Kelz on Manz, 'Constructing a German Diaspora: The "Greater German Empire", 1871-1918'

Stefan Manz
Robert Kelz

Stefan Manz. Constructing a German Diaspora: The "Greater German Empire", 1871-1918. Oxford: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2013. 360 pp. $145.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-415-89226-1.

Reviewed by Robert Kelz (University of Memphis, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures) Published on H-TGS (April, 2017) Commissioned by Benjamin Bryce

In Constructing a German Diaspora, Stefan Manz argues that a global web of transnational institutions and communication flows built Imperial German nationalism and diasporic nationhood. Manz’s purview spans five continents, focusing in particular on the construction of diasporic nationhood in Germany, the US Midwest, southern Brazil, the Russian Black Sea and Volga regions, Glasgow, Shanghai, and colonial Africa. For each of these locales, Constructing a German Diaspora deploys case studies in the realms of politics, religion, and education to analyze the structures, mechanics, and limits of diasporization. Crucially, Manz claims that German migrants were active agents. Diasporic identity formation both drove and reflected Imperial Germany’s increasingly aggressive global gaze.

This thoroughly researched book comprises six chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. Manz begins by summarizing eastward, westward, and overseas German migratory patterns from the twelfth century to the eve of World War I. His study highlights the diversity of the German diaspora, including (sometimes multiple) migration patterns, class, religion, integration, alterity, and rural vs. urban environments. Debunking the notion of homogeneous language islands of pure Germanness, the author argues that early settlers in eastern Europe interacted with multiethnic regional populations. Many migrants did not consider themselves to be Germans, but Württemberger, Badener, Palatinates, and so on. German nationalists only began to imagine a worldwide diaspora with a durable and uniform national character in the nineteenth century. They saw integration as a threat to the essence of Germandom, both domestically and abroad. These ideas spurred the creation of the global networks at the heart of the rest of the book.

Chapter 3 focuses on “metropolitan diaspora constructions” inside Germany (p. 50). Identifying the emergence of a strong nation-state as the origin of a transnational conception of Germanness, Manz anchors this idea in the German middle class and pinpoints magazines such as Die Gartenlaube and Globus as key purveyors of a transnational German identity semantically enshrined in the neologism “Auslandsdeutsche” (p. 52). Since this chapter draws heavily from Die Gartenlaube, the reader would benefit from more background information on this publication. Chapter 3 also discusses the emergence of Pan-Germanist activist groups, which propagated prejudices of German cultural superiority in Brazil, South Africa, Russia, and other regions. These groups argued passionately against language attrition and cultural assimilation, lest the diaspora be denigrated to “Völkerdünger” (p. 62). Aptly marked as forerunners to the Nazi ideology of Lebensraum, Pan-Germans such as Professor Paul de Lagarde declared that the German nation was ennobled by a God-given mission to culturally elevate inferior peoples worldwide (p. 76). Manz concludes with the Citizenship Law of 1913, which codified the primacy of jus sanguinis over jus soli. It codified the idea that Germans living abroad could choose German citizenship, but naturalization in Germany should be limited to ethnic Germans. This law had profound implications for the belief in national homogeneity as a conservative political principle in Germany throughout the twentieth century. 

The subsequent chapter examines “transnational social spaces,” in which Germans and migrants assumed active roles (p. 89). The German navy and local Flottenvereine naval clubs serve as case studies of multidirectional global connections between Germany and its diaspora. Building on Jan Rüger’s analysis of nationhood and empire, Manz asserts that navy clubs disseminated sentiments of transnational nationalism and militarism among German communities across six continents. These clubs were socially inclusive, but the bourgeoisie occupied leadership positions. Throughout the book, the author laments the paucity of sources on the working classes. The navy clubs reveal not only cohesion but also dissent among migrant populations. Some migrants--the author points to instances in Australia, Brazil, and Britain--preferred a pragmatic relationship unencumbered by imperialist fantasies with their hosts.

Chapter 4 discusses the two recipients of the largest number of German migrants--the United States and Russia. Manz identifies various parallels between these far-flung destinations. Amidst falling emigration numbers and assimilatory pressures, the migrant populations of both countries created ethnic organizations to preserve Germanness. Representative ethnic elites, often with a vested financial interest in diasporic nationalism, stressed the economic and cultural contributions of Germans to the supposedly underdeveloped host societies. Due to Russian state censorship, this message had greater resonance in the United States. In both countries the heterogeneity of migrant populations and a strong drive to integrate limited the reach of diasporic consciousness. Russian German migrants disavowed nationalist sentiments after the outbreak of World War I, but this did not prevent violent reprisals against them. In the United States, by contrast, there was an uptick in expressions of German patriotism while the host country remained neutral. This led to anti-German outbursts when the country entered the war in 1917.

Chapter 5 views the German diaspora through the lens of religion. Whereas Catholicism’s universalist approach, Latin liturgy, and Roman base rendered its leaders and constituents less likely to assemble along ethnic lines, Protestantism embraced nationalist arguments and diasporic construction. Particularly after 1871 state churches and auxiliary organizations, such as the Protestant League, became “the most important tool” for disseminating nationalist visions of Germanness abroad (pp. 181-182). Pastors who had been sent out to serve migrant communities contributed to the fluidity of metropolitan and diasporic nationalism when they returned to Germany. While the project failed to gain traction in the the United States, case studies on the Protestant German Mission to Seamen and celebrations of the Kaiser’s birthday in Glasgow, Shanghai, and Cario demonstrate the efficacy of Protestantism as a generator of diasporic nationalism. On the other hand, community infighting and government backlashes in Russia and Brazil demonstrated the risks of a belligerent, Reich-oriented sense of Germanness.    

In the final chapter Manz posits schools as bulwarks of language preservation, which was essential to transnational belonging. From 1893 to 1913 funding for German schools abroad increased increased tenfold and the number of schools supported rose from 34 to 511 (p. 237). Increased federal funding led to a rigorous, standardized selection process as well as closer transnational attachment. Often in congruence with Protestantism, German schools, teachers, and concomitant organizations and publications presented a "global web aimed at bringing Auslandsdeutsche into the fold of the nation" (p. 231). Selected on the basis of pedagogical competence and political conformism by the Foreign Office for service abroad, German teachers helped to implement a curriculum which emphasized nation and emperor as focal points. Propagandistic schools fomented suspicion and tension between hosts and migrants, consequentially both unifying and cleaving the ethnic communities themselves. As the author shows throughout, the globalized construction of a German diaspora laid the groundwork for manifestations of violent Germanophobia after World War I erupted.  

Such a vast study would benefit from a robust conclusion to reinforce and expand upon the main arguments gathered from the disparate sources and case studies. Instead, Manz affirms Dirk Hoerder’s view that the aggressive construction of a German diaspora detrimentally influenced Germans abroad. After repeating his thesis that German migrants were active agents who helped shape politics in Germany and abroad, Manz tacks on three paragraphs to trace ongoing diaspora construction from 1914 to the present. While this is a compelling topic, the author needs more space to undertake a worthwhile discussion.

Constructing a German Diaspora impresses with the scope and detail of its research, as well as the persuasiveness of its central arguments. It stands out as a monograph taking a global approach to the German diaspora and its considerable influence on politics in Imperial Germany. More specific information about women and working-class migrants would amplify the author’s purview and broaden his arguments. Furthermore, the reader would appreciate more emphasis on the cultural production inherent to diasporic identity formation. A brief excursion on Gustav Freytag’s Soll und Haben (1855) demonstrates the fruitfulness of this approach, and Manz notes that authors in Brazil, South West Africa, the United States, the Volga region, and Germany itself all wrote fictional works on German migrants. This avenue of analysis awaits further study. Yet it is clear that Manz has written a deeply informative and differentiated account of the processes and consequences of the construction of a German diaspora from 1871 to 1914. The book lays a theoretical and investigative groundwork that will inform and inspire future scholarship in the field of diaspora and migration studies far beyond the German Empire alone.


[1]. Jan Rüger, The Great Naval Game (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[2]. Dirk Hoerder, “The German-Language Diasporas. A Survey, Critique, and Interpretation,” Diaspora 11 (2002): 7-44. 

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