Saturday, March 21, 2009

Research on the History of Chicago

This past week I have been focused on making progress in the research for our paper about Chicago. The topic of my paper will be the German immigrant community in Chicago between 1880/1890 and World War I. Even though I know that the main focus of our paper is supposed to be from 1900 onward, I am expanding the time frame to this earlier time period because the vast influx of immigrants, particularly German immigrants, was during the two decades before 1900. German immigration to Chicago encompassed a number of social groups from Germany, ranging from some academics to mainly skilled craft labor and industrial labor. Given the vast scope of German immigrants and the richness of German American institutions in Chicago, trying to portray the entire nature of German American immigration in Chicago would be too ambitious of an endeavor for a paper of five pages.

Therefore the research I conducted within the past week was focused on narrowing the subject down and finding a thesis. One thing that has been catching my eye while reading our textbook and also reading the “City of Big Shoulders” book is that these sources generally point to the fact that German immigrants where more widely accepted by American society than Southern European or Irish immigrants. These ‘textbook-like’ sources also assert that the lack of resentment towards German immigrants had to do with the fact that they adapted more readily to American society than other immigrant groups. While I can certainly agree that up to World War I, German immigrants were received well in Chicago, my research and reading of scholarly articles about the German immigrant community and findings from primary sources do not necessarily support the claim that German immigrant groups assimilated faster to American life than other groups. My paper will disprove this claim, showing that the German immigrants led a social and cultural life almost entirely restricted to the replica of German institutions in Chicago and that they lived secluded from Americans and / or other immigrant groups. I will show that the proclaimed “fast integration” into American culture and life did not actually take place until the onset of World War I, when anti-German sentiment and propaganda prompted German immigrants to renounce their own cultural agenda.

At the beginning, finding resources was a rather tedious process. My initial assumption that the fact that German is my first language and would make research easy for me did not necessarily hold true, because either the German sources I found were not accessible through our library or interlibrary loan, and many German sources were from an earlier time period or off-subjects. The majority of my scholarly articles now are some form of collaboration between German and American university scholars. Even though I had placed my interlibrary loan request before Spring Break, I am still waiting on some sources. In general, I can say that for very basic information and a starting point, the reference section was my best bet – and there are many more useful reference books besides the ones we were shown in the library session.

Regarding primary sources the Internet has proven very useful. Most of my findings come from the digital collection of the Library of Congress, specifically its “American Memory” or domestic history collection ( The collection is organized by topics, which makes searching far easier. The Chicago Historical Society also has what they call “History Files” on the most important subjects in Chicago History. It did not necessarily help with a topic as specific as mine but is a great source for more widely known events. The page also offers a photo gallery, compiled bibliographies and historic files regarding the topics ( Another very valuable source is the Encyclopedia of Chicago, which offers information on all kinds of topics as well as links to primary sources (

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