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The Territorial Expansion of the Colonial State: Evidence from German East Africa 1890–1909

  • Jan Pierskalla, Alexander De Juan and Max Montgomery


What explains states’ sub-national territorial reach? While large parts of the state-building literature have focused on national capabilities, little is known about the determinants of the unevenness of state presence at the sub-national level. This article seeks to fill this gap by looking at early attempts at state building: it investigates the processes of state penetration in the former colony of German East Africa. Contrary to previous studies – which largely emphasized antecedent or structural factors – the current study argues that geographical patterns of state penetration have been driven by the state’s strategic imperative to solidify control over territory and establish political stability. The article tests these propositions using an original, geo-referenced grid-cell dataset for the years 1890 to 1909 based on extensive historical records in German colonial yearbooks and maps.

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Authors contributed equally. Department of Political Science, The Ohio State University (email:; Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Konstanz (email:; German Institute of Global and Area Studies (email: We are grateful for the invaluable feedback of Marcus Kurtz, Amanda Robinson, Rick Herrmann, Alex Lee, Steven Wilkinson, Robert Woodberry, Roberto Foa, panel participants at APSA 2014 and 2015, three anonymous reviewers, and Sona Golder as the responsible editor at BJPS. This project received financial support from the Gerda-Henkel Foundation. Online appendices are available at and data replication sets are available at



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The Territorial Expansion of the Colonial State: Evidence from German East Africa 1890–1909

  • Jan Pierskalla, Alexander De Juan and Max Montgomery


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