Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Inner Colonization

The career of the German agronomist Max Sering (1857-1939) demonstrates some of the ways that growing global networks of sciences and the social sciences aided knowledge making in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Millions of ethnic Germans migrated to the Americas in the nineteenth century to escape population pressures and land scarcity at home. Fearing the loss of vital population barriers in the East, the Prussian Landesökonomiekollegium (Agrarian economic council) and the Prussian Ministry of Agriculture funded a fact-finding mission. In 1883, a young German agronomist named Max Sering, a student of the economist Gustav Schmoller, toured North American homesteads on behalf of the Prussian government. After his return to Germany, Sering embarked on a long and fruitful academic career and co-founded the Society for Inner Colonization in 1902 to promote German settlement of the East. Inner colonization remained a powerful intellectual and political undercurrent during the interwar period, after Germany lost all its overseas colonies according to the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty.

Sering’s career in academia and in politics stretched well into the 1930s, when he was still actively collaborating with agronomists not only in Germany but also in the United States and Asia and other parts of the world. Extensive letter exchanges from 1930-1938 documented his involvement with the International Conference of Agricultural Economists. Cornell University hosted the conference in August 1930. Plans to host a second conference in Berlin in 1932, however, were delayed by the deteriorating economic situation in Germany. Among those in attendance at the eventual meeting in 1933 were the Japanese agronomist Shiroshi Nasu from the Department of Agriculture at Tokyo Imperial University and C.C. Chang from the University of Nanking.

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