Since Germany became a colonial power relatively late, postcolonial theorists and histories of colonialism have thus far paid little attention to it. Uncovering Germany’s colonial legacy and imagination, Susanne Zantop reveals the significance of colonial fantasies—a kind of colonialism without colonies—in the formation of German national identity. Through readings of historical, anthropological, literary, and popular texts, Zantop explores imaginary colonial encounters of "Germans" with "natives" in late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century literature, and shows how these colonial fantasies acted as a rehearsal for actual colonial ventures in Africa, South America, and the Pacific.
From as early as the sixteenth century, Germans preoccupied themselves with an imaginary drive for colonial conquest and possession that eventually grew into a collective obsession. Zantop illustrates the gendered character of Germany’s colonial imagination through critical readings of popular novels, plays, and travel literature that imagine sexual conquest and surrender in colonial territory—or love and blissful domestic relations between colonizer and colonized. She looks at scientific articles, philosophical essays, and political pamphlets that helped create a racist colonial discourse and demonstrates that from its earliest manifestations, the German colonial imagination contained ideas about a specifically German national identity, different from, if not superior to, most others.