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Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University

SLAV-T 241: Central and East European Immmigration & Ethnic Identity in the U.S.
Professor Jeffrey Holdeman*
Section 33280 MW 4:00-5:15pm BH 140


The United States has been called "the great American melting pot"- a hodge-podge of the peoples of the world - and some foreign visitors contend that it has no discernible culture or identity of its own. Is America a fondue of uniform taste and consistency? A mixed salad of various, separate components? A stew of blended but identifiable ingredients which has a flavor all its own? In the largest wave of immigration to the U.S. - from the 1880s until 1914 - tens of millions of people arrived from Central and Eastern Europe. Over the course of the 20th century, they were joined by millions more. This course will focus on the peoples from the areas of modern-day Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbia, Romania, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, and Montenegro, as well as stateless groups like Ashkenazi Jews, Carpathian Rusyns, Sorbs, Tatars, and Roma.

In this course we will explore ways in which one's ethnic culture and identity (traditional and contemporary, from one's homeland and in one's new environment) can manifest themselves in art, music, food, clothing, language, social structure, religion, worldview, etc. We will do this through posing a series of questions: What do people arrive with beyond their physical baggage? What do they choose to keep and discard from their native or heritage culture? How do they choose to "perform" or display this for themselves, to each other, and to outsiders? What benefits and costs come from maintaining a foreign ethnic identity in the U.S.?

Students will learn and discuss core concepts from a variety of fields, things such as language maintenance and shift; boundary construction and negotiation; material culture; generation gap; regional variation; endogamy and exogamy; and acculturation, assimilation, and transculturation. At the core will be the concept of identity and the many forms it can take. Students will also learn basic techniques of urban fieldwork and research in order to carry out interviews and projects later in the semester. All of these will come together in the process of trying to answer what it means to be "ethnic" in America.

The course will consist of at-home readings and writing assignments, in-class discussions and group work, essay tests, films, and optional fieldtrips, and it will culminate in the presentation of multimedia course projects based on an ethnic community from our target region in a U.S. locale and time period chosen by the student. Readings and discussions will expose students to a variety of disciplines and approaches, such as those from ethnography, sociology, history, psychology, sociolinguistics, and ethnomusicology.

Learning Objectives:
After successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  • articulate the interrelation of identity and the many aspects of human culture ("Big C" and "Little c");
  • systematically document, analyze, and present the many components of identity in an ethnic community using basic ethnography field methods;
  • debate the different sides and complexities of assimilation and the metaphor of the "melting pot";
  • outline the waves of immigration from Central and Eastern Europe into the U.S., place these waves in their U.S. and European socio-historical context, and discuss the processes of preservation of heritage identity and assimilation into American life of these populations from arrival up to the present;
  • articulate verbally and in writing their own ethnic identity and their family's identity; how, when, and why it manifests itself; and how it has changed with time and intermarriage;
  • take an informed stance on how the many facets of identity play out (short-term and long-term) in the national discussion of the impact on the United States of past and current immigration;
  • use specialized terminology and concepts of nationality, race, and ethnic identity to discuss the process and mechanisms of the negotiation of ethnic identity and the costs and benefits of maintaining a non-American ethnic identity in the United States;
  • share with an audience original research on an ethnic community of their own choosing; and
  • conduct future research (ethnographic, genealogical, historical, linguistic, etc.), aided by their familiarity with and experience using varied information sources and multidisciplinary approaches.

  • Section 4371
    Section 4371