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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

International Conference - The Discourse of British and German Colonialism: Convergence and Competition

21 September 2018 - 23 September 2018

Time: 9:00am - 9:00pm
Venue: ArtsOne

Conference organizers:

Professor Felicity Rash (Queen Mary University, London),

Dr Geraldine Horan (University College London),

Professor Andreas Musolff (University of East Anglia)

Conference Contact: Professor Felicity Rash -


Please send abstracts of 200-250 words and no more than 10 references.

Deadline for abstracts: January 1st, 2018


Key-note speakers

Dr Stefan Manz, University of Aston, will speak on “Colonialism and Diaspora in Imperial Germany”.

Dr Angus Nicholls, Queen Mary, University of London, will speak on Friedrich Max Müller.

Professor Albert Gouaffo, University of Dschang, Cameroon, will speak on scientific and cultural transfer.

Painting owned by the National Museum of Tanzania in Dar-es-Salaam. It depicts the transfer of power in former German East Africa to the British at the end of the First World War.


Painting owned by the National Museum of Tanzania in Dar-es-Salaam. It depicts the transfer of power in former German East Africa to the British at the end of the First World War.


This conference will explore the various connections and synergies between British and German colonialist discourses from the seventeenth century onwards. While it is known that similarities and differences exist in the British and German discourse traditions expressing colonialist ideology, this is an under-researched area in respect of historical texts. A discipline of historical discourse analysis is well-established for German political discourse (see, for example, Horan (2003), Wengeler (2005), Wodak et al. (2009), Rash (2012 and in press for 2016)), but is not well-represented for similar English-language discourse and analysis of the primary texts of colonialist discourse tends to rely upon non-linguistic methods (see, however, Musolff 2010). Papers are invited from scholars working in the fields of historical discourse using the methods of Critical Linguistics, Historical Discourse Analysis, Conceptual History (German “Begriffsgeschichte”) and Critical Metaphor Analysis. Source texts could include political, scientific and philosophical tracts, travel literature, autobiography and fiction. The study of images and of the modes of display of historical artefacts are also considered relevant constituents of discourse. The conference will mark the start of an innovative interdisciplinary project which will broaden the field of historical discourse analysis within the English-speaking world and allow comparison of British and German colonialist discourse. A major achievement of this future project would be to shed light upon the history of discursive strategies to be observed in modern discourses concerned with migration, race relations and post-colonial politics.


The age of European colonialism started in the 15th century, with Britain, France and Spain founding colonies in the America. Commencing in the mid-17th century, the economic and political advantages of possessing overseas territories started to influence German nationalist ideology. One read, for example, in Johann Joachim Becher’s Politischer Discurs of 1669:

Wohlan dann, dapffere Teutschen, machet, dass man in der Mapp neben neu Spanien, neu Frankreich, neu Engelland, auch ins künfftige neu Teutschland finde. Es fehlet euch so wenig an Verstand und Resolution solche Sachen zu thun als anderen Nationen … [Bestir yourselves, then, brave Germans, take care that henceforth there be found on the map, besides New Spain, New France, New England, also New Germany. You are no more deficient in understanding or resolve to do such things than other nations …] (quoted from Zantop 1997, 216)

As with much British colonialist discourse, many such calls for colonial enterprise were cloaked in a message that the colonized peoples would be the major beneficiaries of colonization in that they would be given access to European culture and Christianity. The absence of a unified nation from which cultural and political influence would spread meant, however, that Germany could not operate from the same governmental and financial base as the British, French and Spanish empires.

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, before Britain and Germany entered into competition with one another as world colonizers, they shared a great deal of intellectual heritage and, particularly within the ruling classes, cultural orientation. This led to both believing in the cultural centrality of Europe in relation to the rest of the world. The aims of spreading what they saw as civilization to the world outside Europe had much in common, in particular their Christian basis. While Germans were welcome to settle in British and Spanish colonies, to a certain extent they felt as though they were contributing to the successes of the colonies of other nations without reaping nay of the same rewards. German explorers were largely unable to raise funds for their own excursions into uncharted territories and joined British expeditions. The British valued German scientific expertise and a largely cooperative relationship developed among explorers. One notable cooperation was that between Johann Reinhold Forster and James Cook on the exploratory voyage of the Resolution between 1772 and 1775 (see Hawskworth et al. 1773, Forster 1778).

During the nineteenth century, the British Empire expanded as a result into the largest on the globe; Germany was left behind and felt outclassed. German colonialist discourse was permeated with the motif of “Sein oder Nichtsein” [to be or not to be], which lent upon a corrupted version of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories and a misunderstanding of Herbert Spencer’s “survival of the fittest”. The First World War did not stop the competitive attitude between Britain and Germany, and the settlement of colonial territories at the Treaty of Versailles left German colonialist ideologues smarting and intent on rectifying what they saw as theft of territories which they believed they were justified in reclaiming.


Representative literary and historical texts of the British and German colonial eras will be analysed from the point of view of their discursive function and techniques used. The political, scientific and philosophical influences of key authors, such as Charles Darwin and Friedrich Max Müller upon later colonialist authors will be of particular interest. A methodology will be encouraged that involves the detailed examination of primary sources. Digital analysis will be of particular use where English-language texts are concerned. Access to digital databases for German historical texts is more problematic, since may of key texts have not yet been converted from their original typeface (“Fraktur”) into a format suitable for computer analysis.

The conference organizers have experience in the linguistic analysis of historical discourse, using the methodologies of Critical Discourse Analysis, The Discourse Historical Approach, Argumentation Analysis, and Cognitive Metaphor Theory (see Horan 2003, Musolff 2010, Rash 2012). These methodologies are suitable for the academic investigation of past colonialism and its repercussions because they broadens the scope of study beyond that of the historical events and political messages expressed in discourse. It enables scholars to assess the linguistic, visual and strategic means by which messages were expressed and events described, and thus to identify implications of such assessments for future research. In short, it help us assess not only what is said but how it is said and why it is said in a particular way.

Significant research the themes of colonialist ideology and discourse began in the 1950s and was conducted from a post-colonialist perspective (see Hall 1995, Césaire 2000). Such studies identified the discursive construction of images of a “Self” and an “Other” and the construction in discourse of a “national body” with a common past and these themes were taken up as the basis for critical linguistic studies which further sought evidence of such discourse strategies as legitimation, justification, perpetuation and transformation. Ruth Wodak, Martin Reisigl and J.R. Martin have shown that politically-motivated discourse strategies can be supported by argumentation topoi and linguistic means, such as grammatical constructions, choice of lexis and the employment of metaphors.

The conference will aim to open a field of study about discourses of common and complementary colonial experiences, with the potential of expansion across a wide range of historical fields. A major question to answer will be the issue of whether unified national colonialist discourses can be identified or whether there existed a variety of discourses by individuals and political or ideological groups. If the latter is the case, did the various discourses contain common elements which could be seen to contribute towards an identifiable national outlook.

Conference Papers are invited which cover some of the following topics:

I) Mainstream Colonialism and Resistance to it

  • Early German discourse on colonization and its sources in British colonialist discourse
  • British and German anti-colonialist discourse
  • British and German anti-slavery discourse
  • British and German anti-Islamic discourse pertaining to the colonies
  • British and German attitudes towards the punishment and internment of native “malefactors”
  • British and German attitudes towards the treatment of colonized subjects

II) Discourses of Imperialism and Early Globalization

  • Industrialisation, imperialism and lebensraum politics
  •  “Made in Germany” as a British problem. The respective versions of an imperialist myth of multiculturalism
  • Racial and bio-political theory in relation to colonialist discourse
  • Contact and competition between British and German archaeologists and ethnologists

III) Travel Literature in the Age of Colonialism

  • In the footsteps of Livingstone and Stanley:  British and German travel writing and colonialism
  • The German reception of the Robinson Crusoe stories
  • The perspectives and writings of Christian missionaries

IV) Representations of Colonialism as Acculturation in both British and German Discourses

  • A comparative study of the metaphorical representation of colonies in terms of family relationships, human body, flowing/overflowing and planting/plant growth in British and German discourse, and of mutual cross-fertilization between both discourse traditions
  • Comparison and contrast of feminist and anti-feminist discourse in both British and German colonies
  • British and German claims to leadership of Western, “civilized” culture

V) Colonialism and War

  • Colonialist discourse during the First and Second World Wars
  • British and German discourse on the planning and aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles in relation to former German colonies
  • Imprisonment and internment policies in the colonies and during war-time

VI) Discourses on the Medium- and Long-term Effects of Colonialism

  • Similarities and differences between historical discourses on European overseas migration and modern discourses on migratory movement into and within Europe
  • The impact of medical and other scientific research undertaken in the colonies
  • The lasting effects of colonialism upon modern-day former colonies
  • Vergangenheitsbewältigung of colonial pasts: nostalgia and/or apologies

VII) Memorialization and Opportunities for Tourism and Development in former Colonies

  • Museums and open-air sites – Namibia as a specific example
  • Artistic representations of colonial activity
  • Architectural monuments and their place in the modern world

Publication Plans

Following peer review, papers will be published in Angermion, the organ of the Centre for Anglo-German Relations, Queen Mary, University of London.

Photographic Exhibition: “Germany’s Colonial Footprint in Africa”

Between 1884 and 1918, Germany possessed four colonies in sub-Saharan Africa: Togo, Cameroon, German South West Africa (now Namibia) and German East Africa (now Tanzania). Many signs of their occupancy survive in all four countries, in the form of buildings, cemeteries, monuments, museum exhibits and documents in libraries and state archives. Having visited these four countries, Professor Felicity Rash will present photographic evidence of their German colonial past and its imprint upon contemporary Africa material and intellectual culture.


  • Césaire, Aimé (2000[1950]), Discourse on Colonialism, translated by Joan Pinkham and with a new introduction by Robin D.G. Kelley. New York: Monthly Review Press, 31-102.
  • Charteris-Black, Jonathan (2004), Corpus Approaches to Critical Metaphor Analysis. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Charteris-Black, Jonathan (2014), Analysing Political Speeches. Rhetoric, Discourse and Metaphor. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Davis, John R. (2013), ‘From “Überschwemmung” to “Einkreisung”. British Industrial Competition and the Course of German Nationalism, 1815-1914’. In: Angermion 4, 71-84.
  • Eckert, Andreas (in press), Geschichte des deutschen Kolonialismus.
  • Koselleck, Reinhart (2002), The Practice of Conceptual History. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Hall, Stuart (1995a), ‘The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power’. In: Hall, Stuart, David Held, Don Hubert and Kenneth Thompson (eds), Modernity. An Introduction to Modern Societies. Oxford: Polity Press, 185-227.
  • Hall, Stuart (1995b), ‘The Question of Cultural Identity’. In: Hall, Stuart, David Held, Don Hubert and Kenneth Thompson (eds), Modernity. An Introduction to Modern Societies. Oxford: Polity Press, 594-634.
  • Horan, Geraldine (2003), Mothers, Warriors, Guardians of the Soul. Female Discourse in National Socialism 1824-1934. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Manz, Stefan (2014), Constructing a German Diaspora. The “Greater German Empire” 1871-1914. New York: Routledge.
  • Martin, J.R. and Ruth Wodak (eds) (2003), Re/reading the Past: Critical and Functional Perspectives on Time and Value. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Musolff, Andreas (2010), Metaphor, Nation and Holocaust. The Concept of the Body Politic. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Rash, Felicity (2012), German Images of the Self and the Other in German Nationalist, Colonialist and Anti-Semitic Discourse 1871-1918. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Rash, Felicity (2016), The Strategies of German Imperialist Discourse: The Colonial Idea and Africa, 1848-1948. New York: Routledge.New York: Routledge.
  • Semino, Elena (2008), Metaphor in Discourse. Cambridge: C.U.P.
  • Sobich, Frank Oliver and Sebastian Bischoff (2015), Feinde werden. Zur nationalen Konstruktion existentieller Gegnerschaft: Drei Fallstudien. Berlin: Metropol.
  • Spitzmüller, Jürgen and Ingo H. Warnke (2011), Diskurslinguistik: eine Einführung in Theorien und Methoden der transkulturellen Sprachanalyse. Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter.
  • Wengeler, Martin (2005b), ‘Das Szenario des kollektiven Wissens einer Diskursgemeinschaft entwerfen. Historische Diskurssemantik als „kritische Linguistik‟’. In: Aptum. Zeitschrift für Sprachkritik und Sprachkultur 3, 262-282.
  • Wodak, Ruth, Rudolf de Cillia, Martin Reisigl and Karin Liebhart (2009), The Discursive Construction of National Identity, second edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Zimmerer, Jürgen (2011), Von Windhuk nach Ausschwitz. Beiträge zum Verhältnis von Kolonialismus und Holocaust. Münster: LIT.
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