Environing Empire

KalbEnvironingMy most recent research project focuses on infrastructure and the making of German colonial Southwest Africa (1884-1915). In 2014, I began looking into the German settler community during colonial rule. A short vignette around the introduction of trout in German Southwest Africa appeared on the platform Arcadia. An article focusing on the coastal town of Swakopmund, and German efforts to make it the main entry point into their colony, appeared in the journal Environment and History. Water, Sand, Molluscs. At that point my broader arguments around the making of German Southwest Africa, as well as the stories told around such efforts, had begun taken shape.

Two side-projects emerged along the way. After stepping into the Swakopmund Buchhandlung one day I was struck by an array of reprints – and nostalgic and apologetic efforts to promote those without context. A chapter focusing on these settler reprints titled Archiving Settler Colonialism was published later on. A sidestory around dowsing and the solution of what contemporaries titled the Wasserfrage (water question) warranted a separate article in the journal German History.

The book project titled Environing Empire: Nature, Infrastructure, and the Making of German Southwest Africa uses the concept of “environmental infrastructure” (Emmanuel Kreike) to explore the making of German Southwest Africa. Chapters investigate the role of human ingenuity and labor, as well as non-human agents and natural forces in my effort to better understand the formation of that particular colony. Along the way, I specifically deconstruct settler narratives framed around the heroic conquest of nature that silence everyday colonial violence and genocide.