The German Colonial Empire

The German Colonial Empire

The German Colonial Empire

The German Colonial Empire

Synopsis

Although Germany's short-lived colonial empire (1884-1918) was neither large nor successful, it is historically significant. The establishment of German colonies and attempts to expand them affected international politics in a period of extreme tension. Smith focuses on the interaction between Germany's colonial empire and German politics and, by extension, on the connection between colonialism and socioeconomic conflict in Germany before World War I.

Originally published in 1978.

Excerpt

Germany acquired her overseas colonies during the period of massive European imperial expansion in the late nineteenth century, and she lost them less than a generation later during the First World War. Taken altogether, the German colonial empire was not inconsiderable. The most important German possessions were four African territories: Southwest Africa, Togo, Cameroon, and German East Africa. In addition, Germany controlled several territories in the Pacific: northeastern New Guinea, part of Samoa, the Bismarcks, the Marshalls, the Carolines, the Marianas, and Kiaochow on the Shantung Peninsula in China. On occasion the German colonies played an important part in the diplomatic history of the pre-1914 era and for brief periods were a major focus for political dispute within Germany. Yet by many obvious standards Germany's short colonial history was unimpressive. In comparison with the overseas possessions of Britain and France, Germany's colonies were small. Even more importantly, they were, with minor exceptions, economically unprofitable. Germany's trade with her colonies was an insignificant percentage of her total commerce, and by most material criteria of imperialist thinking, the German colonial empire was highly unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, the German overseas empire has historical importance. The German colonial expansion of the 1880s helped to set off the partition of Africa among the European powers, an event of obvious significance for African and European history.

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