Book Review on “Abolitionizing Missouri”

Cross-posted from: H-TGS

Sarah Panter, Review of: Kristen Layne Anderson. Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. 272 pp. $48.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-6196-8.

Reviewed by Sarah Panter (Leibniz Institute of European History)
Published on H-TGS (September, 2016)
Commissioned by Alison C. Efford

Until a decade ago, it seemed that almost everything had been said about the experiences of nineteenth-century German immigrants in the United States. In recent years, however, historians have provided fresh perspectives on broader aspects of the social, political, and cultural history of the German-speaking diaspora in the United States. This is especially true of the second half of the nineteenth century and becomes visible, for example, in the claims for a “transnational turn in Civil War history.”[1] As a result, younger scholars have adapted new methodological approaches and started to open up the international potential of this research field by emphasizing the need to contextualize the attitudes of German-speaking immigrants and how they negotiated social, cultural, and racial differences in an entangled transatlantic space.[2]

In this larger context, Kristen Layne Anderson provides a valuable and well-written study. Anderson aims to question the image of German immigrants as idealistic fighters for humanity and as indisputably radical abolitionists in the border state of Missouri, particularly in St. Louis. In so doing, the author shows convincingly that “the racial ideology of the majority of German Americans in St. Louis was quite pragmatic, in that they shifted their position on slavery and the place of African Americans in American society when it benefited their own community to do so” (p. 3). Correspondingly, German Missourians took different stands on questions of race, gender, class, and religion between 1848 and 1870. The study’s arguments are supported by drawing on a broad range of sources, including the German- and English-language press representing different political orientations, statistical material from census documents, and personal and family papers. The six chapters are arranged chronologically and mainly follow political events and dynamics with regard to the questions of slavery and racial equality.

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New Publication: Robert Brier’s Inspiring Article on the Recent Historiography on Human Rights

JEH2015Robert Brier’s inspiring article Beyond the Quest for a “Breakthrough”: Reflections on the Recent Historiography on Human Rights has been published in the European History Yearbook 2015 and is available in open access.

Abstract: Human rights have become a central object of international and global history, with research focusing on the question where the origins of the central position of human rights language in our own time lie. The aim of this article is to take stock of this debate and discuss possible future avenues of research. The existing literature has shown, the article argues, that the 1970s were a crucial time for the rise of human rights, but it also warns against declaring this decade or any other time the definite breakthrough for human rights. Underlining how human rights have always been influenced by their past, discussing how tenuous the international position of human rights remains well into our own time and exposing different meanings human rights acquired historically, the article concludes that the identification of multiple chronologies of post-war human rights history and a focus on the great variety of human rights vernaculars provide more promising avenues along which to push this project ahead than the quest for an elusive human rights breakthrough.

Dr. Robert Brier is LSE Fellow in International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science.