Archives and Special Collections

Hans W. Debrunner Collection

The Hans W. Debrunner Library comprises a closed collection of books from the theologian and historian Hans Werner Debrunner who died in 1998 in Basel. Its main emphasis is on western Africa, mission history and the African diaspora. To a lesser extent, countries in northern, eastern and southern Africa are also covered. The collection is well complemented by the books dealing with Ghana in the Harald Hintze Collection.

The Hans W. Debrunner Archive documents the academic work of Hans Werner Debrunner. It contains the papers Debrunner gathered and prepared during his many years of research on African history and ethnology, the history of European-African relations and mission history. The material is diverse — on the one hand, source texts and secondary literature in the form of transcripts and copies, on the other, Debrunner's own notes, excerpts and manuscripts which served as preparation for his own publications.

The collection is divided into the following sections:

I The Swiss Abroad
documents the life stories of Swiss men and women who lived abroad or undertook extended travels during the 19th and 20th centuries. Most of the texts refer to Africa. A smaller proportion relate to India, where Basel missionaries in particular were active. Debrunner's book Schweizer im kolonialen Afrika grew out of this material.

II The African Diaspora
documents the living conditions and fates of Africans who spent time in Europe or America in past centuries. The focus of interest is African Christians brought to Switzerland by the Basler Mission. These documents formed the basis for Debrunner's book Presence and Prestige: Africans in Europe.

III Representation and Exhibition of Blacks
deals with the perception of Africans by Europeans, and how, for example, black people were exhibited in the theatre or were represented in the plastic arts.

IV European-African Relations
contains material that sheds light on contacts and relations between Africans and Europeans. A wide variety of themes are dealt with, including: Europeans and Euro-Africans in Danish service (Gold Coast, 17th/18th centuries), the history of the missionary family Rottmann (Ghana/Switzerland, 19th/20th century), the Swiss slave trade.

V African Countries
contains material on Ethiopia, Ghana and Cameroon. For Ethiopia, there are just a few works of secondary literature. For Ghana and Cameroon, however, the large number and diversity of texts covers reference texts from the archive of the Basel Mission, photocopies of historical and ethnographic literature, together with Debrunner's own research reports and manuscripts.

VI "Togo Remnant Tribes"
The name refers to the dispersed groups whose homeland east of the Volta is divided today between Ghana and Toga. In the 19th century, these so-called "remnant tribes" lived for defensive purposes in mountain settlements, which they abandoned in the 1880s after their subjugation by the Germans. During the 1950s, Debrunner worked in the region on the history and living conditions of the Togo remnant tribes. The materials collected here document his field research which gave rise to an article series published in 1969/70 (Notes sur les peuples témoins du Togo, a propos de sites montagneux abandonnés).

VII Islam
This section reflects Debrunner's research on various aspects of Islam and includes his notes and citations from the literature, copies from the secondary literature and the manuscripts of two lectures that he gave (Soziologie des Islam, Islam in Ghana).

VIII "Skulls"
This bizarre-sounding title refers to Debrunner's investigations in physical anthropology, as practised in Germany and Austria at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. During this period, large collections of skulls were amassed in Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna, to which German soldiers and colonial doctors also contributed "objects", bringing back the skulls of Africans from the colonies where they had been stationed. The papers document the literary and scientific treatment of this topic, as, for example, the publication in Potsdam in 1931 of the antiwar novel by Rudolf Frank, "Der Schädel des Negerhäuptlings Makaua".

IX "Aviators in Africa"
This section contains secondary literature and handwritten notes about individual German and Swiss "African aviators".

The hitherto uncatalogued boxes in the archive contain material related to Debrunner's book Abbé Grégoire (as of summer 2003).

Prior application must be made to consult the library and archive.