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Volume 9

Environment in History: International Perspectives

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The Nature of German Imperialism

Conservation and the Politics of Wildlife in Colonial East Africa

Bernhard Gissibl

374 pages, 9 illus., 6 tables, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78533-175-6 $120.00/£85.00 Hb Published (July 2016)

eISBN 978-1-78533-176-3 eBook

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The Nature of German Imperialism is at once an analytic tour de force and an empirically rich and cogent account of wildlife conservation as an ideologically charged political activity rife with contradictions and denials…His grounding of German imperialism in the wider turn-of- the-century European intellectual and social history is a most welcome contribution to East African studies.” • Finalist for the 2017 BETHWELL A. OGOT BOOK PRIZE of the African Studies Association

“This exhaustively researched monograph is the first comprehensive study of wildlife conservation (especially elephants), big game-hunting, and early proposals for national parks and nature tourism in German East Africa…Scholars interested in the colonial origins of wildlife conservation in Tanzania will find The Nature of German Imperialism the best resource to date.” • Modern Language Review

“This is an impressive piece of scholarship. Painstaking in its detail, the book results from the intellectual labor needed to consult archives in four countries across two continents, comb through published sources in English and German, organize the analysis using political ecology, and situate this history in three distinct historiographies.” • The International Journal of African Historical Studies

“The very readable study invites giving some thought to the ecological and social consequences of the still popular construction of East Africa as a paradise for wild animals. Its historiographical significance is due to Gissibl’s distancing himself from constructivist approaches and his conceptual preference for a ‘critical realism’… Gissibl’s study is from now on the central reference work for the history of wildlife protection during the German colonial period. For colonial rule is here consistently and logically interpreted from environmental-historical perspectives.” • Sehepunkte

“Upon completion of this book the reader easily captures the importance and complexities of conservation and wildlife policies in German East Africa. This has much to do with Gissibl’s adept ability to tell layered and contextualized stories that ground themselves in the existing scholarship… Along the way the author also continually challenges widespread colonial myths by bringing in local African voices… Gissibl employs an impressively wide array of methodological tools as he helps bring the German colonial empire into a rather Anglophile environmental historiography.” • Environmental History

“Compellingly written and tightly argued, The Nature of German Imperialism will be of great interest to historians of Germany, imperialism and the environment. Present-day conservationists, too, will read it to their benefit.” • Environment and History

“This is a truly outstanding study of a topic that has been only tangentially treated in the literature. Gissibl draws upon an impressive body of evidence, weaving sources together seamlessly without letting the details occlude the main arguments and conceptual direction.” • Jane Carruthers, University of South Africa


Today, the East African state of Tanzania is renowned for wildlife preserves such as the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the Selous Game Reserve. Yet few know that most of these initiatives emerged from decades of German colonial rule. This book gives the first full account of Tanzanian wildlife conservation up until World War I, focusing upon elephant hunting and the ivory trade as vital factors in a shift from exploitation to preservation that increasingly excluded indigenous Africans. Analyzing the formative interactions between colonial governance and the natural world, The Nature of German Imperialism situates East African wildlife policies within the global emergence of conservationist sensibilities around 1900.

Bernhard Gissibl is a permanent Research Associate at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz. He is co-editor of the volume Civilizing Nature: National Parks in Global Historical Perspective (Berghahn, 2012) and was awarded the Young Scholar’s Prize of the African Studies Association in Germany (VAD).

Subject: Colonialism Environmental Studies
Area: Africa


List of Figures    
General Map

Introduction: Doorsteps in Paradise


Chapter 1. Tusks, Trust, and Trade: Ecologies of Hunting in precolonial East Africa
Chapter 2. Seeing like a State, Acting like a Chief: The Colonial Politics of Ivory, 1890-1903


Chapter 3. Preserving the Hunt, Provoking a War Wildlife Politics and Maji Maji
Chapter 4. Colony or Zoological Garden? Settlers, Science and the State
Chapter 5. The Imperial Game Rinderpest, Wildmord, and the Emperor’s Breakfast, 1910-1914


Chapter 6. Places of Deep Time the political Geography of colonial Wildlife Conservation
Chapter 7. Rivalry and Stewardship the Anglo-German origins of international wildlife preservation in Africa
Chapter 8. A Sense of Place Representations of Africa and environmental identities in Germany

Epilogue: Germany’s African Wildlife and the Presence of the Past

Select Bibliography        

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