Colin G. Calloway, Gerd Gemunden, Susanne Zantop, eds. Germans and Indians: Fantasies, Encounters, Projections. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. xi + 351 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8032-6420-5; $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8032-1518-4.
Reviewed by Brian J. Boeck (Lecturer, History Department, Harvard University)
Published on H-GAGCS (April, 2003)
Rarely does one encounter a book that is as difficult to evaluate in brief as it is fascinating to read. The seventeen diverse contributions to this volume represent the final sifting out of over eighty proposals and papers submitted by scholars, writers, film-makers, Native American cultural activists, and Indian enthusiasts for a conference entitled "Deutsche und Indianer/Indianer und Deutsche: Cultural Encounters across Three Centuries" that was held at Dartmouth in May 1999. The disciplines represented in the collection include, but are not limited to, history, Native American studies, German studies, anthropology, and American studies. Sources represented in the volume range from eighteenth-century Moravian mission records to nineteenth-century novels and census schedules to twentieth-century ethnographic interviews.
Before providing an evaluation of the book, I should note that I am approaching it as a historian. Rather than attempt the impossible task of discussing how this book will impact the various disciplines that it draws upon, my assessment of the book will primarily focus on its contribution to the interdisciplinary endeavor of German-American Studies. The book will obviously have different degrees of relevance and resonance to students of different disciplines, but its importance for German-American Studies is undeniable.
The volume is best described as a brief introduction to a topic of tremendous depth and diversity. Since no comparable study of encounters between Germans and Indians exists, this book addresses a major void in the history of trans-Atlantic interaction. Many of the contributors recognize that the categories "Germans" and "Indians" are problematic and eschew the cliches and stereotypes that have shaped previous characterizations of these encounters. In her introduction, Susanne Zantop rightly remarks that the "collection of articles in this anthology constitutes only a beginning" (p. 12). The editors of the volume can be congratulated on a very auspicious beginning for what promises to be a fruitful field of future inquiry.
Zantop's introduction provides concise descriptions of the individual essays and a succinct discussion of the issues that motivated the organizers of the conference. One of the primary goals of the conference was "to achieve a productive confrontation" and "establish a dialogue between those interested in representation and the imaginary, on the one hand, and those who are after historical 'facts' and 'experience,' on the other" (p. 6). Lamentably, the volume omits the "commentary and critical responses" to the papers provided by Native Americans at the conference. Since I am not competent to evaluate the literary contributions by Emma Lee Warrior and Louise Erdrich, I will simply note Zantop's suggestion that they serve as surrogates for the "humorous, occasionally ironic, sometimes bitter commentary that had accompanied and enriched the oral presentations" (p. 9).
Compared to many of the other articles, Christian F. Feest's essay, "Germany's Indians in a European Perspective," strikes a discordant note by de-emphasizing the uniqueness of German interest in "Indians." He finds examples of Indian Hobbyism in other European cultures and concludes that "little of what Germans dreamed about with respect to Indian affinities had not similarly been dreamed about by other Europeans" (p. 36). He downplays the notion that a majority of Germans share feelings of affinities with Indians and argues instead that immigration and the proportionally large German-speaking population in North America can help to explain German interest in Indians. Finally, he argues that sources other than works by Karl May (more than a thousand titles of Indian fiction were published in Germany in the last quarter of the nineteenth century) may have had a larger impact than is usually assumed. While I do not feel that Feest has proven that German interest in Indians is unexceptional, his cautionary essay is the only one that seeks to explore the phenomenon in a larger context. He is correct to assert that much more work must be done before generalization can begin, but he should have noted that the overwhelming majority of manuscript sources and published materials written in German in North America remains unknown to researchers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Colin Calloway's survey of "Historical Encounters across Five Centuries" represents a successful attempt to synthesize information about encounters across disparate regions and periods. Calloway demonstrates convincingly that from the seventeenth century on, Germans encountered Indians in a variety of situations, both peaceful and violent, as settlers, soldiers, intermediaries, missionaries, and intellectual observers. His essay also devotes considerable attention to the other side of the coin: as early as 1720 Native Americans were put on display in Germany and such exhibitions continued to take place for two more centuries. The two world wars brought Indians once again into contact with Germans, and in the Cold War period U.S. military bases provided critical links between German Indian enthusiasts and Native Americans. Although the essay covers considerable ground and is clearly the best treatment of the topic to date, it would have benefited from more coherent conceptualization and use of primary sources in German. Many of the examples seem anecdotal. Broad coverage is achieved at the expense of in-depth analysis. To take just one example, the case of Hermann Lehmann, a son of German immigrants who lived for many years as an Indian after being captured in Texas, is much more complex than the brief account in the essay would suggest. Most of the information we have about Lehmann comes from Anglo intermediaries and later in life he played the role of Indian entertainer to his own commercial advantage. Moreover, Lehmann seems to have never marketed his compelling captivity narrative in German in either the United States or Germany. In order to understand why, we would have to question why he did not necessarily view his personal story as part of a special German-Indian relationship. It is precisely the German-American dimension of local stories that deserved more detailed treatment throughout the essay.
Three historical essays focus on specific cases of German-Indian interaction in North America. "American Indians and Moravians in Southern New England," by Corinna Dally-Starna and William A. Starna, presents the first fruits of a multi-year project (financed by the casino wealth of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe) to translate records of Moravian Missions of Connecticut from German to English. The "noninterventionist" approach of the Moravians to native religions allowed the brethren to live in native communities, share food, and work side by side with Indians in certain instances. Their presence also seems to have helped Indian communities to temporarily preserve their culture from encroachment by less sensitive outsiders. Liam Rordan explores racial consciousness in the colonial period in his essay entitled "The Complexion of My Country." The first part of the essay examines perceptions of Germans in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania and employs a limited number of sources to suggest that some observers lumped Germans together with "swarthy" peoples. The second part of the essay focuses on the area around Easton, Pennsylvania, as a multi-cultural landscape in the mid-eighteenth century and concludes that "local groups pursued their distinct interests in ways that fundamentally undercut reliable white or Indian solidarity in colonial America" (p. 111). Russel Lawrence Barsh considers the implications of social relationships in his essay "German Immigrants and Intermarriage with American Indians in the Pacific Northwest." Employing manuscript census schedules, he argues that foreign-born settlers (Germans included) were more likely to marry Indians than American-born individuals. Because single white women were scarce and male immigrants needed domestic helpers and access to knowledge of the local ecology, in some areas of the Puget Sound over half of all marriages involved an Indian partner. All three essays seem to represent fragments of larger studies and therefore are not integrated well with one another.
An interesting article by Bernard Peyer serves as an appropriate transition from one side of the Atlantic to the other. "A Nineteenth-Century Ojibwa Conquers Germany" chronicles the voyage of George Copway to the Third World Peace Congress in Frankfurt during the summer of 1850. After receiving an education in missionary schools and serving as a Methodist missionary, Copway became an ethnic entrepreneur by writing books about the Ojibwa and becoming a successful public speaker. While the conference in Germany was a spectacular failure, Copway's appearance created a sensation. Peyer argues convincingly that the voyage coincided with an upswing of German interest in Indians and that Copway himself capitalized upon this interest by sharing peace pipes with his hosts and playing the part of "stoic of the woods." After returning home he could never recapture the glory of his European voyage. The article quotes liberally from German press accounts and Peyer should be thanked for making this material available to English-speaking readers. One wonders, however, whether Copway's journey received any coverage in the German-language press of the United States.
Two contributions treat representations of Indians in nineteenth-century texts. Jeffrey L. Sammons briefly examines representations of Indians in the literary works of Friedrich Gerstaecker, Charles Sealsfield, and Balduin Moellhausen and argues that their appraisals did not differ radically from those advanced in American discourse. Karl Markus Kreis analyzes contrasting images in his essay "Indians Playing, Indians Praying: Native Americans in Wild West Shows and Catholic Missions." Kreis uses a variety of contemporary sources to reconstruct the impact of Wild West shows on German perceptions of Indians. Although limited to only three cities, his analysis provides an important discussion of how the entertainment industry stimulated Indian role-playing among Germans (see pp. 200-201). In the second part of his essay he discusses various ways in which German Catholic publications cultivated feelings of solidarity with Indians. References to descriptions of Teuton tribes by Tacitus, tales of cultural transformation through German hygiene and hymns, and allusions to Kulturkampf on reservations (echoing the contemporary situation in Bismarck's Germany) helped Germans to identify with Indians. Given the importance of the period, I hope Kreis will return to the topic in a more extensive study that evaluates the relative impact of both images he describes. Also, a larger study should approach the problem of how, or if, both images were received by German communities in North America.
Three essays are devoted to the fascinating phenomenon of Germans who adopt Indian culture as a hobby, avocation, or way of life. The short essay by Marta Carlson is a prejudiced rant against hegemony, colonialism, appropriation, and racial consumption. As a Native American activist she condemns Germans for getting pleasure from "something their whiteness has participated in destroying" (p. 215). Fortunately, the other essays on the topic avoid both the vitriol and the grandiose generalizations that characterize this contribution. If the aim of the editors was to include Native American perspectives, they could also have included a statement by the "Native American men who choose to live in Europe, permanently selling our cultural practices" that Carlson dismisses in a single sentence.
Harmut Lutz provides a concise appraisal of the German obsession with Indianer. The essay, "German Indianthusiam: A Socially Constructed German National(ist) Myth," serves as a historical explanation of what Lutz terms "Indianthusiam" (described on p. 168 as a "a yearning for all things Indian, a fascination with American Indians, a romanticizing about a supposed Indian essence"). He connects it to German nation-building, romantic ideology, and the pseudo-colonialist myths of Karl May and concludes: "In casting Indians as brothers and as wonderful, exemplary people who love 'us' because we are German, it propagated the myth of hereditary German greatness, even if and when Germans are misunderstood by other nations. The function then of German Indianertuemelei is compensatory self-aggrandizement" (p. 179). His suggestion that nineteenth-century discourse about a German "tribal" ethnicity "prepared the ground for the German-Indian identification" is promising, but needs more extensive elaboration. Here I would interject that the popularity of Arminius (Hermann, the first century A.D. Cheruscan chief) in late-nineteenth-century German-American circles led to the formation of a fraternal Order of the Sons of Hermann, but does not seem to have spawned "Indianthusiasm" among Germans living in the United States. Therefore Karl May's role in the creation of what Lutz terms a "neo-tradition" in post-1884 German nationalism and colonial imagination seems to represent a more critical avenue of future research.
Katrin Sieg's article "Indian Impersonation as Historical Surrogation" provides a thought-provoking and comprehensive introduction to the complex world of West German Indian hobbyists. Her article stresses the "generational, regional and ideological differences among practitioners" and discusses the varying interpretations of Indian impersonation by practitioners and outsiders. Her research revealed that over two hundred Indian clubs are active in Germany and that many groups trace their remote origins to waves of interest created by carnivals and Wild West shows. Varying degrees of seriousness and fidelity to notions of authenticity can be observed among hobbyists. Sieg succeeds in both giving her informants a voice and maintaining the critical distance necessary for scholarly analysis. She merits credit for her dispassionate treatment of the thorny questions of cultural possession and "ethnic competence." According to Sieg, German enthusiasts believe that "interruption of a history that could no longer be passed down through family and bloodlines, to their minds, created a sort of 'equal opportunity' for Indians and German hobbyists, both of whom had to (re)learn Indian culture" (p. 226). She distinguishes between various individual reasons for Indian impersonation and concludes that no single explanation (Fascism, national humiliation, capitalism, environmentalism, etc.) can explain the phenomenon, arguing instead that a "yearning for a non-alienated, pre- or anti-modern world that hobbyists express appear[s] to be eminently adaptable to local conditions" (p. 38). Although the article does an excellent job of explaining Indian impersonation, it does not present a comprehensive evaluation of "surrogation" as an attempt to fill "perceived vacancies" in the social fabric.
Gerd Gemunden considers twelve films produced by East German cinematographers between 1965 and 1983 in his article "Between Karl May and Karl Marx: The DEFA Indianerfilme." Among the most commercially successful films produced in East Germany, they empathize with the anti-capitalist Indian tribes and focus on their struggles against white invaders. Gemunden argues, however, that the films provide insight into post-war constructions of national identity in East Germany. Gojko Mitic, the Yugoslav actor who played many of the leading roles, represented an anti-genocidal partisan: "a role model for young citizens and relieving older ones from responsibilities they may not have been up to during the rise of Nazism and Hitler's rule" (p. 249). The article provides interesting comparative evidence to contrast with Karl May's popularity in West Germany, but it could have benefited from including more original East German source material from the period under consideration.
The final two contributions explore German themes in literary works by Native American authors. Renate Eigenbrod's essay, "'Stranger and Stranger': The (German) Other in Canadian Indigenous Texts," examines how "pan-Native similarity" is constructed in contrast to German characters in several recent works by Native American authors. She concludes that the German characters serve to "problematize ethnic boundaries" (p. 277). A brief article by Ute Lischke-McNab discusses Louise Erdrich's The Antelope Wife and argues that the author's German heritage has been ignored in previous critical literature.
In spite of the shortcomings I have outlined above, this book will have a significant impact on the field of German-American studies. It should generate new interest in neglected sources and suggest a variety of methodologies for analyzing them. A volume like this also demonstrates various ways to make the German-American past relevant by linking it to larger questions and interdisciplinary debates. It would be useful to systematically explore how German settlers in places such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota, or Texas imagined and recorded their encounters with Indians in letters, diaries, memoirs, and retrospective historical sketches. As a preliminary step towards comparative research, the German-American press could also be scoured for references to Native Americans, Wild West shows, and Karl May. These materials could then be compared to the sources provided in this compilation. Until such research is completed, this volume will provide a promising, but partial, introduction to the problem of German-Indian encounters.
This book will be a very welcome addition to library collections. In addition to its ambitious scope, it also provides an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary literature. Because of its variegated array of academic vocabularies and methodologies, this book will command the attention of anyone interested in the contemporary resonance and history of the multifaceted encounters that have taken place between Germans and indigenous peoples of North America since the seventeenth century.
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Brian J. Boeck. Review of Calloway, Colin G.; Gemunden, Gerd; Zantop, Susanne, eds., Germans and Indians: Fantasies, Encounters, Projections.
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