Call for Papers: Germans in the Asia-Pacific Region: (Post) Colonial Entanglements, Conflicts and Perceptions in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Deadline: 30. September 2024

JUN 25, 2025 - JUN 27, 2025

Conference in Flinders University (city campus), Adelaide, South Australia | Conveners: Mathew Fitzpatrick (Flinders University), Simone Lässig (GHI Washington), Isabel Richter (GHI Washington Pacific Office at UC Berkeley)

In August 2023, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told an Australian audience “it is clear that the Indo-Pacific will play a decisive role in the 21st century.” Baerbock also intimated that Germany wants to become more deeply engaged in the region to assist in “strengthening the global rules that we all rely on” at a time when China is returning to the ranks of the major global powers.

But a long and complicated history informs Germany’s recent turn toward the Asia-Pacific region. Often overlooked is the fact that Germany once had a sizeable colonial empire there, with possessions in China, New Guinea, Nauru, Samoa, and many parts of Micronesia, including the Marshall, Mariana, and Caroline Islands. German firms, missionaries, and settlers established themselves in the region in the mid-nineteenth century, while scientists and researchers came to Asia and the Pacific as part of their scholarly endeavors, extracting artifacts in some places, while training local residents in German-style science in others. The experience of German colonial rule – of being educated by German missionaries, employed by German firms, and studied by German scientists – left a lasting and yet largely unacknowledged impression of the peoples of Asia and the Pacific.

After the First World War and the transfer of former German colonies in the region to Japan, Australia, and New Zealand as League of Nations Mandates, Germany played a less important role in Asia and the Pacific but still retained an important foothold. Ex-Governor of Samoa and Colonial Secretary Wilhelm Solf served as German Ambassador to Japan, laying the groundwork for a close relationship that would eventually see Japan become Nazi Germany’s Pacific ally during the Second World War. During that war, large numbers of German Jews fled and resettled in China. In the Pacific, as historians such as Christine Winter have shown, small political parties modelled on the National Socialist Party also sprang up in German expatriate communities in former German possessions such as New Guinea and Samoa.

In the postwar era, the two German states, the Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic, followed vastly different trajectories. While Leftist students in the West rallied around Ho Chi Minh, the Federal Republic solidly supported the United States war in Vietnam and even took in South Vietnamese refugees. Meanwhile, despite tensions with China in the wake of the Sino-Soviet split, the German Democratic Republic offered some limited migration opportunities for fellow communists from Vietnam to serve as guest workers in East German factories.

What are the contours and legacies of German history in the Asia-Pacific region? Conference participants will examine the complex and varied interactions between Germans and the peoples of the Pacific and Asia-Pacific coast. The conference seeks to uncover Germany’s various entanglements in the region and to investigate the forms of cooperation and conflict that characterized German endeavors in the region. The chronological starting point for this investigation is the establishment of the Hamburg firm Godeffroy und Sohn in the Samoan capital of Apia in 1857. Focusing on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the conference will evaluate the histories of German trade, religion, culture, science, and settlement in the Asia-Pacific region, emphasizing how these were affected by shifting attitudes towards gender, race, and class. It will also examine the military, diplomatic, and humanitarian presence of Germans there and consider forms of knowledge transfer during the Wilhelmine, Weimar, Nazi, and postwar eras. It seeks to grapple with the sporadic (as opposed to steadily evolving) nature of Germany’s impact on the region and to offer a set of histories that demonstrate the multifaceted nature of German encounters with Asia and the Pacific.  

To these ends, the conference seeks to answer questions such as:

  • What was the nature of German colonialism and later political and cultural involvement in Asia and the Pacific, and how did it compare with German colonial activities elsewhere?
  • What role did warfare, diplomacy, and trade play in establishing Germany in the Asia-Pacific region between the 1850s and the 1980s?
  • Does an exploration of gender and racial relations link German history in the Asia-Pacific region to a broader history?
  • How did Asian and Pacific peoples experience and respond to German colonial endeavors, political overtures, and knowledge production in their region?
  • What are the legacies of German scientific and anthropological activity in the region, and how do these histories inform current debates about repatriation and restitution?
  • How did Germany’s involvement in two World Wars and the Cold War affect the Asia-Pacific region and German activity there?

The conference will be held in English. Individual paper presentations are limited to 20 minutes. Proposals, which should include a title, an abstract of no more than 250 words, a short CV, and contact information (address, phone, email) should be submitted online in a single pdf (the file name should be the last name of the applicant) by September 30, 2024. Decisions will be sent out by early November 2024.

Accommodations will be arranged and paid for by the conference organizers. Participants will need to make their own travel arrangements. Subsidies for travel will be available upon request for selected scholars, especially those who might not otherwise be able to attend the workshop, including junior scholars and scholars from universities with limited resources. There is no registration fee.

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