German Iowa & the Global Midwest, 2016-17

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 Symposium was a tremendous success, gaining considerable local, statewide, and even national attention. For a full schedule and a list of related resources, visit 


  • The talks were excellent, the audiences filled the rooms, and the question and answer periods were animated and productive. 
  • 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 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 Sangerfest 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.
  • 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. 


Thursday, October 6, 2016 - 3:30pm to Saturday, October 8, 2016 - 5:30pm
Obermann Center
111 Church St.
Iowa City, IA 52245

German Iowa and the Global Midwest explores Iowa’s multicultural history through one of the largest groups of European origin to settle in the state. Through this history, the project illuminates themes of present-day importance, such as bilingualism and anti-immigration sentiment.

Headshot of Glenn Ehrstine
Co-director , University of Iowa , German
Glenn Ehrstine is Associate Professor of German. His primary research interests concern German literature and the cultural transformations between the late Middle Ages and the early Reformation, with particular emphasis on religious theater, Catholic and Protestant polemics, carnival plays, and theories of the carnivalesque. His current work engages the theatrical display of relics in Corpus Christi plays and the indulgences granted to medieval audiences.
color photo of Glenn Penny sitting on a rock with jeans on
Co-director , University of Iowa , History
Glenn Penny teaches modern European history at the University of Iowa.  He is the author of Objects of Culture: Ethnology and Ethnographic Museums in Imperial Germany (UNC Press, 2002) and Kindred by Choice: Germans and American Indians since 1800 (UNC Press 2013). He has also edited volumes on anthropology and empire and performing indigeneity.
Lisa Heineman
Co-director , University of Iowa , History and Gender, Women's & Sexuality Studies
Lisa Heineman teaches courses on Germany, Europe, human rights, and gender and sexuality. Her research has addressed gender and sexuality in post-Nazi and post-Holocaust memory as well as the social and political work of recovery from atrocity. She has explored the intersection of scholarship and storytelling through memoir, historical nonfiction, and theater; and she has developed teaching and community resources to explore the relevance of historical authoritarianism for understanding our contemporary world.