Academic journal article German Quarterly

Heritage on Stage: The Invention of Ethnic Place in Ameica's Little Switzerland

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Heritage on Stage: The Invention of Ethnic Place in Ameica's Little Switzerland

Article excerpt

Hoelscher, Steven D. Heritage on Stage: The Invention of Ethnic Place in America's Little Switzerland. Madison: The U of Wisconsin P 1998. 327 pp. $57.95 hardcover; $24.95 paperback.

In this account of an ethnic community in the process of development Hoelscher asserts that "cultural leaders in New Glarus and Wisconsin have chosen to tell certain stories about these places, stories that mean a great deal to a great many people, and, inevitably, serve to alienate others" (229-30). In reconstructing these stories and in articulating the tensions underlying them the author has fashioned a well-told story of his own that will interest readers with a personal connection or any one else inclined to savor immigrant history, as well as ethnicity scholars.

New Glarus, Wisconsin owes its existence to a carefully organized migration from the town and canton of Glarus in Switzerland in 1845. Utilizing archival sources, published documents, newspapers, letters, and a rich array of interviews for this well-researched study, Hoelscher has sketched in intimate detail the colorful history of New Glarus, replete with celebratory events, striking personalities, ethnic institutions, and evocative memorials.

Hoelscher examined all the relevant ethnicity studies and filtered the New Glarus experience through them. All the concepts are there: ethnic identity, invention of place, conspicuous construction, vernacular and official culture, commodification, performance and festive culture, landscape, public memory, cosmopolitanism. The story of New Glarus and especially its pivotal events have been brilliantly integrated into this conceptual framework. A vast and remarkably up-to-date literature with strong interdisciplinary perspectives has been digested. The scholarly apparatus-endnotes, bibliography, tables, and index-is exemplary.

Chief among components making up what Hoelscher calls invention of ethnic place are various cultural displays that express, promote, and memorialize ethnic identity The author assesses the development in New Glarus of the open-air and housed museums, the hall of history, various chalets, and storefronts in the chalet style. They comprise the "landscape" of this ethnic world.

In this way the Swiss heritage has been transmitted to succeeding generations. There is a certain self awareness in this, a "conspicuous construction," as Hoelscher terms it. A variety of dramatic performances: pageants, parades, reenactments, and (after 1938) the annual staging of Schiller's Wilhelm Tell became the chief agencies for purveying "heritage masquerading as history" (166). …

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