Songs of Colonization

About Our Project

In this project, we explore how nationalism is expressed through the colonial narrative of folk songs in the American West and Reiterlieder in German Southwest Africa, present-day Namibia. Our team analyzed a corpus of texts to understand the expression of collective colonial identity in both Germany and the U.S., and how those contexts may be related. We determined that songs would be particularly effective in communicating the collective ideas of these groups because they are composed for the “common man”. Soldiers and settlers alike were supposed to identify with these songs, and the songs themselves were meant to solidify and encourage their concepts of national identity.

One of the main goals in analyzing these songs is understanding what these collective ideas are and how they may translate to the justification of violence. In many of the songs, you might notice derogatory, violent, or negative language surrounding the peoples that were native to the land being colonized. Genocide is part of the history of colonization in both the U.S. and German Southwest Africa. Can songs offer us an insight into the mentality and hatred that supported and encouraged these inhuman acts of violence? Can we see expressions of nationalism that promote an “us-vs-them” mentality that laid the seeds of racism, xenophobia, and eventually acts of genocide? Did romantic depictions of colonial expansion blind people to the severity of the crimes committed?

Go to our historical context tab to learn more about this, and the relationship between the American West and the German Southwest Africa.

Through our research, we determined that colonization’s main tenets include possession of land, resources, bodies, and labor based upon concepts of racial/ethnic superiority that are driven by a love of country, unity and the “us vs. them” mentality. When analyzing our texts, we decided to search for five main themes: homeland, violence, national unity, possession, and other significant acts. Within these main categories, we evaluated whether song lyrics were instances of, for example, patriotism or xenophobia. We also made note of whether these statements had positive or negative inflections. Through collecting data based on the metrics we choose to categorize; we hope to identify patterns and to compare types of nationalism that American and German colonizers expressed.

You can read more about this and our analysis under the results and conclusions pages.