Thursday, November 17, 2016

German Iowa and the Global Midwest was a three-day symposium (Oct. 6-8, 2016) that explored Iowa's multicultural heritage. Part of a larger series of linked events, the 2016 Obermann Humanities Symposium was a tremendous success, gaining considerable local, statewide, and even national attention.


  • Frank Trommler, an Ida Beam speaker, gave two public talks. The first, in the public library (ICPL), required more chairs (80-90). The second, in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol, also was well attended (60-70). The latter event was introduced by Provost Barry Butler, who offered an introduction to the German Consul General Herbert Quelle. 
  • Among the many well-attended and thoughtful panels, the student panel stood out. Undergraduates gave papers that one member of the audience remarked were every bit as good as those one would expect at a national conference. The students who presented had the opportunity to do so alongside people whose work they have been reading for years. There is no question that students who attended these events benefited greatly. They have been inspired to pursue their own research projects, and it is reasonable to expect that they will seek out similar events in the future.
  • The symposium included two musical events, in partnership with the School of Music. The quality of the performances combined with Glenn Ehrstine's research and discussion of German music in Iowa around the turn of the century made the Sängerfest performance especially lively. Again, undergraduate and graduate students who attended this and the subsequent performance, organized by one of our graduate students, came away with a completely different vision of life in Iowa 100 years ago--German or otherwise. During both performances the auditoriums were filled, with many standing and sitting in the aisles.
  • The final day's panels did not lose any momentum. In fact, the last panel on German Jews in Iowa brought in large numbers of people from the community (75-80). 

Other Successes and Outcomes

  • Glenn Penny and Glenn Ehrstine incorporated the program as well as the museum exhibit into their classes with great success. Some 50 students wrote short papers on the presentations for Penny’s classes. Discussions in those classes have continued to go back to these presentations all semester.
  • One undergraduate, William Simpson, had an article, "A Rookie's Guide to Archival Research," regarding his work on the Scattergood Hostel in West Branch, IA, published on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's web site. Simpson was also featured in Iowa Now.
  • Two special journal issues were being planned immediately following the symposium: an issue of Jewish Studies Journal and and issue of a migration history journal.
  • A conference report, written by graduate students, was published on H-Net, while a reflection of the German Iowa and the Global Midwest project is being negotiating with German Studies Review.
  • The co-directors are in conversation with a group of Germans who attended from the University of Münster to develop an exchange program, a means to bring their students to Iowa to work with local materials and communities.