All posts by Dorris Keeven-Franke

Public Historian, Author, Archivist and Curator.

Emigrant – Immigrant

For the past year, Homeland has been providing an interesting new voice, on the immigration issue. Their website says:

Homeland is a Channel 9 initiative exploring the complicated issues of immigration. While immigration is a national issue, it plays out daily in the lives of people in St. Louis and in communities across the country. Homeland explores the contemporary story of immigration in America. It’s a story of refugees and new immigrants who find themselves walking a fine line between access to and expulsion from the American dream. It’s also a story of American citizens who wonder if legal and illegal immigrants threaten their way of life. It’s a story of intertwined and complex issues. It’s a complicated story.

Fifty miles west of St. Louis in Washington, Missouri, a City of just over 13,000 in the year 2000, one would think they are far removed from issues of immigration issue, but not really. You see, in 1833, several emigrants from near Osnabrück Germany stepped off the steamboat at the Missouri River landing, that hasn’t changed a bit since then, and as they say “the rest was history”! Located across from the southern Warren County village of Dutzow, where a German writer had extolled Missouri’s virtues in the 1830s, the town has maintained a strong connection with its German heritage.

Perhaps that’s why some immigrants to the United States feel so welcome. Because here we really are aware that we are not only a nation of emigrants, but a City of emigrants. By 1850, every member, except one,  of our City Council was German. That one exception was the founders’ son, and his sister had married one of those that had arrived in 1833.   In 2010, while attending a film-class project associated with Explore Homeland, Slava Petreva-Bowman, herself a modern emigrant, examined that history closer thinking it explained why she felt so “at home” in east central Missouri. Her short documentary Keeping the Culture Alive for Explore Homeland is an interesting perspective. As far as interest in that history, that is still alive in Germany as well.  Maybe that’s why Washington is considered such a friendly town.


Museums and Archives

One of my most favorite activities is a long leisurely visit to a museum.  A visit to a good museum will not only enrich and educate, but engage you.  I have such fond memories of several, in both Germany and in Missouri. There is nothing better than exhibits that pull you in and engage you, helping you to experience the emotions and feelings and relate to the subject. Usually, a good bookstore or archives is included, where I could also spend days, and a small fortune that I don’t have, as well. These days though, research and messages move at the speed of the internet, so I have come to wonder, why not an online museum and archives as well?

In September of 2010, I had the good fortune to visit the Deutsches Auswanderhaus in Bremerhaven with my friend, author Rolf Schmidt. It was a memorable experience. The  award-winning German Emigration Center could actually be compared, for those here in the U.S. to our Staten Island.  It allows visitors to follow the more than 7 million people who emigrated through the port of Bremerhaven.

As you enter, you immediately experience a room just as emigrants beginning in 1829 would have, when looking to leave Europe for the New World. Especially great were the rooms where you experience the departure and conditions you experienced in the crossing. As those conditions changed from sailing ships to modern day Ocean liners, so did your experience. For those looking to search for foregone friends, you will enjoy the rooms filled with file drawers and international databanks of personal objects of those who passed through this port. The bookstore is filled with treasures in all languages and the Children’s Museum adds an additional enrichment for those with family and small children. I highly urge anyone visiting Germany to include this museum.

In Washington, Missouri the Washington Historical Society allows the visitor, whether from the U.S. or Germany, to truly experience  a portion of Missouri’s German history.  Filled with exhibits covering everything from the Native Americans that roamed the area before the Europeans arrival to the local Washington Turnverein, one is able to understand the evolution of a City rich in German emigrant’s cultural history. When visiting with Director Marc Houseman, he is likely to pull out a picture from the thousands in their photo archives, available to all visitors. If you want to dig a little deeper, they have a great archives. For those doing research on their families, the Four Rivers Genealogy Society maintains a fantastic library – the Ralph Gregory Library – with the Kiel Files. If visiting Missouri, the Washington Historical Society Museum should be included if interested in Missouri’s German history.

Duden’s Confession on Account of his American Travel Report of 1837

I’ve received my copy of the Yearbook of German-American Studies, Volume 44, 2009 with great anticipation.  All of my expectations were fulfilled as well, with the fantastic treatment of Steven Rowan’s North American Democracy and the Work of de Tocqueville and Duden’s Confession on Account of his American Travel Report of 1837.  The Introductory Essay by Rowan is followed by his translation of the work, and a transcription of the work with the assistance of Franziska Bergmann.

Today’s immigrants worry more about the reception they will receive here in the United States, than they do about what the people at home think about their new life. While it is still a hard step to take, what many immigrants sacrifice to begin a new life in a new world, hasn’t changed much.  However, when Duden first published his Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America, he received criticisms for his work citing the differences between his description and what they actually found when they arrived. Anyone who lives in Missouri for more than one year, soon discovers what many here know, and that is as the famous Missourian Mark Twain stated “wait a bit and it will change” because there are never two years alike.  Unfortunately for Duden, he did not head – or hear – the locals advice about their weather being a bit unusual when he lived here from 1824 until 1827. Duden must not have understood, just how unusual, it really was. Or, perhaps he would not have advised for them to leave the feather ticks and comforters at home.

Rowan’s work finally gives voice to a man frustrated with his attempt to lead his fellow countrymen into a place he thought perfect. It reveals in much greater depth than his Report, Duden’s opinions and explanations for America’s politics, even on the issues of slavery. As we enter the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Duden reveals a foreigners’ views on many issues of the days leading up to war, and forecasts accurately.  He does not gloss over the situation either, so it cannot be stated that the earliest followers of Duden, were not aware of the issue. By sharing Duden’s work, Rowan finally gives us a picture of the Missouri that Duden wanted so desperately to promote to his fellow countrymen, in a far different manner than the Report ever did.

Anyone studying the issues of immigration will find Duden’s attack on Tocqueville, and his self-accusation in the accounts of his Report, will find it most revealing. Today’s social media, moves lightning fast. Essentially, I found Duden’s Confession, as self-revealing as today’s facebook posting of a friend. Just quite a bit longer.

The Society for German-American Studies Yearbook ISSN 0741-2827 can be purchased I am told. For membership inquiries, one should write J. Gregory Redding, Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN 47933. For $30 year, members receive the yearbook and a newsletter.