A Course Blog by Amy Schmidgall

Month: August 2017

Where do I begin?

When Joy and I began talking about the direction we wanted to go with our digital history project, the main concern was, “Are we going to be able to find the type of information we need?” and “Where do we begin?”.   Before we decided on focusing on the migration of the Apostolic church, I started sharing the prospective idea with various people in the Church to get their reaction.  Based on their answers and suggestions I realized that:

  1. There is information out there.
  2. There are people local people we can reach out to.
  3. Much of the information is not going to be publicly available.

Joy and I visited our local historical society, the Stevens County Historical Society.   For being such a small town (approximately 5500 people), I was surprised at how well organized the historical society is and how much information they have archived.    After our visit, however, it was evident that, although we will be able to use them as great resource, we will need be creative in our research.

Some general archive resources available include:

I believe some of our greatest information is going to be found within the Church itself.   Interestingly enough, we were just informed this  week that a Church historian will be visiting our town in a couple of weeks to give a talk about the history of the Apostolic Church.   I have already reached out to him in hope of securing a personal interview and the names of other local church “historians”.   Within the Church there are also birth, marriage, and death records and a church-wide publication called the The Silver Lining.  

I have provided a good physical list of resources in which to jump-start our research, but I feel like the question, “Where do we begin?” is a question that goes a little deeper.    I believe we begin with people.  We begin with relationships.   We begin with open minds and open hearts.

For when this research begins, the stories of the those in past and present will become a part of our life stories forever….

Social Darwinism

The theory that persons, groups, and races are subject to the same laws of natural selection as Charles Darwin had perceived in plants and animals in nature. According to the theory, which was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the weak were diminished and their cultures delimited, while the strong grew in power and in cultural influence over the weak. Social Darwinists held that the life of humans in society was a struggle for existence ruled by “survival of the fittest.” These ideas were embraced by the turn-of-the-century elites confronting the challenges of how to transform their “backward,” underdeveloped nations into modern, “civilized” republic.


In the article “Is Everywhere Nowhere? Nomads, Nations, and the Immigrant Paradigm of the United States History,” author Donna Gabaccia makes and important reference to the theory of Social Darwinism.  She writes:

Curiously, however, the immigrant paradigm of American history is not a product of immigration history; it originates in a critique of racial nationalism within the Chicago School of Sociology. Rejecting social Darwinist notions that an over-heated melting pot was unable to absorb immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, the Chicago School documented immigrants’ rapid “straight-line” assimilation in American cities.

In previous studies of race and ethnicity in Latin America, I have examined the theory and effects of Social Darwinism from a historical standpoint, but I never thought to considered its connection with US’s immigrant paradigm.   For myself, I often get caught up in the study of “history” as facts and events without taking the time to relate it to the present.   The idea of “survival of the fittest” is still alive and strong in our society and for many is quite ingrained in our subconscious thought.   The spread of Social Darwinism plays a huge role in how we compare the nations, lives, culture, and migration of non-Western European nations (primarily) in to our own.   In moving forward in our local study of migration I feel it will benefit us to consider the theory of Social Darwinism in our community.

  • What role did Social Darwinism play in the formation of Stevens County?
  • Why is the question of Social Darwinism important to our research?
  • Does this theory impact/exist in our community today ?
  • By whom and how are these ideas, consciously or unconsciously, perpetuated?
  • Does Social Darwinism play any part in the current connection between the migration of the past and the migration of the present?


Gabaccia, Donna R. “Is Everywhere Nowhere? Nomads, Nations, and the Immigrant Paradign of the United States History.” The Journal of American History, 1999.


The Immigrant Paradigm

Immigrant Paradigm – The traditional notion that the history of immigration to the United States is the story of one-way European immigration and assimilation.

Adam Goodman, Nation Historians of Migration.

To me, the idea of the Immigrant Paradigm is quite fascinating.   It hasn’t been until my return to the university a couple of years ago that I have honestly thought much of migration beyond this nation’s history.  Of course, I think we all are curious of our own origins and the nations in which our ancestors originated but for me their stories really never began beyond US borders.    In my mind “migration” existed in ancient history and although ancient history is very interesting it is just that… ancient.   It almost seems funny how it never entered my mind to think beyond my own time and space.    My education throughout the 80’s and 90’s  centered around what is now termed the “Immigrant Paradigm” – the one-way European immigration movement.  We never studied or talked about Latin America, Asia, or African (beyond basic slave trade history) – at least that I remember.   However, with time, age, and maturity, I have gained a deeper appreciation and desire for historical truth.   I feel that, although history is full of atrocities against humanity, it is more productive to approach it with an open mind and lots of questions.   When I consider my lack of past education on migration, immigration, and emigration, I wonder why it is that historians chose and often still try to direct and influence our focus.  Why is nationalism a priority over truth?  What of other nations? Canada or Mexico for example.  What degree of influence has nationalism played in their migration narratives?   The book written by Gary Gerstle, entitled, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century, he speaks of this nationalism – how civic and racial ideals have “shaped US history, influenced critical immigration policies, shaped reform movements, and animated communal imagination (page 5).”  As I proceed on my quest to uncover the history of the Apostolic Church within Stevens County, it is important to constantly be mindful of the possible local, national, and global ideals which may have influenced the stories and information already available.   The Apostolic movement fits perfectly in the Immigrant Paradigm box.  As I pondered both the writings of Donna R. Gabaccia, “Is Everywhere Nowhere? Nomads, Nations, and the Immigrant Paradigm of United States History” and Adam Goodman, “Nation of Migrants, Historians of Migration”, many questions came to mind as I began to think outside the paradigm box.  For example, what factors did race play in the migration of the Apostolics? Was is made easier? During WWI how did race affect the lives of those who typically separated themselves.   What was the affect of race on their assimilation or lack of assimilation?  What relationship, if any, did Apostolics have with the native population in Morris?  Did race or ethnicity play a role in early business?  How did the Apostolics view themselves? Did THEY identify with a nation or an ethnicity? Did they claim loyalty to a nation?  What role did they faith play in nationalism?  What drove their migration?  Did it go deeper than religious freedom or spreading of the gospel?  According to Gabaccia, what is the “AC Everywhere”?

Gabaccia, Donna R. “Is Everywhere Nowhere? Nomads, Nations, and the Immigrant         Paradigm of the United States History.” The Journal of American History, 1999.

Gerstle, Gary. American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century. Princeton University Press, 2014.

Goodman, Adam. “Nation of Migrants, Historians of Migration.” Journal of American Ethnic History, 2015.


Apostolic Christian Church

This week it was made pretty clear to us (Joy Stephansen and myself) the direction we are going to take on our research.   One of the first ideas that I presented to Joy was to look at the history of the Apostolic Church in Stevens County and compare their migration stories and experiences with that of the recent Latino migration.   To those outside the community comparing these two seemingly very different migrations, people groups, and cultures may not make a whole lot of sense, but in reality they are very closely related (this full story will unfold in this blog over time).   But, before we decided on a direction, we both wanted to see if there were perhaps better options.  However, this week we got our answer.  It was announced that a Church historian was coming to Morris on September 9th to give a talk on the history of the Apostolic Church.    Our project is now underway!

The Apostolic Christian Church was founded in the early 1830’s by Samuel Froehlich, a former vicar in the Swiss Reformed Church.

While Froehlich was at the University of Zurich, and later in seminary at the University of Basel, he was swept away by the prevailing rationalistic and liberal philosophies of the professors. His heart became hardened. Yet, the Holy Spirit worked on him through the good example of some true Christian acquaintances. In 1825, he surrendered his life to Jesus, repented of his sins and was born again.

This created a dilemma.

As his faith and understanding of the Bible grew, he increasingly found himself at odds with the state church. He was still wrestling with this when he was ordained, and then assigned, to his first congregation as vicar. His passionate preaching about the need to be born again created a great awakening in his congregation at Leutwil, and spread to neighboring Swiss villages, much to the displeasure of state church authorities.

Despite reprimand from state church leaders, Froehlich would not compromise his biblical convictions. One of the last straws was his rejection of infant baptism. The state church dismissed him in 1831.

Soon thereafter, as led by the Lord, Froehlich began preaching throughout Switzerland and other parts of Europe, drawing souls hungry for the life-changing truths of repentance and conversion through Jesus Christ.

During his missionary journeys, Froehlich associated with Mennonites and other believers who had separated from the state church. Anabaptist beliefs influenced Froehlich’s positions, particularly on military service.

Within 35 years of Froehlich’s first missionary journey, despite intense persecutions, there were 110 congregations throughout Europe where the church was known as Evangelical Baptist.

The faith arrived in America in 1847 and eventually became known here as the Apostolic Christian Church.

Our American beginning was by invitation from a group in another denomination in upstate New York, who wrote to Froehlich asking for help in settling some spiritual disputes. Froehlich commissioned a gifted young elder, Benedict Weyeneth, to make the journey.

Weyeneth’s arrival set off a spark that grew to a blaze. A great number of the people who received him responded to his message of new birth and left to join Froehlich’s church, creating the first base of Apostolic Christian congregations in the U.S.

From there, the church spread further inland, following first river and then railroad routes as members sought out economic opportunity, primarily in the form of available farmland. This resulted in many congregations being established in the fertile Midwest. As immigrants came from Europe (mostly from the Froehlich churches) and new converts were added in the United States, the church flourished. The believers were zealous in living and spreading the Word in America.

From the 1920’s on, most of the new churches formed in America were founded in metropolitan areas. This was because many of the church’s offspring sought occupational opportunities outside of farming. Thus, today the Apostolic Christian Church consists of a blend of city and rural congregations.

Apostolic Christian Church

US Immigration History

As I embark on uncovering and understanding our local migration history, I understand that in order to develop a full understanding of this history, it is important to also consider the whole migration history of both the sending and receiving nations.  In the assigned article “The US has come a long way since its first, highly restrictive naturalization law,” the author Evan Taparata writes of changes in immigration law throughout US history.  I feel this article will be important for each one of us to consider as we develop our projects.  How did US immigration laws influence the migration stories of our community.  How do current laws influence today’s migration stories.  Nothing that I read in the article was new to me, as I have studies immigration history in previous classes, but what stood out to me (or what was reinforced once again for me) was the constant struggle to define citizenship.  What is a citizen?  It seems like such a simple question, but it isn’t.  And that simple question generates so much emotion.   We allow that “simple” word to define so much of who we are.  In this nation it is a coveted concept.  I wonder how other nations around the world deal with the ideas of citizenship.   Does citizenship shape/define belonging?  Yes and no.  You can be a citizen and still not possess the feeling of belonging.  However, isn’t that how or nation defines belonging?  Citizenship.  And in reverse you can feel like you belong/are a part of this nation and not possess citizenship.  Is the fear of security and economic instability really what prevents citizenship and belonging to be more open?  Is it a justified fear?  I am aware of some of the fears “citizens” in my community have in regard to our current influx of Mexican immigrants, but what about the past.  What were the migration fears members in my community faced?  Were those fears overcome? How?  How does that history affect current migration stories?