History of the Institute

detailed article by Felix Brahm and Adam Jones on the history of African Studies at the University of Leipzig has been published in the multi-volume edition Geschichte der Universität Leipzig. 1409-2009 which commemorates the 600th anniversary of the University.

On the history of African languages and literatures at the University of Leipzig an article has been published by Thomas Geider. It is part of the book accompanying the exhibition "Auf der Suche nach Vielfalt. Ethnographie und Geographie in Leipzig" (Grassi-Museum) on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the University. It recalls the phases 1895-1936-1960-1993-to date. You can access the article here.

Leipzig's Institute of African Studies in its current form has been in existence since the mid-1990s. However, it emerged from an academic preoccupation with Africa at the University of Leipzig extending back more than 100 years. Since the time of German colonial rule, African studies in Leipzig have undergone numerous transformations.


Academic interest in Africa received an impetus in Leipzig as in other places from the acquisition of colonies in the late 19th century. In Leipzig, research on Africa originally developed within the framework of independent disciplines at the University, i.e. in linguistics, ethnology and geography. Under the influence of the linguist Hans Stumme, Middle Eastern and Oriental studies were extended to include a course of studies and research on African languages. In 1930 an Insitute of African Languages was established for the first time with the appointment of Stumme’s successor August Klingenheben. This Insitute existed until Klingenheben moved to Hamburg six years later. With the appointment of the future curator of the ethnographic museum, Karl Weule, to the newly established Chair of Anthropology, Ethnography and Pre-History in 1901, the ethnology of Africa - with an initial special interest in psychology - was introduced to the university's curriculum. Finally, Africa attracted even more interest in the framework of the Chair of “Colonial Geography and Colonial Policy” which was established in 1915. The chair was given to the explorer Hans Meyer, famous for his ascent of Kilimanjaro. Four years later, the “Seminar for Colonial Geography and Colonial Policy” emerged.

After 1945

Teaching and research on Africa was interrupted in the first years after the end of the Second World War. From the late 1950s onwards, political and economic attention was again attracted to Africa due to the independence movements, and Africa became part of the syllabus of the Karl-Marx University. Under the historian Walter Markov, Comparative Colonial History was introduced as a central course at the Institute of Cultural and World History, part of it being taught by specialists on Africa. Simultaneously it was decided to extend Middle Eastern and Oriental studies were to include Africa and Asia as a form of area studies with contemporary relevance. A first step towards this goal was taken in 1958 with the foundation of the Department of African Studies at the Institute of Middle Eastern and Oriental Studies. In 1960 the department was transformed into an independent “Africa Institute”. Head of the Institute was Markov’s former assistant Kurt Büttner. Initially, with regard to teaching content and staff, African studies was dominated by historical science.

From 1960 onwards, the Africa Institute in Leipzig developed into a multidisciplinary, Marxist-Leninist centre of research on Africa in the GDR. The Institute thus distanced itself from the research on Africa at Berlin's Humboldt University, which was judged to be highly linguistic and bourgeois in its orientation. Leipzig's Africa Institute was initially organised in three departments – history, economics and African languages and literatures. Additionally, a working group on “State and Law” was founded. Only six years later, the Institute was integrated into the “Department of Asian, African and Latin American Studies”, which was supposed to encourage collaboration between the regional sciences. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, research on Africa and teaching was conducted within the framework of the “Department of African and Middle Eastern Studies” (Sektion für Afrika- und Nahostwissenschaften - ANW). In 1975, the “Department of Basic Questions on National Liberalisation Movements” (Lehr- und Forschungsbereich Grundfragen der Nationalen Befreiungsbewegungen) was added to the original department and chairs for contemporary history, economy, sociology, state and law and education were established. However, the chairs were not focused specifically on one region only. African and Middle Eastern studies united lectures and research on topics that included history, linguistics, literature, economy, law, sociology and philosophy/ideology. In 1989, twenty-five academics were working on Africa within the Department of African and Middle Eastern Studies.

After 1989

Following the fall of the Wall, a restructuring and reduction in staff took place. The Department of African and Middle Eastern Studies was initially integrated into the “Division of Middle Eastern and Oriental Studies and African Studies”. At the end of 1993, it was finally transformed into the “Institute of African Studies”. Subsequently a number of professors have been appointed for various areas of African Studies. In the mid-1990s a Master's course on “Small Enterprise Promotion and Training” (SEPT) was added to our portfolio.

Leipzig and Africa

The Institute of African Studies is not the only product of Leipzig’s attention to Africa. Multifaceted relations which date back to the 18th century connect Leipzig to Africa. These connections have left numerous traces in the cityscape. More Information...

Africa in Leipzig

Leipzig’s preoccupation with Africa has left visible traces.

An observant person on a walk through Leipzig might discover an “Amazon” of the army of Dahomey within the relief on the base of a pillar of the former Grassi Museum (today municipal library) which dates from 1894. At the corner of the Brühl- and Nikolaistrasse the face of an African looks down on the observer from an early 20th century façade. Posters in the museum of town history call to mind that at least 20 groups of Africans – i.e. “Kaffirs” from Congo (circa 1824) and “Lip-negresses” (“Lippennegerinnen”) from what today is Chad (1930) – were exibited here.

In the University library (Bibliotheca Albertina), a leather-bound folio bearing the inscription “Hist. Africae” gives proof of the fact that even before 1900 more than 500 books about Africa were purchased. Of those, at least one hundred were published in Leipzig.

Indeed, Leipzig played a major role in the early scientific exploration of Africa: Lecturers and former students of the University of Leipzig explored modern Tunisia (1731-33), Sudan (1856), Tanzania (1859-60), Gabon (1873-76), Mali and Senegal (1879-80), Ghana and Togo (1889-95, 1900-1905) and Angola (1913-14). The explorer Hans Meyer from Leipzig was the first European to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in 1889. Further expeditions associated to the ethnological museum, the Zoo or the Ethnological-Anthropological Institute explored modern Tanzania (1906), Sierra Leone and Liberia (1926-29), Namibia and Angola (1928-31) as well as Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique (1930-31). The Leipzig Mission which started operating in modern Tanzania in 1893, contributed to the mediation of knowledge about Africa, too. The Mission’s archive (the largest part of which is stored in the Franckesche Stiftungen in Halle), next to the archives of the ethnological museum and the Leibnitz Institute of Regional Geography, constitutes an important source of the historical and ethnographical research on Africa

Ethnological Museum Leipzig

Although the Museum lost valuable items in a bomb attack in 1943, its 44,000 African pieces (of those around 39,000 are from Africa South of the Sahara) still make it an impressive Africa-collection. The majority of the objects was acquired between the foundation of the Museum (1869) and 1918. Especially after the establishment of the German colonies, numerous collections arrived at the Museum; i.e. from the Cameroon grasslands (Diehl, Hirtler, Thorbecke, Willhöft, Wuthenow), from the Ewe and other peoples of Togo (Diehl, Grunitzky, Hundt; Frobenius, Gruner, Mischlich), from German East Africa (Tanzania) from the Yao, Makua, Makonde, Wamuera, Wangindo (A. Mayer, Vogt, Weule) as well as from the Pare, Shambala, Unyamwesi and Hehe (Alberti, Fuchs, Nünneke, v. Schrenck) and from German South West Africa (Namibia: Hannemann, Wilhelm). Further collections come from other areas.

Already the oldest collection contains objects from the peoples of the Nile, the Hausa, the “Betchuans” (“Betschuanen”) and from Angola. In the 1870s, the so-called German Association for the Exploration of Equatorial Africa transferred a collection from the Loango-expedition (Pechuël, Loesche) which was supplemented by the Visser collections. The peoples of northern Congo are well-documented as well (collections from Brandt, Czekanowsky, Lemaire, A.F. zu Mecklenburg, v. Schrenck and others). From Middle and Southern Central Africa the Museum possesses collections containing partly very old and valuable objects, i.e. from the Manyema, Baluba, Lulua, Bassongo, Mino, Bapende, Barotse, Mambunda (Frobenius, Lemaire, Mallot, Wissmann). From Westafrica, the Museum possesses substantial collections stemming from Leo Frobenius’ expeditions to modern Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Nigeria and Cameroon. The material culture of the Gurunsi, Senufo, Bambara and particularly the Yoruba is especially well-documented. One of the most valuable treasures is the Benin collection which, apart from few objects, came to the Museum via the explorer Hans Meyer. Worth mentioning are furthermore the collections from North-Liberia (Germann) as well as the stock of Asante goldweights from various collections (Franke, Gsell, Mischlich). The peoples from the East African Great Lakes are also well-represented (Ewerbeck, Hoesemann, Kollmann, A.F. zu Mecklenburg, H. Meyer, Weiss). From Kenia, Kolb’s Kikuyu-collection should be mentioned. Additionally, the African archaeological stock, i.e. Reck’s collection of palaeolithical tools from Kenia and Tanzania should be given attention. 

Sylvia Neame - ehemalige Mitarbeiterin aus Südafrika - legt Magnum Opus vor

1973 1975
1973 am Sachsenplatz 1975 Demonstration zum 1. Mai (SN mit Tasche).
Links hinten: Zola Skweyiya (lebte damals unter dem Pseudonym 'Bona'); er wurde Minister in der Regierung Südafrikas 1994-2009, seitdem südafrikanischer Botschafter in London
1984 2015small
1984 Exkursion des Bereichs "Grundfragen der Nationalen Befreiungsbewegungen", vielleicht nach Oybin, mit (von links) Eric Spiegel, Christian Mährdel (Afrikahistoriker) und Arndt Krause 2015 Bei ihrem book launch in Johannesburg. Rechts: Bruce Murray, Emeritus Professor of History, University of the Witwatersrand

Vor fast 50 Jahren musste Sylvia Neame wegen ihrer politischen Aktivitäten Südafrika verlassen. Sie hatte bereits an der Rhodes University einen BA in Geschichte und Sozialanthropologie erhalten, wurde aber zweimal unter dem berüchtigten 90-Tage-Gesetz des Apartheid-Staates inhaftiert und konnte ihr Studium nicht fortsetzen. Wegen Mitgliedschaft in der Kommunistischen Partei wurde sie zu 2 Jahren Haft verurteilt. Nachdem sie erfolgreich Berufung gegen eine andere Verurteilung eingelegt hatte, ging sie ins Exil – zunächst nach Großbritannien und kurz danach (mit britischem Pass) nach Leipzig. Dort machte sie an der Karl Marx-Universität ein Diplom in der Geschichte Afrikas, promovierte im Jahre 1976 und arbeitete zwei Jahre im Lehr- und Forschungsbereich Afrika. Von etwa 1978 bis zur Wende gehörte sie dem Lehr- und Forschungsbereich "Grundfragen der Nationalen Befreiungsbewegung" an. Schon Mitte der 1980er Jahre war sie davon überzeugt, dass die Vision einer gewaltsamen Revolution in Südafrika kaum Aussicht auf Erfolg hätte und daher Kompromisse und Verhandlungen notwendig sein würden.
In der Dissertation von 1976 hatte Neame den Beschluss der Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union (ICU) im Jahre 1926 untersucht, kommunistische Mitglieder auszuschließen. Ab 1992 forschte sie als Frührentnerin in Neuenhagen (bei Berlin) weiter auf diesem Gebiet und dehnte die Untersuchung auf institutionelle Beziehungen innerhalb der Befreiungsbewegung während der gesamten Periode von 1912 bis 1961 aus. Die Ergebnisse hat sie jetzt mit Unterstützung der Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung als dreibändiges Buch auf Englisch veröffentlicht: The Congress Movement. The Unfolding of the Congress Alliance 1912-1961 (HSRC Press 2015). Dieses Werk von insgesamt 1675 Seiten stützt sich auf zahlreiche Archive und Handschriftensammlungen in Südafrika und England*. Neame schildert die Bemühungen der frühen ANC, die richtigen Bündnisse zu schließen und zugleich die dominante Rolle im Befreiungskampf zu spielen.
Nachdem sie viele Jahrzehnte in Deutschland gelebt hat, wohnt Dr. Neame seit 2014 wieder in Südafrika. Dort hat sie ihre historischen Materialien – darunter auch ihre Korrespondenz und die Interviews, die sie in den 1960er und 1980er Jahren durchgeführt hat - an den Universitäten Kapstadt (UCT) und Witwatersrand deponiert.
Das Institut für Afrikanistik freut sich über ihren bedeutenden Beitrag zur Geschichte Südafrikas.


 * Das Register und das Literaturverzeichnis stehen auf der Internetseite des Verlags.