Title of Oral/Poster Presentation

Revisiting Assimilation: The Peculiarities of German Mormon Immigration

Presenter Information

Jake BuryFollow

Class

Article

Department

History

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Abstract

For students of immigrant history, assimilation is an unavoidable and often problematic term. Prior to the 1960s, historians equated assimilation to social unity, placing immigrant groups either on an inevitable path towards the vague American middle class or within some section of a pluralistic melting pot. Both models, in their own way, assumed that immigrants abided by a normative process-that life in the new world would dissolve or harden their disparate identities. Historians eventually broke away from this strict approach and divided the field along ethnic, religious, racial, regional, and class lines, thus throwing into question assimilation's larger role in explaining immigrant history. Could different groups assimilate amongst themselves without funneling into a mainstream American culture? Could they choose new cultural elements to incorporate while maintaining old-world traditions, such as their distinctive religion and ethnicity? Scholars of immigrant history have conducted countless case studies to answer these questions and develop new ways to evaluate the nature of assimilation. European examples often focus on immigrant groups with a long-established religious tradition, like the Protestant Germans or Irish Catholics. Religion provided these groups with strong cultural ties to the old world that helped to overcome ethnic and class divisions in the new world. Largely missing from these studies are Mormon immigrant groups, who had no traditional European religion in which to ground their identity out West. Their status as a distinct group depended on their place within a dominant Mormon culture in the midst of transition. By focusing on Mormon Germans in the Cache Valley, and connecting their experiences to a broader Mormon context in the United States and in Germany, I hope to discover what it meant for Germans to assimilate into a culture struggling with its own uncertain assimilation.

Start Date

4-9-2015 3:00 PM

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Apr 9th, 3:00 PM

Revisiting Assimilation: The Peculiarities of German Mormon Immigration

For students of immigrant history, assimilation is an unavoidable and often problematic term. Prior to the 1960s, historians equated assimilation to social unity, placing immigrant groups either on an inevitable path towards the vague American middle class or within some section of a pluralistic melting pot. Both models, in their own way, assumed that immigrants abided by a normative process-that life in the new world would dissolve or harden their disparate identities. Historians eventually broke away from this strict approach and divided the field along ethnic, religious, racial, regional, and class lines, thus throwing into question assimilation's larger role in explaining immigrant history. Could different groups assimilate amongst themselves without funneling into a mainstream American culture? Could they choose new cultural elements to incorporate while maintaining old-world traditions, such as their distinctive religion and ethnicity? Scholars of immigrant history have conducted countless case studies to answer these questions and develop new ways to evaluate the nature of assimilation. European examples often focus on immigrant groups with a long-established religious tradition, like the Protestant Germans or Irish Catholics. Religion provided these groups with strong cultural ties to the old world that helped to overcome ethnic and class divisions in the new world. Largely missing from these studies are Mormon immigrant groups, who had no traditional European religion in which to ground their identity out West. Their status as a distinct group depended on their place within a dominant Mormon culture in the midst of transition. By focusing on Mormon Germans in the Cache Valley, and connecting their experiences to a broader Mormon context in the United States and in Germany, I hope to discover what it meant for Germans to assimilate into a culture struggling with its own uncertain assimilation.