A Course Blog by Amy Schmidgall

Category: Readings

The Swiss

On Wednesday, September 20th, Joy and I met with a local Apostolic historian.  In the interview, he explained to us that the first Apostolic to arrive in Morris, Chris Luthi (who happened to be his grandfather) was Swiss, not German as we (I) had previously been lead to believe.  This explains why Apostolics are still commonly, and somewhat derogatorily,  referred to as “Switzers” (prounounced swīt-z/er/).  While it is true that Germans Apostolics did eventually begin migrating to Morris, this ignorance of migration origin sadly indicates a loss of personal history.

After meeting with Mr. Luthi, Joy and I went to the public library to check out their selection of state and local resources.   It was there that we found the book, “They Chose Minnesota.”   What a gem!  It is loaded with information on nearly every ethnic group existing within our state’s borders.  For our study, the chapters of greatest interest in this book include: The Mexicans, The Germans, and especially The Swiss.   Perhaps it is just me, but when I read history books such as this one, it is easy to skim the through the facts (dates, names, maps) without grasping much of their significance.  However, because we were so fortunate to receive a brief history on Apostolic Swiss before hand, the historical data in this chapter took on much greater meaning.  Three points which I found particularly interesting, especially in conjunction with our study was that: 1. “Swiss emigration was not a result of overpopulation,” 2. “Emigration was stimulated by ‘American letters’,” and 3. there were “Government subsidies to remove poor people.1”  As I read each of these statements I compared them to what we  have already been told about Swiss history and I also considered how they applied to the emigration of the Apostolic peoples.  It is unfortunately to think that previously, I probably would have passed over these ideas.  To me, this reinforces the fact that Joy and I need to be diligent in bringing this history to life verses presenting dry facts.

This idea also rang true as I perused the the chapter,The Mexicans. Interestingly what immediately stood out  to me was a reference to migrant workers following the Red River and Minnesota River in search of agricultural work2.  Every study I have read on early Minnesota migration refers to the use of rivers as a means of land settlement.  The concept of “water highways” is not new to me, however, while reading this section, its significance in our history and the pure uniqueness of the Minnesota landscape really struck me.  We ARE the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”… 11,842 to be exact, 6,564 rivers and streams, and 10.6 million acres of wetlands.  Even more interesting is that Minnesota’s waters flow outward in three different directions: north into Canada, east to the Atlantic, and south to the Gulf3.  It is little wonder why our state has such a rich migration history.

Perhaps I’m being a little biased…


1deGryse, Louis M. “The Swiss.” In They Chose Minnesota, 211-219. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1981.

2Diebold, Susan M. “The Mexicans.” In They Chose Minnesota, 92-107. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1981.

3“Lakes, rivers, and wetlands facts.” Lakes, rivers and wetlands: Minnesota DNR, www.dnr.state.mn.us/faq/mnfacts/water.html. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.


Influencing Factors

Factors Influencing the Distribution of the German Pioneer Population in Minnesota

In the article, “Factors Influencing the Distribution of the German Pioneer Population in Minnesota”, published in 1945, author, Hildegard Binder Johnson, lead a study on the factors which influenced the migration and distribution of rural German settlers in specific regions throughout Minnesota during the pioneer period.   What is unique about this study is that the author did not look at German migration to Minnesota as a whole, but rather examined the major settlements individually.  In doing so, her aim was to invalidate common generalization regarding early rural German settlers.  Additionally, she hoped that a more narrow study of individual settlements would contribute to a greater understanding of the phenomenon of immigrant distribution.

Some of the generalizations which Johnson identified were:

  • The Germans were not frontiersmen who liked to settle in the wilderness (page 39).
  • The German farmers instinctively selected good soil (page 39).
  • Germans, like other European immigrants, preferred to settle where the landscape and climate were similar to those of their homeland (page 40).
  • Germans were more frequently blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, bakers, brewers, millers, and shoemakers verses bankers, real-estate dealers, merchants, attorneys, doctors, or office clerks (page 42).

According to Johnson’s findings, the factors which did influence (or not influence) the early migration, distribution, and settlement of German pioneers varied greatly.  Some examples outlined in the study included:

  • Railroads: Interestingly, railroads played a minimal role in early rural German migration due to the fact that, at that time, the railroads in Minnesota were virtually non-existent (page 56).
  • Rivers:  The main highways of German migration were rivers.  In some cases the desire to settle along navigable rivers was very strong, and it superseded the desire for timbered land. When land bordering the river was already taken, the Germans pushed inland (page 56).
  • Trade interests and opportunities: A fifth of the German pioneer population that settled in towns did so because of their trade interests and opportunities and not because the towns happened to be on waterways (page 56).
  • Chain migration: In some cases Johnson discovered that letters from friends and relatives were the main influence of migration.
  • Notional cohesion: The factor of national cohesion was exclusively responsible for Germans settling in townships where the soil, the timber supply, and transportation facilities were no better than those of neighboring townships where they did not settle (page 57).
  • Tribal character: The “tribal character” of the Germans led to distinct divisions between those from southern and southwestern Germany and those from northern Germany which also corresponded with the religious faith of the immigrants (page 57).

How does this reading apply to our study?

Although this study did not include the county in which our research is taking place, the data collected is very valuable to our study as we considering the factors surrounding German immigration as a whole.  This study also provoked a number of questions I had never considered about the Apostolics in Stevens County, such as:

  1. Were the first Apostolics in Stevens County German?  If not, what other nationalities were they? But, if so …
    • What other Germans existed in Stevens County when the Apostilic Germans arrived?
    • What part/s of Germany did Apostolic migrants originate?  Is that origin significant in any way?
    • What was the relationship with other Germans of different faiths?
  2. One of the largest churches in Morris is Assumption (Catholic church). What nationality start that church?
  3. How did the Catholic Church deal with Apostolic newcomers?
  4. The reading talks about the “tribal character” of Germans.  Did this “character” also exist within the German Apostolics?  Were they bound not only by religion but also by ethnicity?
  5. The reading also talks about scouts finding land for Germans. We know that there was a scout who brought the first wave of Apostolics to Stevens County.
    • Who was that scout?
    • Was he an independent contractor or did he work for a scouting/recruiting company?
    • How does that parallel to the scouts sent to MX for present labor needs?
  6. The migration of the Apostolics to Stevens County occurred several years after the initial migration of German pioneers. According to this study the major part of the German migration into Minnesota would have ended by the time the Apostolics arrived, however within Stevens County the increase in German migrants had just begun.  What are the past and current ratios of Apostolics in Stevens County?  Has this ratio increased over time?
  7. What have been the primary push/pull factors bringing Apostolics to Stevens County? (marriage, church building, and economy/business)

How might this reading apply to other class projects?

Although the author’s focus concentrated solely on German migration within Minnesota, her processes of investigation and overall findings can be applied to any migration and distribution of people groups.  I believe the most valuable lesson I gleaned from this study is the fact that researchers should not fall into the trap of accepting migration generalizations.  I was surprised to learn how varied the migration factors were from county to county.   By reviewing  this study, researchers will gain a better understanding of the complexities of migration factors of a single nationality which can exist within a minimal radius.


Johnson, Hildegard Binder. “Factors Influencing the Distribution of the German Pioneer Population in Minnesota.” Agricultural History 19, no. 1, 1945: 39-57.

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.


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?