Identifying as European – Crossing “German” Borders


During the Early Modern period, Europeans traveled the globe in growing numbers: they pursued trade, sought out knowledge, and exerted their might through projects of colonial domination. Such journeys entailed significant encounters with “others” and thus seemed to promise prime opportunities for assertions of Germanness. In many cases, however, the identity that came to the fore was a broader European one. Where the category of “Germanness” was most emergent was at the borders of the German lands, as is shown in Felix Fabri’s and Christian Thran’s travel narratives. These travelers made clear their awareness of crossing out of “Germany.” Many Germans who travelled outside the German lands discovered that “Europeanness” (often synonymous with being Christian) overrode any particular “national” identity. For example, Michael Heberer, who was caught and sold into slavery in the Ottoman Empire, was ultimately ransomed by the French. His Europeanness, rather than his Germanness, was what enabled him to return to his German home. Travelers often mentioned the “national” identity of other Europeans they encountered abroad, but it was usually more of an offhand remark. We see this, for instance, in Thran’s encounters with Germans in Algiers and Georg Forster’s encounters in the South Atlantic during his voyage with Captain Cook. Most travelers were men, but some women went abroad, too. Andreas Pinxner’s text shows that women travelers often arose the suspicion of their male counterparts.


  1. < The German Language: Constructing a Community through German Dialects
  2. Missions >