“Their debts follow them into the afterlife”: German settlers, ethnographic knowledge, and the forging of coffee capitalism in nineteenth-century Guatemala

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Abstract

German coffee planters in nineteenth-century Alta Verapaz, Guatemala were also ethnographers, archaeologists, and geographers who published their works in Germany, the United States, and Guatemala. Their published works, as well as coffee plantation records, government correspondence, judicial records and other archival materials reveal how German coffee planters cum-ethnographers drew upon ethnographic knowledge and representations to forge a reliable labor force. Like ethnographers in Britain’s colonies, German settlers in Alta Verapaz understood the potential symmetry between ethnography and the governance of indigenous peoples. Their ethnographic knowledges also push us to reconsider distinctions drawn between German cosmopolitan ethnographic traditions and British functionalist ones, and demonstrates how ethnographic knowledge and cultural difference could be deployed to forge new kinds of racial capitalism. In Guatemala, the intimate relationship between the rise of capitalism and ethnography subsequently shaped the anti-communism of mid-twentieth century anthropology in
the region.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-420
JournalComparative Studies in Society and History
Volume62
Issue number2
Early online date30 Mar 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

Keywords

  • history of ethnography
  • German diaspora
  • capitalism
  • coffee
  • colony
  • Q’eqchi’s
  • Alta Verapaz
  • Guatemala

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