Looking back Otto Finsch

The comic tells fragments of Otto Finsch ́s life and Germany’s colonial past.

  • Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch Illustration: CC BY-NC-ND
    Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch
  • Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch Illustration: CC BY-NC-ND
    Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch
  • Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch Illustration: CC BY-NC-ND
    Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch
  • Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch Illustration: CC BY-NC-ND
    Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch
  • Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch Illustration: CC BY-NC-ND
    Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch
  • Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch Illustration: CC BY-NC-ND
    Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch
  • Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch Illustration: CC BY-NC-ND
    Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch
  • Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch Illustration: CC BY-NC-ND
    Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch
  • Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch Illustration: CC BY-NC-ND
    Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch
  • Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch Illustration: CC BY-NC-ND
    Aike Arndt - Otto Finsch

My comic only tells fragments of Otto Finsch´s life. I do not regard him as a hero, who was the first to find out that “race” was merely a construction. To me he is very ambiguous - on the one hand a thoroughly working scientist who had the courage to challenge prevailing scientific assumptions, and on the other hand a paladin to the powers of German colonial effort. 

In my opinion, research about German colonialism, its impact on the First and Second World Wars and on the present, is not very well known – with the exception of some historical figures and geographical data. Ethnographers such as Otto Finsch must have used violence to varying degrees towards the inhabitants of New Guinea in order to perform their examinations. In a letter to Rudolf Virchow, Finsch writes about the facial plaster casts. He expresses his surprise at how it had been possible to convince “so-called savages” to undergo this “not exactly pleasant process”.

Further questions concerning German colonial history remain:
In what way were images of “the wild” created and what purpose did they serve? How was science used in those times to justify the oppression of indigenous people? And what about the construction of images today?

While the term “race” is nowadays obsolete, I think that it has only been replaced by religion, language or culture. To my mind it is not the identification of differences that is a problem – it is the ranking of differences, and the attribution of certain qualities to, for example, a culture. The assumption that a quality or behaviour of one individual is typical for a whole group of people involves the danger of unreasonable generalization.

Most of my text information is based on the following sources:
the article 'It is not so!' Otto Finsch, Expectations and Encounters in the Pacific, 1865 - 85 by Hilary Howes.
the catalogue of the exhibition “German Colonialism” at the German Historical Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum)

My research concerning clothes, buildings, the indigenous people of New Guinea and other details was very superficial. In fact, most of the pictures are pure inventions. The scene where Finsch is making a plaster cast of  a New Guinea inhabitant´s face is also imagined. But it was important to me to show that violence towards human beings was involved in the ethnographic studies of the 19th century.