Something old, something new

Hello loyal followers,

Let me draw your attention to some of the materials I’ve updated or completed in the past week as well as some of our older materials that you might find interesting.

I’m particularly intrigued by the story of Daniel Botefeur, who represents a largely untold story of Germans who took an active role in the slave trade in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The document (in English) shows us both his notoriety in West Africa as well as the fortunate escape of some of his potential victims. I must give special thanks to the Cologne-based historian Michael Zeuske, whose fascinating work on slave traders I drew from for Botefeur’s activities, as well as my friend Suzanne Schwarz at the University of Worcester, who knew of the document and brought it to my attention.

Staying on the topic of objectionable people, my helpful assistant Julia Alcamo has helped me transcribe excerpts from an article (auf deutsch) by Christoph Meiners, perhaps the most notorious racist of the Enlightenment era. In the article he defends slavery on the grounds of natural law and what he insists is the essentially subhuman nature of Africans. This isn’t a pleasant read, but it is a useful reminder of the roots of contemporary racism. Only one of his arguments surprised me: he insists at one point that the proponents of equality between blacks and whites did not really want to put them on the same plane but rather to privilege blacks over whites. Le plus çe change….

It is also worth remembering that there were forceful critiques of slavery going on as well. Meiners argued in particular against Kant, whose views (English/deutsch) on race shifted over his career toward an outright rejection of slavery and colonial conquest. Of course, the Afro-German philosopher Anton Wilhelm Amo’s critique (English/deutsch) of the legality of slavery pre-dated Kant’s moral case by decades. If you don’t already know the story of Anton Wilhelm Amo, then by all means go and check it out right now.

I’ve also added some material on experiences in the 20th century, including the military service of African-American soldiers in the First and Second World Wars (English) and the experiences of Marie Nejar in the Nazi era and afterward, from an interview by Jermaine Raffington (English/deutsch). She’s a sparky and delightful woman with fascinating stories to tell.

That’s all for now. I’ll provide more updates as new material goes up, but feel free to keep checking in on us. And do let us know what you think!

Best,

Jeff

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Welcome! Here’s what we’re up to.

Hello loyal followers and wide world!

This is just a brief note to let you know what has been happening with Black Central Europe and what you might expect in the coming months. As you’ll see on our homepage, our overarching goal is to produce a resource that will be useful for teachers, students, researchers, activists, and just anyone in the wider public who wants new perspectives on German, European, and Black histories. Our long-term goal is to build a collection of primary sources and integrate them with a broader collection of lesson plans, syllabi,  reading lists, and forum discussions (earlier posts are a start in this direction). Providing these materials in English and in German will allow us to speak to a range of audiences.

As you’ll see if you work your way through the site, we are still in “stage 1,” so to speak. We’re working on gathering, organizing, and formatting our historical sources, translating them where we can do so easily, and this means that some of the site is still incomplete and a bit messy. We hope to have it fully cleaned up by the summer, but we thought that the value of getting this material out in the world outweighed our mild embarrassment at showing it under construction. Hopefully you’ll agree!

I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of outstanding features of the site. You’ll probably have noticed the map on our homepage, which locates various known and lesser known experiences across the German lands. This is the product of students in Kira Thurman’s class at the University of Michigan, and she plans to have them expand on this in the future. Zoom in and out to see what interested them, and we hope that you’re surprised and intrigued by what you find.

We also have an ever-growing collection of videos to watch as well as links to interesting commentators and artists you can find online. We hope that you’ll lose track of time following these.

And of course we have our collection of historical sources, organized by rough time periods. We are working our way from the Middle Ages toward the present, so the more distant eras are the most complete, but new things will pop up all over. I’ll be sure to use blog posts to let you know when new material is available so please follow us to stay up-to-date.

So what have I been working on recently? Lots, but why not check out check out “The Tale of the Friendly Moor and the Suspicious Peasant (1912),” with a new translation of the poem into English? You also might be curious about the life of J. Elmer Spyglass, an African American who lived through the Weimar and Nazi eras and then became an important interlocutor for the American occupiers after 1945. A slideshow of elaborate costumes worn by visitors to the court of the Duke of Saxony give a sense of fantastical imaginings as well as a long history of blackface. Or maybe you would like to read a discussion between Grada Kilomba and René Aguigah over how to deal with “difference” in today’s Germany–can white Germans ask a Person of Color “where do you come from” without being racist, and to what extent are terms like “Afro-German” open for public debate? I’m particularly intrigued by the story of a teenager named Bernhard Epassi, and we have an interview with him that gives a fascinating insight into the experience of migration in the colonial era, how to maintain connections to family back home and how to deal with everyday racism in Germany.

Finally let me make an appeal to anyone who stops by for a while. We’d love to hear how you came to find us, what you find interesting or troubling, and how you are making use of the resource. Not only are we committed to making this useful, but we also want to learn from you how we might expand, improve, or even re-shape what we’re doing. We encourage comments below or to our Twitter account (@bcesn) or direct emails to us (blackcentraleurope@gmail.com).

In the meantime, happy exploring,

Jeff