The German-Language Diasporas: A Survey, Critique, and Interpretation
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The German-Language Diasporas:
A Survey, Critique, and Interpretation
Dirk Hoerder
University of Bremen
Dirk Hoerder

Dirk Hoerder is Professor of Social Sciences, with a focus on North American Studies and migration research, at the University of Bremen, Germany, and has taught at several Canadian and US universities. He is the author of Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium (Duke UP, 2002); Creating Societies: Immigrant Lives in Canada (McGill-Queen's UP, 1999); and Crowd Action in Revolutionary Massachusetts (Academic P, 1977). He has edited or co-edited fifteen books and major journal issues, including (with J. Nagler) People in Transit: German Migrations in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge UP, 1995); (with L. Page) European Migrants: Global and Local Perspectives (Northeastern UP, 1996); and Labor Migration in the Atlantic Economies (Greenwood P, 1985).


1. In this essay, "German-language" refers to all speakers of the many dialects of the German language, whether residing in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or elsewhere. To distinguish between the former three, I use the terms German-Germans or Reichsdeutsche, Austrian-Germans, Swiss-Germans.

2. In the 1990s, such returnees were summarily labeled "Russians" in the Federal Republic's popular opinion.

3. An example is the survey of Germans in Latin America edited by Fröschle (1979), which retains the 1920s terminology ("Volksgruppe"), and in its concluding chronology summarizes Jewish flight before the holocaust: "1933-43, more than 100,000 German-language Jews emigrate from Europe to Latin America" (866, trans. D.H.).

4. As regards North America, this includes all publications of the 1980s and after. For the East (since 1991), see the series edited by Werner Conze, Hartmut Boockmann et al. The editors and authors strive for an unbiased narrative but, as was recently revealed, Conze, the founder of the series, as a young scholar in the 1930s, helped to conceptualize, before Poland was occupied, the Nazi expulsion of Poles from western Poland and the resettlement of Germans in the region. For a view from Poland see Piskorski. On the politicization of German scholarship see Hoerder, "Bedingungsfaktoren."

5. This includes the ethnic group-approach of Moltmann and his students as well as Adams' (unpublished) study of German-American elites; the working-class culture studies by Keiland Jentz, and Harzig; and the comprehensive collection of immigrant letters by Kamphoefner, Helbich, and Sommer. In North America the work of Kamphoefner, Conzen, Gerber and others follows the new approaches, while for Canada, Bassler's translated and abridged edition of Lehmann's study of the 1930s remains bound to a contribution history approach and only the recent collection of essays by Sauer and Zimmer and the critical assessment by Hoerder ("Immigrants") provide new perspectives. For a review of the literature see Hoerder, "Research."

6. The authors in Bade, Deutsche im Ausland, and in Hoerder and Nagler summarize recent scholarship and provide bibliographic assessments.

7. Like several other scholars, I distinguish between a macro-level of states, a micro-level of individuals, families, and their immediate networks, and a meso-level of cultural and economic regions, in which childhood family and educational socialization takes place and in which potential migrants assess their economic opportunities (Hoerder, "Macrosystems").

8. There is no agreement whether conquering groups, usually of high class and supported by soldiers, may be subsumed under the concept of diaspora. Bartlett, Europe (chap. 2), and Cohen, Global, do so. I argue that such groups intend to impose their own culture but usually do not prevail due to numerical weakness. They dominate briefly, then adopt customs of the receiving society and become part of a new mixed culture. Thus, no lasting diaspora emerges, and diasporic existence is a passing stage.

9. "Proprietorial" colonies had been granted to a particular person (William Penn was the proprietor in this case) and were not administered by the colonizer state.

10. Akenson, in an acerbic critique, attacked historians' succumbing to popular stereotypes, in this case that of all Irish immigrants being Catholic and urban workers. Rischin and Livingston pointed out that Jewish immigrants settled in the American West.

11. "Trans" refers to interactive and intermingled cultures. None of the European empires was monocultural. The later term "international" assumes distinct states...