Colonists without colonies

Ross’s first world tour began in the US, where he was active not only as a journalist and filmmaker, he also explored opportunities for colonists or settlers from central Europe. This was the subject of his talk in San Francisco in March 1924.

The report on Ross’s appearance at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is instructive in terms of his lecturing practice and of the vague use of the term ‘colonist’ after Germany had lost its colonies in the Great War.

The reason why the Madera Mercury, a small Californian town’s daily, paid special attention to the traveler’s talk is Ross’s praise of the San Joaquin valley, where the town’s 6,000 inhabitants lived. Referring to his journeys in Mexico, before the war, and in South America, between 1919 and 1921, and contrasting it to what he saw in the US in 1924, Ross must have presented himself as a powerful medial ‘hub’ in recruiting new colonists from Europe. Against the backdrop of Ross’s publications during and after this trip, however, his understanding of his role as a colonial agent must be doubted, as his colonizing efforts are barely mentioned. And, after Ross’s return to Germany, we have no evidence that he explicitly promoted emigration to California either. Thus, San Joaquin’s appraisal must rather have been a marketing device to serve Ross’s own financial interests.1 Even though another California local newspaper quoted a letter from Ross’s wife Lisa  that stated that Ross had delivered c. 400 lectures to an aggregate audience of 300,0002 and promoted emigration to California, it is definitely a spurious account. Ross departed from Batavia (Netherlands East-Indies) for Amsterdam in late August 1924 and the lectures, at larger institutes in Germany and Austria, could host between 400 and 700 persons. Moreover, the presentations covered his entire journey, of which California was only a small part.3

On the other hand—just as in his accounts of the 1919-1921 journey—Ross applies the notion of colonists in the sense of settlers (or, historically, of Auslandsdeutsche [Germans abroad]) and not in the sense of the imperial policies of Germany or the British Commonwealth. Here, postwar emigration takes, at least in its early stage, a primarily economic shape of individual ‘colonizing’ activities without collectivist or strong national(ist) ambitions. However, this modesty would not last too long: Germany’s colonial past would be revived in Ross’s presentations of his African tour (see Serving colonial revisionism) and, particularly since 1933, served as an ideological component in arguing for the white man’s racial supremacy (see The blurred Herrenrasse).

Katalin Teller

Anonymous. Traveler Likes San Joaquin Valley. Madera Mercury: 1924 Mar 14; 302: [2].

Topic: Colonialism
Case: Speaking engagements


1 For further reports on Ross’s travels in Texas and in California see Anonymous. Panhandle Plains to get big publicity. The Tulia Herald: 1924 Feb 22; 15  (8, ed. 1); 6;Anonymous. Journalist here to review county. Dr. Colin Ross sees hope for colonists who would settle. The Bakersfield Californian: 1924 Feb 29; 2nd ed: 11; Anonymous. [Ross as guest of Santa Fe system to investigate settlement options]. Madera Tribune: 1924 Mar 15;  112; 4; Anonymous. Newspaper man to visit Bakersfield. Will make survey of all Kern County products to send east. The Bakersfield Californian: 1924 Feb 13;  XXXIV (169); 6 and Anonymous. Germans may emigrate here. San Bernardino Sun: 1924 Mar 6;  54 (54); 4. See Library.

2 Anonymous. California is Well Advertised Abroad. Oxnard Daily Courier: 1924 Oct 17;  XIX (91); 5. See Library.

See, among others, Anonymous. Passagierslijst. Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad: 1924 Aug 26;  40 (224) and [n.a.]. [Announcement of the lecture “Amerika - China - Indien”]. Berliner Tageblatt: 1924 Oct 30; 53 (516); 15. See Library. It is hard to establish whether the ‘fake news’ originated from Lisa Ross or the author of the Oxnard article, but, at any rate, its exaggerated figures reflect the logic of popular culture, capitalizing on records and spectacular data.

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