In the Context of Nationalism, Race, and Religion: Three Case Studies of Deutschtum in South America, 1820 to the Present

AHA Session 15
Conference on Latin American History 1
Central European History Society 1
Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Scottsdale Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Lewis Pyenson, Western Michigan University
Suzanne L. Marchand, Louisiana State University

Session Abstract

Broadly phrased, the four papers of this panel explore Germanness, German self-identity, and nationalism in the contexts of socio-political, economic, and cultural dynamics in Brazil, Peru, and Argentina from the early nineteenth century to the present. The panelists use German immigrant communities and German individuals in South America as prisms to shed light on the nature of German and South American nationalisms. As will be shown, “Germanness” in South American enclaves emerged in a constant dialog with the construction of Germanness at home. Transatlantic networks of communication enabled the transmission of dominant perceptions that fostered the specific self-understanding of Germans in South America that changed over time. One paper will show that these early German communities in South America were more homogenous and tended to isolate themselves from the broader national community. In contrast, another paper will illustrate that later German immigrant communities, like the one in post World War II Argentina, were far more heterogeneous, complex, and even divided along the lines of religion and politics. It also emphasizes the fact that even though German communities had existed in the South American nations for more than a century, they were never fully integrated into the broader framework of the nation.

Another broad theme that is being investigated in this panel is the relation of German and South American nationalisms to ideas of race. Constructions of nationalisms and national identities in Germany as well as in South America were always linked to concepts of race. This was the case in Brazil, Peru, and Argentina where governments adopted official policies of “whitening” in the nineteenth century and actively encouraged German immigration. While the policy of whitening was later abandoned, constructs of national identities in South America continued to be linked to constructs of race. As two panelists will show, German anthropology about Brazil and Peru were dominant in the late nineteenth century and German stellar anthropologists became crucially important as directors of national museums and at universities in these nations. As such they were deeply involved in fostering and disseminating specific constructs of national identities for their host nations. This was highly problematic and at times controversial. As they were German-born and educated they transferred specific perceptions to their new environment that became integrated into official national constructs that had broader implications not only on the realm of identity, but also on national jurisdiction. The dominant network of German scholars and their close link to colleagues across the Atlantic in the nation-building period also illustrate the significance of the categories of race, class, and gender in the socio-political context of both South American nations.

While constructions of identity and nationalisms are clearly in the center of analysis of this panel, the panelists will also explore the intersections of nationalism with race, class, gender, jurisdiction, and religion.

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