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The Geographies of German-Language Media and its Decline in America's Heartland

Authors: Robert Shepard*, University Of Nebraska - Lincoln
Topics: Historical Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Temporal GIS
Keywords: historical geography, German language newspapers, midwest, great plains
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


German immigrants settled large swaths of the Great Plains and Upper Midwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, founding organizations, dominating many local governments, and creating much of the built environment. Their native language was no exception to their influence, as many immigrants did not master English, relying instead on numerous German-language newspapers across the state to stay informed. Ultimately, national and local forces in the region began systematically destroying the German press in the early twentieth century. Iowa Governor William Harding in May 1918, for example, issued the infamous "Babel Proclamation," criminalizing within his state the use of all languages other than English in schools, public conversation, trains, over telephones, in meetings, and even in religious services. While many states passed similar laws to promote English-only language use in the wake of World War I, sporadic local violence and extrajudicial trials from fellow American citizens also contributed to cultural erasure in the Midwest: German newspapers were virtually nonexistent by 1930. This research maps the rise and fall of German-language news media across the American Midwest and Great Plains, showing for each city in the region, by decade, the average maximum weekly circulation numbers for the period 1850-1930.

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