W. E. B. Du Bois and the German Alltag, 1892-1894

By Barkin, Kenneth | The Journal of African American History, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

W. E. B. Du Bois and the German Alltag, 1892-1894


Barkin, Kenneth, The Journal of African American History


The best source for a study of W. E. B. Du Bois's two years in Germany is Du Bois himself. During his return to the United States from Germany he wrote, "As a student in Germany I built great castles in Spain and lived therein. I dreamed and loved, and wandered and sang. Then after two long years I dropped suddenly into Nigger-hating America." (1) Twenty-three years later in 1917, he pondered whether he should support Germany or the United States in World War I. He wrote, "I was seeing the Germany, which taught me the brotherhood of white and black pitted against America, which for me was the essence of Jim Crow." (2) Du Bois ultimately decided to support the United States, but not enthusiastically. In 1960, sixty-six years after leaving Germany, he explained to William Ingersoll of the Columbia University Oral History Project, who was conducting an interview with Du Bois at age 92 for their archives, "Germany was an extraordinary experience. ... I began to believe white people were human." (3) Du Bois went on to say that he meant only European whites. He changed his mind frequently during his ninety-five years (who wouldn't?). But regarding Imperial Germany there was not a hint of change. In his most famous book The Souls of Black Folk (1903), he maintained that white racism was pervasive in his life with the exceptions of his childhood in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and his experiences in Europe. (4) Since the only European nation he lived in for a significant amount of time was Imperial Germany, we have to assume that this was the nation to which he was referring. What strikes me as a historian is not only his praise for Germany but his contempt for the United States during the 1890s.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

My intention is not to concentrate on his contact with Berlin professors, or the ideas he absorbed from their lectures and seminars over the three semesters he spent at the Humbolt University of Berlin. He never complained about Gustav Schmoller or Adolf Wagner, his major professors. Indeed, he praised them for accepting him into their over-filled seminars. Both mentors sent quite positive references to the officers of the Slater Fund about extending his stay for a second year, which they did; and for a third year, which was denied. Since Du Bois sought to prolong his stay in Germany, one is led to believe that he was happier in Berlin than he had ever been at Harvard.

For the purposes of this essay, Alltag can be translated as the everyday experiences, the ordinary, or perhaps the routine or normal that binds the individual with others who share a common culture and space. In order to answer my question about the Alltag in Du Bois's experience, one has to deal with two other questions. First, we have to examine his time at Harvard University where he spent four full years immediately preceding his Berlin years. Was he leaving Harvard with affectionate memories or with bitterness? The second question we have to address is: What did Du Bois know of Imperial Germany before he arrived there in the summer of 1892?

There is no question that he found Harvard stiff, even icy cold. Indeed, he never returned to Harvard after his years in Berlin. (5) Only one professor, William James, showed any genuine interest in one of Harvard's first black students. James regularly invited Du Bois for Sunday lunches and even sought to arrange a meeting of Du Bois with his brother, the novelist Henry James. His major professor, Albert Bushnell Hart, Du Bois told Ingersoll, "was very accurate in memory, names, and things, but he was not human. He was methodical. He was as dry as dust." (6) Compared to Fisk where he had spent three happy years and praised many of his teachers, the professors and students at Harvard made Du Bois feel he was an "invisible man."

This was also the case regarding the Harvard students. In his two major autobiographies and the oral history, Du Bois docs not mention the name of any undergraduate or doctoral student with whom he had friendly relations. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

W. E. B. Du Bois and the German Alltag, 1892-1894
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.