Gideon Rachman, Financial Times
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An in-depth study by one of our most respected authorities on international relations and contemporary East Asian history, Restless Empire is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the recent past and probable future of this dynamic and complex nation.
During the Allied bombing of Germany, Hitler was more distressed by the loss of cultural treasures than by the leveling of homes. Remarkably, his propagandists broadcast this fact, convinced that it would reveal not his callousness but his sensitivity: the destruction had failed to crush his artist's spirit. It is impossible to begin to make sense of this thinking without understanding what Wolf Lepenies calls The Seduction of Culture in German History.

This fascinating and unusual book tells the story of an arguably catastrophic German habit--that of valuing cultural achievement above all else and envisioning it as a noble substitute for politics. Lepenies examines how this tendency has affected German history from the late eighteenth century to today. He argues that the German preference for art over politics is essential to understanding the peculiar nature of Nazism, including its aesthetic appeal to many Germans (and others) and the fact that Hitler and many in his circle were failed artists and intellectuals who seem to have practiced their politics as a substitute form of art.


In a series of historical, intellectual, literary, and artistic vignettes told in an essayistic style full of compelling aphorisms, this wide-ranging book pays special attention to Goethe and Thomas Mann, and also contains brilliant discussions of such diverse figures as Novalis, Walt Whitman, Leo Strauss, and Allan Bloom. The Seduction of Culture in German History is concerned not only with Germany, but with how the German obsession with culture, sense of cultural superiority, and scorn of politics have affected its relations with other countries, France and the United States in particular.

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Looking at changes in welfare policy over the course of the nineteenth century, differences between state and municipal interventions, and intercity variations in policy, Steinmetz develops an account that focuses on the specific constraints on local and national policymakers and the different ways of imagining the "social question." Whereas certain aspects of the pre-1914 welfare state reinforced social divisions and even foreshadowed aspects of the Nazi regime, other dimensions actually helped to relieve sickness, poverty, and unemployment. Steinmetz explores the conditions that led to both the positive and the objectionable features of social policy. The explanation draws on statist, Marxist, and social democratic perspectives and on theories of gender and culture.

The revelation that the U.S. Department of Defense had hired anthropologists for its Human Terrain System project—assisting its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq—caused an uproar that has obscured the participation of sociologists in similar Pentagon-funded projects. As the contributors to Sociology and Empire show, such affiliations are not new. Sociologists have been active as advisers, theorists, and analysts of Western imperialism for more than a century.

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Contributors. Albert Bergesen, Ou-Byung Chae, Andy Clarno, Raewyn Connell, Ilya Gerasimov, Julian Go, Daniel Goh, Chandan Gowda, Krishan Kumar, Fuyuki Kurasawa, Michael Mann, Marina Mogilner, Besnik Pula, Anne Raffin, Emmanuelle Saada, Marco Santoro, Kim Scheppele, George Steinmetz, Alexander Semyonov, Andrew Zimmerman

In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million—all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold's Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust. Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold's Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo—too long forgotten—onto the conscience of the West.
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