Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany (Harvard Historical Studies)

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9780674050068: Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany (Harvard Historical Studies)

At the end of the nineteenth century, Germany turned toward colonialism, establishing protectorates in Africa, and toward a mass consumer society, mapping the meaning of commodities through advertising. These developments, distinct in the world of political economy, were intertwined in the world of visual culture.

David Ciarlo offers an innovative visual history of each of these transformations. Tracing commercial imagery across different products and media, Ciarlo shows how and why the “African native” had emerged by 1900 to become a familiar figure in the German landscape, selling everything from soap to shirts to coffee. The racialization of black figures, first associated with the American minstrel shows that toured Germany, found ever greater purchase in German advertising up to and after 1905, when Germany waged war against the Herero in Southwest Africa. The new reach of advertising not only expanded the domestic audience for German colonialism, but transformed colonialism’s political and cultural meaning as well, by infusing it with a simplified racial cast.

The visual realm shaped the worldview of the colonial rulers, illuminated the importance of commodities, and in the process, drew a path to German modernity. The powerful vision of racial difference at the core of this modernity would have profound consequences for the future.

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About the Author:

David Ciarlo is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Colorado at Boulder.


An original, finely crafted, accessible, and superbly researched work. A welcome combination of visual cultural analysis of modern advertising and German colonial history, Ciarlo's book is an important contribution. (Janet Ward, University of Nevada Las Vegas)

A stunning, breakthrough book; easily the most important new work on the colonial and racial imagination in pre-World War I Germany in nearly a decade. In startling detail, Ciarlo shows us a new landscape of consumer advertising that shaped German attitudes towards imperialism, the colonies, and racial hierarchies. He also convincingly demonstrates Germany's prewar drift into a deeper, troubling, racial modernity. Brilliant, eye-opening scholarship. (Helmut Walser Smith, Vanderbilt University)

A daring and imaginative book. Ciarlo sketches out a vision of German modernity in which domestic politics, colonial competition, and the transnational trade in products and prejudice combined with new methods of mass advertising to populate daily life with nightmarish images of racial antagonism. Ciarlo's startling work is sure to change how we view Imperial Germany and what was to follow. (Jonathan Zatlin, Boston University)

Ciarlo's book shows, in original and compelling detail, just how richly historians will benefit from taking the study of the visual seriously. Whether in its analysis of advertising per se, or in its careful reading of the interrelations linking imperialist expansion, commodification, racial difference, and mass mediation, Advertising Empire joins a widening circle of exciting new scholarship on the contest of early twentieth-century German modernities. (Geoff Eley, University of Michigan)

This outstanding book has original arguments to make about the connection between the rise of modern advertising culture and the subjugation of colonial peoples. Ciarlo explains why racial images came to be so widely used in advertisements, and he analyses with great skill how those images worked. Boldly framed and sharply written, his thoughtful and important work shows just what historians can achieve through the careful, imaginative analysis of visual images. I recommend Advertising Empire with enthusiasm. (David Blackbourn, Harvard University)

Ciarlo has written an extremely smart, provocative book linking the rise of German modern advertising and aesthetics with imperialism and racism at the fin-de-siècle...Throughout a profusely and richly illustrated text, Ciarlo concentrates on one aspect of German advertising, namely, the culture of race, through a discussion of images that were reproduced in a myriad of venues from newspapers, magazines, posters, store windows, matchbooks, and the sides of trams and buses, to tins and boxes. One forgets that the massive duplication of images is only about 100 years old; the Germans excelled at both the industrial and artistic techniques that produced new forms of advertising. (M. Deshmukh Choice 2011-10-01)

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