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Daniel Tödt (Postdoc Fellow)


Center for Metropolitan Studies
TU Berlin
Hardenbergstraße 16-18
10623 Berlin

Postdoc Project

Imperial Port Cities – African Workers in Marseille and Antwerp (1880-1960)

My postdoc-project deals with the life and work of African workers in Marseille and Antwerp from a global and urban perspective. It makes a contribution to the debate on imperial cities, European cities that were entangled with the colonialism of late 19th and early 20th century. The existing scholarship is characterized by two deficits: The focus on official representations and elite actors and the equation of imperial city with the capital of colonial powers. 
The role of the respective "second imperial city" (Osterhammel 2014) – mainly port cities – has been neglected, although such cities acted as the hub of communication, migration, and trade routes between the motherland and its colonies. My research project discusses in what way these ‘imperial port cities’ were marked by a distinctive form of ‘colonial metropolitanism’ arising from their geographical, political, and cultural marginality within the nation states and their centrality for imperial expansion.

This project focuses on African dockworkers and seafarers coming from mostly Belgian and French colonies. By highlighting the contingent and dynamic processes of their sociocultural localizations in urban and transcontinental networks, it aims at an urban-anchored ‘global history from below’. Legally considered colonial subjects, the African workers had an unsecure residency status and did casual labor on the docks, spent time at local bars, and were hired on steamships. What role did they play in the exchange of political ideas, knowledge, social practices, and cultural styles between the port cities of the colonies and metropoles? To what extent could they be considered as actors of imperial entanglements? Furthermore, my project analyzes the subaltern position of colonial subjects within the local working class’ hierarchy and their precarious living condition. It looks at situations and spaces of sociability and leisure activities within a multiethnic port society that was less characterized by harmonious cosmopolitanism than by differences and conflicts. In addition, it asks in what way the local authorities maintained colonial order in the metropole by means of port regimes, police control, and paternalistic initiatives.

The question of temporality will also be addressed in numerous ways. To what extent did temporal practices clash on the docklands when, for example, the mainly Muslim African workers in Marseille considered the time of prayer sacred? In what way were urban rhythms shaped by the port sector, by the arrival and departure of ships, the transshipments of goods, political crises, and economic conjuncture? Did this urban rhythm define the casual labor of dock work? By highlighting the ‘colonial metropolitanism’ of African workers in ‘imperial port cities’, my research project questions the conceptual boundaries between the European and African city.



04/2010 - 01/2015
Ph.D. (Promotion) in History, Humboldt-University Berlin
Doctoral Thesis: African Elite Formation and Colonial Reforms in Belgian
Congo, 1944-1956

Winner of the Übersetzungspreis der ZEIT-Stiftung 2016, Verband der
Historiker und HistorikerInnen Deutschlands

10/2002 – 02/2009
Magister in European Ethnology, African Studies, and Political Science, Humboldt-University Berlin and Free University Berlin
Magister Thesis: The Relationship between Cities and Rap Music. The Case of Marseille.


Since 05/2015
Postdoctoral Fellow. International Graduate Research Program Berlin – New York – Toronto, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University of Berlin.
Topic: On the Dock of Imperial Port Cities – African Dockworkers in Marseille and Antwerp (1880-1960).

02/2015 – 04/2015

Parental leave

06/2013 – 08/2013
Academic Associate (Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter), Kultur der Metropole, HafenCity Universität Hamburg.

06/2009 – 12/2013
Research Fellow at SFB 640 “Changing Representations of Social Order”, Humboldt-University Berlin

08/2008 – 01/2009
DAAD-Scholarship and Project Manager, MUCEM Museum for European and Mediterranean Civilisations, Marseille, France

04/2008 – 08/2008
DAAD-Scholarship, University Aix-Marseille and CNRS Marseille, France

02/2006 – 05/2006
Consultant for the Conference “Football for all”, British Embassy, Berlin

Internship and Freelance Journalist, Taz – die tageszeitung, Bremen

Internship and Freelance Journalist, SPIEGELreporter, Hamburg



Some Reflections on Imperial Port Cities in the Age of Steam (together with Lasse Heerten), in: Global Urban History, 29.10.2016.

Globales Ghetto – Lokale Banlieue: Transnationale Netzwerke und städtische Verortung in der französischen Rapmusik, in: Giacomo Botta (Ed.): Unsichtbare Landschaften: Populäre Musik und Räumlichkeit, Münster,  p. 55-74. 


Review: Gopolan Balachandran: Globalizing Labour? Indian Seafarers and World Shipping, c. 1870-1945, New Delhi 2012, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 30.10.2015, Link

Vom Planeten Mars: Rap in Marseille und das Imaginäre der Stadt, Second Edition, Vienna, 128 p.

  • Review Boris Grésillon, Annales de Géographie 4/2013
  • Review Georgios Terizakis, Dérive - Zeitschrift für Stadtforschung, Januar 2013
  • Review Giacomo Botta, Lied und populäre Kultur/Song and Popular Culture 57/2013
  • Review Alex Engelen, Juice, 12/2012
  • Review Susanne Stemmler, Bulletin des Archivs für Textmusikforschung, April 2012
  • Review Dominic Thomas, Research in African Literatures, 2/2012

Difficile de faire plus multiéthnique. Difficile de faire plus marseillais - Zur Repräsentation von (Multi-) Ethnizität und Migration im französischen Rap der 1990er Jahre, in: Gabriele Metzler (Ed.): Das Andere denken. Migranten in Westeuropa und den USA im 20. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt am Main, p. 181-207.

Vers une histoire culturelle des élites africaines - Parcours d'une recherche inachevée, in: Sabine Cornelis und Pierre Alain Tallier (Ed.): Archives Afrique Europe, Brüssel, p. 141-155.

Interview about Marseille as European Capital of Culture: Stolz trotz dunkler Seiten, in: DAAD-Magazin, 01.02.2013.


Review: Nathalie Tousignant (Ed.): Le Manifeste Conscience africaine (1956). Elites congolaises et société colonial. Regards croisés, Brüssel 2009, in: Revue Belge de Philologie et d'Histoire 90/2012, p. 627-630.

Je danse le Mia, in: Songlexikon/Encyclopedia of Songs 08/2012.

'Les Noirs Perfectionnés': Cultural Embourgeoisement in Belgian Congo during the 1940s and 1950s, in: Working Papers des Sonderforschungsbereiches 640 4/2012, 23 p.

Des raps et des villes/ Rap music and Cities/Von Rapmusik und Städten, in: Hypothèses- Sur un son rap, 11.07.2011/04.11.2012.


Die Karl-Marx-Straße ausstellen, in: Fensterplatz. Zeitschrift für Kulturforschung 02/2010, p. 92-99.

Afrikas Beckenbauer Charles Gyamfi. Sie riefen mich Kalle, in: Der Tagesspiegel, 26.06.2010 und 11freunde.de, 24.06.2010.


Review: Daniel Winkler: Transit Marseille. Filmgeschichte einer Mittelmeermetropole, Bielefeld 2007, in: PhiN 50/2009, 15.10.2009.


Ethnizität und ethnische Repräsentationen im Fußball. Am Beispiel Türkiyemspor Berlin (together with Söhnke Vosgerau), in: Stefan Krankenhagen und Birger Schmidt (Ed.): Aus der Halbdistanz. Fußballbiographien und Fußballkulturen heute, Münster 2007, p. 115-136.

Gewalt und Unruhen in den französischen Banlieues. Was hat der Rap damit zu tun?, in: Ethnoscripts 2/2007, p. 106-128.


Imperial Port Cities in the Age of Steam: Towards a Comparative History of Entanglements (together with Lasse Heerten). Technische Universität, Humbodt-Universität zu Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, 14.-16.07.2016.

Inhabited Futures/Constructed Pasts (together with Elisabeth Asche,  Dorothee Brantz and Noa Ha). Fourth Annual Graduate Conference IGK
Berlin-New York-Toronto, University of Toronto and York University,
Canada, 19.-21.11.2015.

Was kommt nach der Kulturhauptstadt? Zum Verhältnis von Stadtimage und Imaginärem in Marseille (together with Alexa Färber). Metropolis Kino, Hamburg, 06.-07.12.2013.

Mediating Africa’s Future: Decolonization and African Media (together with Jinny Prais, Columbia University). Panel at the Annual Conference of African Studies Association in Washington D.C., USA, 18.11.2011.

Elite Formation, Consumption and Urban Spaces - Cultural Perspectives on African Decolonization (together with Regina Finsterhölzl). Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 26.-27.11.2010.



Belgischer Entwickungskolonialismus und afrikanische Elitenpolitik nach  1944, Vierter Workshop des Arbeitskreises für Historische
Belgienforschung, Universität Paderborn, 04.-05.11.2016.

Second Imperial Cities: European Metropoles, Urban Docklands, and Global
Integration (1880s-1960s). "Reinterpreting Cities", 13th International
Conference on Urban History, Helsinki, Finland, 24.-27.08.2016.

Imperial Port Cities: The Examples of Antwerp, Hamburg, and Marseille (together with Lasse Heerten), "Imperial Port Cities in the Age of Steam: Towards a Comparative History of Entanglements", re:work, Humbodt-Universität zu Berlin, 15.07.2016.

What is a Colonial City?, Guest Lecture for "Urban Societies in Space in
Time" (Prof. Dorothee Brantz), Center for Metropolitan Studies,
Technische Universität Berlin, 11.01.2016.


Imperialhafenstädte?, Kolloquium Lehrstuhl für Geschichte Westeuropas und der transatlantischen Beziehungen, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, 30.06.2015.


Vom Planeten Mars: Marseille in der Rapmusik der 1990er Jahre. "Was kommt nach der Kulturhauptstadt? Zum Verhältnis von Stadtimage und Imaginärem in Marseille", Metropolis Kino, Hamburg, 06.-07.12.2013.

Im Wartesaal kolonialen Wandels. Afrikanische Elite und kulturelle Verbürgerlichung in Belgisch Kongo (1944-1956), Kolloquium Lehrstuhl für Geschichte Westeuropas und der transatlantischen Beziehungen, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, 12.11.2013.

Médiatiser le colonialisme. Journaux de l’élite africaine au Congo Belge. "Le champ médiatique coloniale", Goethe Institut Togo, Lomé, 30.09-02.10.2013.

The Rap group IAM and the cultural texture of Marseilles. "Unsichtbare Landschaften: Populäre Musik und urbaner Raum", Deutsches Volksliedarchiv, Freiburg im Breisgau, 04.-05.04.2013.

Bourgeois Culture in a Colonial World? African Elite in Belgian Congo during the 1940s and 1950s. Séminaire des Africanistes de l’Université libre de Bruxelles, Brüssel, 20.02.2013.


Globales Ghetto - lokale Banlieue: Transnationale Netzwerke und städtische Verortung in der französischen Rapmusik. "Das Globale lokal: Historische Perspektiven auf das Verhältnis von Stadt und Globalisierung in der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhundert", Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg, 16.-17.11.2012.

Of 'True' and 'False' Évolués: Becoming an African Elite in Belgian Congo. Roundtable-Discussion "New research on the Congo" with Alain Mabanckou, Allen F. Roberts and Dominic Thomas, University of California Los Angeles, 29.10.2012.


Les Voix du Congolais: African Elite Journals and the Future of Belgian Congo. "50 Years of African Liberation", Annual Conference of African Studies Association, Washington D.C., USA, 18.11.2011.

Hafen des Andersseins? Popkulturelle Repräsentationen von Migration und (Multi-) Ethnizität im französischen Rap der 1990er Jahre. "Repräsentationsformen des Anderen. Migranten in Westeuropa und den USA im 20. Jahrhundert", Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 24.-25.06.2011.

Vers l'avenir: The Making of an African Elite in Belgian Congo. "Congo meets Africa meets New Historical Writing", Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, 31.05.-02.06.2011.

L’Elite Noire doit être capable de tout: Afrikanische Elite und kolonialer Wandel in Belgisch Kongo. "Wandel wollen - Vom Umgang mit gesellschaftlichen Veränderungen", Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 28.-29.04.2011.


Vers une histoire culturelle des élites africaines - quels lieux de recherche? "Archives Afrique Europe. Besoins? Collaborations? Avenirs? La RDC, le Rwanda, le Burundi et la Belgique", Les archives générales du royaume et le musée royal de l'afrique centrale, Brüssel und Tervuren, 15.-17.12.2010.

Quelle sera notre place dans le monde de demain? - Discourse and Sociability of the ‘Évolués’ in Belgian Congo, 1945-1960. "Elite Formation, Consumption and Urban Spaces - Cultural Perspectives on African Decolonization", Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 26.-27.11.2010.

When Marseilles rhymes with Rap. Empirical notes on the cultural texture of cities. European Urban Research Association Conference, "The intrinsic logic of the city", Universität Darmstadt, 24.-25.09.2010.


Repräsentationen afrikanischer Eliten in Belgisch-Kongo der 1950er Jahre. "Afrika im Blickpunkt" der Universität Wien, 18.10.2009.


10/2012 – 11/2012
Los Angeles, USA (Archival Research)

New York, USA (Archival Research)

09/2011 – 10/2011
Bruxelles and Leuven, Belgium (Archival Research)

Aix-en-Provence, France (Archival Research)

07/2010 – 09/2010
Kinshasa, The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Archival Research and Interviews)

02/2010 – 04/2010
Accra, Ghana (Archival Research and Interviews)

09/2009 – 10/2009
Bruxelles, Belgium (Archival Research)

02/2008 – 08/2008
Marseille, France (Archival Research and Field Research)

Zusatzinformationen / Extras

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