Bridgewater College Associate Professor of History Publishes First-of-Its-Kind Environmental History of German Southwest Africa

Dr. Martin Kalb

The latest book published by Dr. Martin Kalb, Associate Professor of History at Bridgewater College, examines how nature and infrastructure interact to analyze German ambitions to transform Southwest Africa (modern-day Namibia) in the early part of the 20th century.

Written for a broader audience, the book, Environing Empire: Nature, Infrastructure, and the Making of German Southwest Africa, was published in April 2022 by Berghahn Books. Environing Empire is a “first-of-its-kind in terms of an environmental history of the place,” Kalb said.

“The book is an effort to not just talk about humans as agents but also non-human agents, so that includes animals, ecosystems or landscapes more broadly,” Kalb said of his book. “Once nature becomes more than a backdrop for history to unfold, which I think is essential, then there are several findings. For one, we get a much more comprehensive picture of German colonization–including its inherent violence. After all, Germany committed a genocide in Southwest Africa from 1904 to 1908.”

After numerous trips to archives and libraries in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Namibia, Kalb’s book slowly came together. Presentations and feedback from colleagues at conferences and workshops helped in that process.

A German-speaking community still exists in Namibia today. They still own much of the land that they took away from mainly Nama and Herero groups, and they still tell certain stories and narratives about bringing development and building railroads and bridges,” Kalb explains. “This book tries very directly to disrupt and decolonize that reading. If anyone, African labor, much of it forced labor, built harbors and railways, infrastructure that was never meant for them. That always has to be added to any discussion.”

Kalb joined Bridgewater College faculty in 2015 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2021. He received an M.A. in history, political science and English (American cultural studies) from Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany and a Ph.D. in history from Northern Arizona University. Kalb has written numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters in edited volumes. His research areas and specializations include youth cultures, environmental history and German imperialism in Africa. In 2019, Kalb received a summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the project. He was also awarded the Faculty Scholarship Award from Bridgewater College for his established record of scholarly achievement (2022) and the 2022-23 Virginia Foundation of Independent Colleges Mednick Faculty Award. Recent awards funded an archival research trip to Germany during his sabbatical in fall 2022 to pursue research focused on hunting, wildlife protection and conservation in German Southwest Africa.

Both Environing Empire and Kalb’s first book, Coming of Age: Constructing and Controlling Youth in Munich, 1942-1973 (2016), are available for free via open access on the website of Berghahn Books.

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