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Robert P. Swierenga -- Publications

The Third Generation and Dutch American Studies, 1960s-1990s

Robert P. Swierenga, Research Professor, A.C. Van Raalte Institute, Hope College

[Remarks made at a scholarly conference, "The Dutch American Experience: A Celebration of the Career of Robert P. Swierenga," Maas Center, Hope College, June 9, 2000]

I'm overwhelmed by your kindness in coming here today. I'm almost at a loss for words (I hear Joan say "never"). Thank you all, and especially Larry, Hans, and Elton, for this special day that I will never forget. Teaching has got to be the best job in the world. Where else can you have work with students and colleagues like the ones here today!!

Larry asked me to reflect on the development of Dutch American studies since I began my research in 1960. (I can't believe that it's been 40 years already.) One way to describe change in immigration studies is in terms of generations. The first are the pioneers who had the courage to leave their homeland and endure the hardship of being strangers in a strange land. They have a special spirit and pride in their triumphs and accomplishments. The second are the children of the pioneers who enjoy the benefits; they quickly assimilate and then find themselves embarrassed by the old fashioned ways of their parents. But what the children want to shuck off, the grandchildren want to save. The third generation does the genealogical digging, makes pilgrimages to the old country, and writes the family stories.

Historians of immigration likewise can be classed in terms of generations or "schools," and each brings a particular perspective. (This classification does not exactly coincide with that of the immigrants themselves. Some first generation historians were second generation immigrants, etc.) First generation historians proudly tell their story in glowing and even heroic terms. They recount the agonies of separation and sacrifice, the need to struggle and persevere, and the conviction that their children will prosper in the land of opportunities. Their accounts stress the superiority of their ethnic group, their speedy acceptance by the host society, and their numerous contributions to American life.

This type of boosterism, which was common in the early 20th century, was aptly labeled as filiopietism (ancestor worship) by J. Franklin Jameson, the first president of the American Historical Association. Filiopietists among Dutch-American historians are: Dingman Versteeg (De Pilgrim Vaders van het Westen, 1886), the first historian of the midwestern colonization; the Iowan Jacob Vander Zee and his book, the Hollanders of Iowa (1912); Amry Vanden Bosch, who wrote The Dutch Communities of Chicago (1927); and, above all, the Netherlander Jacob Van Hinte, with his 2 vol. tome Nederlanders in America (1927). Van Hinte repeatedly uses the pronoun "our," as in "our Hollanders" and "our people," as he proudly tells of the heroic Van Raalte and other leaders.

None of these first generation historians were actually Dutch-born. Vander Zee and Vanden Bosch came to America with their parents as young children, Versteeg was born in America, and Van Hinte only visited the USA for several months to complete his research.

First generation church historians had their own variant of filiopietism, which took the form of religious polemics. For example, critics of the 1857 secession in the Dutch Reformed Church, which gave birth to the True Dutch Reformed Church (later CRC), derided the seceders as schismatics. The latter, of course, defended their actions as right and true. Leading defenders of the Reformed Church position were Bernardus De Bey and Adriaan Zwemer, who wrote the first polemic in 1871. They were followed by the Doskers, father Nicholas and son Henry; and William Van Eyck. Apologists of the True church were R.T. Kuiper, Gerrit Hemkes, Henry Vander Werp, and most importantly, Henry Beets. The second generation historians had college and university educations, and as one might expect, they wrote more balanced accounts based on archival research and interviews with the old timers. Their forte was the detailed narrative history, buttressed with copious footnotes and quotes from original sources. This type of writing became the norm in immigration studies in the 1940s and 1950s and is best exemplified by Henry Lucas's Netherlanders in America (1955). Other examples are Albert Hyma's biography of Van Raalte (1950) and Gerald De Jong's survey of The Dutch in America, 1607-1974 (1975). The church histories of the RCA and the CRC by De Jong and John Kromminga, respectively, also fit the pattern of careful scholarship.

Third generation historians came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, just as the "roots" phenomenon and ethnoreligious and feminist studies were taking hold. The "third-geners" were trained in first-rate graduate schools; they mastered archival research techniques, and were introduced to the latest scholarship, especially in the rising behavioral sciences. Quantitative methods and social scientific theories opened entirely new ways of studying change over time in populations such as ethnoreligious groups and women. These developments shaped my work, as it did many of yours.

We third generation scholars have the luxury of standing on the shoulders of giants like Van Hinte and Lucas. From the solid platform they built, we have been able to venture out and explore new areas--the voices of the immigrants as revealed in their "America letters" or portrayed in works of historical fiction; the social factors behind the religious struggles; the perspectives of immigrant women; the unique experiences of Dutch Catholic and Jewish immigrants; the role of entrepreneurs and businessmen like Edward Bok, Theodore Koch, and J.D. Workman; the voluminous immigrant name lists that yielded their secrets with the aid of computers; and the community studies of the Dutch in Grand Rapids, Pella, Little Chute, Whitinsville, Paterson, and Orange City, and Chicago, just to name a few.

In truth, the field of Dutch American studies barely existed as a scholarly enterprise in 1960. The number of active historians could be counted on one hand--Hyma, Lucas, De Jong, Kromminga, John Yzenbaard, Gerrit Ten Zythoff, and a few others. But interest was growing. Herbert Brinks got the Heritage Hall archives at Calvin College underway in the 1960s. In 1977 the first Dutch-American Workshop at Calvin attracted more than 80 scholars from the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands. The enthusiasm was so great that the conferees decided to launch the Association for the Advancement of Dutch American Studies (AADAS), which this year is 23 years old.

Today we have a full fledged scholarly enterprise in Dutch American studies, including a scholarly magazine, Origins (1983), thanks to Brinks, a number of well-managed archives that collect and catalog vital materials and translate primary sources; and a research center, the Van Raalte Institute, that is devoted exclusively to the study of the Dutch in America.

A complementary body is the Dutch American Historical Commission, representing Hope and Calvin colleges and Western and Calvin seminaries, whose main purpose is to translate and publish important books. Lucas's historical survey and his two-volume memoirs have already been republished, and the translation of Stellingwerff's book, Amsterdam Emigrants, is in progress.

We are close to the goal of having all the essential primary sources and early writings available in translation. The Calvin Archives for the past thirty-plus years has focused on this task, under the aegis of Brinks and now Harms. The Joint Archives of Holland has translations of many key documents, thanks to Bill Wichers' efforts early on at the Holland Museum. And the Van Raalte Institute is translating important church and classis minutes, as well as Van Raalte letters.

Finally, there are the bibliographic guides and encyclopedia entries. In the 1970s Linda Pegman Doezema and Hendrik Edelman published bibliographical guides; and Brinks, Suzanne Sinke, and I wrote essays on the Dutch for major encyclopedias.

Students of the Dutch in America now have access to a basic library--the Lucas and Van Hinte histories; Lucas's Dutch Immigrant Memoirs and Related Writings, Brink's Dutch American Voices, a collection of immigrant letters; and my book, Faith and Family, which provides immigration statistics and explains the behavioral complexities of the resettlement process from beginning to end. These five books comprise an essential library and put at one's fingertips the key information--letters, memoirs, historical narrative, and statistics. Let no one question the fact that the Dutch have arrived!

How has the study of Dutch American history changed since the 1960s? Most obviously, the research and writing has broadened into new areas of inquiry and familiar topics have been explored more deeply. Let me simply list some examples.

1. Computer-aided data files have answered key behavioral questions--who emigrated, when, where, how, why? (myself,

Kirk, Doyle, Vanderstel, Schreuder, Galema)

2. America letters--Brinks (with help of Krabbendam and Galema) collected more than 100,000 Dutch immigrant letters by scouring the Netherlands and North America. His book highlights some of the collections. Brian Beltman published the letters of his grandfather Ulbe Eringa (Frisian Farmer in the Missouri Valley) and Ulbe Bakker did the same for the de Jong family of Hijlaard, Friesland.

3. New subject areas--intellectual history (Bratt, Henry Zwaanstra), women (Sinke), Catholics (Yda Schreuder's book and Van Stekelenburg's trilogy of Noord Brabant emigration--(how I wish Henk could be here today, and also Peter De Klerk, Hille De Vries, and Wim Schulte Nordholt!!), and Lagerwey's translated edition of letters of the Dutch Norbertines in Wisconsin, Jews (myself), community studies of Grand Rapids (Vanderstel) and Pella (Doyle); failed colonies in Colorado and Texas (De Klerk); soldiers in America's wars (Brinks); land promoters Theodore Kock (Schoone-Jongen) and J.D. Workman (Don Van Reken); the magazine publisher-philanthropist Edward Bok (Krabbendam); politicians like Gerrit Diekema (Warren Vander Hill); and farming behavior and land use patterns (Janel Curry-Roper).

4. Ethnographic studies by Rob Kroes of Amsterdam, Montana, Lawrence J. Taylor of Sayville, Long Island, and Hendrik J. Prakke of Drenthe, Michigan, revealed the ways in which "contractual communities" used theological controversies as means of self definition and to wall themselves off from outsiders who could not understand the "tempests in a teapot."

6. Dutch American literature has flourished. Sietze Buning's [Stanley Wiersma] poems and James Schaap's short stories have become legendary, in addition to Ronald Jager's elegy to his family farm, Walter Lagerwey's Neen Nederland, 'k vergeet u niet, and Henry Stob's Summoning Up Reminiscences.

7. Netherlands scholars are now taking an even greater interest in migration than North American students, and the number of theses and dissertations keeps growing. In 1976 when I went to the University of Leiden on a Fulbright Fellowship, my sponsoring professor, Schulte Nordholt, introduced me to his student Pieter Stokvis, who was about to defend his dissertation, the Dutch Trek to America, 1846-1847 (1977). This was the first thesis or dissertation on the subject at a Dutch university for many decades.

I recall the skepticism of the Leiden history professors when I told them about my plans to study the 19th century Dutch immigration to America. One asked, somewhat incredulously, "Why study the 19th century? Nothing interesting happened then. It's much better to study the 17th century." He meant the Netherlandic Golden Age, of course. The only kindred spirits I found were at the Agricultural University of Wageningen--E.W. Hofstee in the sociology department and Ad Vande Woude in agricultural economics. I spent far more days at Wageningen than at Leiden that semester.

Fortunately, attitudes began to change in the late 1960s and 1970s and many Netherlanders have followed in the steps of Stokvis and completed masters theses, dissertations, and monographs on immigration topics. Most worked at Netherlands universities, but a few also earned degrees at American schools, for example, Yda Schreuder at the University of Wisconsin and Hans Krabbendam at Kent State. Verena de Bont (PhD. Tilburg 1981), and Liesbeth Hoogkamp (PhD. Utrecht, 1982) studied the Achterhoek of Gelderland, the "cockpit of Dutch emigration," as did local historian G.H. Ligterink (1981). Anje F.M. Koeweiden-Wijdeven studied the Limburg emigration to Wisconsin and Minnesota (thesis, 1982), expanding on G. C. P. Linssen's 1972 article, "Limburgers naar Noord-Amerika." Jeannie M.E. Worms analyzed the overall statistics on immigration to the United States in the neglected years 1900-20 (Ph.D Nijmegen, 1984).

In the 1990s the pace quickened. Annemieke Galema completed the first detailed history of Frisian emigration in her Leiden dissertation (1996), With the Baggage of the Fatherland. We need a companion study of the Groninger emigration in these years. In 1998 Seiger Rodenhuis published a popular work that highlights the published letters of leading emigrants (Friese Pioniers in Amerika), and in 1999 Ulbe Bakker of the Frisian Academy in Leeuwarden published the De Jong family letters, Zuster, kom toch over (Sister, Please Come Over). The remarkable aspect of this book is that every letter is printed in both the original Dutch and in English translation. Galema had a hand is bringing this family history into print and wrote an introduction.

Krabbendam's Leiden dissertation of 1995 explored the complex life of the "Model Man" Edward Bok, editor of the Ladies Home Journal, and J. Breur studied the first Dutch language newspaper in the midwest, De Sheboygan Nieuwsbode (Ph.D., Nijmegen, 1991). Emma Timmerman and Judith Scholte recently completed theses on post World War II emigrants in the Holland-Zeeland area, Timmerman at the University of Amsterdam in 1998 and Scholte at the University of Utrecht in 2000.

What subject areas remain to be explored? Promising research topics include entrepreneurship, politics, internal mobility among Dutch settlements, the early 20th century and post-World War II emigration, and Dutch Catholic communities.

In 1920 there were some 25 Dutch Catholic parishes in the USA and none have been studied. The major ones, for which congregational records are available, are St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Grand Rapids and St. Willibrord Parish in Kensington (part of Roseland, Il). Other Dutch Catholic congregations are in Bay City (MI); Cincinnati; in the Wisconsin towns of Little Chute, Hollandtown, and De Pere; and in Benton Carver, Minnesota.

In the Netherlands, we need regional studies of the major emigration centers after 1880 (modeled after Galema's work on Friesland), especially Groningen, the Achterhoek of Gelderland, Zeeland, and the rural areas of Noord and Zuid Holland. Genealogists are essential for this research since they know the language and the sources, and have the patience to dig out the names. Teams of volunteers must be commissioned--in the USA to compile lists of Dutch immigrants in the New York ship passenger manifests from 1900 to 1956 (when Ellis Island closed), and in the Netherlands to search municipal population registers for the overseas emigrants from 1880 to 1940.

Concerning American archives, scholars await the time when detailed indexes of major collections will be available on-line, and eventually perhaps entire collections will be electronically scanned for ready access anywhere in the world. The early Dutch-language newspapers are a neglected gold mine of information. The key papers must be indexed. An ongoing program of oral interviews, following the example of the Joint Archives of Holland, is desperately needed. Post-1945 immigrants, military veterans, businessmen and politicians, and many ordinary folks need to recount their experiences on videotape. Soon the last immigrants of the 1950s wave will be gone.

In land history Henk Aay compiled from federal land records a listing of all original entries by the Dutch in Kent and Ottawa counties, and I have identified all of Van Raalte's land dealings in Ottawa and Allegan Counties. But neither of us has taken full advantage of the material to tell the story of how the Dutch took the land in Michigan. Similar studies in the land record are needed for all the major colonies.

A related aspect of land history is the workings of the "agricultural ladder." How rapidly did the Dutch move up from being renters of farms to owning them. Around Chicago, most Dutch truck farmers rented their lands and thus did not benefit from rising land prices.

Dutch farming behavior is largely unexplored. The fabled Dutch skill of turning swamplands into celery fields in dozens of places needs to be told. Did the cropping patterns and animal husbandry of Dutch immigrants reflect Old Country practices or did the Dutch quickly adapt to American practices? Case studies of Dutch cropping and livestock holdings based on the federal agricultural censuses of the 19th century would answer these questions. It appears that the adaptation was selective. The Dutch copied local cropping ways but took better care of their livestock than did Americans. "Big barns and small houses" was the motto of Dutch farmers, even if their wives might demur.

Janel Curry-Roper has shown the promise of another line of inquiry, that is, to explore the causal relationship between religious beliefs and farming practices and land use patterns. Her field research in Iowa in the 1980s proves that the religious world views of Dutch farmers affects their farming behavior in direct and indirect ways.

Finally, we need definitive biographies of Scholte, Van Raalte, and other key leaders. Lubbertus Oostendorp's 1964 dissertation on Scholte covered his Netherlandic years but is light on his long and varied career in Pella. Ronald Rietveld, a native of Pella, has done all the preliminary research on a Scholte biography and hopefully he will complete the task. Jeanne Jacobson's 1997 study of Van Raalte and his colony is the first significant book since Hyma's biography of 1950. Elton Bruins has written extensively on Van Raalte as well, but we still need a definitive biography.

As this brief survey shows, our generation has left their mark. We have uncovered new sources on both sides of the Atlantic, applied new methodologies, launched new journals, translated key documents, and gathered regularly to share our findings. It has been an exciting adventure. But we need to pass it on to the next generations. I hope that you younger scholars--the fourth generation--catch the vision, stand on our shoulders, and move far beyond what we have even dreamed. You hold much promise. With the ever-increasing capabilities of computers at your finger tips, who knows what you can do? I hope the field of Dutch American studies flourishes as never before in the years to come.