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On-line version ISSN 2309-9585
Print version ISSN 0259-0190


BANK, Andrew. The Berlin Mission Society and German linguistic roots of volkekunde: The background, training and Hamburg writings of Werner Eiselen, 1899-1924. Kronos [online]. 2015, vol.41, n.1, pp.166-197. ISSN 2309-9585.

This article presents a case for the centrality of race and racism in the training and early ethnographic writings of Werner Eiselen (1899-1977). Together with further discussion in two other articles, it demonstrates that Eiselen was not the consolidator of the British functionalist anthropological tradition in South Africa nor a strong affiliate of the liberal school of African studies in South Africa as other scholars have proposed. On the contrary, he was the founder of a radically different ethnographic tradition: an anti-humanist and deeply racialised tradition of cultural study with its roots in Berlin Mission Society ideology and German Africanist linguistics. I track the origins of Eiselens volkekunde to his missionary background in a former Boer Republic, his Afrikaner nationalist schooling and university career, and especially to his training in African linguistics in Hamburg (and Berlin) between 1921 and 1924 under the leading international figure in the field, the German linguist and ethnologist Carl Meinhof (1857-1944), whose racially informed theories and politics profoundly shaped Eiselen and the school of volkekunde that he would father during his decade-long tenure at Stellenbosch University.

Keywords : Werner Eiselen; Carl Meinhof; Berlin Missionary Society; German linguistics; volkekunde; racism; Afrikaner nationalism.

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