Modern German Subjectivity in Lima

The Altona merchant Heinrich Witt made a fortune in Peru. And he wrote a detailed diary. In its 11,000 pages it shows how closely colonialism and bourgeoisie were joined in the 19th century –an heritage whose links can be traced until to today. 1824 comes Witt to Peru, where he will remain the rest of his life. In his diary he describes in detail his own story and the emergence of the modern world in the 19th century. The diary provides an insight into the self-image of a cosmopolitan northern German merchant, where ‘sophistication’, bourgeois liberalism, racism (in the form of dehumanization of others *my addition*) and Eurocentrism connect. Witt had business in the southern Andes, on the export of precious metals and wool and later at the English merchant house Gibbs in Lima. When he left the company in 1842, he has a fortune that allowed him to live off the interest on his capital. He enters the lucrative business of guano which is urgently needed as fertilizer at a time of rapid population growth. He invests in money transactions, and later his capital founded some of the first banks in Lima. All these transactions mean income without much work for him. Witts educated interests and his commercial expertise filled him with pride. All those who do not belong to his circle, he despises deeply. This includes almost all poor, uneducated people, Indigenous people, Africans and their descendants in the Americas, Asians, Muslims and Jews. Henry Witt is a modern citizen of the world in every way. He knows the ancient European and participates in Peru in the looting of Prehispanic tombs. He has enslaved people working at his home (Indigenous, African and Chinese). He reads seven languages, goes to the opera and the theater and pursues in the press the prevail of European armies in Africa and Asia. The European civilization, he concludes, is superior to all others. His diary shows the dark side of European modernity and narratives that continue to be alive to this day.  1.10.2016 

Summary translation done from the article "Ein Rassist gibt Auskunft (A racist gives information)" by Ulrich Mücke