Andreas Greiner discusses his research and being awarded the Walter-Markov-Prize

August 20, 2021

Research Fellow Andreas Greiner was recently awarded the Walter-Markov-Prize from the European Network in Universal and Global History (ENIUGH). He sat down for an interview to discuss the award and his larger research project.

You were recently awarded the Walter-Markov-Prize from the European Network in Universal and Global History (ENIUGH) for your dissertation titled: Human Porterage and Colonial State Formation in German East Africa, 1870–1914: Tensions of Transport. What motivated you to apply for this prize? 

AG: When I was a second-year PhD student at the University of Bern, I participated in one of ENIUGH’s European Conferences which focus on European and World History. The Walter-Markov-Prize is normally presented at this conference, which has an inspiring atmosphere due to an attendance of around 600 PhD students. With COVID forcing the conference to be conducted online, I ended up learning about the Walter-Markov-Prize through an advertisement that I saw online. 

What inspired you to research German East Africa (today’s Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi) in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and eventually write focus your dissertation on it? 

AG: I was originally intrigued by early European explorers such as David Livingston and Henry Morton Stanley, who went to Africa on colonization missions. I transitioned my research to the people who made these expeditions possible and who have always been present in Africa but seldom represented in history: porter crews. I quickly realized that studying such subaltern characters would be challenging, as it is almost impossible to learn about them on an individual level. Information such as names and why they joined an expedition were really hard to come by. In order to circumvent this issue, I went back and forth between information regarding state-level and microcosms of expeditions, asking not why the porters did what they did but how they did it. This allowed me to see how the porters impacted both the purpose of expeditions and colonial statehood at large. 

Elaborating on your last answer, how did colonial governance impact it and how was it impacted by this mode of transport?

AG: Taking road networks as an example, the German government wanted to implement a European highway system with paved, wide roads ideal for automobiles. However, the existing infrastructure consisted of very narrow footpaths which were fitted for caravans. When the German government implemented their highway system, they found porters walking in single-file lines as they had on their footpaths. I came to the conclusion that in many occasions across mobility - and even into legislation such as policymaking - the colonial state was unable to intrude into existing African practices. 

What do you see in the near future regarding your research?

AG: First and foremost, I would like to see myself finishing the book manuscript for my research, which will be published this year or next year in the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies series of Palgrave Macmillan. As for the future, because my research on a more general level represents a broader movement which has shifted from looking at vernacular rather than colonial forms of mobility, I hope that my book can serve as an example for others to perform similar studies in other regions and on other subjects related to vernacular mobility.