Colonial Entanglements in Basel

#history #traces #city #colonialism #colonisation

6 June 2023


Never having had direct colonies itself, Switzerland is not generally associated with colonialism. Yet with an increasing global mobilization around the issues of racial injustice and colonial systems of power, there is a renewed sense of urgency in analysing complicities in colonialism and slavery which go far beyond engaging in direct political and military imperialism. This interactive map shows how the history of Basel is interwoven with the history of colonialism.

by Claske Dijkema

In the Swiss context there exists a rather recent but increasing effort of scholars and activists to inquire into the ways in which Switzerland contributed to and is influenced by colonialism. Most of this work focuses on the historical involvement of individuals, families, businesses and missionary institutions in colonial endeavours like the trade in enslaved persons and colonial goods, the exploration of newly colonized territories by Swiss scientists, and the establishment of racial theories. Accompanying these historic analyses there is important work about the ways in which Swiss culture overall was influenced greatly by the European world-view that formed in the wake of the enlightenment period and the spread of the colonial and racist ideas of modern Western superiority and how these cultural dispositions continue to exist in post-colonial Switzerland. This interactive map shows how this is the case for the city of Basel. It is the outcome of a collaborative exploration of colonialism in Basel, carried out by a visiting lecturer and students in Critical Urbanisms at the University of Basel (see below). It is developed in collaboration with visionscarto and is work in progress.

The map exists of three tours:
 TOUR 1: Colonial traces (blue)
 TOUR 2: Decolonial ecology (green)
 TOUR 3: Racial justice (purple)

Basel Tours

► Open the map in a new window.

While you browse the map, listen to the audio guides:

TOUR 1. Colonial traces

TOUR 2. Decolonial ecology

TOUR 3. Racial justice

How the map came about

In Fall 2021, Claske Dijkema led a seminar on “Decolonizing the Swiss urban landscape” in the MA Critical Urbanisms at the University of Basel. The seminar was designed as a collaborative research project and was co-taught with issue-based organizers and civil society groups working against racialized exclusion, decolonization, gentrification, and urban space within Switzerland. The seminar approaches the city as a palimpsest: multiply inscribed and imperfectly erased, imbued with traces and residues, laden with memory, but also as a place that continues to be shaped by racism and unequal power relations, from a local to a global level. The questions that guided the seminar are: how do these colonial ideologies still shape Swiss cities materially and symbolically? How do economic relations and cultural representations that emerged during colonialism continue to shape Basel and the lives of those who inhabit the city? Over the course of three months, students looked for sites in Basel that tell these stories of colonial entanglements in both past and present.


 Appiah, J. S., & Mireku, R. Y.(2020). Decrypting Crypto-Colonialism and unveiling the Mask of Innocence: Switzerland’s Covert Colonial Designs and Continuity in Africa.
 Contemporary Journal of African Studies, 7(2), 31–44.
 Cretton, V. (2018). Performing whiteness: Racism, skin colour, and identity in Western Switzerland. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 41(5), 842–859.
 Étienne, N. (Ed.). (2020). Exotic Switzerland? Looking outward in the Age of Enlightenment. Diaphanes.
 Fässler, H. (2020). Reise in Schwarz-Weiss Schweizer Ortstermine in Sachen Sklaverei (3. Auflage). Rotpunktverlag.
 Lüthi, B., Falk, F., & Purtschert, P. (2016). Colonialism without colonies: Examining blank spaces in colonial studies. National Identities, 18(1), 1–9.
 Michel, N. (2015). Sheepology: The Postcolonial Politics of Raceless Racism in Switzerland. Postcolonial Studies, 18(4), 410–426.
 Purtschert, P., Falk, F., & Lüthi, B. (2016). Switzerland and ‘Colonialism without Colonies’: Reflections on the Status of Colonial Outsiders. Interventions, 18(2), 286–302.
 Purtschert, P., & Fischer-Tiné, H. (Eds.). (2015). Colonial Switzerland: Rethinking colonialism from the margins. Palgrave Macmillan.
 Purtschert, P., Lüthi, B., & Falk, F. (Eds.). (2012). Postkoloniale Schweiz: Formen und
Folgen eines Kolonialismus ohne Kolonien. Transcript.
 Schär, B. (2015). Tropenliebe: Schweizer Naturforscher und niederländischer Imperialismus in Südostasien um 1900. Campus Verlag.
 Schär, B. C.(2016). Global und intersectional. Prolegomena zu einer noch neueren Geschichte der Schweiz. Didactica Historica, 2(1), 49–53.
 Schär, B. C.(2022). Switzerland, Borneo and the Dutch Indies: Towards a New Imperial History of Europe, c .1770–1850. Past & Present, 257(1), 134–167.
 Schilliger, S. (2020). Challenging who counts as a citizen. The infrastructure of solidarity contesting racial profiling in Switzerland. Citizenship Studies, 24(4), 530–547.
 Zangger, A., & Zangger, A. (2011). Koloniale Schweiz: Ein Stück Globalgeschichte zwischen Europa und Südostasien (1860-1930). Transcript Verlag.