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The North, the Desert, and the Near East: Ludwig Ferdinand Clauß and the Racial Cartography of the Near East


  • Felix Wiedemann

    1. Excellence Cluster TOPOI, Freie Universität Berlin
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    • Felix Wiedemann holds a Ph.D. in Modern History from the Freie Universität Berlin. He was a researcher for the Yad Vashem Archives (Jerusalem) in the Berlin Federal Archives (2000–2010). Since 2010, he has been a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Berlin ‘Excellence Cluster TOPOI: The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations’, conducting a project on the history of ancient Near Eastern studies. His research interests include the history of anti-Semitism, racism and Orientalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the history of archaeology, and historiography.


The term ‘anti-Semitism’ indicates how far the anti-Jewish literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was charged with themes, figures, and stereotypes from contemporary discourses on the Orient. An increasing tendency to ‘orientalise’ the European Jews had raised questions about the supposed origin of the Jewish people in the Near East and its relationship to other – current or historical – peoples. Focusing on the Nazi racial scientist Ludwig Ferdinand Clauß, the article draws attention to the impact of Near Eastern anthropology, ethnology, and archaeology in the Age of Empire on modern anti-Semitism and sheds light on structural convergences and differences between colonial or ‘Orientalist’ discourses and anti-Semitism in general. With reference to the scholarly literature of the time, Clauß made a sharp distinction between ‘Oriental’ or ‘Semitic’ Arabs and ‘Near Eastern’ Jews. Thereby, the romanticised Arab Orient served as an antipole to a ‘Nordic’ Europe, and as such was finally able to advance to a positive alternative. The Jewish Orient, on the other hand, embodied a threatening ambivalence and contrariety, which from the very beginning precluded romanticisation and identification.