Friday, December 18, 2009

Herta Müller, 2009 Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, and the Story of her Ancestors' Migration

On December 10, Herta Müller accepted the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature in a ceremony in Stockholm. When the award winner was announced in the fall, many asked: “Who is Herta Müller?” Her selection may have come as surprise, but the timing was no coincidence. 2009, after all, is the year of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Europe, and much of Herta Müller’s work focuses on life in Romania under the repressive Ceauşescu regime. Her perspective is that of a member of the Romanian-German minority population, and she writes in German.
Herta Müller grew up in the small village of Nitchidorf in Romania in a German-speaking family and a German-speaking community that was founded by immigrants from Southwest Germany over 200 years ago...
Read the complete article here
Image 1:; Image 2:

Monday, November 16, 2009

"An exhibit of national forgetfulness"

Cora Lee Kluge’s 2007 publication, Other Witnesses: An Anthology of Literature of the German Americans, 1850-1914, continues to attract attention for its attempt to include German-language works by immigrant writers as part of American literature. A new review by Andrew Yox (Northeast Texas Community College) has just appeared on H-Net Humanities & Social Sciences Online, and is worth reading.

During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, enough of the American population read German to allow for a rich harvest of writing in that language; as revealed in Other Witnesses, authors produced works ranging from poems to plays, and from fiction to travel literature. But the audience of German readers did dwindle, and German-language publishing houses eventually ceased their operations, with the result that such German-American writings have been relegated to libraries and archives, while essentially fading from our national consciousness.

Of course, the greatest obstacle to appreciating these works today is indeed the fact that they are written in German. We’ve all heard the phrase, “lost in translation,” and no doubt some of the impact and beauty would be lost if the words of these “other witnesses” were shifted into English. But someday, perhaps, the task will be undertaken, and America can once again reclaim a part of its literary heritage.

Friday, October 2, 2009

German and Polish Students Study Immigration and Ethnicity in the Upper Midwest.

A week ago, a group of sixteen students from the American Studies Institutes of the University of Leipzig, Germany, and of the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland visited Wisconsin. Led by Professor Hartmut Keil, the group was on a two-week study tour of the Upper Midwest to learn about immigration and internal migration past and present, and issues of ethnicity in rural and urban America. At UW-Madison, the group attended a workshop on Language & Immigration and the following day visited one of Wisconsin’s many small rural communities that were settled in the 1850s primarily by German immigrants: Hustisford in Dodge County. Members of the Hustisford Historical Society graciously showed us their town, the historical museum Founder John Hustis’ old house), and the Lutheran church. Evidence of Hustisford German-American history was everywhere: in names, stories, signs, buildings, and the personal inscription in an old family bible that Prof. Keil translated. Read more about the Immigration and Ethnicity Study Tour on the group’s blog.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wilhelm Tell in New Glarus – Last Performance in German?

Every September for 72 years, the community of New Glarus, WI has performed Wilhelm Tell, Friedrich Schiller's play about Swiss independence. The play is presented on a natural outdoor stage in two versions: in English and in the original German. Now the Wisconsin State Journal reports that, due to dwindeling audience numbers, this year might be the last year the play is staged in German. Furthermore, the English show has been shortened from three to two hours. If you want to experience (maybe for the last time) a unique example of traditional German-language American community theatre come to the Wilhelm Tell Grounds on September 5 at 10am, and also join the weekend-long Wilhelm Tell Festival. More information is available at

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

German Word Blocks

Recently I visited the WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) Historical Institute, which is located in the Salem Landmark Church in northwest Milwaukee. The institute is in the process of restoring this beautiful church. In the basement there are displayed a number of artifacts and documents related to WELS history, most of which were donated by individuals, congregations, and schools from the Milwaukee area. In a display devoted to early parochial schools, I was fascinated to see a collection of about 32 wooden blocks, each measuring about 10" x 10" x 10". On each face there was a German word or pair of words in Fraktur (and also punctuation marks), which were applied with black paint and (probably) stencils. The material is light plywood and each block is numbered. The blocks were stored in a folding cabinet about 5 feet tall. Two pictures of these blocks and the cabinet are given below:

The gentleman who gave me the tour through the collection said the blocks likely came from a WELS school in downtown Milwaukee. Their function was evidently to give children practice in composing German sentences. I have scoured the Internet for references to similar teaching aids and have not found anything comparable, which suggests that these blocks might have been the brainchild of one enterprising German teacher (with some good carpentry skills). I would be excited to hear whether any of our readers have seen or heard of anything similar!

Mark L.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dirndl for Barbie

It was to happen sooner or later…. Just in time for the Munich Oktoberfest, Barbie – the most American of all dolls – will add a Dirndl to her vast collection of outfits. Designed by Munich designer Lola Paltinger the stylish Bavarian dress will be unveiled at the Oktoberfest and other events.
This means Barbie has come full circle. Barbie was inspired by the Bild-Lilli doll, who was presented as a young, attractive woman, dressed in fashionable clothes and having her own career, and who was modeled after the heroine of a popular 1950s comic strip in Bild magazine. At that time, Ruth Handler, American mother and wife of a Martell toy company co-founder, was looking for a doll for her daughter that was not an infant. On a trip to Europe, she saw Bild-Lilli, brought several of the dolls to America, made some design changes, and convinced her husband to manufacture her new Barbie. And the rest is history…
For more on the story go to, which is also the source of the picture used here. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Historic American Newspapers in Languages Other Than English?

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers ( is a new digital project initiated by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. The Web site provides descriptive information about all American newspapers published from 1690 to the present day, including those in languages other than English, such as Albanian, Arabic, Cherokee, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Norwegian, Thai, and many more. Information on a specific newspaper includes title, place of publication, publisher, dates of publication, frequency, succeeding titles, and a summary of available holdings, in original format or microfilm, at various institutions.

Digital images of select newspaper pages can also be viewed online. At this point in the project, only pages from English-language papers published from 1880 to 1992 from the following states are available: California, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.

We at the MKI would of course like to be able to search, retrieve, and view pages from German-language newspapers, and hope they might be included in the scope of the project as it continues. No doubt researchers would like to see pages from newspapers published in all the other languages as well, which would help to create a richer picture of American history.

A search of the site shows that only Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, and Vermont had no German-language newspapers, while Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Wyoming only had ones published in Prisoner of War camps. Consulting the impressive three-volume The German Language Press of the Americas by Karl Arndt and May Olson (München: Verlag Dokumentation, 3rd edition, 1976), shows just a few differences, particularly for Nevada, where there were apparently four extremely short-lived German-language papers. It may be that no copies survived, and thus none of the libraries reporting to the online project had any records for them.

Chronicling America is an important project, and we look forward to checking in on its progress in the future.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Language Matters for Wisconsin

We are excited that the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies has received an Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment grant for the project "Language Matters for Wisconsin." MKI, together with Thomas Purnell (Linguistics), Eric Raimy (English), and Joe Salmons (Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures) will work with community partners across Wisconsin to hold public forums addressing local and regional language-related issues and concerns. We are also producing language maps, developing community-linked Web sites, and producing a general-interest book exploring languages and dialects across the state. This project builds on the highly successful Wisconsin Englishes Project . Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Impressions from Max Kade Institute Banquet and Conference

The capstone events of the Max Kade Institute's 25th anniversary year were a huge success. Over a hundred people attended the banquet on April 1 where German Ambassador Dr. Klaus Scharioth (here with MKI Director Cora Lee Kluge) was our guest of honor and spoke to the audience about "Why the German-American Relationship Matters."

Professor Emeritus Jost Hermand of the UW-German Department gave the keynote address: "Forced out of Hitler's Reich: Five Eminent Madisonians."

On April 2 and 3, the conference "Excursions in German-American Studies," drew a large audience of students, faculty, Friends of the MKI, and many other people interested in the diverse and thought-provoking presentations. We all came away with new insights, thoughts, and an awareness of how broad the field of German-American Studies is, and how many angles remain to be explored. Here is Louis Pitschmann, Director of Libraries at the University of Alabama, presenting to a rapt audience on "Advancing German-American Studies in the Digital Age."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fachwerkhäuser of Dodge County and Annual Meeting of MKI Friends, May 2

Join us on Saturday, May 2, for an exciting day as we explore the German heritage of Dodge County, WI. We will take a bus tour of German Fachwerkhäuser (half-timbered houses) of Watertown and Lebanon with historian Lyle Lidholm, hold our annual meeting at the Beaver Dam Community Library, visit a special exhibit at the Williams Free Library and Museum in Beaver Dam, and have a traditional dinner at Feil's Supper Club in Randolph. All the details are on the MKI Web site.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

German in Wisconsin

If you're not able to attend the MKI 25th Anniversary banquet this evening, you might want to tune in to NPR's All Things Considered, which is running a great story on German in Wisconsin, with a focus on Hustisford. Joe Salmons is one of the featured experts. You can access the story online here.


Friday, March 20, 2009

International Confernece: Excursions in German-American Studies

Please join us for the Capstone Event of the Max Kade Institute's
25th Anniversary Celebration
April 2-3, Memorial Union, UW-Madison Campus
April 2, 2009, 9–12 a.m.: “America and Her Immigrants: Ethnicity, Policy, Ideas.”
1. Walter Kamphoefner (Texas A&M University): “Elvis and Other Germans: Some Reflections and Modest Proposals on the Study of German- American Ethnicity.”
2. Daniel J. Tichenor (University of Oregon): “German Americans and the U.S. Immigrant Experience: Historical and Contemporary Significance.”
3. Hartmut Keil (University of Leipzig): “The Americanization of Francis Lieber: Liberal Ideals and the Realities of the Slave South.”

April 2, 2009, 3–5 p.m.: “German-American Language and Literature.”
1. Daniel Nützel (University of Regensburg): “German Dialects on Different Paths to Extinction: The Examples of Haysville, IN and New Ulm, MN.”
2. Lorie A. Vanchena (University of Kansas): “Taking Stock: The Disappearance of German-American Literature.”

April 3, 2009, 9–12 a.m.: “Creating the American Myth.”
1. Hugh Ridley (University College Dublin): “Sealsfield’s ‘Prärie am Jacinto’: The Half-Unfolded Spring of German and American Literature.”
2. Steven D. Hoelscher (University of Texas at Austin): “Performing the American Myth by Speaking German: Changing Meanings of Ethnic Identity Between the Wars.”
3. Kathleen Neils Conzen (University of Chicago): “Democracy and Diversity: German Theorizing in Tocqueville’s America.”

April 3, 2009, 2–5 p.m.:“Learning From Each Other.”
1. Uwe Luebken (Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich): “Explorations into the History of Floods and Flood Control in the United States and Germany.”
2. Louis A. Pitschmann (University of Alabama): “Advancing German-American Studies in the Digital Age: Opportunities for Collaboration.”
3. Members of the University of Wisconsin Faculty: Panel Discussion.
The conference has been generously supported by the Federal Republic of Germany, Consulate General Chicago; the Max Kade Foundation; the UW Anonymous Fund; the Friends of the Max Kade Institute; the UW Department of German; and the UW Center for German and European Studies.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday in Pennsylvania


As you may know, today is Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday), the eve of the Lenten Season. Known as Karneval in Cologne, Fasching in Bavaria, and Fasnet in southwestern Germany and parts of Switzerland, traces of the tradition have come to Pennsylvania via the German-speaking progenitors of the Pennsylvania Dutch (about whom we will talk in week 4). The word for "donut" in PA Dutch is "Fasnacht", from "Fastnacht" (< 'eve of the fasting season'). At this time it was traditional for people to use up some food items (lard, sugar, etc.) they would be forgoing during Lent, hence the practice of making donuts. "Fasnacht" has entered regional Pennsylvania English (somewhat like "bismarck", from the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago, I believe). At left is a photo I received from Joshua Brown, a graduate student in German Linguistics at Penn State University. Although State College, PA, is located outside of the traditional Dutch Country, that hasn't stopped the Dunkin Donuts there from capitalizing on their day in the sun!

You can also access an article on fasnachts from the Morning Call in Allentown, PA, here.

Enjoy, Mark (Louden)

Friday, January 23, 2009

MKI Online Course on the German-American Experience

Over the years many of our Friends from outside of Madison and Wisconsin have complained that they were unable to attend MKI lectures and classes. Now is your chance! Together with the Wisconsin Alumni Association, we are offering a six-week online course on the German-American Experience. The course provides you with archived video and audio, interviews, slides and the expertise of six UW-Madison faculty and staff. To enhance your experience even more, the course includes a supplemental reader, other publications and an online class message board for comments and questions.

The cost is $139 per person, with a special rate of $119 for WAA and UW OLLI members, and members of the Friends of the Max Kade Institute. It's not too late to become a Friend of the MKI! Join the Friends! To register for the course now click here: Online: The German-American Experience Registration deadline is Monday, February 9, 2009.

Weekly Topics and Instructors
1. The German Immigration Experience, Cora Lee Kluge,Professor of German and Director of the Max Kade
2. German-American Print Culture, Kevin Kurdylo,Librarian and Archivist for the Max Kade Institute
3. Languages of German-Americans, Joe Salmons,Professor of German and Director of the UW Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures
4. Pennsylvania Dutch: An American Language with German Roots, Mark Louden, Professor of German and former director of the Max Kade Institute
5. Dutchman Bands and Dialect Songs: German Folk Music in the Upper Midwest, Jim Leary, Professor of Folklore and Scandinavian Studies and Director of the UW Folklore Program
6. German American Cookbooks and Food Traditions, Antje Petty,Associate Director, Max Kade Institute.