The keynote lecture, on Thursday night, October 11th, by Jeffrey Sammons, Leavenworth Professor Emeritus of German Language and Literature at Yale University, discussed Gerstäcker as a preeminent author of adventure novels. According to Sammons, adventure novels were very popular in the 1840s and 1850s because stories of Indians and bandits helped enliven boring lives and regimented work of the times. Gerstäcker’s books were very popular in Germany, especially with juveniles. They served to introduce the American continent to Germans and, when translated, German-Americans to readers in the United States. Sammon’s plea was that Gerstäcker be taken more seriously in Germany as a author of first rank, not just a specialized writer of adventure books for juveniles.
|Wolfgang Hochbruck presents his conference paper|
Charles Adams (Department of English, University of Arkansas) and Christoph Irmscher (Department of English, Indiana University) began their presentation with some good news: together they are preparing a new translation of Die Regulatoren in Arkansas. They have a contract with a publisher and the manuscript is due in January 2014. They noted that no good translation of the novel is readily available in print or out-of-print. This new translation will make this novel, based on frontier life in Arkansas, easily available in English for the first time.
Because I am more interested in history than in literary studies, I especially enjoyed the paper by Michael Pierce, a labor historian at the University of Arkansas, with the title "C. O. Haller and the Rise of Negrophobia among Gerstäcker’s Arkansas Friends." The focus of the paper is Charles Haller, one of the early German pioneers that Gerstäcker encountered during his first visits to Little Rock and Perry County. When Gerstäcker returned to Arkansas in the late 1860s, after the end of the Civil War, he was saddened to learn that Haller was dead.
Pierce’s paper tells the story of Haller in the 1840s and 1850s when Haller became a spokesman for the “mechanics” — the skilled laborers (e.g. craftsmen, artisans) — of Little Rock. In that role, he was active in state and local government to oppose letting prisoners, slaves, and freed slaves do the work of mechanics. Allowing such things, he argued, lowered the wages and status of skilled laborers. He urged legislation to keep slaves on farms, to expel free slaves, and to create more farms by breaking up large tracts of unused farm land. (For background on the mechanics movement in Arkansas, see this link http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4235.)
Pierce suggested that because many Germans in Arkansas were skilled laborers, plus because of other factors, they had attitudes toward slavery and Negroes that differed greatly from those of Germans in Missouri. In Arkansas, Pierce maintained, German immigrants supported slavery and secession, and they willingly fought on the Confederate side of the war.
I am not sure how much I accept Pierce’s broad assertions about the attitudes of Germans in Arkansas toward slavery and the Confederate cause. It is my understanding (based on some reading about the Civil War in Arkansas) that many Germans (especially those living in the northern part of the state) left Arkansas because they did not support the Confederate cause. However, I have not seen any good research that empirically explores the attitudes of Germans in Arkansas about the Civil War, so I think there is more work to be done to document how German immigrants in Arkansas in 1860 reacted to secession
Another paper that interested the historian in me was entitled “Friedrich Gerstäcker’s Arkansas German Friends” by Shirley Schuette, who works at the Butler Center in Little Rock. I am familiar with much of her topic, which included the story of a group of Germans who traveled together as part of a Immigration Society to Arkansas, arriving in Little Rock in 1833. The story of this group of immigrants, several of whom Gerstäcker met when he came to Arkansas, was expertly researched by Ruth Yingling Rector, whose papers are in the Butler Center archives. The story of these immigrants is a fascinating one. (For more on this topic, see this blog post: http://www.eclecticatbest.com/2011/10/german-immigrant-gustav-klingelhoffer.html )
In all, the conference provided an intellectually rich experience with the opportunity to learn from the research of a broad range of international scholars.