If you have spent a bit of time in Germany or with German friends, you may have noticed the deep interest and affinity many Germans have for American Indians. What are the origins of this striking and enduring fascination? In many ways, it might be said to go back to Tacitus’ Germania – or at least, to 19th-century Germans’ readings of Germania – but it was also indelibly shaped by the writings of explorer Alexander von Humboldt and by James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, which were enormously influential in Germany and on Germans abroad. German landscape painters also created some of the most enduring and iconic images of the American West. When Germans in America fought with American Indians over land, their compatriots in Europe tended to side with the Indians. Later, over the successive ruptures of 20th century German history, Germans always found new ways of engaging with American Indians, whether through hobbyist organizations, Wild West shows, through their political commitments to Indian political causes – like the American Indian Movement – or through the astoundingly popular novels of Karl May.
Exploring with great verve the transnational connections between various groups of Germans and Native Americans over two centuries, H. Glenn Penny‘s Kindred by Choice: Germans and American Indians since 1800 (University of North Carolina Press, 2013) engages in a wide-ranging set of discussions that open up new and unexpected vistas onto questions of modern German history, the history of European and American colonialism, histories and legacies of genocide, and a host of other key topics.