Czech Genealogy – and Others As Well: A review of “Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups”
I don’t review every book I add to my genealogy and history bookshelves. I have what my wife refers to as ‘far too many’ books in my office, while I prefer to think of it as I have ‘far too few’. While I try to keep a running inventory on my LibraryThing.com site, time constraints often find me behind there too. But today is different. I just added this resource book to my collection, and while it was published a while ago, in 1980, by The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the book was a new one to me.
After reading about it in more than a few footnotes, this book was specifically recommended to me by Dr. Mark Tebeau, Director, Public History and Associate Professor, School of History, Philosophy, & Religious Studies at Arizona State University, located in Tempe, Arizona. Mark and I had been corresponding over his paper “Sculpted Landscapes: Art & Place in Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens, 1916-2006” on the Cultural Gardens of Cleveland, Ohio when he suggested it was one volume worth having on ones’ shelf.
The price almost choked me. A new copy retails for $207.00! Thankfully I was able to find a used, ‘very good’ condition ex-library copy for only $12.00. How could I not add it to my collection for only $12? So I did.
Clocking in at 1,076 pages (8½” X 11”) it is no light, small tome. The concept for this book goes back to the 1930s when Louis Adamic, journalist, writer, and Slovenian immigrant conceived of ‘a great Encyclopaedia of the population of the United States, from the Indians down to the latest immigrant group’. It took the authors and editors six years, from 1974 to 1980, to complete this book, but what a wonderful book it is. One hundred and twenty American and European contributors wrote to bring this volume to completion. It has detailed sections for over 100 ethnic groups. While the ethnic group sections are the meat of the book, there are some equally wonderful many thematic essays on ethnicity, immigration, and more. Plus there are some very readable essays on the tension between assimilation and pluralism in America.
There are 87 maps, all of which were commissioned especially for this book alone. Plus there are annotated bibliographies as well as appendixes, one of which includes the difficult to find first published report on the nativities of the United States population in 1850. It took three editors to compile the book (Stephan Thernstrom, Editor, Ann Orlov, Managing Editor, and Oscar Handlin, Consulting Editor) and all of the contributing authors are listed in the book as well.
Let me give you an example of one ethnic group entry; the Czechs. Located between the Cubans and the Dagestanis, it is prefaced by the note that if you are looking for Czechoslovaks “see Carpatho-Rusyns, Czechs, and Slovaks”. Then the real fun begins!
The author of the Czech section had me by the heartstrings from these first words:
“The Czechs have had a thousand years of experience in ethnic survival, since they live in a region of central Europe long coveted for its natural resources and subjected to continuing external pressures as a result.”
Ah yes! Two points jumped out at me from this one sentence. First the author acknowledges the Czechs have had to struggle for their ethnic survival for generations and second they live in central Europe. Not Eastern! Central! I immediately knew this author, Karen Johnson Freeze of Harvard, knew what she was going to be writing about. And write she did. For twelve glorious pages. The section headings include: Czechs, History, Patterns of Migration, Settlement and Economic Life, Culture and Society (which is divided by Religion and Free Thought, Social Organization, Education, Music and Arts, and Press), Politics, Ethnic Revival, and a very worthwhile Bibliography.
Tomorrow I will go into more detail on what all is included in the Czech section.
Onward To Our Past®