A Course Blog by Amy Schmidgall

Category: The Journey


It is a good feeling when you are at a point in a project where you feel organized and purposeful in your work. Joy and I spent time this week story-boarding and finalizing our plan for our website, Toward a Better Land: Migration on the Minnesota Prairie.  We are going reveal the stories of Apostolic and Mexican migration a bit non-traditionally using Prezi presentations.    Both Joy and I like a clean,  organized look and we feel that by using Prezi our readers will not get lost in word and be more engaged.  It will be exciting to see it all come together.  After we decided on how we were going to visually present our project, we worked together to finalize our project contract.  I think that I can speak for the both of us in that, having firm due dates and clear steps in the project lowers anxiety.   Creating project contracts with your professor or even just for yourself is an excellent way to set goals and see how attainable those goal are in a specific time frame.  A copy of our final contract can be found on this blog under or the heading “Project Contract” or by clicking on the hyperlink.


Just as I began working on today’s blog post outlining our team’s progress, I received a message from my partner Joy asking me to read HER blog.

Joy’s Blog – Contract and Week 5 Update

She did a fantastic job! (and I’m not just saying that because of all the compliments she paid me on my web development abilities)

As Joy indicated in her blog, today we spent a fair amount of time defining our project.  It felt good to finally sit down and organize our ideas, draw out a plan, and create a task list and project timeline.   Working with Joy is… well… a JOY!  I believe we compliment each others strengths and weaknesses and are able to compromise and support each other when needed. There is no doubt that our plan for this project is an ambitious one, but as the saying goes… “Go Big or Go Home!” Individually there is no way we could accomplish all we have set out to do, but as a team I’m confident it is possible.  Click on the link below to see our up-to-date project contract (click on the back button to return to this post).

Project Contract – Joy Stephansen & Amy Schmidgall

And it is true, I did spend a ridiculous (almost obsessive) about of time this past weekend working on developing our website, but I have no regrets.   As I am a VERY visual learner, it was very important to me have our website organized as soon as possible.  It will help me as we move forward to gauge our progress and better assess our needs (e.g. where we may be missing important information or where we need to focus more).  Check it out!

Toward a Better Land: Migration on the Minnesota Prairie

Moving forward, Joy and I decided that I would concentrate my time on the Apostolic research and history and she will focus on local Mexican history.  This Wednesday we will be meeting with a local Apostolic historian who is a direct descendant of one of the first Apostolic pioneers to Stevens County.  He and his wife are very excited to share their knowledge with us.   We (Joy and I) have talked in class and blogged a lot about our goal to use the history of the Apostolic Church migration in conjunction with the history of the Mexican migration in Stevens County in hopes to make a difference in the way people view migration and culture.  But, it wasn’t until this weekend that I realized how equally important this project is in preserving the local Apostolic history.   In church on Sunday I began to ask various people if they had information about their ancestors in the church.   Very surprising to me, they did not.  It is a history that is being forgotten and lost.  One women even commented to me, “You better ask Rueben while he is still alive and sharp, otherwise it will be lost forever.”  When I explain to people in the church about our project, they light up with excitement.

There is no doubt that this is a migration story that needs to be preserved and shared.

A Minnesota Migration Moment

When I was asked last spring if I’d be interested in participating in a class which would study local migrations, I was thrilled.   Since I am majoring in “Latin American Studies”, my immediate thoughts gravitated towards the consistently-increasing, local Mexican and Puerto Rican population. As I continued to ponder the direction this study might take,  I had the opportunity over the summer to visit with a number of people throughout Morris from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Norwegian, German, Irish, Finnish, Jamaican, Haitian, Cuban, Dominican, Venezuelan, South African, Colombian, Mexican, Russian, Latvian, Chinese, and Nicaraguan.   Everyone took great delight in sharing stories of their heritage with me and many expressed pride in the unique ethnic diversity found in our rural Midwestern community.   On the other hand, there were also those who, unfortunately, indicated their resentment toward the recent  influx of Hispanic “immigrants”.    While I disagree those sentiments, I can acknowledge and empathize with the complexity of the situation and the feelings of negativity, distrust, and animosity.    However, I made an interesting observation as I talked with people about their heritage and ethnicity.  To me, it seemed that those whom possessed a greater and more detailed knowledge of their own family’s histories were those which were more open to embracing ethnic diversity.  Perhaps, I am wrong.  Nevertheless, it caused me to think about this project in a different light.  It was at that point that I began to think about what it is that connects the current migration of Mexican and Puerto Rican peoples to specific moments and people groups of past migration within Stevens County.   I believe that connection exists in the migration of the Apostolic Christian church.   A vast majority of Hispanics living in Stevens County today are here because they have been contracted as temporary immigrant workers on TN, H2B, H2A, or H1B visas to work in either the agriculture or manufacturing industries created, owned, and/or operated by people of the Apostolic faith.  I hope that by drawing this connection and demonstrating the similarities between the migration and lives of these two people groups, that it will enable those struggling to embrace change to look beyond current rhetoric and consider “immigration” from a different point of view.   By illustrating the migration history of the Apostolic people, Joy and I will demonstrate that we are all products of migration and that as migrants or descendants of migrants, we don’t have to change who we are or what we believe in, in order to respect and appreciate other people groups and cultures in our community.


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?