I am a historian of modern Germany and modern East Africa. My research explores ideas about history and space in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I analyze history and geography as repertoires of power in the relationship between Europe and Africa. I explore the creation of historical narratives for political projects, how people have constructed the past to create the present.
My current project examines Germans’ application of ideas about the relationship between race and space to East Africa. With ideas drawn from cultural geography, German administrators created theoretical basis for the application of racial thinking to the management of territory. Racial hierarchies became spatial hierarchies, defined through histories of agricultural progress. German administrators created a series of programs to create economic development, primarily through agriculture, on the basis of a close connection between landscapes and societies. By changing either East African people or landscapes, Germans thought, East Africa, could become more like an idealized, agricultural Germany. The timeline of the development of German agriculture could be collapsed to a few short decades. By manipulating race, Germans could create settled agriculture where there had been none before. Managing race became the means of creating a different kind of historical progress on the blank slate of East Africa, one that averted the problems of modern Germany.
My next project looks at the historiography of the German colonial period in mainland Tanzania as an aspect of Cold War diplomacy and domestic politics for Tanzania, West Germany, and East Germany. I explore the ways in which historians and political leaders in the three nations formulated historical narratives to position themselves internationally and overcome their domestic opponents from the 1950s through the 1980s. Each tried to show it had more fully overcome colonialism and was doing more for the rights of oppressed peoples against imperialism in the contemporary world. Greater attention to historiographical “battles” helps us better understand the functioning of the Cold War outside the bipolar struggle between the United States and Soviet Union or active conflicts in the Third World.