Short Portrait: Carl Meinhof

Carl Meinhof
Carl Meinhof

Carl Meinhof was born in Barzwitz (now: Barcowice) in Transpomerania in 1857. His father and grandfather both were pastors.

Meinhof not only studied Theology in Halle, Erlangen and Greifswald but also took a strong interest in linguistic and philological matters. After graduating he worked as a secondary school teacher in Wolgast and Stettin (now: Szczecin) before taking a rectory in Zizow (now: Cisowo) in 1886.

Throughout the following years Meinhof intensified his studies of African languages, mainly the grammar of Bantu. He also learned Duala. In 1910 Meinhof published the results of his investigations on Bantu grammar and eventually did a research trip to Eastern Africa. There he collected ethnographic and linguistic material as well as oral history.

After his return to Germany Meinhof took up a position at the Seminar for Oriental Languages in Berlin. Besides lecturing he continued his studies of African languages and now focused on further regions such as Northern and Western Africa. In 1905 Meinhof was announced professor.

In 1909 Meinhof took up a professorship for African Languages at the Colonial Institute, the forerunner of the Hamburg University. He also became head chairman of the Seminary for Colonial Languages. When the Hamburg University was founded in 1919, Meinhof became head of the first Chair for African Studies in Germany. Throughout the years he gained international renown and strongly influenced his academic field.

Meinhof became a member of the Nazi party NSDAP in 1933. He retired in 1936 but kept up his scientific work until his death in 1944.

(Text written by Vincenz Kokot in July 2012, based on articles at Neue Deutsche Biographie, and; photo source:

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