Not yet a Hun, already a Boche: The impact of international relations on German minorities in Britain and France 1900-1914

When Kaiser Wilhelm spoke to his colonial troops in Bremerhaven in 1900, he chose a historical comparison: "Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, […] may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German."[1] Wilhelm decided on the imagery of the hun to convey German military prowess, a novelty at the time. Huns still were envisioned as the historical invaders from Asia, not German soldiers. The outbreak of the First World War just fourteen years later with Rudyard Kipling’s "the hun is at the gate" would change this thoroughly. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Channel, such changes in notions were not necessary and Wilhelm already seen as a bloodthirsty despot. In France, a derogatory term for Germans had already existed for decades: Boche. Yet did this only apply to Germans within Germany? Although often overlooked, there were over one hundred thousand ethnic Germans living in Britain and France before 1914 after all.

The twentieth century before 1914 had seen the perpetuation and amplification of two seemingly antithetical developments: globalisation and accompanying international migration on one side and a nationalistic discourse of competing ‘homogenous’ nation states on the other. Among those migrants, Germans who had moved to Britain and France, would carefully tread the line between these two discourses. Depending on their host nation, however, those discourses differed quite massively. By comparing the discourses surrounding German migrants in France and Britain within a context of international relations, this lecture will endeavour to find out how international relations impact the treatment and experiences of migrants. Doing so, this lecture will try to answer the following questions:

  • How can we define international relations in a context of migration?
  • How do those relations impact the migrants in between their host nation and their nation of origin?
  • What does this mean for migratory developments such as assimilation, integration as well as isolation?


[1] Johannes Prenzler, ed., Die Reden Kaiser Wilhelms II. [The Speeches of Kaiser Wilhelm II]. 4 volumes. Leipzig, n.d., 2. pp. 209-12, transl. by Thomas Dunlap, German History in Documents and Images, German Historical Institute, Washington, DC. German history in documents and images.

a stack of old maps

Presenter: Mathis Gronau

Wednesday, 8 December 2021 at 5pm


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