Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jared Poley

Second Advisor

Joe Perry

Third Advisor

Greg Moore


This dissertation engages recent studies of empire and identity to investigate the German Empire and settler colonial identity in German Southwest Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A socio–cultural historical lens of identity provides an intimate sense of what the German Empire in German Southwest Africa meant to certain settlers who emigrated there and in so doing sheds light on the colonial process from the metropole in Germany and from the periphery in German Southwest Africa. Ethnic Germans first began to arrive in and write about Southwest Africa in 1828 mostly as missionaries. Then when Southwest Africa became a German protectorate in 1884 people intentionally emigrated in order to establish a permanent settler colony. This study ends in 1934 during the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Analyzing a range of primary sources during these periods including government documents, colonial–society documents, missionary literature, colonial novels, newspapers, journals, magazines, and ego–documents like autobiographies, memoirs, and diaries demonstrates the inner journeys that the settlers undertook for self–identification. Through the colonial process, this dissertation argues that some German settlers formed a unique and multifaceted Southwest African identity—distinct, though still borrowing, from their metropolitan German roots. Many settlers understood and categorized themselves as Germans or German colonists in the early years of colonization. Then, as colonial exposure increased, these settlers began to view themselves increasingly as Southwest Africans, especially after the collapse of the German Empire and into the Weimar years. The shared experience of living in a decidedly peripheral environment generated a commonality and a sense of connectedness with their fellow former German subjects.


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