Migration, in Klaus J. Bade’s words, like birth, disease, and death, belongs among the most basic of the human conditions. The United States, considered a “country of immigration” or a “society of immigrants” have a long tradition of dealing with the legal, political, cultural challenges of both migration and integration. In my project I am focusing on German migration to the United States in the 19th century following the end of the Civil War. I argue that the crossing of borders and boundaries was a central experience in the everyday life of German migrants even beyond the actual physical movement from one country to another: For migrants the process of moving, settling and making a new home involved the circulation of information, goods, and funds across legal and geographical borders. On the other hand it also meant the challenge of transcending cultural boundaries such as the acquisition of a new language, the quest of becoming integral to the new society, the perception of and interaction with other minorities.
Analyzing migrant letters to relatives and friends in Germany I explore how the experience of boundaries, territorial and ideological, figures in individual texts. I would like to show that this correspondence was not only a way of communicating, but a strategy to negotiate manifold borders and boundaries. The objective is to explore the multiplicity and plurality of migrant experiences by way of focusing on individual cases: How do the writers of the letters convey or narrate their world? How do they reflect their experience of crossing borders? How do they attempt to transcend the boundary to the addressee posed by the space between them?
The context of the Civil War’s aftermath when, after a decline during the war years, the number of immigrants rose again, seems particularly relevant for an examination of this kind: post-war immigrants reached the country in a period not only of heightened awareness of border lines, their transgression, violation, and defense but also of profound changes in almost all areas of life as the United States entered the second phase of the Industrial Revolution.
Since Fall 2007: Doctroral Candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin.
2006: M. A. degree in North American History and Historical Anthropology, Universität Erfurt
2003-2004: Fulbright exchange student at the University of California at Los Angeles
2002: B.A. degree in History and Comparative Literature, Universität Erfurt
2000: Exchange student at Beloit College (Wisconsin)