Jason D. Hansen. Mapping the Germans: Statistical Science, Cartography, and the Visualization of the German Nation, 1848-1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 232 pp. $99.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-871439-2.
Reviewed by Steven Seegel (University of Northern Colorado)
Published on H-Nationalism (October, 2015)
Commissioned by Cristian Cercel (Ruhr University Bochum)
Jason D. Hansen’s Mapping the Germans is a finely researched and presented monograph. The author reconstructs the currents of statistical demography and the nationalizing contexts in which maps were produced, consumed, and disseminated in the German-speaking lands of central Europe between 1848 and 1914. Hansen recounts the tensions in international debates over language and nationality, showing that Germany’s own experts were not always in agreement over how to make persons or groups “scientifically” into pixelated Germans. However, by using language as the principal metric of national identity, and in a fast, quasi-biological, legible shorthand to mother tongue (Muttersprache) in a Darwinian age, German demographers reached an uneasy mid-nineteenth-century compromise. They not only measured Germans in the “objective” sense but contributed to the development of science as it affected imperialism, nationalism, and the outbreak of World War I. Hansen insightfully shows how German know-how and technology for the media’s “circuitry” of maps mattered. He deftly illustrates the means by which visually persuasive, discursively fluid contexts for maps were generated by nation-building German demographers, publishing firms, and pressure groups.
The burning question in Mapping the Germans is a social one, having to do with the map’s scientific believability, rather than with the power of states to discipline. Hansen is more interested in history from below, and he combs patiently through German holdings of maps in Freiburg, Gotha, Berlin, and Leipzig. His approach is empirically minded, while sociologically recrafting German statisticians’ networks and careers. He draws from the work of Theodore Porter on statistical thinking; David Livingstone and J. Brian Harley on critical geography and cartography; Charles King, Pieter Judson, and Tara Zahra on language switching and national indifference; Morgan Labbé (in German) on demography; and the crucial work by Guntram Henrik Herb on German cartography and propaganda between 1919 and 1945.
The book has five chapters and a solid introduction. The first four, on counting, mapping, radical(izing), and connecting Germans, are excellent; the last one, more like a separate article, veers into ethnography, tourism, and literature of the 1920s and 1930s. The conclusion about 1919 reads more like a Margaret Macmillan-inspired epilogue; the author’s voice is too often lost. Yet Hansen does well in the bulk of the book to show the paradoxes inherent to the post-1848 international community of statistical experts, and after the Frankfurt debates. The many experts in this community were those who continually objectified Germans at home and abroad, and whose later “radical” acolytes deployed the earlier design, logic, and spatial vocabulary of maps internationally in “scientific” wars of words and images on the European right.
More specifically, Hansen delves into the duties and projects of the men behind Germany’s pre-1914 maps, detailing how censuses were undertaken with “exhaustivity” in mind, as in the fascinating case of Ernst Engel. He alludes to major figures in European statistical science like the Belgian Adolphe Quetelet; some readers will prefer a deeper intellectual discussion of the impact of his methods on the German social sciences. He does well, repeatedly, to explain how the mapping of Jews and Slavs problematized frontiers and the central/east European metrics of nationality by (reductive) language and confession. He challenges convenient uses of liberal, radical, or conservative labels for Germans, putting into context the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871. In the closely reexamined case of Paul Langhans, he pauses to explain in spatially specific terms why Langhans’s maps for the Pan-German League were so alluring. Langhans emerges as a marketeer who sought out men of status and was strategically adept at bridging gaps between bourgeois academics and a growing, map-consuming public. Without resorting to a teleology that takes us into the rise and fall of the Third Reich, Hansen thus fills in a major gap in English-speaking scholarship on nineteenth-century German cartography.
Overall, Hansen’s strength is his circumspect analysis of the cases of the various German demographers and cartographers who used maps nationally as arguments, models, and tools of communication. These men included Engel, Georg von Mayr, Richard Böckh, and Heinrich Kiepert. Hansen looks at changes/continuities in practices between “liberal” Germans from the 1840s and 1870s and “radical” (or better, “massifying”) popularizers who brought maps into public spaces between the 1880s and 1910s. Hansen’s study of the Justus Perthes firm in Gotha and the Petermanns Mitteilungen journal is welcome, the best one (to date) in English. He pays attention to the German mapping of Jewish and Slavic peoples, though the source analysis of “others” is mainly in German, a point of departure from German-Czech or German-Polish studies where the critical study of maps features prominently. These quibbles aside, the author’s main argument about the conjunction of the Enlightenment project, the quantitative revolution in Germany, and statistical methods is compelling. Maps could reveal ridiculous German fantasies, but they were also trusted sources, weapons, and markers of identity for the general public, projects of a statistical revolution in the nationalizing age of cartographic reason.
“Since every map was hand colored by a particular individual,” Hansen suggests, “each was, to paraphrase Richard Wagner’s famous description of musical performance, a bit of an improvisation” (p. 63). Exactly right: when Mark Twain popularized “lies, damned lies, and statistics” in the first decade of the twentieth century, a phrase attributed (mistakenly) to Benjamin Disraeli, the American critic of empire could have been referring to Europe’s improvised deluge of “ethnic” maps from the 1830s and 1840s. This flood of nationally skewed information attracted generations in search of “objective” data. Colored maps in the hands of schoolbook commissions and pan-Germans isolated German communities into pre-arranged blocs, for they allowed the map’s consumers to build identities as “white knights,” protecting poorer kinsmen on a “German earth” (p. 79). The author explains print-culture minutiae and how maps were technically made--what the costs were for chromolithography, copper and steel plating, and the use of color dyes. Late nineteenth-century German maps ultimately had to have an aura and seem believable, given the Germans’ role in the international scientific community and the shift from state-statistical services toward a national reading public in Europe’s imperial age. Hansen’s research in visual history is refreshing and clear, and this impressive book should be read by students of nationalism and all who are interested in the history of modern Germany and central Europe.
. These are all in the text, but Livingstone’s treatment of maps makes several cameos: for instance, maps as “useful fictions” and “repositories of trust.” See David N. Livingstone, The Geographical Tradition: Episodes in the History of a Contested Enterprise (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), Putting Science in Its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), and Livingstone and Charles Withers, eds., Geography and Enlightenment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).
. Tomasz Kamusella, The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
. Peter Haslinger, Nation und Territoriumim tschechischen politischen Diskurs, 1880–1938 (München: Oldenbourg, 2010); Kristin Kopp, Germany's Wild East: Constructing Poland as Colonial Space (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012); Alexandra Schweiger, Polens Zukunft liegt im Osten: Polnische Ostkonzepte der späten Teilungszeit, 1890-1918 (Marburg: Herder-Institut Verlag, 2014).
. Susan Schulten, Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); and Catherine Tatiana Dunlop, Cartophilia: Maps and the Search for Identity in the French-German Borderland (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).
. See also David Thomas Murphy, The Heroic Earth: Geopolitical Thought in Weimar Germany, 1918-1933 (Kent, OH: The Kent State Press, 1997).
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Steven Seegel. Review of Hansen, Jason D., Mapping the Germans: Statistical Science, Cartography, and the Visualization of the German Nation, 1848-1914.
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