Graduation Year

Spring 2012

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Jonathan Petropoulos

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© 2012 Michelle Lynn Kahn


Situated within the fields of diplomatic history and comparative genocide studies, this thesis examines the German colonial period from the standpoint of German-British relations before, during and after the Second Boer War in British South Africa (1899-1902) and the Herero and Nama War in German South West Africa (present-day Namibia, 1904-1908). I contend that German and British diplomatic efforts at cordiality functioned as a means of tacitly condoning each power’s humanitarian abuses—or at least “letting them slide”—for the sake of stability both on the European Continent and within the colonies. Despite activism against reported maltreatment and violence—even among citizens of “the perpetrating power” and among those of “the observing power”­—neither the German nor the British government was willing to chastise the other openly, for fear of alienating a key ally. Only with the advent of the First World War, when the former allies became enemies, did an explosion of criticism of each other’s maltreatment of their colonial subjects erupt.

In the wake of German defeat, the British victors reaped the spoils of war—including the ability to shape perceptions of what had happened nearly two decades before in the African colonies—and succeeded in expropriating the German overseas territories in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. From this narrative the following conclusion emerges: German and British official responses to humanitarian concerns in the colonies were dictated not by morality or compassion but rather by realpolitik expediency. And, as often in history, the one-sided narrative that emerged from this rather hypocritical series of events continues to skew perceptions of both British and German colonialism today. Thus, as a whole, this thesis poses broad theoretical questions regarding the politicization of morality and the social construction of genocide classifications, as well as the extent to which changing perceptions of violent conflicts have played a role in how the international community has categorized these conflicts through legal means in the wake of the Holocaust.


  • Best Senior Thesis in History

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.