Contributions of German-American immigrants to Hoosier life and history are often unrecognized or unheralded. A course offered this semester in the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis with the Indiana Bicentennial Commission’s endorsement will help change that.
The commission has designated “Immigrant Experience: Tales of German-Americans in Indiana” as an official Bicentennial Legacy Project.
“German heritage is less emphasized and people are less aware of it because German immigrants integrated so well into American society,” IUPUI professor Karen Roesch said. “Over one-half of the immigrants to Indiana were German. We have a lot of types of legacies brought to Indiana and created by German immigrants, so what better way to celebrate the bicentennial?”
The Bicentennial Legacy Project designation endorses “Immigrant Experience,” developed and being taught this semester by Roesch, an assistant professor of German in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, as curriculum that can be used in high schools, colleges and universities and adult education, she said.
Roesch is assistant professor of German, director of the Max Kade German-American Center and the Hoyt-Reichmann Scholar of German-American Studies at IUPUI.
Her new class explores the cross section of German groups who made their way to Indiana and contributed to the state’s development, including people involved in the Turner Movement, which emphasized the mind and body; the academic-focused Forty-eighters and Freethinkers, who espoused freedom of expression, political freedom and religious freedom; and the largest group, the “salt of the earth” farmers and craftsmen. Savvy businessmen and philanthropists such as the Vonneguts are also featured.
The course takes a detailed look at the part German Americans played in establishing important cornerstones in education, art, music, architecture and entrepreneurship.
Students familiar with the city and state will recognize names associated with some landmarks, such as landscape architect and Kessler Boulevard namesake George Edward Kessler and Richard Lieber, known as the father of the Indiana state parks system.
Textbooks for the course include publications written or translated by staff of the Max Kade German-American Center and are provided free of charge by the center.
Guest lecturers include IUPUI professors and others with expertise in German history, language and culture.
For students in the course, class activities include a visit to the Indianapolis Museum of Art to observe the work of German-American printmaker and painter Gustave Baumann; a field trip to Oldenburg, Indiana, to experience the German-American history, architecture and culture of that small community; and a visit to the Athenaeum in downtown Indianapolis.
“A lot of students have never been to the Athenaeum. Originally called the ‘Das Deutsche Haus,’ or ‘The German House,’ the building, a national historic landmark, was renamed during World War II. With its nine-pin bowling alley, indoor beer garden and theater, it is easy to see why the building was a center of social life and in its heyday, was the place to go watch plays, performances and concerts,” Roesch said.
“The state’s German heritage is right in front of us, but people aren’t aware of it. This class is about passing on that heritage to the next generation.”