Journal Article

Everyman's Colonial Library: Imperialism and Working-Class Readers in Leipzig, 1890–1914

John Phillip Short

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 21, issue 4, pages 445-475
Published in print October 2003 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online October 2003 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
Everyman's Colonial Library: Imperialism and Working-Class Readers in Leipzig, 1890–1914

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From the 1870s, the German colonial movement belonged wholly to the bourgeoisie, a tendency reinforced by consistent Social Democratic hostility. However, this did not necessarily exclude the lower classes from enthusiasm or fascination for empire. For most of the working- and lower-middle-class public, the transmission of colonial knowledge occurred outside of the colonial movement, through the media of a new mass culture that developed simultaneously with the so-called new imperialism. By 1914, the formation of print-capitalism and the mass circulation of texts had introduced the colonial empire to millions of new readers of serialized fiction, penny dreadfuls, and illustrated magazines.

This essay examines the place of colonial literature—novels, travelogues, missionary tracts, histories, geography, and ethnography—in the reading culture of working-class Leipzig from 1890 to 1914. The first half traces the dissemination of colonial literature through colportage and both public and socialist libraries, and documents a substantial working-class readership for books about the overseas empire. The second half addresses the problem of reception, asking how workers read colonial literature. Because almost no record of their responses survives, the essay reconstructs the contextual framework for reading, with emphasis on politics and ideology, escapism and pleasure, and popular science.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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