African studies in the German-speaking area

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African Studies (also African Studies ) is the scientific discipline that deals with the study of African languages and cultures . For a long time in the German-speaking countries it was limited to the scientific research of languages ​​and literatures in Africa. The interdisciplinary course in African Studies has been offered at the Center for African Studies in Basel since the 2002/03 winter semester. As part of area studies, African Studies in the USA are more socially oriented.

By far the most important linguist for African studies of the second half of the 20th century is the American Joseph Greenberg . He revolutionized the classification of African languages from the ground up by dividing them into four language families: Afro-Asian , Nilo-Saharan , Niger-Congo, and Khoisan .

Methodically, its classification is highly controversial due to the chosen method ( lexicostatistics , or lexical mass comparison ), as this method is firstly purely statistical and secondly is based on inadequate material (exclusively word lists of mostly dubious quality) and thirdly, goes back to ages that were compared to other linguistic or archaeological ones Methods could never be recorded let alone confirmed. Therefore, the Greenberg classification is widely accepted today as a classification system (e.g. for the production of systematic library catalogs) due to the lack of an alternative, but its genetic information content is only accepted with strong reservations. In contrast to the original classification, for example, the Khoisan group is now viewed more as a language union.

See also the detailed history of the classification of African languages ​​in the article African languages .


Contemporary illustration of the Stanley and Livingstone meeting

European African Studies begins with Mission Language Studies, which begins with the Kikongo grammar by the Italian Brusciotto. Almost at the same time the dictionary for the Kenzi dialect by Carradori da Pistoia appeared . A little later, the grammar of the ancient Ethiopian language of Job Ludolf followed , who thus founded Ethiopian studies .

The great voyages of discovery into the interior of Africa took place in the 19th century. Well-known Africa researchers include Mungo Park , David Livingstone , Heinrich Barth , Adolf Overweg , Gustav Nachtigal and Georg Schweinfurth . At the same time, missionaries studied the African languages. Examples are Johann Gottlieb Christaller and Johann Ludwig Krapf . A linguist who even had a doctorate in the Bantu languages, such as Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek , was forced to emigrate to Cape Town and continue his research there as a librarian in view of the academic lack of interest in African languages. Heinrich Barth's extensive linguistic research was not given due recognition until the 20th century. The work of Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle , whose “Polyglotta Africana” (1854) anticipates many later language classifications and is one of the first comparative works not guided by racist undertones and evolutionist models, plays a particularly important role to this day . Similarly great importance is to be attached to Karl Richard Lepsius , who dealt with essential questions of the linguistic history of Africa in the foreword of his “Nubian grammar”.

German African Studies

But it was primarily Carl Meinhof and Diedrich Westermann who shaped the image of German African studies with their work on the Bantu and Sudan languages. The two theologians were also the first professors for African studies in Hamburg and Berlin ( seminar for oriental languages ). At the same time, the Egyptologist and Africanist Wilhelm Czermak was working in Vienna . The early decades of academic African studies were shaped by z. Partly very high quality descriptive research - such as Westermann's extensive work on Ewe - as well as the debate about the (genetic) relationships between the individual languages.

From the beginning, however, African Studies was integrated into the political program of the colonialism of the German Reich, for which it had to provide practically usable knowledge for logistical and propaganda purposes. Werner Eiselen , the spiritual father of the Bantu Education Act , was a lecturer in Bantu languages ​​at the Africa Institute in Hamburg in the 1920s.

Influenced by the ideology of German colonialism , Africanists at this time also devoted themselves to the development of pseudo-scientific theories, in Germany above all the so-called Hamit theory , which underpinned the hegemony claims of the colonial rulers of selected "master peoples" if their language had certain characteristics (e . Nominal classes ).

It was essentially an ideologically disguised continuation of evolutionist models that imagined a typological development from isolating to agglutinating to inflected languages. The terminology reminiscent of Wilhelm von Humboldt and August Schleicher was completely twisted in that a chauvinistic hierarchical model that did not exist in their theories was based on the new models (cf. also the Soviet Japhetite theory ). Applied to Africa, this model was even interpreted in an extremely racist manner, whereby the isolating language type was linked to a “primitive” African “indigenous population” who then mixed with immigrating cattle-rearing speakers of inflected languages ​​and thus an agglutinating language type with nominal classes as a “preliminary stage” to the grammatical one Genus brought forth.

Even though Lepsius had already convincingly ruled out such a development, languages ​​such as Fulfulde still served in the first half of the 20th century as supposed evidence of the meaningfulness of the Hamit theory. Above all, the initial mutation of Fulfulde was an unmistakable indication of a gender distinction that was emerging.

While Carl Meinhof adhered to such ideologically motivated models, August Klingenhaben contradicted the Hamit theory in his studies on Fulfulde as early as 1924/25. Other German Africanists were the Chadist Johannes Lukas and the Bantuist Ernst Dammann . In Hamburg, Lukas was the teacher of a whole generation of influential Africanists (e.g. Herrmann Jungraithmayr , Ekkehard Wolff , Ludwig Gerhardt ). Dammann taught in Leipzig as well as in Berlin and Marburg, where he a. a. Gudrun Miehe's teacher .

As Hilke Meyer-Bahlburg and Ekkehard Wolff were able to show, African studies were deeply entangled in the Nazi regime during National Socialism. All the important Africanists joined the NSDAP early on, long before political pressure could be used as a possible justification.

Another important figure in National Socialist African Studies was Otto Rössler . In addition to his African research on Semitohamitistics, however, he appeared primarily as a Semitist . In the 1940s he worked in Tübingen, where one of his areas of responsibility was to support the "executive solution of the Jewish question through in-depth knowledge". After the war, Rössler continued to work as a professor in Tübingen and until 1975 in Marburg.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, the historical interweaving of African studies with colonialism and National Socialism was not dealt with historically until 1986. The critical discussion of the 1968 movement passed the niche subject without a trace. Even today, Carl Meinhof, August Klingenoben, Johannes Lukas and Ernst Dammann are classified as completely unproblematic personalities in the noble ancestry of deserving Africanists at some university locations, and their tradition and research program are continuously updated.

African studies in Germany was able to consolidate further in the post-war period, with new institutes being founded in Cologne, Marburg (later moved to Frankfurt am Main), and Bayreuth. There was also an African studies at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich . During this time there was a strengthening of interdisciplinary research, which was both descriptive basic research and questions of historical contexts critically illuminating research. Until the end of the 20th century, the examination of the African-linguistic work of Joseph Harold Greenberg played a major role .

Oswin Köhler , who works in Cologne, is now considered to be the founder of Khoisan studies . His scientific work is important for a large group of linguists who deal with the so-called click languages of southern Africa. Students of Köhler are u. a. the bantuist Wilhelm Möhlig and the typologist Bernd Heine , who had a lasting impact on African studies in Cologne.

The subject of African Studies at universities in Germany

Today (as of June 2019), African Studies is represented in Germany at seven university locations with a total of 17 chairs. The orientation of the subject, which has existed in German African Studies since Westermann - African languages ​​are viewed in their cultural and socio-historical context - lives on in many of these locations, which is seen as advantageous overall in international comparison. The strong interdisciplinary orientation of the subject has made it an innovative and very productive academic discipline that participates in a variety of large-scale scientific projects.

The following German universities offer courses in African Studies:

In Germany, African Studies is classified as a small subject , see also the list of small subjects .

African Studies at the University of Bayreuth

African Studies is an interdisciplinary postgraduate course within African Studies, which was set up on the recommendation of the Structural Advisory Board of the University of Bayreuth . It includes natural, legal, economic, linguistic and literary as well as cultural science elements.

Students who are aiming for a master’s degree in “Africa’s Culture and Society” can also take advantage of the bachelor’s degree programs “Culture and Society of Africa”, “African Languages ​​and Literatures” and “History of Africa”.

It is assumed that members of the Bavarian state government contributed to the establishment of the course in an inspiring manner due to the diverse interests in Africa; the intention to develop the university there into a center for Africa research in Germany played a role here. So far, writes “Die Zeit”, the response has been low; only 12 students have completed the postgraduate course so far.

African Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin

At the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin there is the possibility of an African studies as well as the bachelor's degree "Regional Studies Asia / Africa" ​​with a focus on Africa, which corresponds to a BA African Studies or BA African Studies.

African studies outside of Germany


African Studies at the University of Vienna has a long tradition that began with Leo Reinisch . From 1873 onwards, Africanist lectures were offered on the subjects of "Philology, Antiquity and Linguistics". In 1923 a separate institute for African studies and Egyptology was set up. With the habilitation of Hans Günther Mukarovsky in the field of African linguistics in 1963 and the establishment of a chair for African studies in 1977, the Institute for African Studies became independent of Egyptology in 1978. African Studies in Vienna deals with four aspects of African Studies: history, literature, linguistics and language teaching.

Characteristic is the inclusion of North Africa including the archeology of this area, especially the Meroitistik by Inge Hofmann and Michael Zach and the Berberologie .

Other countries

In other countries, African studies only developed gradually, including Clement M. Doke (South Africa), Ernest Renan (France) and Malcolm Guthrie (Great Britain).

Subject areas on this topic


See the chronologically ordered literature on the article African Languages .

  • Hilke Meyer-Bahlburg, Ekkehard Wolff: African languages ​​in research and teaching. 75 years of African studies in Hamburg (1909-1984). , Dietrich Reimer, Berlin / Hamburg, 1986, ISBN 3-496-00828-8
  • Herrmann Jungraithmayr, Wilhelm JG Möhlig (Hrsg.): Lexicon of African Studies. Dietrich Reimer, Berlin 1983, ISBN 3-496-00146-1 ( linguistically largely out of date, historically and biographically useful )
  • Holger Stoecker: African Studies in Berlin from 1919 to 1945. On the history and topography of a scientific network . Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 2008, ISBN 978-3-515-09161-9 (review by F. Brahm) , (review by Dr. Katrin Bromber, ZMO Berlin)
  • Sara Pugach, Africa in Translation: A History of Colonial Linguistics in Germany and Beyond, 1814-1945 (Ann Arbor (MI), University of Michigan Press, 2012).

Web links

Wiktionary: African Studies  - explanations of meanings, word origin, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: African Studies  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. s. Bibliography: Hilke Meyer-Bahlburg / Ekkehard Wolff, 1986
  2. Small subjects: African studies on the Kleine Fächer portal. Retrieved June 12, 2019 .
  3. Department of Ethnology: MA Culture and Society of Africa. In: Faculty of Cultural Studies at the University of Bayreuth. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  4. Bachelor's degree (core subject): African languages, literatures and art. In: Institute for African Studies at the University of Bayreuth. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  5. ^ History of Africa. In: Faculty of Cultural Studies at the University of Bayreuth. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  6. Sabine Cerbaulet: University of Bayreuth: Ghosts that were called ... Orphaned lecture halls and CSU felt. In: The time. No. 48, November 22, 1985. From, accessed January 11, 2019.