Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Unbounded German Nation: Dr. Otto Hahn and German Emigration to Canada in the 1870s and 1880s

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Unbounded German Nation: Dr. Otto Hahn and German Emigration to Canada in the 1870s and 1880s

Article excerpt


Otto Hahn, a lawyer and emigration promoter from the German state of Wurttemberg, was an integral part of the German debate about emigration, colonial empire and German identity. This paper suggests that any discussion of nineteenth-century European emigration must consider its location in the context of colonial expansion. Hahn was, in many ways, typical of the emigrationist colonialist. Yet, he had ideas which deviated from what has been recognized as emigrationist colonialism. His growing fascination with Canada sheds light on how this popular ideology could be altered. Any discussion of a transnationally conceived German identity in the late nineteenth century, then, must include intellectual and spiritual communities as sources of such an identity, and must locate them in the general context of the diffusion of modernity. The last part of Otto Hahn's story, finally, allows us to get a rare glimpse of an emigrationist colonialist turned actual emigrant, thereby permitting us to conceive of emigration as a way to contest and negotiate nationalism rather than an exit from the national community.


Otto Hahn, un avocat et un organisateur de I'emigration de I'Etat de Wurtemberg en Allemagne, fit partie integrante du debat allemand sur I'empire colonial, I'identite germanique et l'emigration. Dans cet article, nous suggerons que toute discussion portant sur cette derniere au niveau europeen au dix-neuvieme siecle dolt prendre en consideration la ou elle a eu lieu dans le contexte de I'expansion coloniale. Hahn etait, a bien des egards, un representant typique du colonialisme emigrationiste. Pourtant, il avait des idles qui deviaient de ce qu'on comprend normalement sous ce terme. Sa fascination toujours plus grande pour le Canada jette une lumiere sur la maniere dont cette ideologie populaire pouvait s'alterer. Par ailleurs, tout debat sur une identite germanique concue a un niveau transnational vers la fin du dix-neuvieme siecle dolt inclure des communautes intellectuelles et spirituelles en tant que sources d'une telle identite et doit les placer dans le contexte general de la diffusion de la modernite. Enfin, la derniere partie de I'histoire d'Otto Hahn nous permet d'avoir un rare apercu d'un colonialiste emigrationiste devenu lui-meme un emigrant, ce qui nous permet ainsi de concevoir l'emigration comme un moyen de contester et de negocier le nationalisme plutot que d'y voir une porte de sortie de la communaute nationale.


The annual report of the Canadian Minister of Agriculture for the year 1881 contained a brief commentary on the state of German emigration to Canada prepared by a Dr. Otto Hahn of Reutlingen in the southwestern German state of Wurttemberg. (1) In it, Dr. Hahn voiced his "conviction that Canada is the land best fitted for German colonization." He admitted that Canada, "through the relation which I have now had for some years with that country, has become a second home to me, so that I feel as much home there as here." He concluded with the promise to "make all exertion for emigration, in which I see the only radical solution of the social problem, and for emigration to Canada in particular." The social problem Hahn was referring to was the lack of economic opportunities for many people in the newly unified German Reich. This must not have been an easy confession for a proud German to commit to paper and send to a foreign land. Indeed, unlike the more than 200,000 Germans who, in 1881 alone, fled the tumultuous socio-economic conditions in Germany to make their homes elsewhere in the world, Hahn was not yet ready to abandon Germany for his imagined second home in Canada. Instead, he remained on the Canadian government payroll as an immigration agent in Germany, promoting the northern part of North America to his compatriots who had given up on the German dream. Eventually though, in July, 1888, Otto Hahn, his wife, and ten children would join the torrent of emigrants and settle, far away from Swabian lands, in Toronto, Ontario. …

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