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Environment and History

Water, Sand, Molluscs: Imperial Infrastructures, the Age of Hydrology, and German Colonialism in Swakopmund, Southwest Africa, 1884-1915

Martin Kalb

Environment and History 26 (2020): 175-206. doi: 10.3197/096734018X15254461646521

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How did nature challenge German colonialism in Southwest Africa? What role did water, sand, and a small mollusc play as Germans tried to establish their first and, in many ways, only settler colony? This paper explores the events surrounding the town of Swakopmund, a small coastal settlement defined as the main entry point (Eingangstür) into German Southwest Africa at the time. As a case study, Swakopmund arguably provides an excellent framework when showcasing the importance of widely underestimated environmental protagonists in the construction of the German Empire; it also underlines the value of incorporating environmental history more broadly into discussions of German colonial fantasies in the age of hydrology.

KEYWORDS: Age of hydrology, water, infrastructures, dredging history, colonialism, German Empire, Africa, colonial fantasies

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