History, Department of


Date of this Version



Published 1990 by University of Illinois Press. Electronic edition copyright (c) 2016 Frederick C. Luebke.


In some respects the new immigration history contrasts strongly with the old. Whereas the traditional was assimilationist and stressed the cultural contributions of the newcomers, the new is more often pluralist and focuses on cultural conflict. The old tended to describe individual accomplishment and, drawing upon readily available sources such as letters, speeches, diaries, and other qualitative sources, was unintentionally elitist; the new analyzes the relationships of the ethnic group (i.e., the masses of ordinary people of limited skills in communication) with elements of the receiving society, including other ethnocultural collectivities. It uses quantitative sources, such as census manuscripts, tax lists, city directories, voting data, and other public records. Whereas traditional immigration history tended to perceive unity or homogeneity within an ethnic group, the new analyzes diversity and internal variation.

The new historians of immigration have often used the concepts and methods of the social sciences. This derives partly from their need to analyze social structures as necessary background for understanding historical events. Such an approach was uncommon among traditionalist historians of an earlier time, who more often sought to explain the causes and consequences of specific historical events without fair consideration for the social setting.

In my own case, I discovered early on that extensive reading in traditional studies of German-American history provided me with few tools to analyze immigrant political behavior in a systematic way on a local level or to analyze voter data comparatively. I therefore turned to sociologists and political scientists for help; later I was attracted to the concepts and methods of cultural geographers and anthropologists. Scholars in those disciplines may well abjure any apparent relationship between their work and mine. But in adapting some of their ideas I have intended to supplement rather than to replace traditional concepts and methods in immigration history.

All of the previously published essays presented here are essentially in their original form. I have corrected mistakes that have come to my attention and have made minor revisions. In most cases they were published in journals not widely distributed or in books with titles that, for entirely appropriate reasons, tended to obscure the content of my articles and their relationship to immigration history. They are unified by a style of thought or point of view that seeks to transcend filiopietism and to find the place of German immigrants in the broad context of social history. Collected in the format of this book, they may make a contribution to the history of Germans in the Americas that was not possible when published separately.