Tizian Zumthurm, MA


Tizian did his BA in Contemporary History and English Literature at the University of Fribourg, whereby he spent a semester abroad at the University of Cape Town. He then enroled in the MA-course in African Studies with a focus on History and Social Anthropology. In line with his broad interest in African Studies he joined the project on historical climate research of Prof Stefan Grab at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Sciences of the University of the Witwatersrand, doing archival research in Germany, Namibia and South Africa. Currently, Tizian is writing a doctoral thesis at the Institute for the History of Medicine of the University of Bern investigating medical practices in Albert Schweitzer’s hospital in Lambarene, Gabon.


Climate and Agriculture in Central Namibia, 1845-1920. A Studiy in Historical Climatology and Environmental and Social History

Using archival, non-instrumental sources, the thesis provides detailed rainfall patterns and additional climatic and environmental information, such as temperature, diseases and earthquakes. The identification of several dry (longer: 1865-71, 1876-79, 1899-1903, shorter: 1887-89, 1881/82, 1895/96, 1910/11) and wet (1847-50, 1857/58, 1862-64, 1873-75, 1879-81, 1891-93, 1898/99, 1908/09, 1916/17) spells serves to gain a better understanding of broader global climate-phenomena. Besides the usual methodological limitations of using documentary sources in establishing rainfall patterns, the patchiness of Namibian precipitation should be noted.

In a second part, local adaption to impacts of extreme climatic events – droughts, floods, frosts, and locusts – was examined. Social and environmental consequences (famine, conflict, groundwater disappearance) and coping strategies (being highly mobile, having numerous sources of food) are identified and analysed. A chapter on land use presents how the agricultural efforts of European missionaries, settlers, and traders not only changed the Namibian environment, but also local communities and their condition and conception of living. This was further accelerated by the growing influence of Capitalism. Europeans believed not only in the superiority of their religion and civilisation, but also in possessing the knowledge on how to “rightly” work the land. These arguments were used as a justification for promoting a sedentary lifestyle, or even expropriation. The thesis concludes that comparatively few Africans adapted agriculture, but still remained mobile, because arguably climate was just too unpredictable, and that surprisingly little changes happened in agricultural practices since the first missionaries had arrived until the end of German rule.