Songs of Colonization


National Unity

We examined national unity in the songs within the contexts of brotherhood, loyalty, pride, patriotism, and solidarity. We found that there was a greater expression of national unity in the German songs and that these expressions were more centered around loyalty whereas the American songs had a stronger focus on brotherhood and solidarity. We believe that this is once again indicative of the political and social contexts of an overseas versus a continuous empire. We also think this is indicative of the fact that Germans had a stronger connection to Germany and the fatherland whereas the Americans were simply connected through their interactions with other settlers. The Germans were serving in an army that required loyalty and reverence to the empire. The same thing was not required of Americans, as many of them choose to band together in and form communities.


We examined depictions of violence between groups of people within the songs as a way to understand how the settlers and soldiers viewed acts of violence, in hopes that it would give us insight into their perspective and how it connects to their ideas about nationalism and their claim to the land they occupied. Many instances of violence were committed upon animals, but this was also interesting to us as it reveals how they perceived the land’s resources. The German songs overall had less violence than the American songs, and that violence more often was ambiguous on which group either the perpetrator or victim belonged to. We believe this might be because they were engaging in formalized, controlled military violence. We know that they raided villages, fought in wars, and committed genocide. However, because the violence took place in a military context their relationship to it was likely very different than for settlers who embraced and took pride in the idea of lawless violence.


We coded for instances of xenophobia when native people were directly mentioned in the songs in derogatory ways or hateful contexts. Although there were many mentions of native people in the American songs, the overall percentages showed that there were more instances of xenophobia in the German songs. We think that this could be due to geographical contexts. The American settlers were no doubt highly xenophobic and racist and often acted on these feelings, but why would it be less of a focus in their songs? Perhaps the Germans were more focused on this element because they were part of a continuous empire. Germany was separated by thousands of miles of land and oceans. This was also a time when more formalized theories on race and racial hierarchies became more prevalent. The Germans even inflicted medical experimentation on the native peoples and sent their body parts to Europe for eugenics research. Both groups made xenophobia, the fear and hatred of the other, a defining aspect of their identity. However, perhaps the Germans were more focused on this difference, and perhaps it served them more to spread the ideas of xenophobia in the specific times and contexts of the songs we selected.


We coded for mentions of homeland after noticing several references to both the new home and the country or place of origin of the settlers. When examining homeland, we wanted to see if references to homeland had positive, negative or ambiguous connotations to get a better sense of what settlers’ connection to the land was like. We found that the mentions of homeland in the American Songs tended to be more negative, but both groups had around the same percentage of positive mentions. Overall, you may notice that many songs talk about the harsh conditions of the land, but when they directly reference the homeland, the depictions are overwhelmingly positive. We see many examples where they say that they love the home despite how harsh it is and have a sense of pride surrounding it. The fact that positive depictions of the homeland are in the majority tells us that settlers and colonial soldiers had an emotional connection to the land and saw it as their own.


When coding for possession, we distinguished between land, people, resources, and labor. Our results show that in both German and American contexts, land and resource possession was by far the most mentioned. We know that historically all four categories were common, especially in German Southwest Africa but we can only speculate as to why possession of people and labor were not mentioned in songs. Perhaps they did not fit into the heroic narrative, or maybe there are more songs not in our corpus with different themes that do mention these circumstances.