Wolfgang Helbich, Walter D. Kamphoefner, eds. German-American Immigration and Ethnicity in Comparative Perspective. Madison: Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies, 2004. xiv + 356 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-924119-18-7.
Russell A. Kazal. Becoming Old Stock: The Paradox of German-American Identity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. xvii + 383 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-691-05015-7.
Philip Otterness. Becoming German: The 1709 Palatine Migration to New York. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2004. xiii + 235 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8014-4246-9.
Ansgar ReiÖÅ¸. Radikalismus und Exil: Gustav Struve und die Demokratie in Deutschland und Amerika. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004. 501 pp. EUR 68.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-515-08371-3.
Reviewed by Heike Bungert (International University Bremen)
Published on H-German (November, 2005)
Vibrant State of History of German Americans
After a high in the 1970s and 1980s and neglect in the 1990s both by German and U.S. historians, the study of German Americans appears to be coming alive again. The four books discussed in this review--three dissertations and the proceedings of a conference--demonstrate that the field continues to be of interest to some "older" scholars but also attracts younger historians from both sides of the Atlantic.
Philip Otterness in his dissertation analyzes the fate of the "Palatines" from their emigration in 1709 until the War of Independence, using archival material from three countries, though mainly relying on English-language secondary works. In accordance with the tenets of the new migration history, Otterness explains the situation of the emigrants and the reasons for their departure from Germany, follows them on their way to Rotterdam, to London, and to New York City, and describes their settlement process in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Otterness argues, which is not completely new, that the so-called Palatines hailed from different parts of Southern Germany; only during the trials on their way to the new "Canaan" did they begin to see themselves as one group, a feeling that vanished again when they chose different paths of resistance to the colonial authorities. Otterness starts out with depicting the conditions in southwestern Germany in the early eighteenth century. He analyzes the ethnic and religious mix of the area, the economic, political, and social conditions, and the impact of Joshua Kocherthal's book on North Carolina with its description of Queen Anne's subsidy for a party of German migrants to North America. Otterness goes on to describe the fast accumulation of thousands of emigrants in Rotterdam and their transfer to England. He demonstrates how the British image of the fifteen thousand German migrants slowly changed from a positive to a negative one in the wake of British partisan debates over immigration and naturalization. He also details how the Germans took up the image of "the poor Palatine refugees," that is, of Protestants persecuted by the French, and used it to their best advantage.
In the second half of his book, Otterness shows how the group of three thousand refugees shipped to New York forged ties across religious and regional differences and how opposition against their treatment by British officials first unified them and then gradually split them. While all of the "Palatines" emigrated to become free farmers, some resisted more strongly than others British plans to use them for the production of pitch and tar. The most interesting part of the book concerns the skillful way those of the migrants moving to the Schoharie Valley dealt with the Indians and resisted local land speculators by emphasizing their loyalty to the British Crown and by using "Old World means of peasant justice" against intruders (p. 130). Both the groups moving to Pennsylvania and the ones settling in isolated communities in New York and New Jersey maintained a distance towards non-Germans and showed more openness towards African Americans than other settlers. All, however, were caught up in the colonial wars and started to merge their "public lives" into mainstream colonial life while hanging on to private German worlds (p. 163).
Unfortunately, the book has some weaknesses. Despite its welcome brevity, there are repetitions, not only in the argument but also in the recurrent mention of some facts (for example, about poverty as the reason for emigration and the usefulness of German farmers to settle British wasteland). Particularly annoying is the oft-repeated assertion that the "Palatines" started to feel an identity as one group without much proof of the claim (as on pp. 55-56, 65-66), admittedly due to a paucity of documentation. He equally does not lay out satisfactorily the theory behind his idea of identity formation and keeps referring to the migrants' "penchant for created histories" (as on p. 134) without reflecting on the fact that such activity is essential for the construction of identity or ethnicity (a word he never uses). In the end, despite its claim to explore the identity formation of the "Palatines," Otterness's book is less an intellectual and cultural history and more a narrative history of migration. The book is of interest to colonial historians, ethnohistorians, as well as to historians of the Palatinate. U.S. historians in particular should notice this addition of an international angle to the "story of early America" (p. 4).
Next in chronology is Ansgar Reiß's dissertation about the German revolutionary Gustav Struve. In contrast to earlier books on Struve, Reiß's is not a biography in the ordinary sense, for the raw facts of Struve's life are only briefly described in the introduction. Instead, Reiß situates his political-intellectual biography between literary criticism, migration history, and the history of political ideas. He combines Ideengeschichte/intellectual history with a history of political cultures (p. 12) and interprets texts as "actions" (p. 16).
Reiß follows Struve from the German Bund, in particular Badenia, to a first exile in Switzerland and France (1848), back to Badenia (1848), to Switzerland (1849), England (1849) and to the United States (1851), and breaks off with Struve's return to Germany in 1863. He mainly analyzes the development of Struve's conceptions of the people, the public, the party, the poor, the social republic, democracy, and revolution. Whereas earlier biographies of Struve concentrated on his role in Germany, Reiß contrasts Struve's radicalism (in Germany) with his exile (in the United States, to which he devotes more than half of the book), Struve's idea of America and democracy with his confrontation with those concepts in action.
Reiß concentrates on Struve after 1845, but starts off with a summary of his political thinking as influenced by Struve's interest in anthropology and phrenology. Even at this stage, the United States with its independent and virtuous citizens and the opportunity of self-improvement served as Struve's model, whereas he blamed the German state for inducing pauperism and not upholding the rule of the law. Struve in his fight against censorship and in his attempts to organize "the people" soon became radical; he equated democracy with revolution, which for him had to be induced by the actions of leaders like himself. During the revolution of 1848/1849, he demanded a republic but soon lost his belief in the public whom he regarded increasingly as an immature people that had to be educated by a party. Even before his exile, Struve began to work on a European perspective of revolution and democracy.
His stay in England, where the émigrés remained close to Germany but were mostly unable to find jobs, was rather short-lived. In the United States, Struve stayed within German-speaking circles with three forays into American politics during the presidential elections of 1856 and 1860 and during his voluntary enlistment in the Civil War. He earned his living by publishing a newspaper and a world history and by giving speeches. In his work, Struve switched between addressing German exiles, recent immigrants from Germany, German-American workers, workers in general, and the German-American community. For this reason, he encountered problems when he wanted to found a party since, on the one hand, he believed in the German-American community and in the value of immigration and, on the other hand, wished for an all-American party. Struve also showed ambiguity when he praised the United States as a model for European democracies but criticized the apathy and lack of morals of its population, the supposed preponderance of the clergy, and the influence of the nativist and the temperance movements. Equally contradictory were his blame of the nativists for hindering assimilation and his simultaneous opposition to assimilation because it prevented the United States from profiting from European education and culture. Struve saw both continents as interdependent with Europe needing U.S. intervention and the United States feeding on European ideas. Since his focus remained on Europe, he expected the United States to intervene in favor of revolutions in Europe.
Reiß's book is mainly an intellectual biography of an important representative of the German revolution. His concept of "political culture" and of texts as actions remains rather vague. Most of his book consists of long and thorough analyses of Struve's important writings (such as twenty-two pages on forty pages of Struve's world history, pp. 400-440). Reiß's achievement is to have made accessible Struve's intellectual development during his exile by using an immense corpus of sources from four countries, including many newspaper articles. While Reiß knows an enormous amount of literature on every aspect of Struve's life, from the pre-revolutionary situation in Badenia to the development of the workers' movement in the United States and the history of German regiments in the U.S. Civil War, he often reserves this context for lengthy footnotes and sometimes leaves the reader without specific references when giving an interpretive overview of the political situation in the United States (as on pp. 238, 276). Also, Struve's faulting of nativists, temperance advocates, and clergymen for undesirable developments in U.S. democracy clearly reflects general German and German-American stereotypes of the United States, which remain unmentioned in Reiß's dissertation. His book therefore forms less part of migration history than the other works discussed and belongs more to German intellectual history. In general, Reiß's book is still a typical German dissertation with a sometimes less than lucid writing style and an enormous amount of footnotes (once even leaving the page void of text, p. 127). Still, this seems preferable to American-style endnotes that force the reader to flip through pages. All in all, Radikalismus und Exil is a book for people interested in intellectual and constitutional history, in the history of Badenia, in the revolution of 1848, and in the 1848ers.
The next book to be discussed moves into the twentieth century. In his dissertation, Russell Kazal sets out to explain the paradox of a powerful German-American presence in the United States up until the 1900s and the near complete loss of German-American ethnicity afterwards. He investigates this phenomenon through a case study of Philadelphia between the years 1900 and 1930. While he admits that Philadelphia held a smaller portion of first and second generation Germans than many Midwestern cities by percent of the whole population, he points out that Philadelphia's Germans in absolute numbers far surpassed their Midwestern competitors and that Philadelphia's Germans could lay claim to being part of the area's early settlement history.
Kazal starts off with definitions of assimilation, ethnicity, identity, and neighborhood. He then proceeds chronologically, beginning with a portrait of German Philadelphia in 1900, continuing with the first signs of assimilation between 1900 and 1914, devoting a third section to World War I, and ending with the 1920s and an outlook into the 1960s. He points out the strengths and weaknesses of the German-American community in the early twentieth century explaining how Catholics and Lutherans, middle class and working class, joined forces to fight for German-language education and against temperance. Yet at the same time, between 1900 and 1930 some middle-class and Lutheran Germans embraced a nationalist Americanism, partially joined nativist orders, and developed an "old stock" or "Nordic" American identity, while many working-class and Catholic German Philadelphians began to mix with Irish and new immigrant neighbors emphasizing their "whiteness" against the surge of African-American inhabitants. Thus, while Lutheran and middle-class Philadelphians of German stock drew a line between themselves and South and East Europeans, Catholic and working-class German Americans cooperated with them against African Americans. Women, in contrast, as well as parts of the second and third generations partially retreated into a mass consumer culture, which could also be used to revitalize German-American associations. German-American ethnicity was also strengthened by commemorating German-American contributions to U.S. history. Gender equally influenced German-American ethnicity when women postponed the decline of German-American associations by joining in increasing numbers from the 1890s onwards and when women attempted to "Americanize" new immigrants via teaching while men simply excluded the newcomers. Kazal's chronological analysis of the slow loss of a German-American ethnicity on the one hand confirms older views that World War I with its pressure on German Americans, their press, their associations, and their language acted as a catalyst in the abandonment of biculturalism, but, on the other hand, also provides evidence for more recent views that the German-American community was already on the decline from the 1890s onwards.
By using a case study, Kazal, on the one hand, writes a micro-history of Philadelphia. In random samples with oral interviews added, he examines block fronts of two Philadelphia neighborhoods for the years 1900 and 1920, one predominantly German-American and working-class, the other middle-class with Germans, most of them second to fourth generation, only representing a small portion of the population. In addition, he follows working-class socialists, middle-class Germans organized in secular associations, Lutherans, and Catholics. On the other hand, his book takes on macrohistorical dimensions when he ties his study of Philadelphia's German Americans to the development of a racialized nativism, to demographic changes, to World War I, and to the Great Migration. He pays attention to race, class, gender, and religion. In a broad, sweeping conclusion, he shows how German Americans by starting to emphasize their whiteness, by participating in the Americanization movement, by renouncing their concept of pluralism, and by taking on a "white ethnic" or "unhyphenated American" identity helped construct the divide between ethnic whites and African Americans.
All in all, Kazal's book is impressive in its range, in its conclusions, in its theoretical underpinnings, in its structure, and in its equally readable and analytic style. There are three minor drawbacks. First, his is another book without a bibliography, a trend emerging in U.S. Publishing that makes it very difficult for readers to find the full references to works cited or to get an overview of the sources and literature used. Second, there are very few references to German-language secondary literature with the exception of some translated works. In the context of his discussion of the increased activities of German-American women, for example, Kazal omits the works by Christiane Harzig and Irene Häderle, and in his discussion of the German American Bund, there is no mention of Cornelia Wilhelm's dissertation on that subject. Finally, in investigating the ethnic makeup of some of Philadelphia's associations, Kazal checked the ethnicity of surnames in dictionaries of family names, when a sampling of at least some questionable names in the census might have yielded more reliable results. Despite these small flaws, Kazal's book is a truly exemplary study of assimilation, pluralism, and whiteness and a must for ethnic historians, urban historians, and for German and U.S. historians in general.
The volume German-American Immigration and Ethnicity, edited by Walter Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich, the last of the books to be reviewed, is the outcome of a conference co-sponsored by the German Historical Institute in Washington and Texas A&M University in 1997. It combines new research by junior and senior German and U.S. scholars on German Americans. Its main focus is on religion, politics, and agriculture. Among its authors are a sociologist, a specialist in American Studies and Politics, an ecosystem ecologist, and numerous historians.
Reinhard Doerries starts the first section on religion with an appeal to pay attention to the impact of the institutionalized church, of church schools, and of ethnic religious associations on acculturation. Anne Höndgen equally points to the importance of religion, for, in her case, German-American settlement patterns. She describes the splitting of Germans from the same German region but of different beliefs (Lutherans, Catholics, and Freethinkers) into different, though adjacent communities and their comparatively slow acculturation. Tobias Brinkmann explores the concept of "German Jews" and emphasizes the role both of German culture and of American ideals of liberty for Jewish identity-formation. Kathleen Conzen focuses on the role of Catholicism in the migration and settlement process as well as on the development of German Catholicism as "a diaspora subculture" (p. 80) with German-American Catholics trying to preserve the values they had emigrated to maintain, especially an anti-statist localism.
In the second section, on agriculture, Jon Gjerde investigates the mutual images of the overworked (Americans about Germans) or lazy (Germans about Americans) farm women in the Midwest. He points out how Americans used their negative stereotypes of ethnic women as proof of their belief in the lower level of civilization of immigrants while European migrants utilized images of U.S. women to "defend their group against diffusion from the outside" (p. 121). Both groups were convinced that their way of organizing work and the family represented the proper response to modernity. Myron Gutmann et al. focus on the impact of ethnicity on agriculture. They argue that German-American communities were more likely to plant wheat and raise cattle and swine in the early period of settlement and continued to have more crop diversity and smaller farm sizes than American farmers. Nevertheless, the authors emphasize that environmental factors played an important role in agricultural outcomes, accounting for 80 percent of the crop variance in 1910.
As for German-American politics, the third section of the book, Donald DeBats and Walter Kamphoefner compare the participation of German Americans and Irish Americans in politics. While DeBats uses poll books of three counties in Virginia, Kentucky, and Ontario, Kamphoefner concentrates on Irish and German mayors in selected big cities. Both prove that the difference between the two ethnic groups was not as great as previously stated. DeBats sees an equal political participation among higher-income or church-organized voters of the two groups. Whereas he discovered the same amount of commitment to a single party among the two groups and a lot of ethnicity-based voting patterns, Kamphoefner argues that frequent switching of party allegiance was used by German voters to enforce their views on temperance and schooling issues. Kamphoefner destroys a number of other stereotypes when he points out that there was no preponderance of Irish over German mayors and a higher number of well-educated Irish mayors. Willi Paul Adams compares two German-American congressmen and comes to the conclusion that loyalty to place and regional interests mattered more than ethnic identity with Americanization having taken place before the election of the congressmen. Paul Fessler explains nineteenth-century German-language education in public schools and recommends its two-way partial immersion system as a model for present-day Hispanic bilingual schooling.
In the last section, on war, Wolfgang Helbich examines the mutual images of Anglo-American and German-American soldiers during the American Civil War. He points to the stark contrast between the positive German-American self-image and the disastrous American view of German-American soldiers and concludes that the experience of the American Civil War did not eradicate cultural differences between ethnic groups. Michael Wala contrasts the cautious behavior of German diplomats in the United States during the Weimar Republic with the high-handed attempts of their successors during the Third Reich to influence German Americans.
The volume, on the one hand, presents a breadth of topics, and, on the other hand, has a tight, comparative focus with an emphasis on religion, politics, work, and the military in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Unfortunately, the conference took place in 1997 so that some of the articles lack references to newer publications. Some of the volume's authors, who were then still working on their books, have by now published them. Nevertheless, this volume provides some cutting-edge research on previously neglected topics while at the same time pointing to under-researched areas. It also profited from its mix of German and U.S. authors. I did not see evidence for the editors' statement of "a certain tendency ... for German contributions to reflect the more difficult access to American sources"; instead, I would rather point to the fact that two of the U.S. authors (DeBats and Fessler) rely nearly exclusively on English-language literature and sources. Because of its comparative analysis of German and U.S. influences on the migrants, the book is valuable not only to scholars of German Americans or ethnic historians, but also to German and U.S. historians.
The four books reviewed point to the vibrant state of German-American studies with interests that range broadly from the eighteenth to the late twentieth century. While the books by Otterness and Reiß belong more to social and intellectual history, established traditions within the field of migration history, Kazal and some of the authors of the conference volume have integrated interdisciplinary approaches as well as cultural history into the study of German Americans. New fields of interest concern religion, politics, the construction of identity and assimilation, as well as agriculture. Nearly all of the authors treat both the German context of the migrants and the U.S. settlement process. They demonstrate how history can profit when it is being studied from both sides of the Atlantic.
. Irene Häderle, Deutsche kirchliche Frauenvereine in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1870-1930 (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1997); Christiane Harzig, Familie, Arbeit und weibliche Öffentlichkeit in einer Einwanderungsstadt: Deutschamerikanerinnen in Chicago um die Jahrhundertwende (St. Katharinen: Scripta Mercaturae, 1991); Cornelia Wilhelm, Bewegung oder Verein? Nationalsozialistische Volkstumspolitik in den USA (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1998). Also appearing in 2004 was the dissertation by Anke Ortlepp, „"Auuf denn, Ihr Schwestern!" Deutschamerikanische Frauenvereine in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1844-1914 (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2004).
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Heike Bungert. Review of Helbich, Wolfgang; Kamphoefner, Walter D., eds., German-American Immigration and Ethnicity in Comparative Perspective and
Kazal, Russell A., Becoming Old Stock: The Paradox of German-American Identity and
Otterness, Philip, Becoming German: The 1709 Palatine Migration to New York and
ReiÖÅ¸, Ansgar, Radikalismus und Exil: Gustav Struve und die Demokratie in Deutschland und Amerika.
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