Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"How Newness Enters the World": Cultural Creolization in Swedish-American Hymnals Published at Augustana College, 1901-1925

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"How Newness Enters the World": Cultural Creolization in Swedish-American Hymnals Published at Augustana College, 1901-1925

Article excerpt

IN HIS ENGAGINGLY TITLED STUDY Polkabilly: How the Goose Island Ramblers Redefined American Folk Music (2010), folklorist James P. Leary suggests the old-time ethnic music of the upper Midwest reflects much the same kind of cultural blending as New Orleans jazz. "Here," he says, "musical interactions have long been distinguished by egalitarianism, by freewheeling accommodation and blending across complex boundaries. Here reside North Coast creoles."1 By using the term "creole," he doesn't mean to imply a taste for Cajun stews and filé gumbo. Instead, he's borrowing a scholarly term used to discuss the blending of musical genres ranging from Afro-pop and Bollywood to the homegrown country-and-western bands that flourish in the oil fields of southern Norway in an age of globalization.

Leary argues that midwestern polkas and hillbilly songs qualify as a creole art form, and I believe the somewhat earlier juxtaposition of Reformation-era Lutheran chorales, Victorian hymns, Swedish folk melodies and Anglo-American revival songs in early twentieth-century Swedish-American hymnals produced at Augustana College in Rock Island also reflects a complex process of creolization rather than a simple process of replacing Swedish with American forms. "This term [creolization] describes the cross-fertilization which takes place between different cultures when they interact," says Paolo Toninato of the University of Warwick in England. "The locals select particular elements from incoming cultures, endow these with meanings different from those they possessed in the original culture and then creatively merge these with indigenous traditions to create totally new forms."2

I believe that such a hybrid, creolized culture developed in the upper Midwest as Scandinavian-American immigration reached a peak in the 1910s and 1920s, and it is reflected not only in the popular music of the day but also in Swedish-American hymnody. While only an estimated 20 to 25 percent of Swedish immigrants belonged to Augustana Synod churches, the synod and its affiliated Augustana College and Theological Seminary in Rock Island did much to set the tone for Swedish-American culture at the turn of the twentieth century. And the process of SwedishAmerican acculturation is reflected closely in the synod's Hymnal and Service Book, published in 1925 by the Augustana Book Concern. Of 309 hymn-writers whose national origins could be identified in an informal content analysis of the 1925 hymnal, 139 are British and seventy-nine are American; seventy-one are German, and seventeen are Swedish. Of the seventy-nine Americans, twenty-three are specifically identified with Augustana. The relationships among the 1925 hymnal's hymns and spiritual songs are complex, however; many Swedish hymns are variants of German chorales, suggesting a process of creolization may have begun in post-Reformation Europe, and many of the spiritual songs in the hymnal come out of a pietist revival sparked by American evangelists like Dwight Moody that was international in scope.

As the term is used by students of globalization and migrant cultures, creolization is notoriously hard to define, and its meaning has changed over time.3 Its etymology traces back to the languages produced by the children-often of mixed race-born to migrants in French-speaking colonies during the 1600s and 1700s. These creole languages, like Haitian Kreyôl or the Cajun spoken in Louisiana, blended a French vocabulary with indigenous and African grammatical forms; over time, the colonies developed foodways, religious practices, festivals, music and dance which similarly blended cultural signifiers of Old and New World origin into a composite creole culture. Some, although not all, scholars consider African American vernacular English to have originated long ago as a creole language, and it was in that linguistic context that the term was borrowed in the 1980s by Ulf Hannerz of the University of Stockholm and other cultural anthropologists to describe the cultural mixing they seek to analyze in a rapidly globalizing economy. …

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