German Ethnography in Australia

German Ethnography in Australia

Edited by: Nicolas Peterson orcid, Anna Kenny

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The contribution of German ethnography to Australian anthropological scholarship on Aboriginal societies and cultures has been limited, primarily because few people working in the field read German. But it has also been neglected because its humanistic concerns with language, religion and mythology contrasted with the mainstream British social anthropological tradition that prevailed in Australia until the late 1960s. The advent of native title claims, which require drawing on the earliest ethnography for any area, together with an increase in research on rock art of the Kimberley region, has stimulated interest in this German ethnography, as have some recent book translations. Even so, several major bodies of ethnography, such as the 13 volumes on the cultures of northeastern South Australia and the seven volumes on the Aranda of the Alice Springs region, remain inaccessible, along with many ethnographically rich articles and reports in mission archives. In 18 chapters, this book introduces and reviews the significance of this neglected work, much of it by missionaries who first wrote on Australian Aboriginal cultures in the 1840s. Almost all of these German speakers, in particular the missionaries, learnt an Aboriginal language in order to be able to document religious beliefs, mythology and songs as a first step to conversion. As a result, they produced an enormously valuable body of work that will greatly enrich regional ethnographies.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Sep 2017
ANU Press
Monographs in Anthropology
Arts & Humanities: Biography & Autobiography, Cultural Studies, History, Linguistics, Philosophy & Religion; Social Sciences: Anthropology, Indigenous Studies
Australia; Europe: Germany

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German Ethnography in Australia »

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  1. The German-language tradition of ethnography in Australia (PDF, 0.4MB)Nicolas Peterson and Anna Kenny doi
  2. German-language anthropology traditions around 1900: Their methodological relevance for ethnographers in Australia and beyond (PDF, 0.5MB)André Gingrich doi

Part I: First encounters

  1. Clamor Schürmann’s contribution to the ethnographic record for Eyre Peninsula, South Australia (PDF, 0.3MB)Kim McCaul doi
  2. Pulcaracuranie: Losing and finding a cosmic centre with the help of J. G. Reuther and others (PDF, 1.5MB)Rod Lucas and Deane Fergie doi
  3. Looking at some details of Reuther’s work (PDF, 0.2MB)Luise Hercus doi
  4. German Moravian missionaries on western Cape York Peninsula and their perception of the local Aboriginal people and languages (PDF, 1.2MB)Corinna Erckenbrecht doi

Part II: Impact of the Aranda

  1. Early ethnographic work at the Hermannsburg Mission in Central Australia, 1877–1910 (PDF, 0.7MB)Anna Kenny doi
  2. Sigmund Freud, Géza Róheim and the Strehlows: Oedipal tales from Central Australian anthropology (PDF, 0.9MB)John Morton doi
  3. Of kinships and other things: T. G. H. Strehlow in Central Australia (PDF, 0.5MB)Diane Austin-Broos doi
  4. ‘Only the best is good enough for eternity’: Revisiting the ethnography of T. G. H. Strehlow (PDF, 0.5MB)Jason Gibson doi

Part III: Widening the interest

  1. The Australianist work of Erhard Eylmann in comparative perspective (PDF, 0.5MB)Francesca Merlan doi
  2. Herbert Basedow (1881–1933): Surgeon, geologist, naturalist and anthropologist (PDF, 0.6MB)David Kaus doi
  3. Father Worms’s contribution to Australian Aboriginal anthropology (PDF, 0.5MB)William B. McGregor doi
  4. Historicising culture: Father Ernst Worms and the German anthropological traditions (PDF, 0.3MB)Regina Ganter doi

Part IV: Academic anthropology

  1. Doing research in the Kimberley and carrying ideological baggage: A personal journey (PDF, 0.3MB)Erich Kolig doi
  2. Tracks and shadows: Some social effects of the 1938 Frobenius Expedition to the north‑west Kimberley (PDF, 0.4MB)Anthony Redmond doi
  3. Carl Georg von Brandenstein’s legacy: The past in the present (PDF, 0.2MB)Nick Thieberger doi
  4. The end of an era: Ronald Berndt and the German ethnographic tradition (PDF, 0.3MB)Nicolas Peterson doi


The essays are absorbing and well edited. The styles vary considerably as one reads through the collection, from an historian to a social anthropologist, a linguist, a sociologist. This variety lends additional appeal to the book, not just in literary terms.
—Philip Jones, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 18 June 2018
Read the full review in The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

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