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

Stefan Manz
Martin Kalb

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 Martin Kalb (Bridgewater College)
Published on H-Empire (September, 2016)
Commissioned by Stephen Jackson

In his monograph Constructing a German Diaspora: The “Greater German Empire”, 1871-1914, Stefan Manz explores the complex relationship between imperial Germany and its diaspora. Manz is Head of Languages and Translation Studies as well as Reader in German at Aston University in Birmingham. His focus on migration studies is apparent in this 2014 volume as he aims “to analyse the manifold ways in which the diaspora-nation nexus was negotiated both within Germany and in migrant communities (even ex negative), and ways in which this idea was disseminated through globally operating organisations, means of communication and transportation, a flourishing ethnic press which was itself integrated into global information flows, and, last but not least, migrants themselves” (p. 4). He ultimately tries to showcase “that conceptions of diasporic connectedness were not just metropolitan armchair constructs but, in varying degrees, experienced reverberations across the world” (p. 14)--and he is successful in that endeavor.

Constructing a German Diaspora includes six chapters plus a conclusion, and sets in with a discussion of migration and settlement patterns. The author provides a concise and useful overview of German settlements abroad between 1871 and 1914. Based on the use of a “geographic meso- and micro-level approach” (p. 20), he identifies so-called mobility patterns: eastward (e.g., to Russia), to Western Europe (e.g., Spain), westward overseas (e.g., to the United States and Brazil), and to other global destinations (e.g., the Ottoman Empire, China). Manz nicely highlights the complexity of different migrations and mobility more broadly, including links between geographic regions like Russia and the United States. His reference regarding the lack of substantial colonial settlements clearly demonstrates the author’s emphasis on migration, diaspora, and Germans abroad well beyond German colonialism.  

Chapter 2 takes up real or imagined “diasporic connectedness” as these took shape within Germany (p. 50). Manz outlines the importance of religious parameters, culture, and language, the role of individual figures, and much more. He mentions news outlets like Die Gartenlaube and Globus, both journals that “helped establish the term Auslandsdeutsche in mainstream publications and the press, complementing the traditional term Auswanderer” (p. 52). In his view such dynamics arguably emerged from the bottom up given the limited initial support from Otto von Bismarck and other leaders. “Recurring motifs,” such as the display of Deutschtum meant to bridge divisions (p. 54), are at the center here, and align with the growth in German Weltpolitik that took shape by the late nineteenth century. In fact, and according to Manz, “The concept of Heimat, which had served as a powerful bond within Germany to connect the local and the national, was now extended to overseas territories” (p. 58). The author adds more specific examples by discussing religious institutions like the Rheinische Mission and dynamics in the United States and Brazil. He also nicely captures the role of so-called pressure groups within Germany, including the German Colonial Association (Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft) or the Pan-German League. Issues tied to formulating citizenship laws--a point that has seen little discussion when it comes to Auslandsdeutsche--are key in the author’s concluding theoretical implications that also touch on right-wing modernity.

The German navy and aligned local Flottenvereine (naval clubs) are the main focus of the subsequent chapter. Here, the author explores “ways in which battleships were represented as agents spreading nations of national and transnational unity abroad” (p. 101). According to Manz, “Berlin was the administrative and symbolic focal point, but the decentred sources of activity lay abroad” (p. 104). He describes these “global networks of clubs” in some detail, dedicating a section to Europe, Asia and Australia, Central and South America, and Africa. Whereas this chapter could have been aligned a little more directly with the main ideas of the book, the author rightfully highlights the “symbolic potential” of local Flottenvereine: they became instrumental “for staging public rituals,” all of “which aimed at disseminating notions of national pride and unity within ethnic communities” around the world (pp. 122-23).

In chapter 4 Manz introduces a comparative approach in his attempt to tackle “the two main magnets of German migration, North America and Russia” (p. 133). This method is indeed helpful, namely because it brings common themes to the forefront. Most migrants assimilated to some extent, maybe keeping their language and religion. Nonetheless, to follow Manz, the evidence points to “a reformulation of diasporic identity under national (and no long exclusively regional and religious terms),” an important transformation that the author skillfully describes and analyzes throughout this section (p. 167).

A focus on religion and language are at the center of the final two chapters. In chapter 5 Manz analyzes “the connection between nationalism and Protestantism in Imperial Germany within a transnational context,” arguing that “Protestantism was … the most globally pervasive intellectual force within German ethnic communities” (p. 177). More information about the role of missionaries might have been useful here, along with a more concise conclusion--although the three case studies (Glasgow, Shanghai, Cairo), plus the author’s inclusion of Catholicism, showcase the importance of religion for the German nation overall. Chapter 6 then illustrates “the idea of a common language as the prime marker of belonging to a Volk” (p. 228). The concept of so-called Sprachinseln (islands of German speakers) comes to mind here.[1] Otherwise, Manz focuses on German schools abroad, with examples from Great Britain and China. He concludes by pointing to “diasporic nationalism and the ideologisation of schooling” as factors that ultimately “turned ethnic contact zones into colonial friction zones,” thereby preparing the ground for widespread violence and Germanophobia by August 1914 (p. 254).

Manz’s rather short conclusion aims to bring it all together. He aligns his ideas with the work of Dirk Hoerder, who argues, “The stylization of Auslandsdeutsche in Wilhelmine Germany, in the Weimar Republic, and in Nazi Germany, proved destructive to both diasporic and enclave communities.”[2] Manz agrees, noting that Germans abroad were not simply passive victims of xenophobic outbursts. Instead, they were often active citizens with a variety of connections to their home country, and that clearly shaped their endeavors, lives, and overall doings away from home. References to more explicit local case studies or micro-histories sustain this point. A brief, paragraph-long, and slightly disconnected reference to Turks in Germany more recently concludes the volume.  

Constructing a German Diaspora is a notable contribution to the growing field of Germans beyond Germany. In line with several edited volumes that outline case studies--most notably perhaps The Heimat Abroad (2005) and the special issue of the journal Geschichte und Gesellschaft titled “Rethinking Germans Abroad” (2015)--it is among a very small number of scholarly works taking a global approach. This requires an excellent understanding of a variety of global dynamics and the need to coherently organize a plethora of ideas and details; it also demands a solid theoretical foundation. Stefan Manz does both well, all while keeping his volume accessible. More specific examples of everyday experiences of men and women might have been useful additions to this volume, as might have been a more detailed discussion tied to the construction of a German diaspora “transnational nationalism” (p. 6) in contrast with some foreign ‘Other’. In the end, such points are neither complaints nor critiques. Instead, they are meant to outline future possibilities for additional research in a growing field, now with the luxury of being able to build on Manz’s intriguing and excellent volume.


[1]. Krista O’Donnell, Renate Bridenthal, and Nancy Reagin, “Introduction,” in The Heimat Abroad: The Boundaries of Germanness, ed. Krista O’Donnell, Renate Bridenthal, and Nancy Reagin (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), 1-14; 1.

[2]. Dirk Hoerder, “The German Language Diasporas: A Survey, Critique, and Interpretation,” Diaspora 11, no. 1 (2002): 7-44; quotation on 31.

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Citation: Martin Kalb. Review of Manz, Stefan, Constructing a German Diaspora: The "Greater German Empire", 1871-1918. H-Empire, H-Net Reviews. September, 2016.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=46697

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