REVIEW: Penny on Ciarlo, 'Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany' and Myers, 'German Visions of India, 1871-1918: Commandeering the Holy Ganges during the Kaiserreich'

Charles V.  Reed's picture

David Ciarlo.  Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in
Imperial Germany.  Cambridge  Harvard University Press, 2011.  xvi +
419 pp.  $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-05006-8.

Perry Myers.  German Visions of India, 1871-1918: Commandeering the
Holy Ganges during the Kaiserreich.  New York  Palgrave Macmillan,
2013.  304 pp.  $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-137-29971-0.

Reviewed by H. Glenn Penny (University of Iowa)
Published on H-German (September, 2014)
Commissioned by Chad Ross

The Wonders of Imperial Germany and Its Intertwined Discourses on
Colonialism and Race

These are two very different books that share an interest in Germans'
interconnections with the world from 1871 to 1918. Both are focused
on the production of images and ideas about non-Europeans in Imperial
Germany, but they differ in subject matter, research methodology,
geographical orientation, and historiographic implications. As a
result, they can be read together quite productively. Indeed, as we
read about the wonders in these pages--emerging tropes about Africans
and Indians, tantalizing _Kolportage_ and melancholic spiritual
crises, and the production of texts about exotic others and exotic
selves--it is hard not to wonder about the ways in which such things
took shape simultaneously and coexisted so easily with other German
discourses about Africa, India, non-Europeans, and the wider world.
It is also difficult not to wonder about the degree to which the
_Kaiserreich_ can be credited with having either produced or
contained such discourses. The more one reads, the less likely that

David Ciarlo's award-winning book has received great praise, and with
good reason. He demonstrates that the emerging cadre of professional
advertisers who championed colonial products during the late
nineteenth century did so within an age of ever more rapid mechanical
reproduction of manifold images. Those images entered Germans' daily
lives as "a visual cascade" (p. 3), but they were never simply
German. Even the colonial images were drawn from a pool of
productions that was international, or perhaps transcultural, except
that, as he astutely points out, their resonances were always
"adapted and articulated locally in markedly different ways" (p. 99).

This "empire of advertising," he explains, was "an enormous realm"
with a "domain" that could "be mapped in countless ways." To
negotiate it, Ciarlo focuses on "a single thread, the growing
hegemony of a single visual construction of race" (p. 5). He maps out
that construction across a shift from colonial exhibitions and
_Völkerschauen_ during the last decades of the nineteenth century
through the mass production and circulation of images of black
Africans that became ubiquitous in Germany by 1900.

His topic turns around colonies and colonial products, but it is not
bounded by the machinations of the German state. "Germany," he argues
"may not have had official colonialism before 1884;" but it
"certainly had a thriving culture of colonial engagement and
colonialist heroism" that predated and persisted through the official
period (p. 39). Moreover, there was no single agent behind that
"thriving culture." Rather, as visual tropes began to take shape
during the age of exhibitions, and as they came to fruition in the
realm of advertising, they "emerged as an unintended consequence" of
a "confluence of interests" (p. 46).

Colonial exhibitions that contained non-Europeans were critical to
this process. Yet Ciarlo convincingly argues that they played a much
smaller role than historians have assumed. Indeed, in one of the most
insightful analyses of these events since Sierra Bruchner's work on
the _Völkerschauen_ more than a decade ago, Ciarlo casts the
_Völkerschauen_ as part of an age of experimentation from which
tropes emerged that soon overwhelmed their organizers' intentions.[1]
_Völkerschauen_ continued to take place well into the twentieth
century, but they did not thrive. Quickly after their inception, they
entered into a world in which "the future literally belonged to the
images" (p. 64).

Thus the "surprising, curious explosion of the _Völkerschauen_,"
Ciarlo contends, should be "reappraised in light of the first
stirrings of a revolution--not a revolution in globalization, but a
revolution in representation." While "the people shows and the
illustrated journals grew in symbiotic fashion"(p. 79),
chromolithography, he argues, "brought far more Germans a glimpse of
exotic peoples than the steamship" (p. 106). Moreover, increasingly
those glimpses were compilations--images produced and reproduced from
a pool in which "contradictory allegorical markers of exoticism were
often freely blended" (p. 72), and from which essentialized tropes of
black Africans began to emerge.

This emergence of essentialized tropes is critically important. By
examining both the interests behind the production of those images
and the modes of production that facilitated their dominance, Ciarlo
reveals that these tropes stemmed from the uncoordinated actions of
Germans with varied concerns. Delving into two strikingly different
"milieus," one of "advertisers" and another of "imperialists," Ciarlo
shows how these "groups," which "remained profoundly separated from
each other, not just in terms of their professional institutions, but
even socially," jointly fashioned these essentialized tropes of black
Africans. That happened despite the fact that "they seem to represent
two completely different Germanys, presenting two very different
paths to the future--and two different flavors of modernity" (p.

Who, he has us wonder, ultimately became the "masters of the modern
exotic" (p. 146)? The answer, it would seem, was no one, or perhaps
everyone, because in the international world of advertising that took
shape around the turn of the century "the image was not sold; rather
the image was doing the selling," and the images that sold best, were
those with the greatest resonance. Consequently, there was a marked
shift in the packaging: "In the last years of the 1890s," he
explains, "a few German advertisements and packaging trademarks began
to symbolically show German dominion over African territory as a
relationship of Africans to the German flag" (p. 177). By the turn of
the century, however, "it was not symbols of sovereignty--flags,
uniforms--but the preeminence of the commodity that would define the
terms of the 'colonial relationship', imaged again and again in
commercial culture." Through that process, a generic figure of the
African native became "the main means to demonstrate that preeminence
_ad oculus"_ (p. 187), and as this happened "the growing
conventionality of the markers themselves fed into yet more
standardization" (p. 192).

Advertisers, he explains, "increasingly saw themselves as needing to
tailor their designs to the expectations of the public." That, in
turn, produced its own dynamic: "the more standardized images of
Africans became, the more graphic artists had to adhere to these
standardized depictions if they wanted to deploy the figure to
generate a message that was broadly and instantaneously decipherable"
(p. 192). The audiences became the authors; no one taught them to

Ciarlo finds this surprising, but enlightening: this "dynamic
interplay between repetition and perception (in the visual, rather
than cognitive sense)" (p. 192), which shifted the agency for the
production of images away from the creators and toward their
audiences, helps to explain why "this historical trajectory of racial
imagery" remained "quite distinct from the history of intellectual
theorizations of 'race' and their subsequent popularizations" (p.
192). The increased racialization of tropes of black Africans, he
contends, did not happen "in lockstep with official or scientific
colonialism." Rather "the construction of a racial--and ultimately
racist--imagery of colonialism in Germany can be traced instead to
preoccupations with a land far removed from the German colonial
orbit. They flowed not from the established ideologies of race
science or colonialism but rather from the new connections of
commerce" (p. 215). They flowed into Germany from the United States.

This is stunning work. Noting that "American racism had long
fascinated Europeans," Ciarlo sketches out the influence of American
entertainments and transatlantic packaging to show how and why images
of "the American negro" began to blend with those of Africans (p.
227). Advertisers and journalists at the end of the nineteenth
century eagerly borrowed all kinds of successful images for their
illustrations, and through that general process, "racial images of
American blacks were also transported to the framework of the German
colonial project for commercial use (p. 235)."

The simplest images were the most useful; their applications were
almost universal. Most astounding, he notes, is "the rapidity with
which strategies of racial depiction became ubiquitous after 1905:"
"The exaggeration of the lips, the enlarging of ears and bare feet,
and the diminution of the body appeared with growing frequency and
growing uniformity" (p. 291), with the result that blackness was
"fused into an almost universal stereotype--a stereotype that sits in
juxtaposition with the modern commodity." That process "speaks a
great deal about the normative and uniformity-producing potential of
mass culture" (p. 303). It also makes us wonder what, if any
relationships existed between scholarship, sciences, colonial
ideologies, and the popular cultures with which such tropes clearly

Given the breadth and decentered character of Ciarlo's analysis,
which identifies one racialized trajectory emerging within a
modernist "visual cascade," to create tropes that had a powerful, but
always-unstable resonance, it is hard to know what to think about
Myers's portrayal of a strikingly linear discourse in Imperial
Germany that quite literally gives National Socialism the last word
(p. 200).

Myers opens and closes his book with Houston Stewart Chamberlain,
positing a genealogy of German thinkers who engaged Indian religions
in an effort to address what he terms a "sense of spiritual crisis"
among Germans in the _Kaiserreich_. Citing Suzanne L. Marchand's
stunning work on German Orientalism, he acknowledges that "from the
German Enlightenment forward, a remarkable collection of German
intellectuals ... have turned to the Orient, frequently to India, in
pursuit of poetic and philosophical inspiration, insights into the
roots of Indo-Germanic languages, and religious rejuvenation" (p.
1).[2] India, he reminds us, "because of the unique philological
linkage between German and Sanskrit, became for many thinkers in
various ways a bountiful cultural mirror for navigating the era's
perceived crisis of identity that traversed a first and then a second
Oriental Renaissance" (p. 2).

That predicament became particularly acute during the end of the
nineteenth century, when "'crises of religious belief and the
dissolution of the humanities' monopoly over cultural production'"
drove many alternative modes of ontological inquiry and led to a
breadth of "scholarly activity" that "cannot be so easily catalogued"
(p. 8). From those crises emerged the "complexity and multivocal
nature of Germany's imagined India" (p. 9), and we know quite a bit
about the "various formulas" and "diverse analytical blueprints,"
which he notes emerged (p. 10). What we lack, he contends, is a
"'thicker description' of Germany's India" (p. 3).

It is hard not to wonder how that thick description could be so
unitary when the formulas were so "various" and the blueprints so
"diverse." One way to ensure such an outcome is to focus, as Myers
does, on a small number of the participants engaged in debates over
religion from the period of the _Kulturkampf_ through the age of
imperialism, who harnessed "images of India" for pointed political
purposes. This allows him to argue that "Protestant images of
Christian history, religious salvation, and moral progress during the
1880s and after remained tacitly entangled with the political
dynamics of the era and found particular resonance in the reassertion
of Christianity _vis-à-vis_ Buddhism." That, he claims, generated "a
Christian apologetics" which would have "explicit political
undertones in the age of empire" (p. 17). It was also something that
many Catholics shared. "The German Catholic vision of India," he
contends, was "a manifestation of confessional nation building
intended to reconstitute the degraded symbolic capital of Jesuit
intellectuals in the _Kaiserreich_" (p. 67) just as the "German
Protestant vision" was a nation-building project with similarly
self-serving ends. There was, he claims, great unity in their

The character of that unity becomes particularly apparent once the
German state began engaging in official colonialism: he claims to
have detected "a 'colonialist mind-set'--consciousness--in the
thought of several important Indologists after 1884, who at least in
practical terms were far removed from any colonial designs in the
political sphere" (p. 18). Indeed, "imperial mandates and colonial
perquisites of the _Kaiserreich_," became "explicitly entangled in
more radical attempts at spiritual rejuvenation among other German
India pundits" (p. 18). Most enticing for Myers is the racialization
he has found in some of these texts. Those are important, he
underscores, because they demonstrate that such ideas "did not appear
out of nowhere in 1899 with Chamberlain's magnum opus." Rather they
were already present in a set of "radical thinkers" whom he deems
"credible forces with their own sociocultural context" who "shared
traditions, concerns, and outlooks with their more mainstream
counterparts" (p. 20).

We learn very little, however, about those "mainstream counterparts"
from this book. That is because Myers quickly transforms the radicals
themselves into representatives of a more general discourse, before
arguing that they can provide us with "new perspectives on
intellectual life and the practice of history in pre-Nazi Germany"
(p. 21). Unfortunately, such "new perspectives" elude us, because the
construction of his narrative is overdetermined, the insights
terribly predictable, and his conclusions all too familiar. In the
end, this is yet another book about "the failure of German
intellectuals to engage in community renewal in ways that might have
preserved democracy in Weimar and resisted the impending lure of
Fascism" (p. 21).

What remains important about this book is Myers's unequivocal
demonstration that as some Germans sought to harness information
about India and Buddhism for their own ends, it was possible for
people such as Wilhelm Hübbe-Schleiden to "filter" their narratives
of India "through the prism of his Darwinian model and German
colonial mandates" (p. 156) to rationalize a superior German
colonialism. They could, in short, blend the spiritual and the
political as they saw fit, and they did so because the spiritual, the
metaphysical, and religious concerns more generally had great
significance in the political debates animating the _Kaiserreich_.
That point is worth repeating, and repeating again, for historical
analyses of those debates have too often overlooked it.

Nevertheless, the most striking point that emerges from reading these
books together is just how narrow these racial discourses were.
Ciarlo acknowledges that from the outset, while Myers plays it down.
But narrow they were. It is quite difficult, to take just one
example, to see either Myers's instrumentalized India or Ciarlo's
tropes of the essentialized African having much resonance in the
realm of German ethnology during this period. If one were to enter
into the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin during the early
twentieth century, for instance, the giant Indian gateway, or the
huge statue of Buddha in the vestibule, would have been hard to
overlook. So too would the similar statues of Buddha occupying the
stairways in Leipzig's Grassi Museum, or the collections of Indian
objects in Lucien Sherman's 1912 exhibit in Munich's ethnological
institution. India and Buddhism were given pride of place in many of
these institutions, but few of the texts associated with them would
have supported Myers's "German imaginary." Still, and this is the
critical point: that does not make its existence any less likely.

Similarly, if we were to walk through the African collections in
those same museums, we would have been hard pressed to find
essentialized anything, and the racialized tropes of Africans which
might, perhaps, have plastered the walls and curiosities in the
streets along the way to those institutions, would have been absent
from their rooms and displays. As for the texts written by the people
in charge of these collections, they would not have supported the
integration of the "American negro" and the generic African into a
racialized trope; nor would they have given much credence to the
racialized images Ciarlo examines.

One wonders too, just how much resonance those images actually had on
the street before World War I, especially when one considers, for
instance, the testament of W. E. B. Du Bois. Having studied at the
University of Berlin from 1892 to 1894, he famously wrote that his
skin color made him, as an African American, feel like a persistent
"problem" everywhere and always, "save perhaps in babyhood and
Europe."[3] Germany in the 1890s, Du Bois knew quite well, was
nothing like America, where race was often black and white. Indeed,
Du Bois only had this conviction confirmed when he attended the First
Universal Races Congress held in London in 1911. There, he "heard
Felix von Luschan, the great anthropologist from the University of
Berlin, annihilate the thesis of race inferiority."[4] He might
easily have heard von Luschan do that elsewhere as well, or he could
have read it in von Luschan's writings. For in addition to producing
a set of canonical tomes on the famous Benin Bronzes, and a series of
notable ethnological essays on African cultures, von Luschan also
wrote _Völker, Rassen, und Sprachen_ (1922), which ended with a list
of ten declarative statements which argued, among other things, that
there is only one human species, no savages, and no inferior
races.[5] It might not have been a best seller, but a second edition
was published in 1927.

What thus becomes most notable when reading these books alongside
others is not only the disconcerting fact that a cacophony of
essentialized images in the public arena can easily overwhelm the
sophisticated and complex writings of scholars, or that even the best
of scholarship, like that produced by von Luschan, can be easily
undermined by polemics with political appeal. It is the number and
breadth of discourses on topics such as colonialism and race that can
easily coexist, overlap, and intertwine across a period and space
(i.e., Imperial Germany) regardless of their inherent contradictions.


[1]. Sierra Ann Bruckner, "The Tingle-Tangle of Modernity: Popular
Anthropology and the Cultural Politics of Identity in Imperial
Germany" (PhD diss., University of Iowa, 1999).

[2]. Suzanne L. Marchand, _German Orientalism in the Age of Empire:
Religion, Race, and Scholarship_ (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2009).

[3]. W.E.B. Du Bois, _The Souls of Black Folk, Essays and Sketches_
(Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1907), 2, 13.

[4]. Du Bois, _The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part which
Africa Has Played in World History_ (New York: International
Publishers, 1965), p. 5; cited in John David Smith, "W. E. B. Du
Bois, Felix von Luschan, and Racial Reform at the _Fin de Siècle_."
_Amerikastudien_ 47, no. 1 (2002): 1-37.

[5]. Felix von Luschan. _Völker, Rassen, Sprachen: anthropologische
betrachtungen_ (Berlin: Deutsche Buch-Gemeinschaft, 1922). See also
W. Rusch. "Der Beitrag Felix von Luschan's für die Ethnographie,"
_Ethnographisch-Archäologische Zeitschrift_ 27 (1986): 430-453.

Citation: H. Glenn Penny. Review of Ciarlo, David, _Advertising
Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany_ and
Myers, Perry, _German Visions of India, 1871-1918: Commandeering the
Holy Ganges during the Kaiserreich_. H-German, H-Net Reviews.
September, 2014.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States