The Shining Factory Upon a Hill

The Shining Factory Upon a Hill

THE SOURCE: “Beyond ‘Voting With Their Feet’: Toward a Conceptual History of ‘America’ in European Migrant Sending Communities, 1860s to 1914” by Max Paul Friedman, in Journal of Social History, Spring 2007.

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Over the centuries, the European peasants who stayed behind when their neighbors boarded ships for America developed strong views about the New World: It was a distant, rough, demanding land. People could get lucky and strike it rich. Quite a few would give up in disgust and come back with a bad attitude. Refinement would be lost, morals often undermined. America as a society was “immediate and present” to ordinary Europeans, writes Max Paul Friedman, a historian at American  University. Letters, songs, games, slang, epithets, dictionaries, even place names flesh out a “history of concepts” about the United States that were remarkably detailed, and which shifted from place to place and in time.

Most commonly, America was seen as remote. In the German grand duchy of Hesse, the field furthest from the house was called the Amerika-feld. A town in Bohemia was nicknamed Amerika because flooding often cut it off from nearby villages. A farmer in Mecklenburg might be teased about “trying to get to America” when he plowed an especially deep furrow.

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