In the history of science, the connection between anthropology and colonialism has been the subject of a long debate, dating back to the first decades of decolonization.  Today, scholars widely agree that the existence of Western colonial rule was one of the most important conditions for the establishment of anthropology as an academic discipline. In Europe, the first institute for anthropological and linguistic research was founded in 1851 at Leiden. Very soon, it became a place for training civil servants who were charged with administrative tasks in the Dutch Colonial Empire, and here Ethnology became part of the training curriculum as early as 1864.  At the same time, the founding fathers of nineteenth-century evolutionary anthropology, such as Herbert Spencer, Sir Henry Maine or John Lubbock, helped to ideologically legitimize the imperial endeavours of the Victorian Era with their theory of progressive human development that cast the primitive peoples of Oceania and Africa at the bottom of this progression and the civilized nations of Europe at the top. It was one of the members of this cohort and leading evolutionists of his time, Edward B. Tylor, who became the first anthropologist to teach the discipline at a British university. After World War I, functionalism replaced evolutionism, but the members of Malinowski’s British School served colonialism in an even stricter sense. Many of them, such as E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Meyer Fortes or Audrey Richards, conducted their ethnographic research on behalf of the colonial administration. However, anthropologists had already been serving the colonial mission for quite some time. The beginnings of US American anthropology, too, are closely linked to the internal colonialism in the United States and its government’s policy towards the country’s native population. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, created in 1824 as part of the War Department,  was supported in administrating the Indian reservations by the Bureau of American Ethnology, established by an act of Congress in 1879.  Although there is much evidence to support Kathleen Gough’s often cited assertion, that “anthropology is a child of Western Imperialism”,  the history of German anthropology seems to offer an interesting case to the contrary.
The beginnings of German anthropology go back to the 18th century. Between 1770 and 1783, the terms “ethnography” and “ethnology” were coined by scholars teaching at the universities of Göttingen, Halle and Vienna.  This new discipline, however, which aimed to systematize the growing body of data on foreign peoples, was still embedded in the older disciplines of history, natural history and geography. In the following decades, the two Greek neologisms embarked on an astonishing international career as English, French, Danish, Russian and American scholars used them in the names of their newly founded national ethnological societies.  It was only later, and then not everywhere, that the term anthropology replaced the two older terms to refer to a more comprehensive, pseudo-natural science including not only the study of cultures, but also of the languages and the physical characteristics of the various human races. One of the centres of early German ethnology was the University of Göttingen, to which George III had donated parts of James Cook’s collection of ethnographic artefacts gathered during his voyages to the South Pacific. The King did this at the request of Blumenbach, then professor of anatomy and natural history at Göttingen, a good friend of Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg, who were the naturalists of Cook’s second voyage. Because of his masterly written “Voyage Round the World”, the latter had become the most famous German traveller, geographer and ethnographer of his time. He taught natural history at nearby Kassel University and later in Vilnius, edited huge compilations of contemporary travel accounts and was elected a member of the British Royal Society. He was a friend of Johann Gottfried Herder, whom he supported in his arguments against Kant’s theory on the origin of the human races, as well as of the young Prussian “cosmographer” Alexander von Humboldt, 15 years his junior, whom he inspired to make his famous journey to South America at the beginning of the 19th century. Herder, for his part, was to become one of the most influential philosophers of the German Romantic Movement. Arguing that each historical period and each culture should be judged only according to its own norms and values, Herder laid the foundations of German historicism and can be regarded as one of the first proponents of cultural relativism as well. He also enriched the vocabulary of German ethnology by coining the term Naturvölker or “natural peoples”, which was inspired by Rousseau’s theory of the “homme naturel”.  Herder used the term to criticize the artifices and refinements of “civilized peoples”, who had begun to ignore nature’s principles, while indigenous peoples or Naturvölker continued to abide by them. Subsequently, the term’s implicit critique dovetailed neatly with the opposition between culture and civilization that was central to nineteenth-century German intellectuals in the forging of their own national identity. Influenced by the writings of Blumenbach, Forster and Alexander Humboldt, who represented the rational tradition of the Enlightenment, on the one hand, and Herder’s romantic theory of the Volksgeist that highlighted the unique spirit of each people, on the other, ethnological research in Germany experienced an upswing during the first half of the 19th century. The most important comparative treatises on indigenous peoples of the time were published by German authors such as Gustav Klemm or Theodor Waitz – the true pioneers of the discipline, as the American anthropologist Robert Lowie pointed out in his 1937 “History of Ethnological Theory”.  Yet the flourishing of ethnology in nineteenth-century German-speaking countries was not only due to the romantic appeal of the study of peoples who supposedly embodied humankind’s state of nature, but also due to very material reasons: the many thousand artefacts collected from indigenous peoples that had found their way to Germany since the Age of Discovery.
With the exception of the short-lived venture undertaken by the elector of Brandenburg at the West African coast in the 17th century, the many small German kingdoms and principalities of Central Europe had never participated in the run for overseas territories and colonies. Nevertheless, the collections and curiosity cabinets of the royal and princely courts were full of ethnographic items from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania. Some of them dated back to the time when the Spanish overseas empire was still ruled by the Austrian branch of the house of Habsburg. Hernán Cortés and other conquerors brought from the New World many “war trophies”, statues of Aztec goddesses, obsidian mirrors and native feather headdresses which then came to be stored in places such as Duke Ferdinand’s collection in Ambras or in the 16th century’s most famous Cabinet of Miracles and Art established by Emperor Rudolf II at Hradschin Palace in Prague.  Other ethnographic objects were acquired later as precious curiosities that reminded of the exotic worlds beyond the vast oceans. In contrast to the much wealthier kings of France, England or Spain, most rulers of the small German states could not afford to pay for expensive paintings or other prestigious objets d’art. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why their collections are comprised of so many natural curiosities and exotic artefacts. These were rare and spectacular, but much cheaper, and, at the same time, they testified to the scientific interests of their owner. To a still higher degree, this argument holds for the collections that were owned by private scholars, universities or the big commercial houses. The further away that German cities were situated from the centres of overseas trade the more precious the ethnographic artefacts seemed as incorporations of the exotic world.
When after the French Revolution the Louvre, previously the palace of the French kings, was transformed into a national museum, and when shortly thereafter almost everywhere in Europe the golden age of the museum began, the former aristocratic rulers, too, decided to give their court collections to the public. Napoleon had proven that museums could evoke and reinforce feelings of national identity in that they recalled the nation’s glorious past. But museums could also be used as a means of educating people. This at least had been the hopes of French savants during the Enlightenment and also of members of the English Parliament when they founded the British Museum as a public institution as early as 1753. Scholars and curators reordered the manifold objects taken from the royal art collections and curiosity cabinets and sorted them according to material and form, origin and meaning. This is how in the first decades of the 19th century the different types of museums came into being: galleries of painting and sculpture, museums of national history, museums of antiquity and natural history museums. However, the
ethnographic artefacts proved rather difficult to classify into one of these categories. In most European countries, such as France, Italy or England, they were integrated into the collections of the natural history museums.  Sometimes they were accorded an extra department, such as was the case with the encyclopaedic collections at the British Museum in London or the National Museet in Copenhagen.  Yet in Germany, where artefacts of exotic origin held such a prominent place in the royal, academic and private cabinets of curiosity, museum history took a different turn.
Perhaps because of the sheer number of ethnographic objects, or perhaps because the intellectual climate was so favourable to ethnology, in Germany the ethnographic museum became an institution of its own.  In Munich, the residence of the King of Bavaria, the first German Völkerkundemuseum was founded in 1865 and opened as a part of the Royal Court Arcades in 1868. The cornerstone of the museum’s collection was the ethnographic artefacts that had once been part of the royal collections. This was complemented by the items gathered by the Bavarian naturalists Spix and Martius between 1817 and 1820 during their expedition into the Brazilian interior and a broad selection of Japanese and Chinese objets d’art, also formerly owned by the King of Bavaria. In the following years, in other former royal residence cities, such as Berlin (1873) and Dresden (1879),  but also in huge urban commercial centres, such as Leipzig (1871), Bremen (1877) and Hamburg (1878), initiatives were taken to establish ethnographic museums. Although it took several more years before all of them were officially opened and housed in a building of their own, German-speaking countries established and made publicly accessible seven independent ethnographic collections, and this before the German Empire founded its first overseas colonies in 1884. By the outbreak of World War I, Frankfurt (1904), Cologne (1905) and Stuttgart (1911) had followed Munich’s example, so that an ethnographic museum could be found in every important commercial city and in almost every city that had once been the capital of a former German kingdom. The museums also became the nuclei around which ethnology was established as an academic discipline. The first generation of directors was educated in other disciplines, such as medicine, geography or history, or had no university education at all. In many cases these directors and sometimes their department curators, too, were accorded an honorary professorship or a lectureship at a nearby university. 
As the historical facts show, the interest in ethnology, so wide-spread in Germany, preceded by decades the Reich’s attempts to obtain colonies of its own.  This does not mean that there was no relation between German ethnology and colonialism. Rather, we can conclude that in this regard German history took a Sonderweg, too.  Although it is true that the emergence of German ethnology was not the direct outcome of the country’s participation in nineteenth-century colonial ventures, the interest in Naturvölker and their forms of life may have served as an important stimulus to participate in such endeavours. To prove this hypothesis we shall look at how these peoples were presented in scientific discourse as well as at the displays of ethnographic museums. In so doing, I shall concentrate on the development of the discipline in the imperial capital of Berlin, the ethnographic museum of which would ultimately become the most important one, not only in Germany: According to the testimony of a contemporary American anthropologist, at the turn of the 20th century the Berlin Museum contained the largest collection of ethnographic artefacts in the world. 
The successful promotion of ethnology in the Prussian capital was the achievement of one single person: Adolf Bastian. As was the case of many founders of the discipline, Bastian’s academic roots lay in the natural sciences. Although he had studied primarily medicine, law and biology at various German universities, he was typical of the broadly educated middle-class intellectual of nineteenth-century Germany. The more than eighty books and hundreds of articles he published are a strange mixture of geographical, ethnographic and anthropological observations, of psychological treatises and philosophical notes, confused and almost unreadable, as many contemporary reviewers complained.  Nevertheless, he disposed of a remarkable talent for organisation. His interest in ethnology stemmed from his first employment as a ship’s doctor that led him to Australia, the islands of the Pacific Ocean, South America, India and West Africa. 
Supported by his former professor and mentor Rudolf Virchow, who was not only one of the leading scientists of his time but also an influential liberal politician and member of the Prussian Parliament, Bastian was appointed to an assistant-directorship at the Royal Museums at Berlin in 1866, where he became responsible for its ethnological collections. One year later, he received his second doctoral degree, or habilitation, that allowed him to teach courses in ethnology and geography at Berlin University. In 1869, he founded the “Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte” and the “Zeitschrift für Ethnologie”, the first anthropological association and the first ethnological journal in Germany. Due to Bastian’s strong personal commitment, the Royal Museum of Ethnology was founded by a decree of Emperor Wilhelm I in 1873; but it would take another thirteen years until the collection could be moved from Schinkel’s Neues Museum to a building of its own. Adolf Bastian was nominated the Royal Museum’s first director, and obviously it was Bastian, too, who did his best to enlarge its collections by undertaking many journeys to Africa, Asia, the West Indies, Indonesia and Australia. By the time he died in 1905, Bastian had circled the globe five times and spent approximately twenty-five years travelling.
As Bastian’s writings testify, he was haunted by the idea that the world’s Naturvölker were dying out because of the destructive impact of colonialism and Western civilization, and he took it as his duty to collect as many items of their material culture and to record as much of their traditional belief systems as possible. To him, these represented an integral part of mankind’s heritage. Although he was a proponent of what later came to be called “salvage anthropology”, he was not opposed to colonialism.  Comparing the advance of civilization to an inexorable conflagration, he regarded the extinction of the world’s Naturvölker to be a natural process. Although he lamented that this destruction eroded the basis for a true science of man, he took colonialism to be a matter of fact.
The same matter-of-factness characterizes the way in which the ethnographic artefacts of the Royal Museum of Ethnology were ordered. In the museums of natural history at the time, these items were usually presented at the end of an evolutionary path that began with the dinosaurs and ended with the coloured peoples of the world. Similar evolutionist displays could be found in the early ethnological museums, too, such as in the Musée de Trocadéro in Paris or at the Pitt-Rivers-Museum in Oxford. From such a Eurocentric perspective Western industrial civilization appeared as the peak of human development. Berlin anthropologists, however, disapproved this evolutionary scheme.  Following Herder’s concept of the Volksgeist, Bastian developed his theory of “Elementar-“ and “Völkergedanken”, a theory that postulated the existence of universal elementary and culturally specific folk-ideas. This, combined with Alexander von Humboldt’s inductive and empirical approach,  provided the theoretical and practical underpinnings according to which Bastian and his curators organized the Museum’s collection. Arranged by the artefacts’ geographical origins, items were placed in a strict spatial order. The renunciation of a classification that followed the Eurocentric narratives of contemporary evolutionism seems to have saved the artefacts’ exotic appeal at a much higher degree than in the usual British or French museum displays. At least, they could not be misused to prove the accomplishments and superiority of Western civilization.
From here it was only a small step to reconstruct artificially the whole natural and cultural environment from of which the ethnographic artefacts stemmed. This first happened at the Bremen Ethnographic Museum, where from 1891 onwards huge dioramas showed life-size plaster or wax figures of natives dressed in their original costumes and equipped with authentic weapons and gear amidst a lush natural environment replete with stuffed wild animals and tropical plants. The purists of the Berlin Museum refrained from such popular forms of representation. One reason may have been that in a cosmopolitan city such as Berlin the Museum of Ethnology was not the only place where a broader public could enjoy the exoticism of the so-called Naturvölker. They could also be seen at the capital’s famous Castan’s Panopticon as well as in the Völkerschauen, or ethnographic spectacles, of its zoological garden and not only as plaster figures, but live. Showing non-European performers in their native costumes, performing dances and everyday activities was not unusual in the 19th century’s Western capitals, even though this was sometimes scandalized as an inhuman and disgusting practice.  But voyeuristic impulses proved to be stronger, supported by the spread of Darwinian thinking, on the one hand, and the commercial exploits of clever businessmen, on the other. In 1874, the Hamburg animal importer and zookeeper Carl Hagenbeck organized the first Völkerschau, which featured a group of Laplanders. “The show turned out to be so popular and profitable that Hagenbeck began regularly to organize displays of humans.”  And he was not the only one to do so. In the following years, ethnographic spectacles were to play an important role in German mass culture. Initially, the police and other officials were rather suspicious of the sexualized nudity shown in these spectacles. But especially in the Prussian capital, their impresarios received strong support from the scientists and scholars of the Berlin Anthropological Society. Most of the association’s members were arm-chair-anthropologists who had never been outside Europe. To them, the ethnographic shows provided good opportunities to observe their native performers in the course of their daily activities, to take anthropological measurements and to interview them. After having performed for the general public, the natives were usually invited to a special meeting of the Berlin Anthropological Society to be studied by what its members regarded to be purely scientific methods. It was during such a meeting that Franz Boas, who would later become the founding father of American anthropology, had his first encounter with the inhabitants of the American Northwest Coast, a group of Bella Coola, who had been invited to an ethnographic spectacle at Castan’s Panopticon.
Thanks to several recent studies published by historians of science we are well informed regarding the development of German ethnology in Berlin, but we know much less about the state of the discipline in the former royal capitals of Munich and Dresden or in the important commercial centres of Leipzig, Hamburg, Bremen, Cologne or Frankfurt. Even though there is still much research to be done in this field, we can certainly say that anthropology was flourishing in Germany long before the country entered the colonial era. Due to the Kaiserreich’s polycentric structure, there was no other country in Europe with such a high density of ethnographic museums as Germany. As a result, Naturvölker, or at least their material artefacts, came to be present in almost every urban centre in the German Empire. And because of the exotic Völkerschauen, so popular in nineteenth-century Germany, more native people seem to have travelled through Germany than through any other European country. To almost the same degree as their colleagues in France and Great Britain, German anthropologists were obsessed with studying so-called racial features, using what they thought to be the most modern scientific methods, such as the anthropological measurement of skulls and body height. But to a degree greater than British and French anthropologists, they were also interested in the study of cultural features. By the time the Kaiserreich was founded, German travellers and explorers, such as Alexander von Humboldt, Johann Baptist von Spix and Philipp Martius in South America or Heinrich Barth and Gerhard Rohlfs in Africa, had contributed much to the contemporary knowledge of indigenous societies. Studying non-European cultures, they followed the Volksgeist concept of Johann Gottfried Herder, who had highlighted that each human culture holds its own set of norms and values. Adolf Bastian’s theory of elementary and folk ideas followed in the same tradition and led him and his successors to reject the evolutionist ideas of contemporary British anthropology. Until the early 20th century, German ethnologist were proud of the term Naturvölker that seemed to be superior to the biased and Eurocentric term “primitive” used by their British and French colleagues. Although they opposed the Naturvölker (or “natural peoples”) of Africa, America and Oceania to the Kulturvölker (or “cultural peoples”) of Europe and Asia, the example of the Munich ethnographic museum shows that this opposition did not prevent them from displaying the art of Asian “high cultures” such as Japan and China in the same building as the material heritage of Naturvölker in Africa or and South America. While it is true that the study of racial features played an important role in nineteenth-century German anthropology, its main focus was on the study of culture; and the leading authorities in the field, such as the anatomist Rudolf Virchow and other members of the Berlin Anthropological Society, did not ascribe to the Social Darwinist hypothesis of an innate relationship between race and culture. The turn of German anthropology towards racist theories only came much later, at the beginning of the 20th century, and Virchow as well as Bastian and Felix von Luschan, his successor as director of the Berlin Museum, were still firmly rooted in the tradition of German liberal humanism. According to Penny and Bunzl, “the overwhelming majority of German ethnologists and anthropologists were liberal champions of cultural pluralism during the imperial period.” 
It would require further intensive historical studies to assess the extent to which German ethnology contributed to the demand that the Reich should participate in contemporary colonial competition by founding colonies of its own. We know that Bismarck and other leading politicians of the 1870s and 1880s were rather sceptical of this idea. Powerful economic pressure groups as well as frenetic nationalists are usually made responsible for the turn in Bismarck’s attitude towards the colonial question. But as we know, they could not have achieved this without firm public support. Such public backing may have had one of its insidious reasons in the omnipresence of ethnographic museums in Germany. Together with the popular entertainment of the Völkerschauen, the museum displays of “natural peoples” still living in a state of innocence and not yet disturbed by the impacts of industrialization promoted a fascination with foreign countries and customs. The influential trading companies of the Hanseatic cities of Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck and of the rich commercial cities of Leipzig, Stuttgart and Frankfurt were obviously aware of this exotic appeal when they took the initiative to establish municipal ethnographic museums of their own, some of them in the pre-colonial era, others following the founding of the first overseas colonies. They regarded these popular institutions as a means in gaining public support for commercial ventures abroad.
If we can conclude that the multitude of ethnographic museums in Germany, the flourishing study of Naturvölker in which the country was preeminent in the 19th century and the avid interest a broader public took in these matters can be regarded as factors conducive to promoting the Empire’s involvement in the colonial competition, the question remains as to what extent pre-colonial anthropological discourse influenced actual colonial practice. In recent historical studies of German colonialism much attention has been given to the cruel and gruesome suppression of the Maji-Maji- rebellion in German-East-Africa or the squashing of the Herero-revolt in Namibia. These atrocities have drawn so much scholarly interest because, from a teleological point of view, they can be regarded as precursors to the Shoa and other crimes against ethnic minorities that were perpetrated during the Nazi-regime. Yet in other German colonies colonial administrators were more lenient, flexible and even-handed in their politics towards the native population. In a recently published article, George Steinmetz showed how Wilhelm Solf, who took over the office of the first governor of German Samoa in 1900, tried to stabilize pre-colonial local political institutions as customary law and the local system of inherited titles. Solf himself preferred to behave like a traditional Samoan ruler, proclaiming once during a local meeting, “I do not come here as the Governor, but … as a Chief amongst Chiefs.”  He also wanted to reduce the influence of Western culture by prohibiting the sale of Samoan-owned land to foreigners and the hiring of native workers by European-owned plantations.  In pursuing these policies, the governor was strongly influenced by the writings of the German ethnologist Augustin Krämer, who had between 1893 and 1895 stayed on Samoa for an extended period of time to study its inhabitants’ customs. Taking up Bastian’s argument regarding the fatal impact of colonialism on Naturvölker, he lamented that the “‘spiritual property of those primitive peoples . . . far richer than one is frequently inclined to believe . . . is disappearing before our very eyes!’”
Solf’s “salvage anthropology”  is only one example of how the German ethnological consensus of the pre-colonial era influenced colonial practice, but there are certainly many more such cases. The history of German colonies in New Guinea and the Bismarck-Archipelago, which has yet to be written, promises to provide a wealth of material to explore this question in further detail.  With the support of the Berlin Museum and the colonial government, Richard Thurnwald conducted ethnographic research in this region between 1906 and 1909. Long before a similar concept was developed by British Social Anthropology, Thurnwald pled for an “applied anthropology” to assist the colonial administration and to protect indigenous peoples from the most disastrous effects of Western civilization.  To sum up this argument, the practical attitude of German colonial administrators towards the colonized did not differ much from that of the British, the French, the Belgian or the Dutch. Nevertheless a certain degree of ambivalence seems to have influenced their behaviour, a reticence that was obviously due to the ethnological discourse of pre-colonial Germany. At the same time, when the British and the French were proudly spreading the blessings of civilization among the primitives, Germans, confronted their rivals with the accusation that they had destroyed the pristine customs and forms of life of the Naturvölker by policies that promoted the onward march of civilization
This line of argumentation became even more prominent after Germany had lost its colonies. In the theoretical considerations of some post-war ethnologists, it opened the way for a strange kind of identification with the colonized. One of them was Leo Frobenius, who had since 1904 undertaken many ethnographic expeditions to all parts Africa. In his popular writings he rejected the wide-spread opinion that Africa as a continent “without history”. He even believed that the mythical state of Atlantis, about which Plato had written, could be situated on the West African coast where he himself had excavated archaeological remains of the Ife culture, whose terracotta and bronze sculptures reminded him of Greek art.  Based on this material “evidence” Frobenius developed a highly speculative theory regarding the prehistoric roots of European and African cultures. According to him, German and most African cultures shared the same “Paideuma” or “cultural soul” that he called Ethiopian. He characterized this “Ethiopian Paideuma” by a series of social and cultural patterns, which included a patriarchal clan organization, an agrarian form of production, the symbolic significance of plants, a centrifugal sense of space and a highly developed sense of realism and mysticism.  In contrast to the Ethiopian peoples, the lighter-skinned “Hamites” of Northern Africa and of several South African societies, too, were distinguished by a matriarchal social organization, a hunting or pastoral mode of production, a preference for animal related symbolism, a centripetal sense of space and a tendency towards a belief in magic and materialism. While the Ethiopian cultures of Africa were akin to Germans, Anglo-Saxons and the French were heirs to the “Hamite Paideuma”. In this strange construction we can see a fairly straightforward reformulation of the definitions of German national character that were so popular among German intellectuals in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although hinging on the common oppositions of “spirit” versus “reason” and “idealism” versus “materialism”, this idea does, however, contain one new aspect: the identification of Germans with Africans. This seems to be, without a doubt, a reflex following the defeat of 1918. Germany now felt dominated by the same Western powers that had colonized the black continent. Frobenius’ constructions impressed not only his compatriots, such as the philosopher Oswald Spengler and his life-long friend Kaiser Wilhelm II,  but also the likes of Leopold Sédar Senghor, who praised him for having discovered the greatness of African history and who once wrote, “He gave us back our dignity”. Frobenius’ remarks on the affinity of German and Black African culture became an integral part Senghor’s theory of négritude. His gratitude to the German ethnologists continued even after he had become president of one of Africa’s first independent states. While in contemporary Africa the major figures of British social anthropology, such as Bronislaw Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard or Meyer Fortes, are either regarded as agents of colonialism  or simply forgotten, the memory of this German maverick of international anthropology is still held in high esteem. A Frobenius Avenue can be found in Dakar as well as in Ouagadougou, associations of young African intellectuals bear his name, and the most recent exhibition on his contributions to African History and Culture was organised by the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments and the Frobenius Institute in 2010 to be shown in Abuja, Ife, Minna, Makurdi and Yola.