(Post-) Colonialism and (Trans- National-) Europe

  • Dirk Göttsche: (Post)Colonialism across Europe. Transcultural History and National Memory. (Postkoloniale Studien in der Germanistik) Bielefeld: Aisthesis 2014. 390 S. EUR (D) 39,80.
    ISBN: 978-3-8498-1073-3.

The book edited by Dirk Göttsche and Axel Dunker bears a daring and at the same time promising title that stands out against the true flood of publications on (Post-)Colonialism that came out during the last decades: (Post-) Colonialism across Europe: Transcultural History and National Memory. Unlike many of the publications on the subject that tend to adopt a single disciplinary point of view and engage in a national or bilateral (colonizer / colonized) perspective, the editors propose an ambitious research program that intends to go »beyond the confines of national history and beyond the traditionally national (or language-based) boundaries of individual disciplines in order to account more fully for the transnational and transcultural dynamic of colonial history and its legacies« (p. 7).


Accordingly, the volume gathers a wide range of essays offering a large spectrum of topics and interesting case studies that do justice to the idea (and challenge) of a »transnational and transcultural turn« in these areas, a »turn« — it should be stressed — to which Akira Iriye, former president of the American Historical Association, has already devoted several studies since the late 80s. 1 This proposed »transnational and transcultural turn« is probably one of the major strengths of the book.


The 17 essays — including the programmatic introduction to the volume by Dirk Göttsche, a persuasive apology for »comparative postcolonial studies« and a noteworthy effort to put the loose pieces of this complex puzzle together — are organized around three sections. The first section discusses theories of »Postcolonialism(s) across Europe«, the second deals with a series of case studies of European literature and culture from a postcolonial perspective, and the third one addresses the »Internal European (Post-) Colonialism«.


The first section provides an interesting, sometimes intriguing overview of the ongoing discussions and theoretical debates about Postcolonialism in some European countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France and Portugal) that have largely remained, almost all of them, on the periphery of international (read Anglo-American) postcolonial studies. And yet many of the ideas and viewpoints brought forward by the essays in this first section can and should be clearly seen as positive contributions to this area. Their different perspectives, lines of reasoning and variety of specific local colonial contexts would definitely enrich the established canon of the discipline and widen its views (not to mention its field of analysis). This prevailing peripheral situation — to which this volume admittedly owes much of its raison d’être — is all the more strange when one bears in mind the colonial history of some of the countries just mentioned or when one recalls that postcolonial studies is a field that should be particular sensitive to colonial centers and peripheries, and to their dialectics of power, and that means (or should mean) being equally sensitive to academic centers, peripheries and their »colonial« dialectics of power.


The second section of the book, focusing mainly on the analysis of literary case studies, seeks to understand the historical entanglements of national and colonial identities, explores experimental (post)colonial interpretations of classical myths and reexamines the presence of colonialism and colonial topics in contemporary European literature.


In the third and last section, with its five essays engaging with the German(-speaking) and Soviet »informal Empires« 2 in Europe, the reader becomes eventually aware that »Colonialism« is to be understood in a very broad sense throughout the book, and not in its more classical and traditional meaning of »migration of part of a nation to vacant or sparsely peopled foreign lands« or »expansion of nationality, a territorial enlargement of the stock, language and institutions of the nation«. 3 The broader view on »Colonialism« suggested by the essays in this section is by no means a minor issue, as far as the whole logic of the volume is concerned, because it corresponds to a substantial transformation and enlargement of the traditional space(s) of postcolonial studies: Europe is now doubly at the center of the field, not only as the »colonizer-subject«, but also as a »colonized-object«.


All in all, the book explores important conceptual areas and geographical regions which have been so far relatively neglected by the established (Anglo-American) canon of postcolonial studies. The proposed »transnational and transcultural turn« along with the use of a broader concept of »Colonialism« that also includes the »Internal European (Post-) Colonialisms« are definitely issues that deserve more attention in future research.


Such a research program is ambitious, time and effort consuming and, to a certain extent, risky, as this book also is. In any case, the editors seem to be »well aware that the volume in hand is far from comprehensive, failing to include, for example, case studies on the colonial histories and postcolonial memory discourses of Spain, Italy, Sweden or Poland« (pp. 29–30) or (among others) Switzerland for that matter. 4 And precisely because of the diversity of national cultures, topics, authors and texts that the book deals with the reader would certainly appreciate the usual index at the end.



Even though Iryie deals mainly with (diplomatic) history, some of his writings on the subject could prove helpful to the design of a cross-disciplinary research program such as the one that the editors of the book seem to have in mind; see for example Akira Iriye: The Internationalization of History. In: The American Historical Review 94, 1 (1989): pp. 1–10; Akira Iriye: Beyond imperialism: the new internationalism. In: Daedalus 134, 2 (2005): pp. 108–116; Akira Iriye: The Transnational Turn. In: Diplomatic History 31, 3 (2007): pp. 373–376, and Akira Iriye: Global and Transnational History: The Past, Present, and Future. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2013.   zurück
See Hans-Jürgen Schröder: Südosteuropa als »Informal Empire« Deutschlands 1933–1939. Das Beispiel Jugoslawien. In: Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 1 (1975): pp. 70–96 and Gregory A. Barton: Informal Empire and the Rise of One World Culture. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2014.   zurück
John Atkinson Hobson: Imperialism: A Study. London: J. Nisbet 1902, p. 4.   zurück
See for example Andreas Zangger: Koloniale Schweiz: ein Stück Globalgeschichte zwischen Europa und Südostasien (1860–1930). Bielefeld: transcript 2011; Patricia Purtschert / Barbara Lüthi / Francesca Falk (Eds.): Postkoloniale Schweiz: Formen und Folgen eines Kolonialismus ohne Kolonien. Bielefeld: transcript 2012, or the more recent Patricia Purtschert / Harald Fischer-Tiné (Eds.): Colonial Switzerland: Rethinking Colonialism from the Margins. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2015.   zurück