Creating a German-American Place: Davenport, Iowa, 1836-1900

Authors: Benjamin Bruster*,
Topics: Historical Geography, Cultural Geography, United States
Keywords: Historical Geography, German-American Settlement, Land Use, Identity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Zulu, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Similar to St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and other Midwestern cities, Davenport, Iowa became a haven for German immigrants throughout the 19th century. Its location on Mississippi River, prevalence of river rapids, availability of affordable and highly productive farmland, and favorable climate conditions allowed it to develop into a prominent entrepôt for Iowa. Following the revolutions of 1848, the obsolescence of craft trades and proto-industrial operations, famine, and pauperism throughout the German Confederation, Germans packed up and left the Old World for the promise of America. Many emigrants—especially those from Schleswig and Holstein states—followed existing migrations chains, which had been established through letters and by word of mouth, in the late 1830s, to Davenport; others migrated directly from other German states or traveled around the American interior before reaching Davenport. Whatever the case, first generation immigrants exemplified striking similarities and differences. For some, the pursuit of Old World craft trades—shoemaking, tailoring, baking, etc.—provided the surest path to a healthy existence, whereas others pursued farming and various forms of entrepreneurship. With time and the transition between first and second immigrant generations, though, urbanization and formalized, public education authored new realities for Davenport German-Americans. These forces ushered upward social mobility, new cultural pastimes and means of relating with Americans, as well as evolving senses of ‘Germanness’ and ‘Americanness.’ In this paper, I will highlight the evolution of 19th century, German-American settlement in Davenport with aid of historic GIS, narrative analysis, statistical analysis, and cases studies from other German-American settlements.

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