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Travelling Back: revisiting 19th-century transfers between Munich and Brazil

sabrina moura
A German translation of this post is available on the ZI Spotlight blog published by the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte München.

Fig. 1: Felix Ehlers, Travelling Back (2024), Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich.

Travelling Back is an exhibition presented at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte between February and April 2024, offering a critical perspective on the narratives and collections brought from Brazil to Munich by Bavarian scientists Johann Baptist von Spix (1781–1826) and Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius (1794–1868) in the 19th century.[1] My research on this topic was made possible through a fellowship at the Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect.

Fig. 2: Felix Ehlers, Travelling Back (2024) Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich.

The exhibition follows the scientists' extensive three-year journey across the Brazilian hinterland, including the Amazonian region, and raises crucial questions about the colonial underpinnings of the scientific pursuits of the natural-history project between Munich and Brazil in the 19th century. It examines the various displays and interpretations of Spix and Martius's collections from their arrival in Germany to the present, shedding light on the dis:connections in the production of knowledge behind these scientific endeavours. The aim is not only to explore the public reception of these experiences through a historical lens but also to engage in a critical examination through the perspectives of present-day dialogues and initiatives. Here, we feature various chapters of the exhibition along with the documents, images, publications and artworks presented at the show.


Fig. 3: Carl Friedrich Heinzmann. 'Vögel-Teich am Rio de S. Francisco '. In Atlas zur Reise in Brasilien, Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius,  Munich: Lidauer, et al., 1823.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, scientific expeditions were part of a global natural history project guided by a knowledge-making mission that was seemingly nobler than that of the colonial conquest. In pursuit of science and universal knowledge, the exploration of new territories, the naming of new species and the act of collecting became part of a classificatory rationale rooted in Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae (1735).

Fig. 4: C. Hess. 'Astrocaryum gynacanthum. Bactris pectinata. Bactris hirta'. In Historia naturalis palmarum. Opus Tripartitum (1823-1850), by Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius.

In this context, the expedition of Johann Baptist von Spix and Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius to Brazil — commissioned by King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria (1756–1825) in association with the Austrian Empire — stands out as a key undertaking in European scientific exploration of South America. The desire to explore the biodiversity of the tropics was facilitated by the opening of Brazilian ports in 1808, following the transfer of the Portuguese royal court to Rio de Janeiro. This pivotal event marked the end of Portugal’s policy of limiting foreign scientists’ access to its colony — a restriction that had notably hindered Alexander von Humboldt’s plans to explore this region.

Fig. 5: Matthias Schmidt. 'Anodorhynchus Maximiliani. Tab. XI'. In Avium species novae by Johann Baptist von Spix, 1824.


Fig. 6: Felix Ehlers, Travelling Back (2024) Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich.


Fig. 7: 'Map of Brazil showing 1817-20 route followed by Martius and Spix'. In Flora Brasiliensis On-Line,  São Paulo: Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo, 1820.

Spix and Martius arrived in Brazil through the port of Rio de Janeiro in July 1817. They spent about six months there, acclimatising and preparing for the subsequent stages of their expedition. In the first half of 1818, they embarked on a journey on foot and by mule, accompanied by a varying entourage, through the interior of Brazil from the southeast to the northwest. In later years, they reached and explored the vast Amazonian regions, where they encountered numerous indigenous groups, including the Juri, Miranha and Tikuna peoples. From these communities, they collected artifacts and conducted detailed descriptions related to their physical characteristics, habits and languages.  

Fig. 8: E. Meyer, 'Trinkfest der Coroados’, facsimile. In Atlas zur Reise in Brasilien (1823-1831), by Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius,  Munich: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

Fig. 9: Van der Velden. 'Tanz der Puris'. In Atlas zur Reise in Brasilien (1823-1831), by Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius,  Munich: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek


Fig. 10: 'Spix und Martius Ausstellung, Masken und Federschmuck '. In Sammlung Fotografie & Schriften,  Munich: Museum Fünf Kontinente München, 1928.


Fig. 11: 'Spix und Martius Ausstellung, Masken und Federschmuck '. In Sammlung Fotografie & Schriften,  Munich: Museum Fünf Kontinente München, 1928.

  During their years in Brazil, Spix and Martius periodically sent reports and various items to Munich to account for the Kingdom of Bavaria’s investment in their expedition. Upon returning to Europe in 1820, they focused on analysing and cataloguing their findings, which included numerous ethnographic objects, minerals, plants and animal species. These items are now part of the Bavarian state collections.  

Fig. 12: 'Dauerausstellung der Spix und Martius Sammlung '. In Sammlung Fotografie & Schriften,  Munich: Museum Fünf Kontinente München, 1930.


Fig. 13: 'Unter Indianern Brasiliens’, Ausstellungsplakat. In Sammlung Fotografie & Schriften,  Munich: Museum Fünf Kontinente München, 1979.

  Publishing was a significant aspect of their work. One of their most renowned publications is the multi-volume series Reise in Brasilien (1823–1831). Historian Karen Macknow Lisboa notes that this work interweaves scientific discourse with a romantic perspective of nature, which was popular among German naturalists in the 19th century.[2] The book portrays an idealised vision of tropical nature, which contrasts with a hierarchical perception of human societies. The text contains numerous passages in which indigenous people are described as inferior to Europeans. ‘The temperament of the Indian is almost wholly underdeveloped, and appears as phlegm’, they wrote in the first volume of Reise in Brasilien.[3]  

Fig. 14: 'Brasilianische Reise, 1817-1820’, Ausstellungsplakat. In Sammlung Fotografie & Schriften,  Munich: Museum Fünf Kontinente München, 1995.


Fig. 15: 'Caryocar brasiliensis, V12 P1 t.73.'. In Flora Brasiliensis by Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, August Wilhelm Eichler, Ignaz Urban and et al., 1840-1906.

  Their work also resulted in several illustrated scientific publications. Flora Brasiliensis (1840–1906) is an example where Martius aimed to describe all known Brazilian flora up to that time. The first issue was published in 1840, and it took more than half a century to complete. Martius did not live to see the work’s completion and, after his passing, other botanists undertook the project. It is still used as a reference in contemporary botany.  

Fig. 16: C. Hess. ' Elaeis melanococca '. In Historia naturalis palmarum. Opus Tripartitum (1823-1850), by Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, 1823-1850.


Following Spix and Martius’s return to Munich in 1820, a significant aspect drew the attention of the local press: the presence of two indigenous children who had crossed the Atlantic with them. These children, named Isabella Miranha and Johann Juri, after their Christian baptism, were survivors from a group of six indigenes taken from Amazonia by the Bavarian scientists.  

Fig. 17: 'Ueber Brasilien'. Eos. Zeitschrift zur Erheiterung und Belehrung (Munich), 20 March 1821, 93.


Fig. 18: 'Ueber Brasilien'. Eos. Zeitschrift zur Erheiterung und Belehrung (Munich), 20 March 1821, 94.

  Early articles from 1820 generally depicted the children as wild and unresponsive. Descriptions of Miranha often emphasised her hair, likening it to a horse’s to underscore her ‘wild’ origin. In contrast, Juri was described more positively, as a ‘not unattractive boy with friendly eyes’. These physical depictions often influenced the interpretations of their behaviour.[4] Juri was characterised as good and calm, while Miranha was considered unkind and cold. As time passed, these accounts began to change. For example, when the girl started playing with dolls or sewing, the press noted these as adaptations to European education and habits. However, this didn’t last long. Shortly after arriving in Munich, Miranha and Juri passed away. The boy succumbed to a long and painful pulmonary illness in 1821, and the girl followed a year later. Newspapers report that even after his passing, Juri remained of interest for scientific research, as evidenced by the creation of a wax impression of his head.[5] A posthumous tribute to the children was undertaken by the Queen Karoline of Bavaria, who commissioned the Bavarian artist Johann Baptist Stiglmaier (1791–1844) to create a bronze mortuary stele to adorn their tomb at Munich’s Old South Cemetery. The stele was removed from the cemetery and is now possessed by the Münchner Stadtmuseum.  

Fig. 19: Johann Baptist Stiglmaier. Grabrelief der Kinder Juri und Miranha. c. 1824. Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlung Angewandte Kunst. Photo by Sabrina Moura.

  The practice of bringing indigenous individuals to Europe for scientific scrutiny dates back to the 16th century. Ethnographer Christian Feest notes that in the 1820s, at least seven Indigenous individuals from Brazil were living in Europe, either in imperial or noble households or displayed to the public, with only one returning to Brazil.[6] The remains of at least three became part of museum collections.


The images in Spix and Martius’s books were created before the invention of photography in 1826 and, like many illustrations in travel accounts, went through several layers of interpretation before being made available to the public. Their initial sketches, whether created on-site or later, were subject to successive re-readings as they were prepared for publication by 19th-century engravers. In the following centuries, these images entered the public domain and gained wide circulation, appearing in exhibitions and on the internet. To better understand them, it is essential to acknowledge the multiple lives and contexts that these images traversed. Portraits, such as those of Miranha, Juri and other indigenous people featured in Reise in Brasilien, shed light on the pictorial conventions that guided ethnographic representations in travel accounts. These portraits also highlight the frequently stereotyped perceptions of indigenous peoples prevailing in European society.

Fig. 20: Felix Ehlers, Travelling Back (2024) Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich.

  The disparities between the drawings contained in the Martiusiana archives at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, created in 1821, and the final versions subsequently published in the Reise in Brasilien atlas serve as a poignant reminder that images, much like texts, are discursive constructs heavily influenced by perception, interpretation, language and the techniques available at the time of their creation.


Fig. 21: 'Miranha'. In Atlas zur Reise in Brasilien (1823-1831), by Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius,  Munich: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek


Fig. 22: 'Iuri'. In Atlas zur Reise in Brasilien (1823-1831), by Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius,  Munich: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

  The encounter with the portraits of Isabella Miranha and Johann Juri at an exhibition in São Paulo is a pivotal moment in the novel O Som do Rugido da Onça (2021), authored by Brazilian writer Micheliny Verunschk. This scene depicts a significant instance when one of the book’s main characters, Josefa, enters an exhibition room and is met with the gaze of the two indigenous children represented in the portraits. They appear to be looking at her with an eerie sense of life. Verunschk’s narrative skilfully intertwines Josefa’s contemporary experiences with the historical past of Juri and Miranha, particularly imagining the inner life of Isabella Miranha, referred to as Iñe-ê in the novel. Through her fiction, the author offers readers a unique perspective, allowing them to explore how imagination and speculation — or ‘critical fabulation’ in the words of Saidiya Hartman — can breathe life into a story that, despite being the subject of discussions and numerous publications, remains noticeably absent from public spaces of memory.  

Fig. 23: An excerpt from Micheliny Verunshk. O Som do Rurgido da Onça São Paulo: Cia das Letras 2021.

  Fiction has also been a means for other authors to grapple with these experiences, as evidenced by the work of writer Henrike Leonhardt Unerbittlich des Nordens rauher Winter (1987) and by Carl Friedrich von Martius himself, who, in 1831, wrote Frey Apollonio: Roman aus Brasilien (1992). Published more than a century later, this novel blends first-person and third-person narration to recount the story of the young scientist Hartoman, who serves as Martius’s alter ego.[7]  

Fig. 24: Cover of Verunshk, Micheliny. O Som do Rurgido da Onça São Paulo: Cia das Letras 2021.


Fig. 25: Yolanda Gutiérrez, Jana Baldovino (dancer), David Valencia (dancer), Cornelia Böhm (audio) and Felix Ehlers (photo). URBAN BODIES PROJECT. 2023. Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect.

  Verunschk’s writing engages in a dialogue with two significant works in this exhibition: Isabela People (2020) by Gê Viana and Urban Bodies, Munich (2023) by Yolanda Gutierrez. These pieces employ visual intervention and performance as powerful tools to reveal new presences of Juri and Miranha in the contemporary landscape of Munich. Their artistic approaches delve deep into the possibilities of reimagining the existence of these figures in the present, allowing for the emergence of alternative memories and rewriting their histories.  

Fig. 26: Gê Viana. Isabel Miranha. 2020. digital collage.

  The artist Frauke Zabel’s practice revolves around the counter-narratives that emerge through the mapping of various locations in the city, where she traces collections, historical sites and tributes dedicated to Spix and Martius in Munich’s public spaces. In her piece for this exhibition, entitled the palm trees grouping themselves as follows: (2023), she investigates Martius’s studies on palm trees, forming her own collection of evidence to narrate the history of these plants as research subjects. Zabel’s collection examines the symbolism, exoticisation, profitability and knowledge production related to palm trees in colonial and neo-colonial contexts.  

Fig. 27: Frauke Zabel. die Palmen sich wie folgt gruppieren: . 2023. mixed media.

  Elaine Pessoa, through her work Exploratorius (2023), questions the future of images in what she terms the ‘colonialism of data’. Pessoa interacts with the drawings, diaries and visual documents that constitute the scientific accounts of Spix and Martius’s travels. Through a series of experiments with artificial intelligence and manual artistic interventions, including staining, painting and scarring, she reinterprets representations of Brazilian tropical landscapes, jungles, forests and biomes.  

Fig. 28: Elaine Pessoa. Exploratorius. 2023. mixed media.

  Furthermore, artist Igor Vidor adds a unique dimension to this artistic dialogue by digitally intervening in the images of the Reise in Brasilien atlas. He integrates the character Blanka from the video game Street Fighter into the landscapes originally documented by Spix and Martius. Blanka, a green-skinned mutant boy who finds himself in the Amazon after a plane crash, undergoes a significant transformation due to contact with plant chlorophyll, which explains his appearance and abilities. In Vidor’s work, Blanka becomes an unexpected visitor, disrupting the narrative of the Bavarian explorers by adding elements of fantasy and surrealism to their depicted reality.  

Fig. 29: Igor Vidor. Travels in Brazil: Spix, Martius and Blanka, #1. 2022. digital collage.


Fig. 30: Opening conference of the exhibition Travelling Back (2024). Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich. Photo: Arturo Bonhomme.

  Beyond the exhibition space, discussions about Travelling Back have expanded into a series of debates and media coverage that are crucial for understanding how the expedition is perceived today, both in academic circles and among the general audience, as exemplified by the opening conference on 9 February 2024. It featured artists Frauke Zabel and Yolanda Gutiérrez, alongside writer Micheliny Verunschk and historian Karen Macknow Lisboa. Each speaker related the points of departure — visual arts, history and literature — that led them to explore Spix and Martius's travels to Brazil and their implications for contemporary public discourse.  

Fig. 31: Frauke Zabel speaks at the opening conference of the exhibition Travelling Back (February 2024), Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich. Photo: Sabrina Moura.

  While their works engage with aspects that are often uncomfortable for those seeking to preserve the legacy and reputation of the Bavarian scientists, it is important to distance these critical views from political attacks on historical biographies. Rather, they seek to highlight colonial dimensions in the history of the natural sciences, prompting discussions beyond simplistic narratives that overlook the complexities of knowledge produced from such experiences.  

Fig. 32: Micheliny Verunshk visits the location of ancient tomb of Iuri and Miranha at the Munich Old South Cemetery (February 2024). Photo: Sabrina Moura.

  Thus, a critical history of science, in dialogue with the arts, intersects with the politics of memory. It underscores that history is a field for contestation, that should challenge the pitfalls of homogeneous temporal linearity and single narrators. Travelling Back attempted to escape these risks by portraying Spix and Martius as just two among many other narrators of this Bavarian-led journey through the hinterlands of Brazil.  

Fig. 33: Micheliny Verunshk, Yolanda Gutiérrez and Karen Macknow Lisboa at the location of ancient tomb of Iuri and Miranha at the Munich Old South Cemetery (February 2024). Photo: Sabrina Moura.

  [1] I thank Ann-Katrin Fischer and Sophia Fischer for their invaluable support as curatorial assistants. [2] Karen Macknow Lisboa, 'Da Expedição Científica à Ficcionalização da Viagem: Martius e seu romance indianista sobre o Brasil', Acervo 21, no. 1 (2011), https://revista.arquivonacional.gov.br/index.php/revistaacervo/article/view/91. [3] Johann Baptist von Spix and Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, Reise in Brasilien: auf Befehl Sr. Maj. Maximilian Joseph I. Königs von Baiern in d. J. 1817-20 gemacht, vol. 1,1 (Munich: Lindauer, et al., 1823), 241. https://www.digitale-sammlungen.de/de/details/bsb11212343. [4] Maria de Fátima Costa, 'Os ‘meninos índios’ que Spix e Martius levaram a Munique', Artelogie. Recherche sur les arts, le patrimoine et la littérature de l’Amérique latine 14 (2019), https://doi.org/10.4000/artelogie.3774. https://doi.org/10.4000/artelogie.3774. [5] Klaus Schönitzer, 'From the New World to the Old World', Journal Fünf Kontinente: Forum für ethnologische Forschung 1 (2014). [6] Christian Feest, 'Botocudos in Europe in the 1820s', (2022), https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.29215.43686. [7]  Lisboa, 'Da Expedição Científica'.  
Costa, Maria de Fátima. 'Os ‘meninos índios’ que Spix e Martius levaram a Munique'. Artelogie. Recherche sur les arts, le patrimoine et la littérature de l’Amérique latine 14 (2019). https://doi.org/10.4000/artelogie.3774. Feest, Christian. 'Botocudos in Europe in the 1820s'. (2022). https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.29215.43686. Lisboa, Karen Macknow. 'Da Expedição Científica à Ficcionalização da Viagem: Martius e seu romance indianista sobre o Brasil'. Acervo 21, no. 1 (2011): 115-32. https://revista.arquivonacional.gov.br/index.php/revistaacervo/article/view/91. Schönitzer, Klaus. 'From the New World to the Old World'. Journal Fünf Kontinente: Forum für ethnologische Forschung 1 (2014). Spix, Johann Baptist von and Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius. Reise in Brasilien: auf Befehl Sr. Maj. Maximilian Joseph I. Königs von Baiern in d. J. 1817-20 gemacht. Vol. 1,1, Munich: Lindauer, et al., 1823. https://www.digitale-sammlungen.de/de/details/bsb11212343.  
citation information:
Moura, Sabrina, 'Travelling Back: revisiting 19th-century transfers between Munich and Brazil', Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog. global dis:connect, 9 July 2024, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/07/09/travelling-back-revisiting-19th-century-transfers-between-munich-and-brazil/.
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Facing Gaia: Justin Brice Guariglia’s landscape photography in an ecological perspective

peter seeland
  In 2015, artist Justin Brice Guariglia participated in NASA's Operation Ice Bridge, flying over Greenland and photographing the Galloping Glacier near Jacobshavn. This glacier is among the fastest melting in the world, and few places illustrate the effects of climate change as starkly.[1] Guariglia observed the melting ice and heard the cracks splitting the archipelago. Later, he spent months working with gesso, acrylic and plastics on these photographs, creating tactile surface textures like Jacobshavn I (Fig. 1, 2).[2]

Fig. 1: Justin Brice Guariglia: JACOBSHAVN I, 2015/2016, Acryl, Polystyrene Panel, 325.12 x 243.84 x 4.44 cm, Private Collection. (reproduced with artist’s permission)

  A year later and about 800 kilometres northwest of Jacobshavn, French philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour flew over Baffin Island to Canada, where he spoke on perceptions of nature in the era of climate change. From the airplane, he looked down on Earth. Baffin Island, the largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, has been covered with ice for millennia. Yet, instead of a frozen white desert, Latour saw barren tundra for hours. In recent decades, the island's ice sheets have retreated by more than half due to global warming, and during the 2016 heatwave the island was almost ice-free.[3] Latour was deeply affected by the sight of the cracked, sparse ice. Bitterly, he compared the ravaged landscape to the tortured face and surface of Munch's The Scream. He said, ‘It was as though the ice was sending me a message’.[4] Greenland and the Arctic are considered ‘ground-zero zones’[5] of climate change, and it's telling that both Guariglia and Latour are so moved by these landscapes. The artificial transformation of nature becomes a visual experience for both, and it seems to be a new experience and a new relation to nature that is emerging through this direct confrontation. Latour describes the experience as an emotional dialogue, and Guariglia processes it through art. So, to what extent is Jacobshavn I a new image of nature and of a changing relationship between us and nature? How can comparing Latour’s theories and Guariglia’s art help us think through the climate crisis? This essay compares Guariglia’s artistic treatment of the Anthropocene with Latour’s theoretical approach, contextualising both in the broader discourse on the Anthropocene. This comparison demonstrates how art can reflect the relationship between humans and nature. Additionally, it illustrates how art can foster the creation of new, less destructive representations of nature, which are attuned to the challenges of the Anthropocene. Art could thus shift consciousness, providing a novel approach to the challenges of the Anthropocene.

Art and ecology

Researching contemporary art from an ecological perspective involves integrating environmental crises, their impacts on our conceptions of ourselves as humans, how we understand nature, and how we deal with them. It also entails investigating the relationship between humans and nature. These discussions are often labelled with the term Anthropocene, omnipresent in popular and academic discourses. Sometimes appearing in unreliable articles, sometimes taken as a given in serious discussions, or heavily criticised by researchers, the term is plagued by confusion.[6] The literature counts many essays on the Anthropocene and its impact on humans, culture and society, often under the umbrella of ecocriticism in philosophy, sociology, history and literary criticism, including aesthetics and art.[7] Bruno Latour, a luminary in the Anthropocene discourse, has engaged intensely with ecology, art and the humanities.[8] As Phillipe Pignarre notes, ‘Latour is really the thinker of the Anthropocene’.[9]

Jacobshavn I and the Anthropocene discourse

Jacobshavn I is intertwined with aspects of Latour's thought and the Anthropocene discourse in general. Knowing that Guariglia engages deeply with the discourse of Anthropocene, several pivotal aspects of the discourse and how viewers perceive Jacobshavn I.


The object depicted in the work remains utterly vague. Various visual elements intensify the disorientation, including the perspective, the size and the materiality of the representation. The image implies no particular vantage point, leaving the viewer's position unclear and compelling them back into their own subjective standpoint. Such disorientation characterises the Anthropocene. Bruno Latour diagnoses a new climate regime in the Anthropocene, as nature becomes a decisive actor.[10] A nature previously passive and objectified suddenly becomes an active, potent actor. This leaves humans in aporia, completely alienated from such nature. Further, nature as the setting of human existence and experience threatens to dissolve. The destructive element of changing the natural environment induces ontological upheaval of the world's structure, according to Latour.[11] Nature is no longer a constant. Humans have no fixed point to position themselves in the world's structure.[12] Jacobshavn I mirrors this disorientation. The lack of Euclidean perspective reflects the subject's aporia in understanding nature through the Anthropocene.[13]  

Fig. 2: Detail: Justin Brice Guariglia: JACOBSHAVN I, 2015/2016, Acryl, Polystyrene Panel, 325,12 x 4,44 cm, Private Collection. (reproduced with artist’s permission)


The representation is also unreadable, which recalls and surpasses disorientation. Every visual detail eludes reference; it remains entirely unclear what material is depicted where. The representation resists any cultural and subjective assimilation by the viewer, defying intuitive understanding. Unreadability is also present in the Anthropocene discourse. The Anthropocene is characterised by a ‘clash of scales’.[14] Scales that elude human perception are juxtaposed. The spatial scales of global crises, the temporality of millennia into the future and past and the quantitative dimensions of pollutants and destruction are hardly imaginable, let alone perceptible. The point of no return, when Earth's equilibrium catastrophically tips, exceeds human imagination. Thus, unreadability is inherent to the Anthropocene.[15] Guariglia evokes unreadability through form. The monumental white in Jacobshavn I also evokes unreadability by swallowing details and dazzling the viewer. The dominance of white recalls the ubiquity and therefore the ungraspable nature of the Anthropocene.[16] Latour also notes that previous concepts of nature and Earth deviate from reality, as symbolised by globes and maps.[17] Latour sees this deviation as a hallmark of modernity and defines it as the state in which every connection between our imagination of the world and its reality independent of us is severed. In this state, humans have lost the ability to perceive true nature.[18] It has become unfathomable, just like Jacobshavn I.


Paradoxically, the disorientation and unreadability connect the viewer to the work. The unfinished cognitive and perceptual processes demand resolution. The work appears simultaneously near and distant, familiar and strange. This dis:connectivity is also present in the Anthropocene discourse. Recognising the catastrophic consequences of dichotomising nature in the 20th century, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis developed the Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s.[19] This introduces a holistic understanding of nature, radically departing from modern dualism.[20] With Gaia, the Greek deity and personification of Earth, they symbolically refer to nature as a network of all organisms, including humans and animals in addition to rivers, mountains, and the micro- and macrocosmos. Nature is therefore a planetary collaborative-processual network that integrates humans as one part among others. Humans are not outside nature but an integral part of it. We are deeply connected and existentially bound to the network, and the network’s existence depends on our prudent interaction with the environment.[21] Hence, a posthumanist image of humanity and nature emerges. Nature is no longer the other, the observed and the foreign; humans are part of it. The separation of subject and object collapses, forming the conceptual basis of the Anthropocene.[22] Bruno Latour, building on the Gaia hypothesis, refers to this understanding of nature as the Terrestrial. He implies reciprocity between humans and the world, positioning humans as actors among many equivalent actors in the network. Humans are not the counterpart of the world but immanent within it. The goal of Latour's anthropology of modernity is to dissolve the separation of humans from nature, revealing it as an ideological construction.[23] Interconnectedness is thus an essential component of both the Anthropocene discourse and Guariglia's work. The complex and seemingly insoluble entanglement of viewer and artwork reflects the dis:connective human-nature relationship advocated by Latour.


Disorienting, unreadable, disconnected and yet connected, Jacobshavn I evokes discomfort and uncanniness. It is not the familiar and comfortable image of nature emphasising beauty; it is uncanny and strange. As Beatrice Galilee, curator at the Metropolitan Museum, describes Guariglia’s works, they are ‘beautiful but terrifying’.[24] This uncanniness is also present in the Anthropocene discourse. Thomas Friedman refers to this relationship with an incomprehensible world we are destroying ‘global weirding’.[25] The writer Amitav Ghosh says nature now reciprocates the human gaze, becoming alive in an uncanny yet familiar way.[26] Thus, in the Anthropocene, humans share their consciousness uncannily with other beings, perhaps even with the planet itself. Humans are inseparably connected to nature, so we can no longer retreat to our subjectivity or reduce nature to objectivity. Horn, invoking Kant, calls this the ‘Sublime in the Anthropocene’.[27] It is a disturbing intimacy with a world that can no longer be grasped solely as the human lifeworld.[28] Moreover, the sheer complexity and the real possibility of global environmental collapse are in themselves frightening and uncanny. Bruno Latour also perceives the uncanny in the Anthropocene, as evidenced in his account of flying over Baffin Island. He writes, ‘In the age of the Anthropocene, all the dreams of die-hard environmentalists, of experiencing how humans, by now paying more attention to nature, would be healed of their political disputes, have burst. We are all irrevocably entering a simultaneously post-natural, post-human, and post-epistemological epoch!’.[29]

Materiality and spatiality

Guariglia also realises a concrete understanding of spatiality. Initially, he depicts space downward from the sky to the Earth's surface, before creating a second, new spatiality. Printing with heavy acrylic paint and meticulous work with gesso, acrylic and polystyrene, a unique material spatiality emerges on the surface. Thus, Guariglia first appropriates landscape photographically and then bases a new space on it. The materials he uses are highly anthropogenic. Plastic and acrylic hardly decompose; they are products of the Anthropocene. The work embodies a material dialectic, where industrial materials depict natural glaciers. Guariglia assumes the role of natural forces with his art, creating and shaping landscapes. This act recalls humanity's role in the Anthropocene.[30] Latour also considers traditional concepts of nature as constructs and instead proposes a new concept that, while just as constructed, more accurately represents the character of nature: the critical zone. Like Guariglia, he introduces a new planetary spatiality. Latour defines the critical zone as the space from the lower atmosphere to the ground with its vegetation.[31] The globe model, most popularly captured in the Blue Marble (Fig. 3), is thus the counter-model to the critical zone. Nature as a globe is merely an insufficient dataset that that lacks an experiential perspective.[32] It is a mere ‘geometrization of the immeasurable’.[33] In contrast, the critical zone is where life occurs, which Latour describes as ‘everything we care for, everything we have encountered’.[34] The critical zone frees the imagination from the Blue-Marble conception of nature and returns the actual human lifeworld back to experiential surfaces. It is a new understanding of the planet as ‘skin of the living earth’,[35] recalling Guariglia’s model of nature. While the critical zone is heterogeneous and dynamic, it does not totalise nature. Similarly, the cracks and surfaces of Jacobshavn I are heterogeneous, dynamic and resist totalisation. Moreover, the critical zone, given environmental destruction, is uncanny and disturbing.[36]  

Fig. 3: Blue Marble (AS17-148-22727), 1972, recorded by Apollo 17 (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Marble#/media/Datei:The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17.jpg)

Photography also plays a crucial role. Guariglia's starting point, NASA’s aerial photograph of a landscape, epitomises the scientific-objectifying gaze on nature. This is transformed by reworking the surface with plastic, acrylic and gesso into a new space and an indefinitely durable object. Simultaneously, the work induces the opposite effect of a scientific photograph: it disorients, defies legibility, is uncanny. Guariglia reveals the fallacy and consequences of attempting to subsume nature under a scientific, binary perspective, while simultaneously proposing a counter-design. Guariglia demonstrates that nature in the Anthropocene has become unreadable, and the unreadability prompts reflection on what is seen. He gazes on the critical zone, confronting the viewer with the living skin of Gaia. Moreover, landscape emerges, according to W.J.T. Mitchell, as an identity-forming, dynamic process.[37] A semiotic and hermeneutic reading reveals it to be a construct, a dialectic between the viewer and nature.


Guariglia's work reconceives nature and humanity. Initially, it conveys the status quo in the Anthropocene. It reflects the state of nature and its impact on our understanding of nature and humanity. Thus, the work rejects dichotomous understandings of nature and conveys a counter-image: interconnected, fragile yet sublime. The work visualises Gaia in the sense of the critical zone, evoking new experiences and awareness. For Bruno Latour, art is a crucial mediator of his ideas. According to Latour, the dogma of modernity has deprived us of the concepts necessary to transcend old thought patterns and to experience nature as a critical zone. Thus, art and science make the critical zone more tangible in the Anthropocene. Both pursuits complement each other: while the arts aid comprehension, science predicts and elucidates. Beyond Latour, art plays a pivotal role in the Anthropocene discourse. If the crisis-driven transformation of the environment in the Anthropocene is rooted our understanding of and relationship to nature, as conveyed through art, then our worldview can only shift through new representations of nature. Art alone cannot avert climate catastrophes, but it can critically reflect on the Anthropocene. Art can disrupt structures and imagine alternatives through aesthetics. Treating the Anthropocene artistically does not mean resolving aporias but making them visible. Curator Tim Wride describes Guariglia’s works as follows: ‘The work is not didactic. […] The statement is completely enmeshed in the materiality of it. The work creates opportunities for dialogue. Scientists want to explain, while artists want to ask questions’.[38] Art has the potential to mediate a new understanding and relation between human and nature, maybe one more holistic and connected.   [1]The retreat of the ice is impressively illustrated in this NASA graphic: 'Ice Loss from Jakobshavn Glacier', NASA, 2015, accessed 25 February, 2024, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/86436/ice-loss-from-jakobshavn-glacier. [2] Alina Cohen, 'Justin Brice Guariglia’s Powerful Photos of Melting Glaciers: In the studio with the first artist to join a NASA mission', Galerie Magazine, 2017, https://galeriemagazine.com/justin-brice-guariglia-creates-powerful-photographs-of-melting-glaciers/. Guariglia's website shows works from the same series and works depicting agricultural areas and mining. He always uses a similar technique and pictorial formula: 'Justin Brice - Artwork', accessed 25 February 2024, 2024, https://www.justinbrice.com/artwork. [3] Rebecca Anderson et al., 'A millennial perspective on Arctic warming from 14C in quartz and plants emerging from beneath ice caps', Geophysical Research Letters 35, no. 1 (2008), https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL032057. [4] Ava Kofman, 'Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science', New York Times (New York) 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/magazine/bruno-latour-post-truth-philosopher-science.html. Accessed 28.10.2024. [5] "USC Fisher Museum of Art: Earth Works: Mapping the Anthropocene ", USC Fisher Museum of Art, URL: Earth Works: Mapping the Anthropocene – USC Fisher Museum of Art, last access 22.05.2024. [6] The concept of the Anthropocene should be used advisedly. Despite its many definitions and the attendant vagueness, the term is strategically useful. I understand Anthropocene to refer to the conceptual synthesis of all the symptoms of global, crisis-ridden and man-made environmental transformations. Humans are emerging as a new global geological force that is profound shaping the planet, and these transformations represent a break with the environmental and living conditions of the last 12,000 years. Symptoms are not only scientifically measurable, social and political changes, but also the effects on our understanding of ourselves and nature. The Anthropocene is not meant as a concrete scientific geological-stratigraphic epoch – a controversial claim beyond the scope of this essay. For more on the term and its history, see Eva Horn and Hannes Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung (Hamburg: Junius Verlag, 2019), 8-25. [7] Félix Guatarri combined aesthetics and ecology long before the term Anthropocene emerged. See Félix Guattari, Les trois écologies (Paris: Editions Galilée, 1985). For an overview of the discourse on aesthetics and the Anthropocene, see: Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 120-43. [8] Ludolf Kuchenbuch, 'Bruno Latours Anthropozän und die Historie: Feststellungen, Anknüpfungen, Fragen', Historische Anthropologie 26, no. 3 (2018): 381, https://doi.org/10.7788/hian.2018.26.3.379. [9] Kofman, 'Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher'. [10] Bruno Latour, Anthropocene Lecture: Bruno Latour (Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, 2018). https://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/video/anthropocene-lecture-bruno-latour. [11] Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 124-25. [12] Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 101. [13] Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, 'Disconnected', in Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth, ed. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020), 75. [14] Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 128. [15] Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 128-31; Timothy Clark, Ecocriticism on the Edge. The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept (London: Taylor & Francis, 2015), 7. [16] Moritz Baßler and Heinz Krügh, Gegenwartsästhetik (Constance: Wallstein, 2021), 5. [17] Latour deconstructs the idea of the globe in detail. See chapters one and two of Bruno Latour, Kampf um Gaia. Acht Vorträge über das neue Klimaregime (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2020). [18] Latour and Weibel, 'Disconnected', 75. [19] The term first appeared in James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, 'Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere: the gaia hypothesis', Tellus 26, no. 1-2 (1973). [20] Modernity and the present are characterised by dichotomous natural-aesthetic ideas. These are largely rooted in ancient philosophy, from which the separation of spiritual-inner subject and material-outer object is derived. These tendencies resonate with modern subject-object dualism. On the one hand, the subject interacts with nature. The subject, therefore, intends, reflects and acts largely according to reason. At the same time, the subject is affective and can act irrationally. As an active entity, it confronts material, object-like nature and defines it as the passive outside itself. Nature is thus understood as intentionless, unconscious, continuous, calculable and technically manipulable. This dualism is general in application and Western in origin. Eva Horn, 'Challenges for an Aesthetics of the Anthropocene', in The Anthropocentric Turn: The Interplay between Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Responses to a New Age, ed. Gabriele Dürbeck and Philip Hüpkes (New York: Routledge, 2020). [21] Latour and Weibel, 'Gaia', 166. Peggy Karpouzou and Nikoleta Zampaki, 'Introduction: Towards a Symbiosis of Posthumanism and Environmental Humanities or Paving Narratives for the Symbiocene', in Symbiotic Posthumanist Ecologies in Western Literature, Philosophy and Art: Towards Theory and Practice, ed. Peggy Karpouzou and Nikoleta Zampaki (Berlin: Peter Lang, 2023). [22] Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 28. [23] Kuchenbuch, 'Bruno Latours Anthropozän', 380. [24] Ted Loos, 'A Man on an Eco-Mission in Mixed Media', New York Times (New York), 10 October 2017. [25] Thomas Friedman, 'Global Weirding Is Here', New York Times (New York), 17 February 2010. [26] Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 91. [27] Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 131. [28] ibid.,129-132. [29] Latour, Kampf um Gaia, 248. Author’s translation. [30] Baßler and Krügh, Gegenwartsästhetik, 214. [31] Kofman, 'Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher'. [32] Latour and Weibel, 'Seven Objections against Landing on Earth', 14. [33] Peter Sloterdijk, Sphären II: Globen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1999), 47. Author's translation. [34] Kofman, 'Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher'. [35] Latour and Weibel, 'Disconnected', 13. [36] Bruno Latour, Kampf um Gaia. Acht Vorträge über das Neue Klimaregime (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2020), 334. [37] W.J.T. Mitchell, 'Introduction', in Landscape and Power, ed. W.J.T. Mitchell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 1-5. [38] Loos, 'A Man on an Eco-Mission'.
Anderson, Rebecca, Gifford Miller, Jason Briner, Nathaniel Lifton and Stephen DeVogel. 'A millennial perspective on Arctic warming from 14C in quartz and plants emerging from beneath ice caps'. Geophysical Research Letters 35, no. 1 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL032057. Baßler, Moritz and Heinz Krügh. Gegenwartsästhetik. Constance: Wallstein, 2021. 'Justin Brice - Artwork'. accessed 25 February 2024, 2024, https://www.justinbrice.com/artwork. Clark, Timothy. Ecocriticism on the Edge. The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept. London: Taylor & Francis, 2015. Cohen, Alina. 'Justin Brice Guariglia’s Powerful Photos of Melting Glaciers: In the studio with the first artist to join a NASA mission'. Galerie Magazine, 2017. https://galeriemagazine.com/justin-brice-guariglia-creates-powerful-photographs-of-melting-glaciers/. Friedman, Thomas. 'Global Weirding Is Here'. New York Times (New York), 17 February 2010. Ghosh, Amitav. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. Guattari, Félix. Les trois écologies Paris: Editions Galilée, 1985. Horn, Eva. 'Challenges for an Aesthetics of the Anthropocene'. In The Anthropocentric Turn: The Interplay between Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Responses to a New Age, edited by Gabriele Dürbeck and Philip Hüpkes,  New York: Routledge, 2020. Horn, Eva and Hannes Bergthaller. Anthropozän. Zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius Verlag, 2019. Karpouzou, Peggy and Nikoleta Zampaki. 'Introduction: Towards a Symbiosis of Posthumanism and Environmental Humanities or Paving Narratives for the Symbiocene'. In Symbiotic Posthumanist Ecologies in Western Literature, Philosophy and Art: Towards Theory and Practice, edited by Peggy Karpouzou and Nikoleta Zampaki,  Berlin: Peter Lang, 2023. Kofman, Ava. 'Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science'. New York Times (New York), 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/magazine/bruno-latour-post-truth-philosopher-science.html. Kuchenbuch, Ludolf. 'Bruno Latours Anthropozän und die Historie: Feststellungen, Anknüpfungen, Fragen'. Historische Anthropologie 26, no. 3 (2018): 379-401. https://doi.org/10.7788/hian.2018.26.3.379. Latour, Bruno. Anthropocene Lecture: Bruno Latour. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, 2018. ———. Kampf um Gaia. Acht Vorträge über das neue Klimaregime. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2020. Latour, Bruno and Peter Weibel. 'Disconnected'. In Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel,  Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020. ———. 'Gaia'. In Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel,  Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020. ———. 'Seven Objections against Landing on Earth'. In Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel,  Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020. Loos, Ted. 'A Man on an Eco-Mission in Mixed Media'. New York Times (New York), 10 October 2017. Lovelock, James and Lynn Margulis. 'Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere: the gaia hypothesis'. Tellus 26, no. 1-2 (1973): 2-10. Mitchell, W.J.T. 'Introduction'. In Landscape and Power, edited by W.J.T. Mitchell,  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. 'Ice Loss from Jakobshavn Glacier'. NASA, 2015, accessed 25 February, 2024, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/86436/ice-loss-from-jakobshavn-glacier. Sloterdijk, Peter. Sphären II: Globen. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1999.
citation information:
Seeland, Peter, 'Facing Gaia: Justin Brice Guariglia's landscape photography in an ecological perspective', Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog 2024, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/06/26/facing-gaia-justin-brice-guariglias-landscape-photography-in-an-ecological-perspective/.
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French Painting And The Nineteenth Century with a Postscript by Alfred Flechtheim

burcu dogramaci

James Laver, French Painting And The Nineteenth Century. B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1937, with Alfred Flechtheim’s 'Postscript', pp. 101–114.

  I acquired the book French Painting And The Nineteenth Century, published in London in September 1937, from an online antiquarian bookshop a few months ago. The background to this is an ongoing inquiry into artistic exile in London after 1933 conducted in the course of a research project I have been leading since 2017.[1] I was interested in the volume because it contained the last text by the gallery owner Alfred Flechtheim, who, as a German Jew facing persecution at home, sought refuge in London. This text has received little attention, yet it relates how intensively Flechtheim tried to re-establish his livelihood in the British capital. Perhaps even more striking is how it documents his momentous work for the recognition of nineteenth-century French art. French Painting And The Nineteenth Century is also a dis:connective object: it is connected with and results from Flechtheim's life in exile, but it also points to the fissures of exile and thus to an existence marked by voids and upheavals. At the same time, the book recalls an incomplete memory, one that is also related to exile. For Flechtheim’s disenfranchisement and persecution, the financial decline and destruction of his successful galleries, as well as his emigration, banished his work to oblivion decades. Only with the major exhibition and publication Alfred Flechtheim. Sammler. Kunsthändler in the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf in 1987 did Flechtheim return to art history. A major provenance research project in 2014, which involved 15 museums, followed the links between items in the collection and the gallerist Alfred Flechtheim.[2] Flechtheim was a successful gallerist, with art spaces in Berlin and Düsseldorf, as well as the publisher of Der Querschnitt magazine. Flechtheim exhibited the most important modern artists of his time, including Rudolf Belling, George Grosz, Oskar Kokoschka, Georg Kolbe, Pablo Picasso, Renée Sintenis and many more. When the National Socialists seized power, Alfred Flechtheim and his company, which was already struggling in the Great Depression, became the target of racist attacks in which he was targeted as a Jew, a cultural Bolshevist and an outstanding patron of the artistic avant-garde.[3] In 1937, the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition in Munich not only defamed many of the artists whom Flechtheim represented but also attacked the gallery owner himself in texts displayed throughout the exhibition.[4] Flechtheim had been living abroad since 1933 and worked for the Mayor Gallery at 18 Cork Street in London. Later, he was also the official representative of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s Paris gallery. Flechtheim’s aim was to introduce French and German modernism to the London art market and to raise its profile. Paintings by Paul Klee opened in January 1934, and an exhibition on George Grosz followed in June the same year.[5] Although Flechtheim greatly influenced these and other exhibitions at the Mayor Gallery and provided loans, his name remained largely unmentioned.[6] Flechtheim also worked with the Agnew Gallery and was responsible for its new focus on French Impressionism.[7] Other collaborations included the Alex Reid & Lefevre Gallery and The Leicester Galleries. However, his contribution to the acceptance of continental modernism barely registered with the public. In London, Flechtheim − unlike in Düsseldorf and Berlin − could not conduct his business under his gallery name.  

First page of Alfred Flechtheim’s “Postscript” (p. 101) in James Laver’s French Painting And The Nineteenth Century. B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1937.

  In October 1936, Flechtheim organised the Exhibition of Nineteenth Century French Painting at the New Burlington Galleries, which brought together work by Manet, van Gogh and Cézanne. Alfred Flechtheim died in 1937. His body was cremated at Golders Green Crematory in London. Posthumously, the final text he authored appeared in James Laver’s French Painting and The Nineteenth Century.[8] The book is dedicated to Flechtheim: ‘In Memory of ALFRED FLECHTHEIM who died 9th March 1937 “Marchand de Tableaux Créateur”.’ The book brings together many of the paintings shown at the Exhibition of Nineteenth Century French Painting. Flechtheim himself selected many of the images and edited the texts. In his postscript, he describes how he organised the exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries and why he always championed French art. His text formulates a credo that can be read as a reflection of his situation as an exiled art dealer and as a pacifist statement on the political situation:
Art need be none the worse for being national or provincial, but really great art soars above racial frontiers and belongs to the world. [...] Such an art, to borrow J.B. Manson's words, ‘can be understood with few exceptions by the whole world. It affords a common meeting ground, and transcends all those considerations of imperialism and politics which are the cause of international strife and ill will.’[9]

Gerty Simon, Portrait of Alfred Flechtheim, London, c. 1935 (The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections).

  From the book French Painting And The Nineteenth Century, further connections lead, for example, to the exhibition 20th Century German Art, which also took place in 1938 at the New Burlington Galleries in London and was organised in reaction to the National Socialist Entartete Kunst exhibition. Another connection points to the photographer Gerty Simon, for whom Flechtheim curated a solo exhibition at the Camera Club. This exhibition Camera Portraits featured 58 portraits. The exhibition also included a portrait of Flechtheim. Simon photographed Flechtheim around 1935, during the period of his professional re-emergence in London, which brought him into contact with leading galleries in the city. The portrait continues a traditional convention. As early as the 1920s, Flechtheim was portrayed in severe profile by Hugo Erfurth and Frieda Riess. Flechtheim’s striking features, with his distinctive nose and hair combed back severely from his face, were similarly emphasised in Rudolf Belling’s Portrait Alfred Flechtheim (1927). Gerty Simon’s photograph shows the art dealer in the approved side view. The face is brightly lit and stands out against the dark background. The picture is tightly cropped and focused entirely on the head. The dark circles around the eyes and the clouded eyelids give the subject a melancholy expression. Simon's photograph of Flechtheim and the book French Painting And The Nineteenth Century are important sources for reconstructing the gallery owner’s activities and professional networks in London. French Painting And The Nineteenth Century provides insights into the artistic taste, aesthetic preferences and persuasions of the gallerist: ‘The final choice of the illustrations, and much of the editorial work on the book were undertaken by the late Alfred Flechtheim, whose enthusiasm was a stimulus to all concerned in its production’. Flechtheim selected what was available to him from English and other private collectors and museums; in this respect, one can speak of an immediate reaction to the available opportunities or of a canon in the sign of exile.   [1] Specifically, the ERC Consolidator Grant research project ‘Relocating Modernism: Global Metropolises, Modern Art and Exile (METROMOD)’. [2] Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, ‘Alfred Flechtheim. Kunsthaendler der Avantgarde’, Alfred Flechtheim. Kunsthaendler der Avantgarde, 29 March 2022, http://alfredflechtheim.com. [3] Cordula Frowein, ‘Alfred Flechtheim im Exil in England’, in Alfred Flechtheim. Sammler. Kunsthändler. Verleger (Duesseldorf: Kunstmuseum Duesseldorf, 1987), 59. [4] Ottfried Dascher, “Es ist was Wahnsinniges mit der Kunst”. Alfred Flechtheim. Sammler, Kunsthändler, Verleger, Quellenstudie zur Kunst 6 (Waedenswil: Nimbus. Kunst und Buecher AG, 2011), 394. [5] Frowein, ‘Alfred Flechtheim im Exil in England’, 60. [6] Dascher, “Es ist was Wahnsinniges mit der Kunst”. Alfred Flechtheim. Sammler, Kunsthändler, Verleger, 331. [7] Frowein, ‘Alfred Flechtheim im Exil in England’, 61. [8] Alfred Flechtheim, ‘Postscript’, in French Painting And The Nineteenth Century, ed. James Laver (London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1937), 101–14. [9] Flechtheim, 114.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen. ‘Alfred Flechtheim. Kunsthaendler der Avantgarde’. Alfred Flechtheim. Kunsthaendler der Avantgarde, 29 March 2022. http://alfredflechtheim.com. Dascher, Ottfried. “Es ist was Wahnsinniges mit der Kunst”. Alfred Flechtheim. Sammler, Kunsthändler, Verleger. Quellenstudie zur Kunst 6. Waedenswil: Nimbus. Kunst und Buecher AG, 2011. Flechtheim, Alfred. ‘Postscript’. In French Painting And The Nineteenth Century, edited by James Laver, 101–14. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1937. Frowein, Cordula. ‘Alfred Flechtheim im Exil in England’. In Alfred Flechtheim. Sammler. Kunsthändler. Verleger, 59–64. Duesseldorf: Kunstmuseum Duesseldorf, 1987.  
citation information:
Dogramaci, Burcu, 'French Painting And The Nineteenth Century with a Postscript by Alfred Flechtheim', Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog. global dis:connect, 11 June 2024, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/08/02/french-painting-and-the-nineteenth-century-with-a-postscript-by-alfred-flechtheim/.
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The people who make global dis:connect happen – part II

This post is a continuation of the last, where we began introducing the research assistants who greatly lighten the load of running this place, leaving us with more time and joy for which we are immeasurably grateful.


What do you research, and what attracts you to the topic? My academic interests are broad, ranging from history, German and English to pedagogy, but I enjoy working on ancient history the most. My research focuses on the history of the everyday and social history of the Roman Empire in late antiquity. So far, I have worked on the communicative power of clothing, fashion and outward appearance in Roman life and on the spread of Christianity through Sicily in late antiquity. I really enjoy this subfield, as I get to explore the details that formed ancient people’s identity and to some extent bridge the gap to people who seem so far away from today’s reality.   What tasks do you handle at global dis:connect, and what do you enjoy the most? Apart from assisting our fellows and team members, I savor working in gd:c’s  dissemination efforts as a content creator and PR advisor for social media. My biggest passion and best capability is loving things of any kind deeply and, most importantly, sharing the things I love deeply with other people. At gd:c I get to share the very essence of our institute via words, photographs and videos, which I cherish.   What’s your credo and why? Per aspera ad astra. An ancient saying my beloved and very inspiring Latin teacher taught me. It reminds me what I am capable of and where I can go — ad astra. At the same time, it expresses what you have to go through to get to the stars — per aspera. Work hard and truly believe in your yourself to overcome any limit. It might be cheesy, but it has proven to be true.    


What tasks do you handle at global dis:connect, and what do you enjoy the most? At global dis:connect, my responsibilities primarily revolve around supporting the planning and execution of events, which involves tasks like coordinating logistics, managing communications and ensuring everything runs smoothly on the day of the event. What I find most enjoyable is the opportunity to work closely with a team, brainstorming ideas, problem-solving together and ultimately seeing our efforts come to life in successful events.   Would you like to have photographic memory and why? Having a photographic memory would indeed be advantageous, especially for tasks like rapidly absorbing and synthesising a lot of literature, which would be incredibly useful for my upcoming bachelor's thesis. Additionally, having instant-recall abilities would make me the ultimate walking encyclopaedia ready to amaze everyone with facts at any given moment!   Who is your favourite character from a novel or film and why? Treebeard from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. As one of the Ents, guardians of the forests, Treebeard personifies nature's voice and symbolises resistance against the destructive forces of human evil. While he seems too slow and deliberate in the beginning to achieve anything, he later transforms into a leader determined to save Middle Earth. I also love his deep understanding of the world and its history. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1njDtvLIoA


What tasks do you handle at global dis:connect, and what do you enjoy the most? At global dis:connect, my primary duty is to design posters and flyers for our workshops. Additionally, I plan and assist with the preparation of these events. What I find most enjoyable is the opportunity to meet fascinating new people during these occasions as well as the creative freedom I have when designing.   What do you define as home and why? My home isn't a physical location, but a place where my friends and family are. It's a place where I feel at ease, can enjoy wonderful experiences and where time seems to fly by.   What’s your credo and why? My credo in life is that everything will unfold as it's supposed to. There's no need to overthink things because life has a plan for each of us, regardless of whether we worry or not.      


What aspects of the research at global dis:connect pique your curiosity and how does it overlap with your research? While globalisation in general is a topic I am extremely interested in, I am especially passionate about migration processes and their impact. Colonisation, the migration connected to it and their effects on society are core topics at global dis:connect, and the impact in particular on past and contemporary literature is a topic I am really interested in.   What do you define as home and why? To me, home is less a specific place than a feeling thaf is mostly connected to people I feel really comfortable with. Whether it‘s going out and having a couple of drinks, travelling to new countries or just hanging out at home talking about live and joking around, my home is wherever my favourite humans are.   Who is your favourite character from a novel or film and why? My favourite fictional character would have to be Chandler Bing from the TV show Friends, maybe just because no other person has ever made laugh as hard and feel incredibly connected to them at the same time. His self-deprecating humour and his use of sarcastic comments at every possible opportunity have taught me that it‘s incredibly important not to take life too seriously.   Continue Reading

The people who make global dis:connect happen

[Editor's note: Our Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect began 3 years ago, and we've come a long way since then. Like the bedrock on which great buildings rest or the air that keeps a jumbo jet in flight, one of the principal forces behind our success is invisible: the people who perform the countless tasks required to keep a major international research institution afloat. Perhaps least visible are the research assistants who run the events, fetch the literature, support the research and keep the experienced researchers on their toes. Indeed, their invisibility is a sign of how well they do their job. So in a few coming posts, we'll be profiling some of the people behind our public-facing work, and we're starting with the invaluable research assistants — nine promising young scholars with bright futures and big ideas. We provided them with a list of questions and asked them to each answer three to give you a better idea of who we are and how we do what we do.)


What aspects of the research at global dis:connect pique your curiosity and how does it overlap with your research?

I am interested in exploring different historical perceptions of globality. Therefore, it is especially inspiring to see how the research projects conducted at gd:c interpret the ‘gap’ between dis-connection and connectivity differently, each providing a deeper understanding of how processes of interaction work, not only on a global scale.

  What tasks do you handle at global dis:connect, and what do you enjoy the most? As a student assistant, you get exposed to a variety of tasks. I particularly enjoy assisting with research and conferences, which are a great opportunity to welcome people from around the world to gd:c.   What do you define as home and why? Anywhere with enough books (they don’t even have to be great ones), coffee and good company to spend the day. I have always been fascinated by stories of all kinds.   Bonus question: what do you research, and what attracts you to the topic? I’ve covered various periods, spaces and topics during my studies at LMU. I am currently researching scientific endeavours in the Arctic and Antarctic during the 19th century as part of my master's degree. What is fascinating about the polar regions is that while being imagined as most remote and uninhabitable spaces, they are at the same time (literally) central to the earth and our modern understanding of it as a global system, rendering them highly dis:connective.


What do you research, and what attracts you to the topic? I am researching the connection between art and outer space. The manifold intentions, types of communication, projects and the very literal dis:connectivity that this topic have to offer are exciting.   Would you like to have photographic memory and why? Absolutely not! It would certainly be beneficial to hold trivia and lovely memories in your mind forever. However, I also imagine that abstract thinking can be neglected as a result and that certain memories can often take an emotional toll on you.   Who is your favourite character from a novel or film and why? The future king of the pirates — Monkey D. Luffy from the anime series One Piece. Some anime are masterful cultural treasures with fantastic stories and rich characters. The series is older than I am but not yet finished, so Luffy has not only accompanied me for a lifetime but has always put a smile on my face with his cheerfulness and steadfastness throughout his journey. https://youtu.be/rvoUeOgsh3I


What tasks do you handle at global dis:connect, and what do you enjoy the most?

Soon after I started working at gd:c, I developed a video trailer with Christian Steinau to convey dis:connectivity in multimedia and set up the gd:c YouTube channel. I now responsible produce our Fellows Close Up series for YouTube support the workshops and events. My favourite part is meeting such a wide variety of people from all over the globe with very different backgrounds and all the new perspectives I gain through getting to know them and the inspiring conversations I have with them.

  What do you define as home and why?

Multiple places can make me feel ‘at home’, meaning cared for, free, safe, peaceful and happy. Home can be every beautiful mountain ridge, lakeside and beach where I can create beautiful memories with someone I love. Home is not a physical place but a mental state. Home is where the people live that are family to me.

  What skill would you like to learn and why? I would like to be able to read minds, even though I definitely don´t want to know most of other people’s thoughts. Still, I´d like to know and understand, what is going on in their minds. Also, as a writer of fiction, I see people in my daily life sometimes, and I think about what their story could be – wouldn’t it be interesting to know if stories I imagine come close to reality?  


What do you research, and what attracts you to the topic? I have a keen interest in global history, particularly in global art history. My research thus far has focused on significant global exhibition platforms such as the documenta in Kassel and the Venice Biennale. I find that art serves as a vital medium for dealing with and expressing current, future and past processes of globalisation through imagination. Exploring questions about the effects, constitutions and methodologies of globalisation as well as art’s role in it, intrigues me deeply because it links my personal interests with important contemporary issues.   Who is your favourite character from a novel or film and why? It's Ulysses because he has accompanied me since my childhood. His superpower is not divine strength or invulnerability, but his cunning and smartness, which make him an amiable hero.   What skill would you like to learn and why? It would be wonderful to speak every language in the world. Imagine the ease of understanding different cultures, making friends and feeling at home wherever you go!      


What do you research and what attracts you to the topic? I'm researching theatre theories, and I really like them because they try to theorise something as complex as a theatre situation and performance. Theatre is also such a lively subject, but I love reading about it and thinking about all the possibilities and ideas that are possible with it.   What aspects of the research at global dis:connect pique your curiosity and how does it overlap with your research? Theatre is also a global phenomenon, and theories about theatre, especially outside the European context, are very interesting and sometimes not really well researched. I really enjoyed Nic Leonhardt's and Anna Heller’s Workshop Stages of Performing in Pahlavi Iran (1925-1979), learning so much about Iranian theatre.   Would you like to have a photographic memory and why? No, I don't want to have a photographic memory, because forgetting some things, but also keeping good memories, is a natural part of life. I would also like to enjoy some plays repeatedly. So I'd like to be able to enjoy them each time without knowing exactly what changed from one viewing to the next. Continue Reading

The German colonial empire, seen from its end

matthias leanza
  How do empires end? What influence do the ties and divides that shape imperial formations have after their downfall? And in what sense is the nation-state a legacy of empire rather than its negation? My essay ponders these questions using the example of German colonialism. It looks at the evolution of the German colonial empire from the 1880s in light of its sudden demise following World War I, arguing that the nation-state — in Germany and overseas — was among its most important legacies. However, the nation-state could only become a legacy of German colonialism because anticolonial activists failed to convert the overseas empire into a federated entity. The attempt at federal reform may have been futile, but it would have significantly altered the historical trajectories of all countries involved. Therefore, despite being an unlikely outcome, this counterfactual provides a contrast to assess what nation-states ultimately are — a product of decaying empires.

Anticolonial federalism

Fig. 1: Martin Dibobe as train driver in Berlin. (Image: Historisches Archiv der BVG)

On 27 June 1919, the day before Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, Martin Dibobe (born Quane a Dibobe) submitted a petition to the German Colonial Office on behalf of the Duala people in Cameroon.[1] This was not Dibobe’s first interaction with the Berlin authorities. Born to a Duala chief in 1876, Dibobe had been in Germany for over two decades by that point.[2] He had come in 1896 to participate in a state-organised colonial exhibit at the Berlin Trade Fair, where 103 individuals from various German colonies were to present their ways of life to the public.[3] After the fair, some decided to stay and settle in Germany, including Dibobe. He completed vocational training and subsequently worked as a train driver for Berlin’s urban rail and subway company. A fierce supporter of the November Revolution, Dibobe hoped to negotiate better terms for his people and extend the emergent republican order to the German colonies, all of which had been seized by the Entente Powers during the war. In June 1919, he organised a petition to the Weimar National Assembly with the support of 17 other members of the Duala community in Germany before turning to the Colonial Office again, as he had done on previous occasions.[4] The list of demands was extensive, but they all revolved around one core issue: Cameroon and the other German colonies in Africa were to remain with Germany. The residents of those territories were to be treated as Germans with equal rights and duties, regardless of their race or ethnicity.[5] The petition proposed introducing the German civil code and judicial system, including the abolition of corporal punishment, indentured labour and all colonial laws enshrining racial segregation.[6] At the same time, Cameroon was to maintain some degree of autonomy from Germany’s federal government — for example, by having three presidents of its own, each representing a different population group, and a separate tax fund — while obtaining permanent representation in the Reichstag.[7] As the primary liaison between the Duala diaspora in Germany and Cameroon, Dibobe seemed to be the natural candidate for this office. The German government would retain the right to appoint Cameroon’s governor, who had to ensure law and order in the territory.[8] However, the incumbent could be held accountable and even dismissed if the population expressed dissatisfaction with his performance. By contrast, all other public offices had to be occupied by people of African descent, thus establishing a permanent balance of power between the former metropole and the former colony. Although this proposal clearly distinguished between German citizens from Europe and German citizens from Africa, Dibobe left no doubt that the latter, too, were Germans in every sense of the word. ‘Since we are Germans’, he explained, ‘we demand equality, even if in public life we are always referred to as foreigners. This misapprehension must be eliminated by the present government through public announcements’.[9] These demands implied nothing less than the transformation of Germany’s colonial empire into a multiracial and transregional federation, where being German and being African were fully compatible. The proposal demonstrated that decolonisation did not necessarily mean secession, as it did in anticolonial nationalism.[10] Instead, exit from empire could also involve attempts to reshape existing ties according to the principle of plurality. Dibobe represented a political stance best understood as anticolonial federalism, which combines elements of both connection and disconnection. Later generations of activists from various European colonies would adopt this stance independently of him, as it promised to reconcile equality with difference.[11] The Minister for the Colonies, Johannes Bell, one of the envoys who signed the peace treaty in Versailles, even briefly mentioned the Dualas’ petitions in the National Assembly.[12] But in the end, Dibobe’s radical proposition for a postcolonial Africa, which was centred on federal integration rather than national independence, went unnoticed. In Bell’s account, the loyal people of Cameroon simply preferred to share their fate with Germany, preferring to perish together than become French spoils of war.

Double standards

Neither Dibobe’s plea for a federal reorganisation of the German colonial empire nor the widespread desire among the German population to retain their imperial status, as voiced by Bell and many other officials, had any chance of success. Dibobe lost his job and tried to return to Cameroon with his German wife and two of her children from a previous marriage in 1921, but they only managed to travel as far as Monrovia, where he had relatives.[13] The pervasive rhetoric of national self-determination notwithstanding, the Entente Powers had no intention of abolishing colonial rule. Instead, self-determination became a justification for carving up the empires of the vanquished in Europe, while the overseas empires of the victors remained intact and even expanded through the mandate system.[14] When discussing the terms of the peace deal, one deputy of the National Assembly, the high-profile conservative Arthur von Posadowsky-Wehner, expressed his discontent as follows: ‘There is so much talk among our enemies of the self-determination of peoples. Why doesn’t England introduce this right to self-determination in Ireland? Why doesn’t it introduce this principle in India? Well, one interprets things as one pleases’.[15] The recurrent theme of national self-determination had arisen in the National Assembly’s opening session in February 1919. Friedrich Ebert, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, welcomed the elected deputies in his capacity as the head of the provisional government, particularly emphasising the female deputies present.[16] Although women remained underrepresented — only 37 of the 423 deputies were women — they participated for the first time in the legislative process, evidencing that the November Revolution had infixed the principle of popular sovereignty. Invoking US President Wilson’s principles for the postwar order, Ebert maintained that the German people had earned favourable peace terms, including Germany’s reinstatement as a colonial power. They were just as much victims of Prussian militarism as the countries against which the German Reich had waged war: ‘The German people have fought for their right to self-determination at home; they cannot now cede it to the outside world’.[17] Certainly, the victors had a different idea for Germany’s future.[18] As the peace treaty stipulated, the occupied German colonies were to be administered as League of Nations mandates based on a concept of imperial guardianship, while the country’s multiple border regions in Europe became part of neighbouring nation-states, some newly created.[19] This uneven application of self-determination followed the colour line, deepening the North–South divide in the global political system. For Germany, this regulation entailed a double loss of empire, both in Europe and overseas, which was met with a politics of resentment. During the war, when state borders were fluid, Germany’s imperial ambitions evolved into grandiose visions of hegemony over continental Europe and central Africa, but the war resulted in the opposite. Beyond being vanquished, the perceived relegation to an ‘ordinary’ nation-state without imperial peripheries prompted deep resentment.[20] This sentiment is a desire for revenge despite, or because of, an inability to change the situation, giving birth to what Nietzsche called ‘indignant pessimists’.[21] This affect is arguably what spurred the numerous protest rallies advocating for the return of the colonies in the run-up to the peace settlement, and it was clearly manifested in a revisionist discourse centred around the theme of the ‘lie of colonial guilt’.[22] For the political campaigner Martin Hobohm, the loss of Germany’s colonial empire amounted to nothing less than the confinement of the German people in Europe, cutting the country off from its global lifelines.[23] Fig. 2: Andree, R. and A. Scobel. 'Karte von Afrika'. Bielefeld: Velhagen & Klasing, 1890.Fig. 2: Andree, R. and A. Scobel. 'Karte von Afrika'. Bielefeld: Velhagen & Klasing, 1890.

Spheres of influence

This view echoed a pervasive theme of colonialist discourse in Germany since the mid-19th century. Recalling Malthus, this discourse crystallised around the idea that colonial settlements represented a solution to overpopulation.[24] Emigration could help curb unchecked population growth, but it created its own problems — most notably, the loss of able-bodied men and women to competing nations. Expanding on Adolf Zehlicke’s adaptation of Malthus to the German situation, Friedrich Fabri advocated in 1879 for the establishment of colonial settlements.[25] To this end, a national emigration office was to be established and convert emigrants into settlers. However, the first impulse toward realising this idea came from voluntary associations, not from the state. The German Colonial Association, founded in 1882, soon emerged as the key player. It was conceived as a national umbrella organisation to coordinate various local initiatives. At the inaugural meeting in Frankfurt, the explorer and founding member Hermann von Maltzan explained that the previous associations were too local to affect the national consciousness and politics. That is why it had become imperative to create a nationwide umbrella organisation.[26] At the same time, Maltzan urged his fellow members to lower their expectations regarding the capabilities of such an entity. Establishing settler colonies was not yet viable. Fabri, who also attended the meeting, vehemently objected, arguing that only colonial settlements would forestall further population drain.[27] The statutes that the assembly eventually adopted, however, were unequivocal: in keeping with the founding call, they rejected the maximalist program of settler colonies and constrained the organisation’s purpose to lobbying for trading colonies without participating in their establishment.[28] Germany thus had a national lobby organisation promoting colonial expansion, but it had no colonies — something that only began to change thanks to a disparate group of political entrepreneurs.[29] In the early 1880s, various merchants and companies pushed for their ventures on the African coasts and in the Pacific to be protected by the German state. They hoped for a competitive advantage over other businesses, as foreign investors would either have to pay heavy tariffs or be excluded from the market. These scattered, largely uncoordinated initiatives took place in an international environment where competing powers jealously monitored each other’s expansion, which fuelled desires for territorial gains and fears of falling behind. The result was a self-reinforcing process of expansion that only halted when virtually all available territory had been claimed. The West Africa Conference of 1884–85 sought to regulate this process in its broad outlines, but expansion into the African interior and its piecemeal partition were organised in a decentralised manner through bilateral agreements.[30] The expansion into the Pacific followed a similar pattern. Thus, the European powers carved out their spheres of influence. Of course, this was not a new phenomenon, as a debate among legal scholars and political scientists around 1900 quickly established.[31] The spheres, however, were comparatively small and gave rise to a patchwork of territorial claims. The imperial periphery could no longer be integrated into overarching hemispheres as in earlier times when far fewer powers were involved. Initially, these spheres were only defined near coastlines, while the hinterlands remained open as frontiers for potential expansion. Yet even after the borders had been settled, which in some cases took until the 1900s, these territories were far from evenly integrated. When the German Reich took them over from private companies and gradually established colonial states, they displayed a pronounced core–periphery structure.[32] The reach of the colonial administration was limited to a core that faded into an active military frontier, pushing gradually into the hinterland. In virtually all colonies, some regions remained beyond colonial authorities’ control, often where local communities had already formed their own states. These regions represented an internal exterior, located within the sphere of influence but outside the colonial state. This layered governance architecture informed how the victors of World War I redistributed the German colonies as mandated territories among themselves. For instance, the East African kingdoms of Burundi and Rwanda, administered by the Germans on the model of indirect rule, were transferred to Belgium, while Tanganyika fell under British control. It is nonetheless remarkable how enduring the borders of the originally established spheres of influence have proven. Even a century later, around three-quarters of the land borders established under German rule persist today.[33] Together with the borders changed in the interwar period, they represent the fault lines along which the colonial empires disintegrated in the decolonisation that followed World War II, leaving territorial fragments behind that underlay postcolonial nation building.[34]

Fig. 3: 'Die deutsche und englische Interessensphäre an der Ostküste von Afrika'. Munich: Franz Moises, 1889.

In the public eye

The colonial empire also left a lasting imprint on the metropole and its political system. As already indicated, the loss of Germany’s status as a colonial power coincided with an internal reorganisation that transformed the country into a republic. Max Weber, who was directly involved in the preparation of the draft constitution by the Ministry of the Interior, suggested as early as December 1918 replacing the office of the Kaiser with a democratically elected president.[35] As a political official, the president’s job was to counterbalance the bureaucracy with its rational, legal orientation and bring an element of charismatic leadership into the state machinery. If Weber had had his way, the new constitution would have omitted the federalist aspects of the German state altogether. But he was well aware that such a radical change had no chance for political reasons — the Entente Powers would never allow it.[36] Nevertheless, the constitution endowed the Reich president with far-reaching powers. These included the right to dissolve the Reichstag and the prerogative to appoint the government, which consisted of the chancellor and his ministers.[37] However, as the central organ of the legislative branch, the Reichstag could hold the government accountable and even withdraw its confidence, while the Federal Council (Reichsrat), the representation of the states on the national level, maintained a back seat in the political process.[38] This power-sharing arrangement was the result of developments that had been underway for several decades by that point, developments that had been fuelled by Germany’s overseas expansion. It is true that the German colonies were mainly governed by ordinances and decrees, rather than by proper law, which made it easy to circumvent parliament with its legislative powers.[39] In addition, decisions regarding the overseas empire were at the discretion of the Kaiser, who, on behalf of the Reich, exercised sovereignty (Schutzgewalt) over the colonies, officially referred to as protectorates (Schutzgebiete).[40] This meant the Kaiser alone could decide on spending the revenues generated by the colonies, but this was precisely the problem. The colonies’ inability to support themselves financially gave the Reichstag a powerful lever. Because this situation was not expected to change, the Reich leadership decided early on to show goodwill and involve the Reichstag in determining the overall colonial budget, not just the subsidies.[41] Thus, the national parliament drew strength from the financial weakness of the overseas empire. Each year, from January to March, parliament transformed into a public forum where representatives from various parties ruminated on Germany’s colonial affairs. The spokesperson of the Reichstag’s Budget Commission, Ludwig Bamberger, set the tone in 1891. As was to become customary in future budget debates, he briefly addressed some technical issues before moving on to an hour-long assessment of the colonial policy.[42] The head of the Colonial Department in the Foreign Office, the legal expert Paul Kayser, responded right away, making some corrections and explaining his department’s policy.[43] Although the Reich leadership could usually secure majorities for its budget proposals, the Reichstag showered it with criticism during the legislative process. Each party used the colonial issue to raise its profile.[44] Above all, however, they collectively created a counterpart — the government — whose members had to explain themselves to the public. A particularly strong catalyst for this development were the countless cases of violent misconduct by colonial officials that impelled the government to act.[45] For example, Kayser maintained in 1893 that no abuse of office across the colonies had ever come to his attention.[46] The Reichstag made sure that this would soon change. In early 1894, the Social Democrats placed some hippo whips and other instruments of torture on display in the Reichstag building, explaining that they had come directly from Cameroon.[47] Just the day before, August Bebel had raised the brutal flogging of the wives of Dahomey soldiers ordered by Cameroon’s deputy governor, Heinrich Leist.[48] Reich Chancellor Caprivi, who attended the session, felt compelled to react and rejected the allegations against Leist.[49] However, his refusal to take responsibility elicited criticism, even from the conservative parties, recalibrating expectations regarding the accountability of senior government officials.[50] Tensions peaked in 1906 when the Reichstag denied additional funds for the contentious war against Herero and Nama in South West Africa. In a bold move, the government dissolved parliament, asserting its constitutional dominance in this trial of strength.[51] But this incident also revealed the undeniable influence the Reichstag had gained over national politics. The colonial empire made no small contribution to this structural transformation, which bolstered a core institution of the emergent German nation-state. Its effects would outlast the colonial era, forming part of its enduring legacy.
[1] 32-point petition to the Imperial Colonial Office in Berlin, personally submitted by Martin Dibobe together with Thomas Manga Akwa on June 27, 1899, BArch, R 1001/7220, 224–9. A reproduction can be found in Adolf Rüger, 'Imperialismus, Sozialformismus und antikoloniale demokratische Alternative: Zielvorstellungen von Afrikanern in Deutschland im Jahre 1919', Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenchaft 23, no. 7 (1975). [2] For a biographical sketch, see Eve Rosenhaft and Robbie Aitken, 'Martin Dibobe', in Unbekannte Biographien: Afrikaner im deutschsprachigen Europa vom 18. Jahrhundert bis zum Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges, ed. Ulrich van der Heyden (Berlin: Kai Homilius, 2008). [3] Anne Dreesbach, Gezähmte Wilde: Die Zurschaustellung "exotischer Menschen" in Deutschland 1870-1940 (Frankfurt: Campus, 2005); George Steinmetz, 'Empire in Three Keys: Forging the Imperial Imaginary at the 1896 Berlin Trade Exhibition', Thesis Eleven 139, no. 1 (2017). [4] Stefan Gerbing, Afrodeutscher Aktivismus: Interventionen von Kolonisierten am Wendepunkt der Dokolonisierung Deutschlands 1919 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2010), 57-60; Andreas Eckert, Die Duala und die Kolonialmächte: Eine Untersuchung zu Widerstand, Protest und Protonationalismus in Kamerun vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg (Münster: Lit, 1991), 216-25. [5] Points 1 and 20. [6] Points 2 t0 4. [7] Points 26, 27 and 31. [8] Points 5, 7 and 15. [9] Point 20. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are by the author. [10] Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Michael Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Naitonalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015). [11] Frederick Cooper, Citizenship between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945-1960 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014); Adom Getachew, Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019); Frederick Cooper and Jane Burbank, Post-Imperial Possibilities: Eurasia, Eurafrica, Afroasia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2023). [12] 'Proceedings of the German National Constituent Assembly, 96th Session', 330 (11 October 1919): 3023. [13] Robbie Aitken and Eve Rosenhaft, Black Germany: The Making and Unmaking of a Diaspora Community, 1884-1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 103, 07-08. [14] Robert Gerwarth, The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923 (London: Penguin, 2017); Mark Mazower, Governing the World: The History of an Idea, 1815 to the Present (New York: Penguin, 2012), ch. 5-6. [15] 'Proceedings of the German National Constituent Assembly, 40th Session', 327 (22 June 1919): 1122. [16] 'Proceedings of the German National Constituent Assembly, 1st Session', 326 (6 February 1919): 1. [17] 'Proceedings of the German National Constituent Assembly, 1st Session',  2. [18] Margaret MacMillan, Peacemakers: Six Months that Changed the World (London: John Murray, 2001), ch. 13-16. [19] See also Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). [20] Sean Andrew Wempe, Revenants of the German Empire: Colonial Legacies, Imperialism, and the League of Nations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019). [21] Friedrich Nietzsche, 'Nachgelassene Fragmente: Anfang 1888 bis Anfang Januar 1889', in Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, vol. 8.3,  (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1972), 219. [22] There were at least 84 such rallies between December 1918 and March 1919, as documented in BArch, R 1001/7220, 262–72. The term ‘lie of colonial guilt’ was popularised by Heinrich Schnee, Die Koloniale Schuldlüge (Munich: Süddeutsche Monatshefte, 1924). [23] Martin Hobohm, Wir brauchen Kolonien (Berlin: Engelmann, 1918), 23.. [24] Klaus J. Bade, Friedrich Fabri und der Imperialismus in der Bismarckzeit: Revolution - Depression - Expansion (Freiburg: Atlantis, 1975), 135-44. See also Sebastian Conrad, Globalisation and the Nation in Imperial Germany, trans. Sorcha O´Hagan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). [25] Freidrich Fabri, Bedarf Deutschland der Colonien (Gotha: Perthes, 1879), 86. [26] Hermann von Maltzan, Rede des Freiherrn Hermann von Maltzan auf der constituierenden Generalversammlung des Deutschen Kolonialvereins zu Frankfurt am Main am 6. Dezember 1882 (Berlin: Julius Sittenfeld, 1882). [27] Report in Frankfurter Journal und Frankfurter Presse on 6 December 1882, BArch, R 8023/253, 46. [28] Statutes of the German Colonial Association in Frankfurt, BArch, R 8023/253, 68–9. [29] For recent studies, see Kim Sebastian Todzi, Unternehmen Weltaneignung: Der Woermann-Konzern und der deutsche Kolonialismus 1837-1916 (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2023); Dietman Pieper, Zucker, Schnaps und Nilpferdpeitsche: Wie Hanseatische Kaufleute Deutschland zur Kolonialherrschaft trieben (Munich: Piper, 2023). [30] Norbert Berthold Wagner, Die deutschen Schutzgebiete: Erwerb, Organisation und Verlust aus juristischer Sicht (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2002), 172-74. [31] Martin Hasenjäger, Der völkerrechtliche Begriff der "Interessensphäre" und des "Hinterlandes" im System der außereuropäischen Gebietserwerbungen (Greifswald: Kunike, 1907); Andreas Weissmüller, "Die Interessensphären:" Eine kolonialrechtliche Studie mit besonderer Berücksichtigung von Deutschland (Würzburg: Boegler, 1908). [32] For example, see Giorgio Miescher, Namibia's Red Line: The History of a Veterinary and Settlement Border (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). [33] For more information, see African Boundaries: A Legal and Diplomatic Encyclopaedia, ed. Ian Brownlie and Ian R. Burns (London: C. Hurst & Co, 1979). [34] Jörg Fisch, The Right of Self-Determination of Peoples: The Domestication of an Illusion, trans. Anita Mage (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 203-17. [35] Max Weber, 'Aufzeichnung über die Verhandlungen im Reichsamt des Innern über die Grundzüge des der verfassungsgebenden deutschen Nationalversammlung vorzulegenden Verfassungsentwurfs vom 9. bix 12. Dezember 1918', in Gesamtausgabe, ed. Wolfgang J. Mommsen and Wolfgang Schwentker, vol. 16: Zur Neuordnung Deutschlands,  (Tübingen: Mohr, 1988), 56-90; Weber, 'Deutschlands künftige Staatsform', 98-146. [36] Weber, 'Aufzeichnung über die Verhandlungen', 57. [37] Ernst Rudolf Huber, Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte seit 1789, vol. 6: Die Weimarer Reichsverfassung (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1981), 307-28. [38] Huber, Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte, 349-89. [39] Harald Sippel, 'Recht und Gerichtsbarkeit', in Die Deutschen und Ihre Kolonien: Ein Überblick, ed. Horst Gründer and Hermann Hiery (Berlin: be.bra, 2018), 201-21; Wagner, Die deutschen Schutzgebiete, 304-06, 14-19. See also Marc Grohmann, Exotische Verfassung: Die Kompetenzen des Reichstags für die deutschen Kolonien in Gesetzgebung und Staatsrechtswissenschaft des Kaiserreichs (1884-1914) (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001). [40] Wagner, Die deutschen Schutzgebiete, 273-82. [41] Grohmann, Exotische Verfassung, 70-76. [42] 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 131st session', 118 (1 December 1891): 3172-78. [43] 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 131st session',  3178-79. [44] Woodruff D. Smith, The German Colonial Empire (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1978), 143-50. [45] For a vivid case study, see Rebekka Habermas, Skandal in Togo: Ein Kapitel deutscher Kolonialherrschaft (Frankfurt: Fischer, 2016). [46] 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 55th session', 128 (1 March 1893): 1346. [47] 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 53rd session', 134 (19 February 1894): 1340. However, the instruments of punishment were laid out the previous Saturday, 17 February. [48] 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 51st session', 134 (16 February 1894): 1294-95. [49] 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 51st session',  1295. [50] 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 51st session',  1296. [51] Erik Grimmer-Solem, Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 344-49.
African Boundaries: A Legal and Diplomatic Encyclopaedia. Edited by Ian Brownlie and Ian R. Burns. London: C. Hurst & Co, 1979. Aitken, Robbie and Eve Rosenhaft. Black Germany: The Making and Unmaking of a Diaspora Community, 1884-1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Bade, Klaus J. Friedrich Fabri und der Imperialismus in der Bismarckzeit: Revolution - Depression - Expansion. Freiburg: Atlantis, 1975. Conrad, Sebastian. Globalisation and the Nation in Imperial Germany. Translated by Sorcha O´Hagan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Cooper, Frederick. Citizenship between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945-1960. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Cooper, Frederick and Jane Burbank. Post-Imperial Possibilities: Eurasia, Eurafrica, Afroasia. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2023. Dreesbach, Anne. Gezähmte Wilde: Die Zurschaustellung "exotischer Menschen" in Deutschland 1870-1940. Frankfurt: Campus, 2005. Eckert, Andreas. Die Duala und die Kolonialmächte: Eine Untersuchung zu Widerstand, Protest und Protonationalismus in Kamerun vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg. Münster: Lit, 1991. Fabri, Freidrich. Bedarf Deutschland der Colonien. Gotha: Perthes, 1879. Fisch, Jörg. The Right of Self-Determination of Peoples: The Domestication of an Illusion. Translated by Anita Mage. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Gerbing, Stefan. Afrodeutscher Aktivismus: Interventionen von Kolonisierten am Wendepunkt der Dokolonisierung Deutschlands 1919. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2010. Gerwarth, Robert. The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923. London: Penguin, 2017. Getachew, Adom. Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019. Goebel, Michael. Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Naitonalism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Grimmer-Solem, Erik. Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Grohmann, Marc. Exotische Verfassung: Die Kompetenzen des Reichstags für die deutschen Kolonien in Gesetzgebung und Staatsrechtswissenschaft des Kaiserreichs (1884-1914). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001. Habermas, Rebekka. Skandal in Togo: Ein Kapitel deutscher Kolonialherrschaft. Frankfurt: Fischer, 2016. Hasenjäger, Martin. Der völkerrechtliche Begriff der "Interessensphäre" und des "Hinterlandes" im System der außereuropäischen Gebietserwerbungen. Greifswald: Kunike, 1907. Hobohm, Martin. Wir brauchen Kolonien. Berlin: Engelmann, 1918. Huber, Ernst Rudolf. Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte seit 1789, vol. 6: Die Weimarer Reichsverfassung. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1981. MacMillan, Margaret. Peacemakers: Six Months that Changed the World. London: John Murray, 2001. Manela, Erez. The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Mazower, Mark. Governing the World: The History of an Idea, 1815 to the Present. New York: Penguin, 2012. Miescher, Giorgio. Namibia's Red Line: The History of a Veterinary and Settlement Border. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Nietzsche, Friedrich. 'Nachgelassene Fragmente: Anfang 1888 bis Anfang Januar 1889'. In Kritische Gesamtausgabe, edited by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, Vol. 8.3. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1972. Pedersen, Susan. The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pieper, Dietman. Zucker, Schnaps und Nilpferdpeitsche: Wie Hanseatische Kaufleute Deutschland zur Kolonialherrschaft trieben. Munich: Piper, 2023. 'Proceedings of the German National Constituent Assembly, 1st Session'. 326 (6 February 1919). 'Proceedings of the German National Constituent Assembly, 40th Session'. 327 (22 June 1919). 'Proceedings of the German National Constituent Assembly, 96th Session'. 330 (11 October 1919). 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 51st session'. 134 (16 February 1894). 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 53rd session'. 134 (19 February 1894). 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 55th session'. 128 (1 March 1893). 'Proceedings of the Reichstag, 131st session'. 118 (1 December 1891). Rosenhaft, Eve and Robbie Aitken. 'Martin Dibobe'. In Unbekannte Biographien: Afrikaner im deutschsprachigen Europa vom 18. Jahrhundert bis zum Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges, edited by Ulrich van der Heyden,  Berlin: Kai Homilius, 2008. Rüger, Adolf. 'Imperialismus, Sozialformismus und antikoloniale demokratische Alternative: Zielvorstellungen von Afrikanern in Deutschland im Jahre 1919'. Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenchaft 23, no. 7 (1975): 1293-308. Schnee, Heinrich. Die Koloniale Schuldlüge. Munich: Süddeutsche Monatshefte, 1924. Sippel, Harald. 'Recht und Gerichtsbarkeit'. In Die Deutschen und Ihre Kolonien: Ein Überblick, edited by Horst Gründer and Hermann Hiery,  Berlin: be.bra, 2018. Smith, Woodruff D. The German Colonial Empire. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1978. Steinmetz, George. 'Empire in Three Keys: Forging the Imperial Imaginary at the 1896 Berlin Trade Exhibition'. Thesis Eleven 139, no. 1 (2017): 46-68. Todzi, Kim Sebastian. Unternehmen Weltaneignung: Der Woermann-Konzern und der deutsche Kolonialismus 1837-1916. Göttingen: Wallstein, 2023. von Maltzan, Hermann. Rede des Freiherrn Hermann von Maltzan auf der constituierenden Generalversammlung des Deutschen Kolonialvereins zu Frankfurt am Main am 6. Dezember 1882. Berlin: Julius Sittenfeld, 1882. Wagner, Norbert Berthold. Die deutschen Schutzgebiete: Erwerb, Organisation und Verlust aus juristischer Sicht. Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2002. Weber, Max. 'Aufzeichnung über die Verhandlungen im Reichsamt des Innern über die Grundzüge des der verfassungsgebenden deutschen Nationalversammlung vorzulegenden Verfassungsentwurfs vom 9. bix 12. Dezember 1918'. In Gesamtausgabe, edited by Wolfgang J. Mommsen and Wolfgang Schwentker, Vol. 16: Zur Neuordnung Deutschlands. Tübingen: Mohr, 1988. ———. 'Deutschlands künftige Staatsform'. In Gesamtausgabe, edited by Wolfgang J. Mommsen and Wolfgang Schwentker, Vol. 16: Zur Neuordnung Deutschlands. Tübingen: Mohr, 1988. Weissmüller, Andreas. "Die Interessensphären:" Eine kolonialrechtliche Studie mit besonderer Berücksichtigung von Deutschland. Würzburg: Boegler, 1908. Wempe, Sean Andrew. Revenants of the German Empire: Colonial Legacies, Imperialism, and the League of Nations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.
citation information
Leanza, Matthias, 'The German colonial empire, seen from its end', Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog. Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect, 30 April 2024, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/04/30/the-german-colonial-empire-seen-from-its-end/.
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The uses of race: dis:connective perspectives

christopher balme

‘While, biologically speaking, the idea of individual human races with different origins is as farcical as the medieval belief that elves cause hiccups, the social reality of race is undeniable’. Henry Louis Gates Jr.[1]

Fig. 1: 7. A mid-19th century illustration of Blumenbach’s five-part taxonomy with the addition of colour terminology. Note that the category ‘Caucasian’ extends well into the Indian subcontinent. Note also the spelling of the word Race in German. (Source: Johann Georg Heck, Bilder-Atlas zum Conversations-Lexikon: Ikonographische Encyklopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste. Vol.1. Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1849, plate 43).

  The US Supreme Court decision to severely restrict affirmative action at two US universities generated strong reactions in the US. It was also widely reported in German media.[2] The core question was summarised in the ruling: ‘Admission to each school can depend on a student’s grades, recommendation letters, or extracurric­ular involvement. It can also depend on their race’.[3] But how do you render the most important concept in the ruling – race – when the most appropriate German word, Rasse, is verboten? It is the ‘R word’ in German. How do you report on a ruling containing ‘race’ in various permutations – race-conscious, race-sensitive, etc.­ – over 800 times? You find approximations, which always mean something different. The Süddeutsche Zeitung opted for ‘skin colour’ (Hautfarbe), another paper used ‘Abstammung[4] and a third (Spiegel Online) proposed Ethnizität.[5] So, depending on the paper you were reading, the ruling addressed admission practices that considered either skin colour, ancestry or ethnicity. The terms are different, but they are linked by putative biological determinants pertaining to applicants but beyond their control. For German readers unfamiliar with US universities, it sounded odd that skin colour was a criterion for admittance to one of the world’s most famous universities. My interest is less in the ruling than in looking at the word race from a dis:connective perspective. Although advocates of the term claim it is a ‘global concept’, it is in fact being kept alive by  Anglosphere scholars and activists responding to local contexts.[6] Globalisation does not just apply to transport, trade and economics but also to concepts. The refusal of the German-language media to use the German word for race indicates significant differences. Is it not time to consign the English word race to the dustbin of our vocabulary, as is the case in German? Or is the German objection to its version an outlier explicable through its history, which needs to be realigned with US American usage? At a time when discriminatory language is so rifely policed, why is race still in circulation? The latter question has become the leitmotif of all critiques of the concept.[7] So why again? Put simply, race is also a problem of language use: it exists primarily in the speech act. Or, to paraphrase Henry Louis Gates, while the concept of race might be from the land of fairy tales, its uses create realities. This essay is divided into three sections: firstly, a brief review of the state of the art in both languages. In part two, we will see how the word has largely disappeared from German. The third part of my paper will analyse language use, contrasting the performativity of the word in both languages. I propose a new linguistic category – affectives – to designate its function. Affectives are a special category of stand-alone words that have the force of speech acts without being embedded in propositional structures, like race and Rasse.

The paradox of race

The paradox of the race concept dates at least to the 1940s. Put simply, and citing evolutionary biologist, David Reich: ‘In 1942, the anthropologist Ashley Montagu wrote Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, arguing that race is a social concept and has no biological reality, and setting the tone for how anthropologists and many biologists have discussed this issue ever since’.[8] A similar critique was, however, published four years earlier by Magnus Hirschfeld in his book, Racism, which, although written in German, was first published in English and represents, if not the earliest, certainly the first thorough discussion of the term racism, which, deconstructs the biological precepts underlying race.[9] Despite this lack of ‘biological reality’, the word continued to be used in everyday speech, official documents, censuses and opinion polls. Henry Louis Gates revisited the paradox in 2022 in an op-ed for the New York Times entitled We Need a New Language for Talking About Race. Gates and his co-author Andrew S. Curran begin with an anecdote from the classroom:
The other day, while teaching a lecture class, one of us mentioned in passing that the average African American, according to a 2014 paper, is about 24 percent European and less than 1 percent Native American. A student responded that these percentages were impossible to measure, since ‘race is a social construction’.[10]  
They continue: ‘the fact that race is a social invention and not a biological reality cannot be repeated too much. However, while race is socially constructed, genetic mutations — biological records of ancestry — are not, and the distinction is a crucial one.’[11] Neither Gates and Curran, nor the authors of the article mentioned use the term race, the student just assumed that is what they were talking about.[12] Their call for a new language of ‘race’ is predicated on the term ancestry – a shared genetic history that should be ‘taught in our classrooms’. I want to remain with the student’s phrase ‘race is a social construction’ as it is the standard definition of race today. To resolve the paradox between a discredited biological definition and a mainstream culturalist understanding of the term, I asked Chat GPT what it/they thought about the paradox. The answer was characteristically nuanced:
The concept of "race" has been discredited as a biological concept, but it still persists as a social construct with profound implications for people's lives and experiences. The term "race" is still widely used because it continues to be a powerful tool for social categorization and for understanding and explaining social inequalities and power relations. [13]  
In other words, continued use of ‘racial’ categories and race to differentiate and discriminate  gives meaning to people’s identities. To understand how this use is itself aporetic, we need only look at the US Supreme Court ruling cited above. The court ruled on an action brought by the Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., which claimed that ‘race-based’ admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina contravened the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US constitution. The ruling accentuates the aporetic nature of race/racial wittingly and unwittingly. Wittingly, in the passages detailing the imprecision and contradictions in the universities’ classifications:
the universities measure the racial composition of their classes using the following categories: (1) Asian; (2) Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander; (3) Hispanic; (4) White; (5) African-American; and (6) Native American. (…) the categories are themselves imprecise in many ways. Some of them are plainly overbroad: by grouping together all Asian students, for instance, respondents are apparently uninterested in whether South Asian or East Asian students are adequately represented, so long as there is enough of one to compensate for a lack of the other. Meanwhile other racial categories, such as ‘Hispanic,’ are arbitrary or undefined.[14]  
But the judgement also appears unwitting, applying the central term race over 800 times without defining it.[15] Both the universities and the chief author of the ruling, Justice Roberts, apply the same arbitrary principle. Roberts reproaches the universities for using ill-defined taxonomic criteria: ‘The universities’ main response to these criticisms is, essentially, “trust us”’. This amounts to ‘I know it when I see it’ applied to race.[16] However, Roberts never questions the concept itself, only the subclassifications applied by the universities. Perhaps a more granular application of categories might have strengthened their case or, conversely, invalidated the classification system when too many subcategories were adjudicated. How would one distinguish South Asians from East Asians? There is a conflation of definiendum and definiens. There exists something called ‘race’, which is a category that universities should not apply when admitting students, but it needs no definition. This ruling is symptomatic of the state of affairs in the anglophone world, in which the USA is perhaps most attached to the term, but it is applied throughout Anglosphere with little awareness of its paradoxical nature. In the UK, the term ‘ethnicity’ has largely replaced ‘race’ as the preferred term of differentiation. For example, when applying for a job, applicants are often requested to note their ethnic affiliations. While ethnicity is certainly more differentiated than ‘race’ (Harvard identifies six ‘races’), in its application it encounters the same problems as the latter as an administrative and bureaucratic category. In order to give up the use of ‘race’ like smoking, we need to turn to Germany, which has almost kicked the habit.

The return of Rasse

The German word for race, Rasse, has largely disappeared from public discourse, except in reference to animals where it means breed (Fig.2). No official document will ever ask about your Rasse, but certainly your religion, marital status and nationality (and your ‘migration background’, a euphemism for non-German descent). This disappearance is not linked to any significant semantic differences; in fact, race and Rasse both derive from the French term race. The difference between use and reference matters here. As a historical term it is acceptable when used retrospectively (say for the Nazi period or South Africa under Apartheid). But on its own, Rasse has become a ‘pejorative fiction’, a term that has ‘null extensionality’, that lacks an empirical referent.[17] German-speakers once thought Rassen to exist, like dragons and unicorns, but the category has fallen out of reality.

Fig. 2: Decline in the use of the word Rasse in German-language books. Source: Google ngram.

The disappearance of Rasse has not been adequately described sociolinguistically, but the reasons are obvious. It is now a pejorative term; it is a ‘bad word’. This sometimes confounds anglophones when translating race with Rasse, as suggested by a policy paper by the German Institute for Human Rights (GIHR): ‘Und welcher Rasse gehörst du an’? It also leads to the situation described above when German newspapers scrambled for ‘good’ words to report on the US Supreme Court ruling. This disappearance was not decreed by the government but rather results from disuse. Consequently, the German Institute for Human Rights has sought to get the word removed from the German constitution and some other laws. The German Grundgesetz (Basic Law) is the most prominent law that retains the word. Article 3(3) reads: ‘No person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions’.[18] According to the GIHR, this ‘leads to an unresolvable contradiction’:
according to the current wording of the article, in the case of racial discrimination, those affected must claim to have been discriminated against on the basis of their ‘race’; they must virtually classify themselves as belonging to a certain ‘race’ and are thus forced to use racist terminology. (…) even though the term "race" is not open to any reasonable interpretation. Nor can it be, since any theory based on the existence of different human "races" is inherently racist.[19]  
The last days of the previous grand coalition (2018-2021) saw an attempt to change the wording through a cross-coalition alliance and replace Rasse with racism, but the Christian Democrats prevented it, claiming they needed ‘more time’ to think.[20] Debate was framed by a discussion that produced an unusual coalition between lukewarm Christian Democrats, an emphatically opposed alt-right party and the ‘progressive’ left. Most puzzling is the agreement between the left and extreme right. An example of the ‘progressive’ argument was published by two young legal scholars, Cengiz Barskanmaz from the Max Planck Institute for Anthropology in Halle and Nahed Samour, from the Humboldt University in Berlin:
It is only through such a term [Rasse] that racism, i.e. discrimination on the basis of race, becomes nameable and addressable. The legal concept of race is a necessary instrument to be able to address racism (including anti-Semitism) in terms of anti-discrimination law [...] Erasing the term negates historical and contemporary inequalities and risks trivialising them. […] This approach is part of Critical Race Theory, which is precisely a response to white jurisprudence […]. Black legal scholars demand race as a central category of analysis.[21]  
The authors argue that the concept of race is not only a legal term but is an important ‘global concept’ in the social sciences – a concept that in turn is used by jurisprudence.  The authors resist attempts to ‘blur’ the distinction between ‘race’ and ‘racism’:
Race is in the world, the socialisation of us all, the perception of this world, is racialised. Race does not exist, but it has an effect. […] It would seem grotesque if, after the murder of George Floyd, we told our US colleagues that our lesson was to erase the discriminatory factor of race.[22]  
So Germany should retain Rasse, at least in its legal documents, perhaps elsewhere, as a Mahnmal (memorial) to its history and to show solidarity with US colleagues. Ultimately, they argue for a stronger, more prominent representation of the word Rasse, which implies reintroducing it into public discourse. Perhaps the key lies in these somewhat contradictory sentences: ‘Race is in the world, the socialisation of us all, the perception of this world, is racialised’ and ‘Race does not exist, but it has an effect’. In English the first sentence is unremarkable: ‘The perception of this world is racialised’. This is a standard statement of the ‘race is a social construct’ tradition. In German, however, the word rassialisiert creates a different effect. It sounds simultaneously neologistic – not (yet) part of everyday German usage[23] – and anachronistically Nazi, as the Nazis created many compound words based on Rasse, which are today all pejorative. Its use in this text signals an attempt to introduce Critical Race Theory vocabulary into the German context, though its effect is either incomprehension or resistance. After decades of ‘re-education’, which involved ridding German of Nazi vocabulary, it is challenging for many Germans to understand that Critical Race Theory advocates reactivating racial thinking and even resegregation in some institutional contexts.[24] The second sentence – ‘Race does not exist, but it has an effect’ – is paradoxical. To make sense of it, we need the philosophy of language.


‘the meaning of a word is its use in the language’ (Wittgenstein, §43 Philosophical Investigations)[25]

J.L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words is among the most influential philosophical texts of the 20th century. My argument is indebted to Austin, not because the words race or Rasse are performatives but because Austin’s approach to language can help understand the paradox before us. This section asks what happens to a word when, on the one hand, embarrassment leads to its disuse, and on the other, it is used excessively despite an atrophied conceptual and scientific meaning. I argue that the word in both languages has the same status; it has become an ‘affective’. Similar to Austin’s performatives, affectives are words that generate emotions. They are usually nouns, sometimes adjectives, seldom verbs. Their mere enunciation, often without the contextualisation of a sentence, can evoke strong emotions, focus administrative minds and even influence politics. In their stand-alone power, their emotional effect outweighs the semantic aspect. Yet there is no grammatical description of such words. According to linguistic philosophy, affectives would belong to the category of ‘expressives’: words or statements that convey speakers’ attitudes to a referent. Affectives have perlocutionary force. Austin divides any speech act into three parts: locution (its meaning); illocution (the execution of an action by uttering the sentence); and perlocution ‘the achieving of certain effects by saying something’.[26] Affectives are primarily perlocutionary because, in the case of race for example, the locutionary meaning is so unstable. While affective as a noun is new, the class of words is not, even though they seem to be proliferating. Examples of old affectives include blood, popery, liberty, fascism and communism. New affectives might include globalisation, neoliberal and capitalism – the list is dynamic. It changes as words gain and lose emotive power. Censors have long implicitly recognised affectives’ power in their lists of proscribed words.[27] The growing number of one-letter words – the n-word, the p-word and I would like to add the r-word – testify to affectives’ growing importance. One-letter words are extreme examples, words that dare not speak their names. And while all slurs are affectives, not all affectives are slurs.[28] Affectives can necessarily stand alone. Just enunciating the word by itself will usually create its effect. Hence, they are closer to expletives than performatives, which require a sentence and the right conditions to function. While one expects to encounter affectives in political contexts, a recent development that interests me in the discussion of race, is the use of affectives in scholarly-academic discourse, where they often masquerade as concepts. Or, more accurately, in academic contexts many terms are transitioning from concepts to affectives. A word like colonialism has reasonably clear conceptual boundaries for historians, but it is increasingly an affective among scholars. The same applies to capitalism: in certain contexts, its enunciation generates an affective, negative response. There is also a trend towards double affectives to generate additional emotive power. An example would be the current use of racial capitalism or settler colonialism. These terms, because they are relatively new, have emerging conceptual boundaries. They are serious academic concepts but are increasingly used also as affectives to signal a history of injustice. Affectives position the user in a particular ideological context and often nudge the addressee to conform by force of emotive appeal or the desire to join a scholarly community. Affectives can also happily accommodate antithetical meanings. The epithet socialist as a noun or adjective can be a badge of honour, especially for a British academic, while it functions as an invective in most US political contexts. What links the extremes is the word’s affective appeal. The German Rasse is an affective whose enunciation can cause discomfort, even embarrassment, rather than anger or outrage (the default affect of our times). As soon as a suffix or prefix is added, the word loses some affective force. Rassis-mus or Rassen-politik are not affectives because they contain a level of observation or abstraction than weakens the affective charge. While Rasse is clearly an affective, race is still in transition. However, I argue that, while it is residually a concept in its redefinition as a social construct, race is used increasingly as an affective. This derives from its almost total synonymity with racism. As the 2021 Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities in the UK makes clear, a discussion of the ‘language of race’, a subheading in the report, is in fact a discussion of racism; the two terms are used interchangeably.[29] The granular analysis of social disparities in the report pinpoints ethnic not ‘racial’ categories, distinguishing Black African, Black Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi ‘ethnicities’ (and white ethnicities as well). The report also uses the qualifiers racial and ethnic interchangeably until they become synonyms. Even the title itself is ambiguous: is race a qualifier of disparities or is it a separate topic next to ethnic disparities? In this title race functions as an affective, while ethnic disparities constitute a proposition.

Fig. 3: Cover of Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

In academia, race usually references racism and discrimination. ‘It’s all about race’ is a statement where the noun is an affective. The referent is, however, probably racism and discrimination, not the outdated taxonomic theory of differentiating the human species. However, the latter, the biological residue, as Stuart Hall argued, clings to the new meaning. The semantic instability of race is counteracted by its emotive signalling. Affectives are thus dynamic, gaining and losing emotive charge over time. Within the category of affectives, race, unlike Rasse, is still a dual-use word, emotive and conceptual, whereby the conceptual aspect is paralysed by the paradox, as the underlying taxonomy has been discredited and the categories to which it ostensibly refers appear increasingly unfit for purpose. If analysing disparities in income, education or health outcomes is the object, then differentiation by ethnicity is the more precise analytical tool. But are affectives speech acts? No and yes. In the precise technical sense defined by Austin and expanded by Searle, probably not because they lack the illocutionary component which depends on verbs. Affectives are speech acts, not in the individual utterance, but through the force of repetition. Paraphrasing John Searle: The aim is not to represent reality but to change reality by getting reality to match the content of the speech act, the representation.[30] The classic performative does this simply by uttering the right combination of words within a correct set of conventions. Through repetition affectives can achieve similar perlocutionary effects. There are no such things as human races, plural, but uttering race enough times and with enough emotive force can will them back into existence. It is not that we know races when we see them, but we reify them by saying them.


The decline of race as a scientific-biological concept and its re-emergence as a social construct in the Anglosphere means that the latter understanding of the term is currently received wisdom. The word’s semantic contradictions were adumbrated by Stuart Hall to the point where he suggests, in jest, to give up the term like smoking. This suggestion is no laughing matter in Germany where the word Rasse has largely disappeared from public discourse because it is intuitively recognised as a proscribed term. Its advocates reside at opposite ends of the political spectrum, where anti-racist activists and right-wing conservatives both support the word’s retention in the German constitution, where it is rather an embarrassment. The struggle over antithetical meaning(s) should end in semantic exhaustion, but this is not the case. Race is being used more than ever in the Anglosphere. Part of this ‘success story’ is due to sheer repetition; by using the word, we don’t just naturalise it, we enable its continuing existence. However, today its use is primarily affective, not conceptual. Comparing race and Rasse demonstrates that, although the words are etymological siblings, their affective power is antithetical. In English race is on the one extreme a mobilising call for resegregation (‘embrace race’); in German the word is unequivocally pejorative. Such terms belong to a category termed here affectives. These words have the force of speech acts in their ability as stand-alone terms to generate emotions and even create communities of adherents and opponents. While affectives have always been used in politics from placards to pamphlets to censorship, the new situation is in academic discourse, where affect is rivalling or even displacing concept. When scholars write race, they are usually referencing discrimination, in which case racism is more precise. Using race in any other context is probably for affective, not analytical purposes. Race naturalises racism because it reasserts the word’s biological traces.   [1] Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Andrew Curran, 'We Need a New Language for Talking About Race', The New York Times (New York) 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/03/opinion/sunday/talking-about-race.html. [2] Fabian Fellmann, 'Historisches Urteil des Supreme Court', Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich) 2023, 1. [3] Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, No. 20-1199 1 (US District Court for the District of Massachusetts 29 June, 2023). [4] 'US-Supreme Court lehnt positive Diskriminierung an Unis ab', Austria Presse Agentur (Vienna), 30 June 2023, https://science.apa.at/power-search/14090665902102260545. [5] Sven Scharf, 'Supreme Court untersagt Studentenauswahl anhand von Hautfarbe – und das sind die Folgen', Der Spiegel, 30 June 2023, https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/affirmative-action-supreme-court-urteil-zur-studierendenauswahl-in-den-usa-der-ueberblick-a-890969d3-6a7b-4cb6-bb91-fde0513c9f87. [6] The claim that ‘race’ is a ‘global concept’ is made, for example by German legal scholars Cengiz Barskanmaz, and Nahed Samour in their article Cengiz Barskanmaz and Nahed Samour, 'Das Diskriminierungs­verbot aufgrund der Rasse', Maximilian Steinbeis ed. Verfassungsblog: On Matters Constitutional, Max Steinbeis Verfassungsblog gGmbH, 16 June 2020, https://doi.org/10.17176/20200616-124155-0, https://verfassungsblog.de/das-diskriminierungsverbot-aufgrund-der-rasse/. [7] The history of the term ‘race’ has been written many times and most accounts reach similar conclusions. From isolated usage in European languages in the early modern period, the term solidifies into a ‘scientific’ taxonomy of the human species in the mid-18th century. For recent accounts, see George M. Fredrickson, Racism: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Michael Keevak, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011). 'Theories of Race: An annotated anthology of essays on race, 1684-1900', 2023, https://www.theoriesofrace.com/. The most influential of the late-18th century taxonomies is that proposed by the German physical anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in his 1775 dissertation, De Generis Humani Varietate, which he continued to revise until the 1790s, when it was finally translated into German and other languages. Blumenbach proposed the five-part taxonomy Caucasian, Ethiopian, Mongolian, American, Malay that continues to be used today, although with a somewhat different nomenclature. [8] David Reich, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past (New York: Pantheon Books, 2018), 249. [9] Magnus Hirschfeld, Racism, ed. and trans. Eden Paul and Cedar Paul (London: Victor Gollancz, 1938). Hirschfeld’s book makes the transition of racism from being a ‘respectable’ concept, at least in fascist circles, to an exclusively pejorative term. See Werner Sollors, Ethnic Modernism (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 2008), 15. [10] Gates Jr. and Curran, 'We Need a New Language'. [11] Gates Jr. and Curran, 'We Need a New Language'. [12] The article is: Katarzyna Bryc et al., 'The Genetic Ancestry of African Americans, Latinos, and European Americans across the United States', American Journal of Human Genetics 96, no. 1 (2015), https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajhg.2014.11.010. [13] Text generated by ChatGPT, 12 November 2023, OpenAI, https://chat.openai.com. [14] Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 27. [15] But see J. Thomas’s concurring view: ‘race is a social construct; we may each identify as members of particular races for any number of reasons, having to do with our skin color, our heritage, or our cultural identity’. Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 47. [16] Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 26. This recalls Justice Stewarts famous test for pornography: ‘I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it’. Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 378 U.S. Supreme Court Opinions (U.S. Supreme Court 22 June, 1964). [17] See Christopher Hom and Robert May, 'Pejoratives as Fiction', in Bad Words: Philosophical Perspectives on Slurs, ed. David Sosa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 108. [18] Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, trans. Christian Tomuschat et al. (Berlin: Federal Ministry of Justice, 19 December, 2022). https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_gg/englisch_gg.html#p0023. The original reads: ‘Niemand darf wegen seines Geschlechtes, seiner Abstammung, seiner Rasse, seiner Sprache, seiner Heimat und Herkunft, seines Glaubens, seiner religiösen oder politischen Anschauungen benachteiligt oder bevorzugt werden’. [19] Hendrick Cremer, "... und welcher Rasse gehören Sie an?" Zur Problematik des Begriffs "Rasse" in der Gesetzgebung, Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte (Berlin, 2009), 4. My translation. [20] Despite a commitment by the current coalition to replace Rasse with a formulation such as ‘racist discrimination’, the government announced in February 2024 that it would not proceed with the plan. The main reason cited was an objection by the Jewish Council whose president, Josef Schuster, argued that the word is a reminder of the persecution and murder of millions of people – ‘primarily Jews’. Nevertheless, some individual states have removed the word from their constitutions. Vera Wolfskämpf, 'Wort "Rasse" bleibt doch im Grundgesetz', tagesschau (Berlin) 2024, https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/grundgesetz-rasse-begriff-100.html. [21] Barskanmaz and Samour, Das Diskriminierungsverbot. My translation. The German original reads: ‘Rasse ist in der Welt, unser aller Sozialisierung, die Wahrnehmung dieser Welt, ist rassialisiert. Rasse gibt es nicht, aber sie wirkt’. [22] Barskanmaz and Samour, Das Diskriminierungsverbot. Emphasis added. [23] See, for example, Anna von Rath and Lucy Glasser, 'Zehn schweirig zu übersetzende Begriffe in Bezug auf Race', Goethe-Institut 2021, https://www.goethe.de/ins/us/de/kul/wir/22139756.html.The authors state that the word ‘rassialisiert’ ‘sounds strange in German. For a legal perspective, see Doris Liebscher, 'Rassialisierte Differenz im antirassistischen Rechtsstaat. Zu Genealogie und Verfasstheit von Rasse als gleichheitsrechtlicher Kategorie in Artikel 3 Absatz 3 Satz 1 Grundgesetz – und zu den Vorteilen einer postkategorialen Alternative', Archiv des öffentlichen Rechts 146 (2021): 87. More generally: Judith Froese and Daniel Thym, eds., Grundgesetz und Rassismus (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2022). [24] An example is the movement ‘EmbraceRace’ (www.embracerace.org), which advocates even for young children to learn about racialised thinking. For this and many other examples, see Yascha Mounk, The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time (New York: Penguin, 2023). [25] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), 20. [26] J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words: The William James Lectures Delivered at Harvard University in 1955 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), 120. [27] The late-eighteenth century Habsburg theatre censor Franz Karl Hägelin compiled a list of words that were not permitted to be uttered on the stage under any circumstances. They included, ‘tyrant’, ‘despotism’, ‘enlightenment’, ‘liberty’, and ‘equality’, the latter two were considered to be particularly inflammatory. See Norbert Bachleitner, 'The Habsburg Monarchy', in The Frightful Stage: Political Censorship of the Theater in Nineteenth-Century Europe, ed. Robert Justin Goldstein (New York: Berghahn Books, 2009), 236. [28] See George Orwell: ‘The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable."’ George Orwell, 'Politics and the English Language (1946)', in A Collection of Essays (London: Harvest Books, 1981), 160. [29] Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: The Report, Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (London, 2021), https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-report-of-the-commission-on-race-and-ethnic-disparities. [30] This is one of John Searle’s arguments, referring to a class of facts, he terms institutional, which require speech acts to exist. See John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1995).
  Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with Words: The William James Lectures Delivered at Harvard University in 1955. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962. Bachleitner, Norbert. 'The Habsburg Monarchy'. In The Frightful Stage: Political Censorship of the Theater in Nineteenth-Century Europe, edited by Robert Justin Goldstein,  New York: Berghahn Books, 2009. Barskanmaz, Cengiz and Nahed Samour, 'Das Diskriminierungs­verbot aufgrund der Rasse', Maximilian Steinbeis ed. Verfassungsblog: On Matters Constitutional. Max Steinbeis Verfassungsblog gGmbH, 16 June 2020, https://doi.org/10.17176/20200616-124155-0, https://verfassungsblog.de/das-diskriminierungsverbot-aufgrund-der-rasse/. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. Translated by Christian Tomuschat, David P. Currie, Donald P. Kommers and Raymond Kerr. Berlin: Federal Ministry of Justice, 19 December, 2022. https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_gg/englisch_gg.html#p0023. Bryc, Katarzyna, Eric Y. Durand, J. Michael Macpherson, David Reich and Joanna L. Mountain. 'The Genetic Ancestry of African Americans, Latinos, and European Americans across the United States'. American Journal of Human Genetics 96, no. 1 (2015): 37-53. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajhg.2014.11.010. Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: The Report. Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (London: 2021). https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-report-of-the-commission-on-race-and-ethnic-disparities. Cremer, Hendrick. "... und welcher Rasse gehören Sie an?" Zur Problematik des Begriffs "Rasse" in der Gesetzgebung. Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte (Berlin: 2009). Fellmann, Fabian. 'Historisches Urteil des Supreme Court'. Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich), 2023, 1. Fredrickson, George M. Racism: A Short History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002. Froese, Judith and Daniel Thym, eds. Grundgesetz und Rassismus. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2022. Gates Jr., Henry Louis and Andrew Curran. 'We Need a New Language for Talking About Race'. The New York Times (New York), 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/03/opinion/sunday/talking-about-race.html. Heck, Johann Georg. Bilder-Atlas zum Conversations-Lexikon: Ikonographische Encyklopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste. Vol. 1, Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1849. Hirschfeld, Magnus. Racism. Edited and Translated by Eden Paul and Cedar PaulLondon: Victor Gollancz, 1938. Hom, Christopher and Robert May. 'Pejoratives as Fiction'. In Bad Words: Philosophical Perspectives on Slurs, edited by David Sosa,  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Keevak, Michael. Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011. Liebscher, Doris. 'Rassialisierte Differenz im antirassistischen Rechtsstaat. Zu Genealogie und Verfasstheit von Rasse als gleichheitsrechtlicher Kategorie in Artikel 3 Absatz 3 Satz 1 Grundgesetz – und zu den Vorteilen einer postkategorialen Alternative'. Archiv des öffentlichen Rechts 146 (2021). Mounk, Yascha. The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time. New York: Penguin, 2023. Orwell, George. 'Politics and the English Language (1946)'. In A Collection of Essays,  London: Harvest Books, 1981. Reich, David. Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past New York: Pantheon Books, 2018. Scharf, Sven. 'Supreme Court untersagt Studentenauswahl anhand von Hautfarbe – und das sind die Folgen'. Der Spiegel, 30 June, 2023. https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/affirmative-action-supreme-court-urteil-zur-studierendenauswahl-in-den-usa-der-ueberblick-a-890969d3-6a7b-4cb6-bb91-fde0513c9f87. Searle, John. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: The Free Press, 1995. Sollors, Werner. Ethnic Modernism. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 2008. 'Theories of Race: An annotated anthology of essays on race, 1684-1900'. 2023, https://www.theoriesofrace.com/. 'US-Supreme Court lehnt positive Diskriminierung an Unis ab'. Austria Presse Agentur (Vienna), 30 June 2023. https://science.apa.at/power-search/14090665902102260545. von Rath, Anna and Lucy Glasser, 'Zehn schweirig zu übersetzende Begriffe in Bezug auf Race'. Goethe-Institut 2021, https://www.goethe.de/ins/us/de/kul/wir/22139756.html. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958. Wolfskämpf, Vera. 'Wort "Rasse" bleibt doch im Grundgesetz'. tagesschau (Berlin), 2024. https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/grundgesetz-rasse-begriff-100.html.  
citation information:
Balme, Christopher, 'The uses of race: dis:connective perspectives', Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog, 16 April 2024, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/04/16/the-uses-of-race-disconnective-perspectives/.
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Bridging a gap: global knowledge production and its dis:connectivity — a review of the gd:c annual conference 2023

doğukan akbaş & peter seeland
Munich, 11-13 October 2023
The writer Bernadette Mayer addresses the plurality of knowledge production by interweaving various novellas in her work Story (1968). ‘All stories are at least not the same’, she says. How can this plurality be grasped and explored? How does knowledge get transmitted and applied, and what (global) dynamics apply? Last year’s annual conference, organized by Nikolai Brandes and Burcu Doğramaci of the Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect (gd:c), aimed to answer these questions. Combining notions of connectivity and disconnectivity in globalisation processes, the participants considered dis:connectivities in global knowledge production. Focusing on various forms of interruptions, absences, and detours in knowledge production, they sought a nuanced image to surpass the narrative of linear, boundless, uniform globalisation. The conference built on the previous year’s method-oriented conference.[1] And by inviting artists and activists in addition to scholars, gd:c emphasised diversity and multidisciplinarity in knowledge production. The annual conference covered three themes: exploration, carriers, and challenges of knowledge and its production. A film screening and museum visits took the participants out of the conference room and stimulated them with exploratory media.

Fig. 1: Starting point: Zu den Kinos — to the screening rooms. Image by: Doğukan Akbaş

The conference kicked off with a screening of the film Queer Gardening (2022). In this documentary, the urban planner, filmmaker and gardener Ella von der Haide (Munich) captures stories of queer individuals living in the USA through their individual experiences with gardening. The subjects expressed their resistance to the normative practice of gardening and the associated discrimination, which have traditionally been shaped by hetero-cis bias, through linguistic, etymological, spiritual and historical exploration of gardening. To rethink gardening from queer perspectives, not only in terms of societal norms but also as growing food and herbal medicines, was the primary goal of the documentary. Ecological knowledge, previously dominated by a heteronormative understanding of reproduction, can be reinterpreted and revised. Gardening can thus reflect queer identities as it creates and conveys queer knowledge. The exiled writer and gender researcher Stella Nyanzi (Berlin) described challenges of queer knowledge production and started by defining herself as a knowledge producer. She emphasised her three identities, academic, poet and activist. Using visual activism, she focused on the criminalisation of knowledge production in Uganda and the resulting challenges of queer knowledge production. Uganda’s anti-homosexual laws subject queer people to defamation by the press and (physical) violence by the public, robbing them of their senses of safety and dignity. Nyanzi, without seeking a conclusion, sought to prompt future research and activism with a few questions: how can knowledge producers deal with such challenges, and how can queer knowledge contribute to society as a whole? The historian Stephanie Zloch (Dresden) sees education as a central pillar of knowledge production and addressed the challenges associated with (global) migration, particularly focusing on the educational circumstances in Germany during the major migrations since 1945. She examined displaced persons, the post-war education system, language schools for migrants, Islamic education in Germany and ‘foreigner classes’ in German schools. Zloch investigated how knowledge can be recontextualised and synthesised into new forms through interruptions and detours, political debates and national interests. From the labour migrants of the 19th and 20th centuries to the present day, Munich has long been a city of migration, as illustrated by a guided tour of the Münchener Stadtmuseum led by historian Simon Goeke (Munich). The sociologist and artist Tunay Önder, for example, created a mind map of migration experiences with her Transtopischer Teppich (2016).[2] The collaged objects blend migration culture, forming hybrids of German and Turkish languages and memory cultures, resulting in the emergence of terms such as Migrantenstadl (migrant town) and even a whole migration dictionary. Culture and knowledge change through migration and give rise to completely new forms.

Fig. 2: Transtopischer Teppich. Image by: Doğukan Akbaş

The historian Lucie Mbignie Nankena (Dschang) discussed intergenerational and global transfer of knowledge, using the example of traditional Cameroonian dances. A dance can embody knowledge and convey identity as well as cultural and factual knowledge, about life with nature and traditions. Mariana Sadovska (Cologne) concluded the day with her concert-lecture on this idea of knowledge transfer through culture and tradition. With her research-based collection of folk songs from Ukraine, Sadovska helps preserve and transmit oral culture. Her concert, explicitly scheduled as part of the lecture section and not as a marginal event, guided the audience through the multicultural musical landscape of Ukraine, using her voice and harmonium. This landscape includes Jewish, Albanian, Greek and Swedish influences. The mostly polyphonic pieces metaphorically represent the diverse Ukrainian culture. The ongoing war lent Sadovska’s connection of art and research particular relevance. Preserving and reviving knowledge through personal appropriation is her main goal. The artist Lizza May David (Berlin) reported on her archive project in which she explores Philippine colonial history through photography. Western colonial powers created photo archives that only depicted their ideas and fantasies. Once these Western ideas had reached the Philippines, manifested in the photos and returned to Europe, David worked with them and sent her work back to Indonesia. This practice highlighted the global and dis:connective aspects of knowledge dynamics. With her Urban Bodies projects the choreographer Yolanda Gutiérrez (Hamburg) connected to the theme of archiving. These projects are ‘colonial city tours’, in which choreographic performances, executed by David Valencia and Jana Baldovino, draw attention to the presence of colonisation in European cities and shape a decolonised future through dance. The body serves as a carrier of colonial experience, and the corporeality facilitates the production and transmission of knowledge about colonial history. Thus, she perceives the body as an archive of knowledge. The writer Franz Dobler (Augsburg) guided the participants through the Archiv 451 exhibition at the Haus der Kunst. The autonomous publishing archive is the knowledge repository of the Trikont publishing house, which played a central role in Munich’s 1968 protests. As one of the first autonomous publishers in West Germany, it disseminated alternative perspectives on new social and ecological ideas in line with workers’ movements according to Franz Dobler, who himself participated as a writer and activist in the later years of the publishing house. With its focus on decolonisation and anti-fascism, the publisher shaped knowledge on a societal level. The archive exhibited not only published books but also records and documents from the music label and publishing house. The art historian Mona Schieren (Bremen) considered the physicality of knowledge through the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark’s understanding of the body. In her project Structuring the Self (1988-89), Clark attempted to trigger memories in various people through physical touch and objects. She associates remembering, reviving and expanding knowledge with a transcendental physical knowledge experience. This means not only reading, learning and familiarising oneself with knowledge, but also physically experiencing and expanding it. The corporeality of knowledge is palpable in Non Aligned Movement (2020) – a performance by artist Christian Guerematchi. A black man with a black mask, who donned the airs and uniform of the Yugoslav president Josip Tito before divesting them through dance.[3] The art historian Jasmina Tumbas (Buffalo) interpreted this performance as an Afro-European search for identity: the artist, originally from the former Yugoslavia, deconstructs Tito as a symbol of a racist, patriarchal and heteronormative society through his dancing body. Corporeality as a bearer and producer of knowledge can disrupt and reshape paradigms. Ana Druwe (São Paulo) spoke on the institutional preservation and production of knowledge at the Casa do Povo cultural centre in São Paulo. Founded in 1946 by Jewish immigrants as a Holocaust memorial, Casa do Povo is a living monument, providing space for education, art, collective and social activities. Its diverse practices, fundamental openness and Nossa Voz – the in-house magazine – foster anti-fascism, intercultural dialogue and social understanding. ‘Sharing the key to the building’ is the motto signifying the trust and spirit of collaborative knowledge production among the house users. The architect, theorist and activist Niloufar Tajeri (Berlin) also focused on buildings and the problems of architectural knowledge. Architecture directly and indirectly manifests various levels of knowledge in built space. So, who sees what in architecture, and how does it affect those who dwell therein? Using the example of current plans for Hermannplatz in Berlin, she revealed racist structures, potential exclusion and the importance of individual experience in architecture. Knowledge production does not end with construction — users and residents create knowledge within and with it. Architecture is an archive of knowledge that must become more aware of the challenge of including the people touched, affected and affiliated by and with it. ‘At least everybody doesn’t see the same in architecture’, concludes Tajeri fittingly. A poster session, organised by Doğukan Akbaş, Sophia Fischer and Peter Seeland, catalysed dialogue with young scholars. Chiara Di Carlo (Rome) spoke about pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the 16th century and dis:connectivities in transmitting knowledge (see her article in this issue). Yunting Xie (Uppsala) and Jie Yang (Munich) presented their research on global knowledge transfer in 20th-century China. Sabrina Herrmann (Kassel) discussed contemporary artistic attempts to resist gender-based human rights violations, examining how Mexican and Colombian artists raise awareness. Scott Blum-Woodland (Cambridge) treated the reception of Russian post-war literature in the UK in the late-20th century. Blum-Woodland forwarded the thesis that knowledge production is inevitably local and depends on societal (and national) connections.

Fig. 3: The poster session team in the gd:c library. Image by: Doğukan Akbaş

The conference evinced a diverse, transdisciplinary and multi-perspective approach to knowledge production, without neglecting the common theme. Instantiating ‘glocalisation’,[4] we explored the global through local Munich. This conference fostered communication between the arts and sciences. Thus, it became a site of knowledge production itself. In lieu of a closing statement with concrete results, we proposed research questions, approaches, methods and topics for ongoing conversations. In a way, the conference concluded as it began, recalling the introductory quote by Bernadette Mayer: ‘knowledge is never the same’. The conference pointed to a gap in the current academic discourse. Knowledge and its production must be analysed more intensively, more broadly and more inclusively. And dealing with this fact is a challenge that research must necessarily face.  

Fig. 4: Happy and fulfilled: celebrating the conference in the gd:c gardens. Image by: Doğukan Akbaş

(Global) knowledge production initially appeared to be an omnipresent concept in everyday life. We have all undergone an educational journey through school, university, work and our private lives, experiencing knowledge production first-hand. The term knowledge production immediately made us think of these institutional instances. While aware of significant differences on a(n) (inter)national level, awareness for the depth of these differences and the challenges evoked was not fully there. A mere glance at the conference programme showed that there is more to look at than just institutions. It provided us with a different approach to knowledge production and its underlying principles. A more out-of-the-box approach was necessary. It quickly became clear that this examination could only be successful from various perspectives across diverse disciplines, not limited to a lecture-type of examination. Historical assessments, musical performances and architectural considerations – all contributed to our awareness of the challenges of knowledge production and led to the outcome of our conference. We were especially impressed by the interdisciplinary collaboration of international researchers, ranging from facing political persecution for their research and the standing-up-for-justice we take for granted, to traveling through various regions experiencing war. It was their perspectives and personal stories that brought life to this conference.   [1] Peter Seeland, 'Looking back on global dis:connect's first annual conference: dis:connectivity in processes of globalisation: theories, methodologies, explorations', static: thoughts and research from global dis:connect 2, no. 1 (2023), https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.5282/static/41. [2] Tunay Önder, Transtropischer Teppich, 2016, Carpet, paper, plastic, metal, digital material, 250 x 350 x 10 cm, Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlung Stadtkultur. https://sammlungonline.muenchner-stadtmuseum.de/objekt/kunstwerkcollage-transtopischer-teppich-10203686. [3] Christian Guerematchi, 'NAM - Non Aligned Movement teaser', digital video. ICK Dans Amsterdam et al., 2021. YouTube, 1:00. https://youtu.be/5dh991XPHFs. [4] Robert Robertson, 'Glokalisierung — Homogenität und Heterogenität in Raum und Zeit', in Perspektiven der Weltgesellschaft, ed. Ullrich Beck (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1998).  
Guerematchi, Christian. 'NAM - Non Aligned Movement teaser'. digital video. ICK Dans Amsterdam, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, music/sound: Shishani, text/dramaturgy: Gita Hacham, costumes/design: Jonathan Ho and creative direction: PINKB!NK, 2021, YouTube, 1:00. https://youtu.be/5dh991XPHFs. Önder, Tunay. Transtropischer Teppich. 2016. Carpet, paper, plastic, metal, digital material, 250 x 350 x 10 cm. Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlung Stadtkultur. https://sammlungonline.muenchner-stadtmuseum.de/objekt/kunstwerkcollage-transtopischer-teppich-10203686. Robertson, Robert. 'Glokalisierung — Homogenität und Heterogenität in Raum und Zeit'. In Perspektiven der Weltgesellschaft, edited by Ullrich Beck,  Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1998. Seeland, Peter. 'Looking back on global dis:connect's first annual conference: dis:connectivity in processes of globalisation: theories, methodologies, explorations'. static: thoughts and research from global dis:connect 2, no. 1 (2023): 77-81. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.5282/static/41.  
citation information:
Akbaş, Doğukan, 'Bridging a gap: global knowledge production and its dis:connectivity — a review of the gd:c annual conference 2023', Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog. Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect, 2 April 2024, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/04/02/bridging-a-gap-global-knowledge-production-and-its-disconnectivity-a-review-of-the-gdc-annual-conference-2023/.
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Alumna but not forgotten: an interview with Katarzyna Puzon

katarzyna puzon

When were at global dis:connect, and what did you work on while here?

Image: Iveta Rysava/PolasBerlin

I was based at gd:c from July 2022 to June 2023, and my project was – and still is – concerned with scientific sound archives and how to deal with their legacy and ways of producing knowledge. Its focus and scope strongly resonate with my long-standing interest in temporality and the interplay of heritage, science and art, including in museums, exhibition spaces, urban sites and broader collaborative endeavours. The project is deeply rooted in my anthropological thinking, but it crosses disciplinary boundaries, drawing on critical heritage studies, sound studies, history of science and STS approaches. And it has a practical bent.

Where do you work now and are you still dealing with dis:connectivity?

After my fellowship, I returned to Berlin. One of the projects I was involved in last autumn concerned communicating science through sound and exhibiting (spoken) language. This was in the framework of the Nach der Natur (After Nature) exhibition. I was invited to comment on it and write about its media section, together with a colleague who is a musicologist and with whom I have been in dialogue for years. In this particular case, dis:connectivity was rather absent (an intriguing figure of speech). However, I have always worked on paradoxes and contradictions, as many anthropologists do, which seems inevitable when one needs to engage intensively with other people while doing ethnographic fieldwork in a ‘foreign’ context. In many respects, dis:connectivity fits into the paradoxical paradigm that I develop in my work. Analytically speaking, I find it more productive to use this tool in my research on scientific sound archives than in, for example, my book on Beirut.

What text – whether a book or article – have you read recently that particularly impressed you?

I can’t recall any text that has impressed me recently. Though I have been rereading Michail Bachtin’s The Dialogic Imagination and rethinking his ideas of chronotope and polyphony.

Which song could be the soundtrack for your time at gdc?

It is hard to pick just one piece, but it could be Thunder Continues in the Aftermath by Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet. https://youtu.be/38o6rozmYbI

Given the choice of anyone dead or alive, or even a fictional character, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

I would love to have dinner with Ursula K. Le Guin, a writer who passed away in 2018. Her evocative thought experiments deftly transcend conventions and genres (even if she is commonly classified as a speculative fiction or science fiction writer), while engaging with social, political and environmental issues. We would most likely talk about ‘what if’, temporality and technology, and reflect on how ‘the word for world is forest’ (inspired by the title of one of her books). If gd:c could fulfill my request and arrange a dinner with her for me, that would be a nice treat. A séance might do the trick. Continue Reading

Highland living and the evolving textures of architectural identity in the Himalayas

siddharth pandey
  Ask anyone in India to quickly draw a ‘scenery’, and most people would intuitively scribble two or more triangles in the background signifying a mountain range, a thick bar of waterfall gushing from somewhere in between that suddenly transforms into a river, and finally, a single-story house with a pitched roof in the foreground, basking in its idyllic surroundings. This is despite the fact that most of the population does not dwell in the highlands but plains. Nor do contemporary buildings exhibit slanting roofs or one-floor plans as regularly as in the past. This ‘commonplace’, archetypal idea of a scenery for 1.4 billion people might articulate a nostalgic, even childish approach to how imagined landscapes are collectively framed. But therein lies its significance too. For such scenery effortlessly illustrates the notion of ‘ecology’ in its most elemental, etymological form. As a portmanteau of the Greek words oikos (meaning ‘house’) and logia (meaning ‘study of’), ecology points to the study of human dwelling. Today, though we largely use the term for its ‘natural’ connotation, the original import of ecology prompts us to consider both human dwelling and the natural environment in essentially interlinked terms. So while the house of the scenery may seemingly occupy the centre stage, its roof also mirrors the slope of the background mountains, literally representing the ‘pinnacles’ of imagination (pun intended). Architecture’s affinity with the natural environment becomes apparent early to people who grow up in the Himalayas, especially from observing the many ancient villages and small towns strewn across the landscape. Historians of the Himalayas, like Chetan Singh and Aniket Alam, have argued that what sets traditional mountain societies apart from other subcontinental cultures is their considerable dependence on the natural topography.[1] While in the plains, owing to the land’s flatness, one could build vast, multi-storied structures; in the hills, this feature must inevitably shift. With habitable spaces varying anywhere between 400 to 4000 meters above the sea level, the physicality of mountains has always played a decisive role in determining the materiality of human-made dwellings. Thus, a ‘mountain home’ in its prototypical sense necessarily implies a balance between the natural and cultural, an equilibrium that is now fast disappearing under the ill-conceived developments of modernity.


The idea of ‘dwelling’ or ‘home’ is generally considered to be precious, even sacred, despite the fact it may mean different things to different people. Amply romanticised in culture since the beginnings of history and intrinsically linked to the notions of belonging and identity, home indexes the embodied ideals of comfort, safety and bonhomie. Homes make us as much as we make them. While the entity of the house is possibly the most obvious transmitter of home, the environment which the house finds itself in — a neighbourhood, a locality, a village, a town, a city, a landscape — contributes equally, if not more, to the character and ambience of home. Hilly regions generously and evocatively lend themselves to this aspect, because the outside and inside are always in conversation with each other. Views from one’s windows matter as an essential part of the house itself, as does the last ray of the sun peeling away from the flank of a distant hill. In this way, the word pahaad (Hindi for mountains) routinely become synonymous with ghar (Hindi for home). India being a largely tropical country dominated by plains, heights continue to define a much-loved and often-revered ‘other’. Countless mountains and summits serve as homes of local gods and goddesses, and hill people themselves express great pride and satisfaction in the distinctiveness of their landscape. If the recent ‘Happiness Surveys’ of India’s best states are anything to go by, then the regions bagging the top spots would only prove the link between mountain living and well-being further, given that they are located in the Himalayas.[2] Two ideas frequently characterise the popular perception of mountain life. One is the idealised image of dwelling in a salubrious, scenic setting. The other points to a ‘toughness of spirit’, a hallmark of all mountain societies, given the undulating terrains and demanding weather conditions that must be navigated daily. From a critical viewpoint, it is tempting to align the first image with the tourist gaze and the second with the ‘actual life’ of hill people. But while there is some truth in this opinion, the binary doesn’t exist in absolute terms. Notwithstanding their hardships, hill people have long been aware of inhabiting a space that is vastly different from lowland cities, a space that invariably demands sensitive attunement towards nature, both aesthetically and work-wise. Such attunement doesn’t only include the staple professions of agriculture, horticulture and pastoralism, but also the practices of architecture and spatial planning, which have evolved over many centuries in concert with the natural surroundings.


Among the most well-known traditional building techniques in the Himalayas are the Kath-Kuni, Koti Banal and Dhajji-Dewari styles of the Middle Himalayas, as well as the mud-brick, slate-roof style of the Lower Himalayas. Both the Kath-Kuni and the Koti-Banal methods are variations of the Cator-and-Cribbage template, which have evolved over hundreds of years in the upper reaches of the mountains. In Kath-Kuni, which literally translates as ‘wooden corner’, alternate horizontal layers of stone and wooden beams are stacked together without any cementing materials to create long-lasting walls, which often support intricately carved overhanging balconies to let sunshine in. Similar to the Kath-Kuni is the Koti-Banal style, which derives its name from a village in the state of Uttarakhand. The only major exception here is that we sometimes find several vertical timber beams passing through the horizontal wooden beams for added fortification. Tellingly, these templates were not only used for creating human dwellings but also shrines and shelters for gods, goddesses and cattle. And like most indigenous architecture, the buildings were made by the very people who lived in them or used them in some capacity. In both Kath-Kuni and Koti-Banal, the ground floor is reserved for cattle, the middle for fodder and the upper most for human habitation. Since it gets extremely cold during winters, the cattle can’t be left outside but are drawn into the folds of the walls, and their flatulence and belching helps keep the overall structure warm. The lack of cement and the use of sockets for fixing stone and wood horizontally also ensures superb seismic resistance, given that the whole of the Himalayas lies in an earthquake-prone region. In the lower and more sprawling valleys, we again witness a perfect synthesis of traditional human vision and environment. Here, the mud-bricked, slate-roofed building style evolves out of the rich presence of clay, slate and pine and bamboo trees. The whole process is contingent on natural forces. For instance, the bricks are made of a mixture of soil, sieved mud, water and straw, which is pugged with the help of an ox or cow over several days. Cow dung itself is a handy building material, as its ability to reduce the sun’s harmful radiation allows it to be converted into a coating that is plastered all over the floor and walls. Along with this, a layer of neem and clove oil is applied to keep the termites away. The building techniques used for cattle residences (often placed along the courtyard) are the same as those used for humans. In the past, the low-raised floors above the cattle pens (otherwise used only for storing fodder) would doubly serve as shelters for nomadic pastoralists during their seasonal migrations from the higher Himalayas to the lower valleys. Another building technique, Dhajji-Dewari, is a variation of the wattle-and-daub template widespread all over Europe, Africa and other parts of Asia. Consisting of an infill of clay, stone and pine needles that form ‘patched quilt walls’ on an overall timber-caged framework, Dhajji-Dewari was popularised during the colonial times. Owing to its resemblance to Victorian Neo-Tudor style of building, the British era architects birthed numerous kinds of hybrid designs at the intersection of Himalayan and European aesthetics, which were again a fine blend of sturdiness, elegance and seismic resistance. All these building styles appeared to stem from the earth, so that instead of seeming like an artificial outcrop, they gave the impression of growth and natural continuity.

Fig. 1: Siddarth Pandey. Hidimba Devi Temple, an example of 'Kath-Kuni' architecture in the Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh.

Fig. 2: Siddarth Pandey. Mud and slate houses in the Kangra Valley, Himachal Pradesh.

Fig. 3: Siddarth Pandey. Cedar House, an example of 'Dhajji-Neo-Tudor' hybrid architecture in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.


It was around three to four decades into Independence that hill societies first started experiencing a drastic change in their architectural ethos. Even as the inauguration of cement factories, high-rise structures and newer advancements in building technology ostensibly ushered in novel symbols of modern development, their indiscrete application across vastly varying geographies invariably augured trouble and imbalance. This was especially true for the Himalayan states, where no one had ever dwelled in buildings above a few stories high and devoid of local materials. After 1947, architecture and urban planning more than any other area of human concern couldn’t come up with a robust, sustainable and widescale creative vision for itself, the disastrous consequences of which are felt to this day. India’s foremost writer on architecture, Gautam Bhatia, observes that in the Independence era, ‘little has changed in Indian planning, urbanism, architecture or ways of thinking. No attempt has been made to define, in a common language, the kind of architecture we would like to live in’. He raises concern over ‘the civic disorder of places confounded by squalid government construction, extravagant private commerce and mounting slums’, and laments how, ‘in the absence of an institutional culture, architecture can only be a private inconsequential activity. People build on whim, day in and day out, adding personal appendages of construction to new or previous assemblies, adding to the jumbled mix’.[3] It is this ‘jumbled mix’ that overwhelmingly defines the built character of India, including the hills, where the majority of new buildings and city plans are indistinguishable from their lowland counterparts. Not only does this development quash the historical and visual sense of a mountainous terrain by contradicting its gradually-evolved ethos, it also fails in its promise of providing revolutionary alternatives to older ways of living. Most modern structures erected in hilly terrains hardly guard against any kind of natural calamities, whether earthquakes or floods. In late 2022, the popular pilgrimage town of Joshimath in Uttarakhand hit the national headlines for precisely these reasons, where almost all the houses developed cracks due to the sinking ground they stood on, which was itself constituted of loose landslip-mud. Joshimath now lies at the brink of complete collapse. More recently, in July 2023, the state of Himachal Pradesh witnessed its most calamitous flash floods in collective memory, and among the colossal damage were the houses, roads and other public infrastructure that had been recklessly constructed in the flood plains and along shaky, felled slopes, all within the last few decades. In another such example, many people complain of illnesses resulting out of the imprudent usage of cement and marble in the contemporary dwellings of the higher Himalayas, since they fail to insulate naturally against heat and cold earlier as do indigenously procured materials. In May 2022, Time Magazine carried a cover story that drew attention to this relationship between climate and health. Titled Western Architecture is Making India’s Heatwaves Worse, the piece shed light on how, after the economic liberalisation of the 1990s, a rapid shift away from climate-specific architecture started to define the Indian landscape, exacerbating the current climate crisis. The article rightly argued that the ‘shift was partly aesthetic; developers favored the glassy skyscrapers and straight lines deemed prestigious in the U.S. or Europe, and young architects brought home ideas they learned while studying abroad’.[4] But the title of the piece was partially disingenuous as well, since it cunningly put the entire onus of Indian architectural failure on the West. For one, the heading didn’t acknowledge that it was the Indian development model itself that approved of such ‘new’ ideas in the first place. Secondly, it also presented Western architecture through a monolithic lens, pitting it against the indigenously robust architecture of pre-Independent India, as if there was no indigenous architecture in the West. In truth, however, Western architectural templates have been mixed and merged with Indian styles for centuries, including within the Himalayas (the Dhajji-Dewari being one of many examples). Thus, instead of apportioning the blame solely to Western models, it is crucial to nuance our language of criticism. Bhatia is again instructive here, for while finding flaws in the implementation of Western models on a foreign landscape, he simultaneously draws attention to the quality and context in which this change started taking place. ‘Indian architecture’s moral dilemma’, he says, ‘is in fact all the more cruel for ensuring that any and all forms of carefully cultivated Indian practices are quietly buried under the debris of second rate foreign images’, the emphasis thus being on quality rather than inspiration. He adds that ‘unfortunately, whenever European Modernism was practiced in [independent] India, the architect was building in exile; mainstream architecture’s self-importance always fed on keeping the public in the dark’, highlighting therefore the lack of building ideology’s moral compunctions.[5] Put another way, an enabling, organic relationship between an independent public ethos and the practice of architecture never truly developed in independent India. This resulted in a strange skewing of creative and practical vision, to the extent that aggressive individualism became the order of the day. This is not to say that India hasn’t produced good architects in the postcolonial period. One has only to look at the inspiring works of world-renowned visionaries such as BV Doshi and Charles Correa, who have blended together a strong public sensibility with a sustainable Indian imagination. But given the largeness of the country, such examples are but a drop in the ocean, and Bhatia’s remarks thus hold true for India in general.


What is perhaps most tragic in the context of the Himalayas is the sheer indifference that has characterised the reception of public pleas and protests against such unscrupulous development. Despite the many voices in the region that have strongly stood against the barrage of shoddy novel projects, such endeavours have brazenly proceeded ahead. In the case of Joshimath, for instance, residents had started noticing cracks in their houses more than a year ago, before the crisis became a national headline. But every citizen intervention fell on deaf ears.[6] And as if the Joshimath crisis or the destructive flash floods weren’t enough as cautionary events, the Supreme Court of India gave the greenlight in January 2024 to open all the formerly designated ‘green areas’ of Himachal Pradesh’s capital Shimla for new construction.[7] This was done as part of the proposed 2041 Shimla Development Plan, under the pressure from the builders’ lobby, which wields astonishing power over politicians, bureaucrats and the judiciary. When the highest judicial body of the country is unable to protect the last remaining forested land, what hope can we have from anyone else? To quote the Himalayan anthropologist-activist Lokesh Ohri,

the [postcolonial] state itself suffers a deep entrenchment of corporate interests and contractor lobbies. Sane voices in the mountain states are in no position to voice their concern over ‘development’ policies doled out from the Centre, gratefully accepting, and implementing whatever is on offer. At the Centre, too, there is little effort to hear voices on the ground, the ones that could narrate the truth of the crumbling Himalayas. There is no realization that what works in the plain-based states of the country may not work in the mountains.[8]

Between such frustration and acceptance arises a ‘disconnect’ in every aspect of mountain life, a disconnect embodied most forcefully by architecture.

Fig. 4: Siddarth Pandey. Haphazard modern development in Mandi town, Himachal Pradesh.


In his well-regarded 2006 work The Architecture of Happiness, the philosopher Alain de Botton explores the many ways in which architecture is directly and indirectly related to the sphere of human emotions and nature, not just functionality. In a beautifully crafted moral statement, de Botton observes that ‘we owe it to the fields that our houses will not be the inferiors of the virgin land they have replaced. We owe it to the worms and the trees that the building we cover them with will stand as promises of the highest and most intelligent kinds of happiness’.[9] Likewise, we owe it to the Himalayas that the human endeavours we subject them to do not evolve as cruel forms of domination but rather as sensitive dialogues between the desires of men and the destiny of mountains.
[1] See Chetan Singh, Natural Premises: Ecology and Peasant Life in the Western Himalaya 1800-1950 (New Dehli: Oxford University Press, 1998); Aniket Alam, Becoming India: Western Himalayas Under British Rule (New Dehli: Cambridge University Press, 2008). [2] Reya Mehrotra, 'What makes Himachal Pradesh the happiest state in India', The Week, 23 April 2023, https://www.theweek.in/theweek/cover/2023/04/14/what-makes-himachal-pradesh-the-happiest-state-in-india.html#:~:text=It%2C%20therefore%2C%20comes%20as%20no,did%20so%20last%20year%2C%20too. [3] Gautam Bhatia, 'Without architecture', Seminar, no. 722 (2019). https://www.india-seminar.com/2019/722/722_gautam_bhatia.htm. [4] Ciara Nugent, 'Western architecture is making India's heatwaves worse', Time, 16 May 2022, https://time.com/6176998/india-heatwaves-western-architecture/. [5] Bhatia, 'Without architecture'. [6] Kavita Upadhyay, 'How heavy, unplanned construction and complex geology is sinking Joshimath', India Today, 16 January 2023, https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/how-heavy-unplanned-construction-complex-geology-sinking-joshimath-uttarakhand-2319530-2023-01-10. [7] Satya Prakash, 'Supreme Court upholds Shimla Development Plan — 'Vision 2041', sets aside National Green Tribunal order', The Tribune, 11 January 2024, https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/supreme-court-upholds-shimla-development-plan-—-vision-2041-sets-aside-national-green-tribunal-order-580368. [8] Lokesh Ohri, 'Joshimath collapse: Uttarakhand is on the brink', The Indian Express, 9 January 2023, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/joshimath-collapse-uttarakhand-brink-8370295/. [9] Alain De Botton, The Architecture of Happiness (London: Penguin, 2006), 267.
Alam, Aniket. Becoming India: Western Himalayas Under British Rule. New Dehli: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Bhatia, Gautam. 'Without architecture'. Seminar, no. 722. (2019). https://www.india-seminar.com/2019/722/722_gautam_bhatia.htm. De Botton, Alain. The Architecture of Happiness. London: Penguin, 2006. Mehrotra, Reya. 'What makes Himachal Pradesh the happiest state in India'. The Week, 23 April 2023. https://www.theweek.in/theweek/cover/2023/04/14/what-makes-himachal-pradesh-the-happiest-state-in-india.html#:~:text=It%2C%20therefore%2C%20comes%20as%20no,did%20so%20last%20year%2C%20too. Nugent, Ciara. 'Western architecture is making India's heatwaves worse'. Time, 16 May, 2022. https://time.com/6176998/india-heatwaves-western-architecture/. Ohri, Lokesh. 'Joshimath collapse: Uttarakhand is on the brink'. The Indian Express, 9 January 2023. https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/joshimath-collapse-uttarakhand-brink-8370295/. Prakash, Satya. 'Supreme Court upholds Shimla Development Plan — 'Vision 2041', sets aside National Green Tribunal order'. The Tribune, 11 January 2024. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/supreme-court-upholds-shimla-development-plan-—-vision-2041-sets-aside-national-green-tribunal-order-580368. Singh, Chetan. Natural Premises: Ecology and Peasant Life in the Western Himalaya 1800-1950. New Dehli: Oxford University Press, 1998. Upadhyay, Kavita. 'How heavy, unplanned construction and complex geology is sinking Joshimath'. India Today, 16 January 2023. https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/how-heavy-unplanned-construction-complex-geology-sinking-joshimath-uttarakhand-2319530-2023-01-10.
citation information
Pandey, Siddarth, 'Highland living and the evolving textures of architectural identity in the Himalayas', Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog. Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect, 5 March 2024, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/03/05/highland-living-and-the-evolving-textures-of-architectural-identity-in-the-himalayas/.
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