U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Münsterland to SUSIH-land

Munster Town Hall

Munster Town Hall

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the great opportunity to work with faculty and students at the University of Münster (in Germany’s Münsterland’s region of castles and rolling hills) on both scholarly and programatic initiatives. My most recent brief visit to the university sparked a few more questions that I hope those of us in SUSIH-land might address. 

1. Holes and Closed Doors

In recent years, we’ve seen a steady increase in scholarship that looks at religious organizations and philanthropy. David King, among others, has taken a lead in that area, brining together groups to discuss that subject and contributing to the area with his own publications. Along similar lines, David Schwartz has established himself as a significant voice in discussions over the work of liberal evangelicals since the 1960s. One doctoral student at Münster has a project that I thought would fit into an existing body of scholarship but appears to be rather novel. Her work looks at the intersection of American evangelicals and immigration debates in recent U.S. history. She has found some work on Catholics and non-religious groups in this area, but remarkably very little about evangelicals working in the U.S. on immigration.

While both King and Schwartz have created bibliographies on international evangelical work and liberal evangelicals, can anyone point out literature on the topic of evangelicals working in domestic politics on the issue of immigration?

Another student has run into a “closed door” familiar to those who work on the Culture Wars. She is writing on the rise of conservative women as an intellectual group as well as through social organizations. Her research led her, of course, to Phyllis Schlafly and the hope of looking at her personal papers. As Andrew Hartman knows all too well, those papers are almost impossible to see, guarded, as it were, by a directive from the owner herself to screen all who request entry. While it is possible to research the history of the anti-ERA movement in other places, the researcher from Münster wants to see how the leaders of the movement gave direction to grassroots organizers and fieldworkers and what interaction between these groups looked like over time.

Can anybody point her toward archives or collections that might provide a “back door” into this history, since the “front door” appears to be closed?

2. War and the Varieties of Midwest Ethnic Histories

An assistant professor at the University of Münster named Anne Overbeck is at work on a new project that looks at the various ways German-Americans in the midwest (and Indianapolis, in particular) dealt with issues of identity and ethnicity around the period of the First World War. Her basic thesis is that while there was an immediate and strong reaction against “German-ness” between 1917-1919, there was also a relatively strong and swift revival of German cultural institutions, newspapers, and festivals in the early to mid-1920s. I have two questions for readers: first, what is the state of the field of ethnic history in the midwest? Am I correct that the last major works to appear in this area were published in the early 1990s? And second, and this is a question for Andy Seal especially, is Overbeck’s topic something that fits into the new-Midwestern historiorgraphy that you are involved in advancing? My hope is that Overbeck, who also has a career working in museums and historical institutes, might lead a multi-institution project that brings together various ethnic histories of the Midwest into an exhibition installed in historical societies and museums throughout Midwestern cities–using each place like separate rooms under one roof.

3. The False Promise of Study Abroad

Finally, I explored with my colleagues at Münster different possibilities of getting graduate students from Germany to study at IUPUI and sending IUPUI students to study in Germany. But as many of you know, these exchanges promise a great experience and rarely succeed because of the screwed up imbalance of funding. European students find the cost of American universities prohibitively high and U.S. students find studying abroad in a place where people speak something other than English to be, well, simply prohibitive. We discussed various ways to reduce costs for students coming to the U.S. through, perhaps, the use of hybrid on-line courses that might allow students to be full-time but spread the cost between courses offered at their home university as well as, say, IUPUI. And I found that universities including those in Münster, Heidelberg, and Berlin (in Germany) and Southern Denmark University have begun to mandate a certain number of courses be taught in English in order to attract international students from, primarily, the U.S. and Asia. The cost for enrolling full-time for a year at the University of Münster is very low for all students so I would like to pitch to American graduate students that they complete coursework in American Studies abroad for a year both to reduce the overall cost of their graduate program in the U.S. and to participate in one of the most interesting areas of the field–the internationalization of American Studies.

However, I am curious if others have established programs with European universities that seem to work well but are not dual-degree programs or straight-up one-to-one exchanges.

2 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Ray,
    These are three really interesting questions! With the new reinvigoration of Midwestern history, I’m sure we’ll see some great projects that revise our understanding of ethnicity in the region. I think you’re right that it’s been a while since the last wave of histories concentrating directly on white ethnics in the Midwest–Thomas Guglielmo’s White on Arrival was published in 2004, for instance, and Jon Gjerde’s The Minds of the West in 1997. However, I think you can find some really rich work in an ethnic history vein more recently in labor histories and religious histories of the Midwest (I would guess that Matthew Pehl’s forthcoming book about Detroit will triangulate this nicely–ethnic, labor, and religious history).

    But what is most exciting to me about Professor Overbeck’s project is that it looks not at new immigrants, but at an ethnic community that had persisted for some time (at least from what I gather from your description and my guesses about the kind of communities she’s studying). Midwestern ethnic history has essentially been identical to immigration history since the pathbreaking work of William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki in the 1910s and of Marcus Lee Hansen in the 1930s–at least the work that I’m familiar with. This has also been true, more recently, of excellent work in Chicano or Latino history in the Midwest, such as Lilia Fernández’s Brown in the Windy City or Kathleen Mapes’s Sweet Tyranny. Of course, given the placement of the Midwest on the North American continent, histories of movement will always be fundamental to the region’s history (Indiana’s not called the Crossroads of America for nothing), but I think it will be really interesting to read a history taking a slightly different perspective on ethnicity in the Midwest. Thanks for letting us know about it!

  2. Quite a few American students are going to Germany for their undergraduate degrees, according to this story from BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32821678

    This doesn’t address your questions directly (grad and undergrad are different), but I think it does show that if pitched correctly there is a market for it.

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