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In this first essay, we delve into significant moments in the history (and pre-history) of twentieth century Afro-Americanophilia in Germany. We establish a periodisation stretching from the nineteenth century until the mid-1960s (from which point our second essay will continue), and take in the pre-colonial, the colonial, the Weimar, the Nazi; and the post-war eras. We draw out some of the particularly significant moments, ruptures, and continuities within that time frame. We also identify some of the salient ways scholars have interpreted ‘Afro-Americanophilia’ during the period. Focusing on a variety of practices of appropriation, communicative media, actors and forms of agency, power differentials, and sociocultural contexts, we discuss positive images of and affirmative approaches to black people in German culture and in its imaginaries. We attend to who was active in Afro-Americanophilia, in what ways, and what the effects of that agency were. Our main focus is on white German Afro-Americanophiles, but—without attempting to write a history of African Americans, black people in Germany, or Black Germans— we also inquire into the ways that the latter reacted to, suffered under the expectations levied upon them, or were able to engage with the demand for ‘black cultural traffic.’
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