New in ilissAfrica’s cross search: Colonial photographs from Africa

The Colonial Picture Archive comprises the image collection of the “German Colonial Society” (Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft), now located at Frankfurt University Library, Germany, and a collection of photographs, photo albums and postcards owned by the Sam Cohen Library, Swakopmund, Namibia. Over 50.000 digitized historical pictures cover the whole of Africa.

Johannesburg: 061-0712-18, 018-0120-30, PA10_061

The integration of the Colonial Picture Archive into the cross search of ilissAfrica makes available much more visual material. While this source material is mainly of interest for academic historians and social anthropologists, all other specialists might profit at least in the way, that searching with ilissAfrica gets more entertaining. Laborious bibliographic research is made a bit more appealing and the visual presentation of the pictures fits very well to the new world of social media, where sharing photographs is crucial.

Image Collection of the “German Colonial Society”

Photographer E. Hecker in Ovamboland, A_0ii_6874

The “German Colonial Society” was founded in 1887. For their propaganda activities members collected photographs, which were used to illustrate public lectures in Germany. Already, in the 1880s lectures were sometimes accompanied by privately owned glass slides belonging to the guest speaker. In 1891, this induced the Society to form their own image collection – beginning with about 100 large format black and white slides. Bequests from members and friends of the society as well as the transfer of originals or duplicates from the, now largely destroyed, official, commercial, and private collections rapidly increased the stock. Due to National Socialist enforcement, the society was integrated, together with its collections, organs, and members, with the German “Reichskolonialbund” (dissolved in 1943).


Sammlung Julius Hermann Schott (1888-1956) von Lieselotte Gräfin Bülow von Dennewitz, Tanzania, 1910-1912

There are pictures of landscapes, plants, agriculture, chase, animals, houses, cities, streets, schools, missions, trade, transport, police, administration, culture and people. Some seem to have a documentary character, some explicit the curiosity and fascination of the exotic. Appropriation, mastery, and self-reassurement of the claimed superior European culture is visible in many pictures (like the one on the left). While the Europeans often are known by name, the local people remain nameless. In spite of all this, the collection of images offers invaluable visual source material from African countries, even if the pictures were taken and used in a prejudiced colonial context.

Search examples

With the combined search in ilissAfrica it is possible to look for literature (books, articles, electronic dissertations and other online documents), for websites and for historical images on a given subject. If one wants to know more on a certain ethnic group, one will find not only the academic literature and websites on the group but also images of the people. The following searches give examples of the potential of this cross search:


With the “All”-search field also specialities like comments on the material (“Schichtfehler”) are searchable. In the “Advanced search” it is possible to look for “Persons” only, that are the photographers, e.g. Jaeger, and the historical persons shown on the pictures, like Hermann von Wissmann in Tanzania.  Photo-Number and CD-Code are the connections to the archival copies and can be searched via the “Number”-field. “Title” searches in “text on the photograph” and “text on the cover” of the picture. The title shown in the list of results is not the usual “title”-field: it is an artificial combination of the region and subject indexation. The “Keyword”-index comprises three thesauruses (subject, region and ethnic group) and the free keywords. Right and left truncation works with “*”.


The terms of use, e.g. to print pictures in publications, can be found in here.

If you recognise names of people shown on the pictures, who are not given in the detailed description or if you can identify objects or places, please click on the “Report an Error”-link and send us an e-mail.

With the help of the German Research Foundation (DFG) the image archive was microfilmed for long-term preservation and digitized for comfortable use. The image archive is freely available via ilissAfrica or via the somehow outdated German interface. The English thesaurus has been realised by means of a GNARP Project. The integration in ilissAfrica with its English and French user interfaces increases the worldwide accessibility of the picture archive and makes the search much more comfortable. This is mainly due to the applied search engine technology and the expertise of our computer specialist, Jashar Rexhepi.

About ilissafrica
This is the blog of the internet library sub-saharan Africa (ilissAfrica).

2 Responses to New in ilissAfrica’s cross search: Colonial photographs from Africa

  1. Pingback: Guide to historical photographs from Africa online | ilissafrica's Blog

  2. Pingback: Sources on German Colonial History online | ilissafrica's Blog

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