Brazil after Humboldt - Triangular Perceptions and the Colonial Gaze in Nineteenth-Century German Travel Narratives

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2008-01-30

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This project is a study of nine German travel narratives on Brazil written between 1803 and 1899, identifying their contribution to the discourses on German national identity in the nineteenth century. Famous German explorer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1834) influenced travelers to explore Brazil, the part of South America that he was not able to enter for political reasons. I approach their accounts from new historicist and post/colonial perspectives. My thesis is that these narratives help construct a German national identity that occupies a fluid (colonial) position in response to diverse "Others" encountered in colonial Brazil. While contributing to the study of travel literature, my dissertation contributes significantly to the field of German Cultural Studies by applying a post/colonial approach to the reading of German texts.

Chapter I locates my investigation theoretically at the intersection between post/colonialism - the critique of colonization and colonial ideology - and new historicism - the reading of texts within their historical contexts, identifying discourses by juxtaposing them with various other contemporary texts. Katrin Sieg's concept of triangular thinking and Susanne Zantop's idea of colonial fantasies are instrumental in my reading. Chapter II places my selection of travelogues in the historical contexts of nineteenth-century Germany and Brazil, underscoring their paths to nationhood and changes in Wissenschaft. Chapter III shows that Alexander von Humboldt's influence on German explorers of Brazil is more evident in the scope of their research than in their writing styles. Chapter IV interprets German travelers as surprised yet critical flâneurs in Rio de Janeiro, as skeptical listeners to the stories of German immigrants, and seekers of Germania in their responses to Brazilian women. Chapter V shows how a German understanding of 'race' as an ingredient of national identity colors the travelers' anthropological observations of blacks and native populations in Brazil.

Through various triangulations, German travelers to Brazil ambivalently identified with Portuguese colonizers and, at times, with colonized subjects (native populations, blacks), constructing diverse colonial/nationalistic fantasies in their narratives. All of these texts bare witness to specific historical events, and provide a comparative view of nationalism in nineteenth-century Germany and Brazil.

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