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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PHRASE “IF YOU AIN’T DUTCH, YOU AIN’T MUCH”

7 Jul
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The windmill in Orange City, Iowa’s Windmill Park.

It’s a phrase frequently employed in media coverage of Dutch Americans. It appears on kitsch t-shirts and coffee mugs. Even Dutch King Willem Alexander said it a speech in Michigan in 2015.

“There’s an old expression here,” chuckles Gleaves Whitney, director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.” [1]

From the Netherlands, a journalist reports: “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much”, they still always say in west Michigan.[2]

The phrase is now well-known and well-worn. It strikes many as a form of chauvinism more than pride, and it’s got the right alliteration and meter to remain a classic. But it is vague enough to be useful in a variety of contexts, and so it can mean different things to different people.

But just how old is this phrase, and where did it come from? I’ve spent almost twenty years studying and writing about the Dutch in the United States, and I can’t remember ever encountering the phrase “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much” in any archival documents more than twenty years old.

So begins historian Michael Douma’s investigative essay on a phrase that, as he notes, I have heard here in Orange City. If you are interested in Michael’s full account, read his entire blog post here.

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For 40 Years, Crashing Trains Was One of America’s Favorite Pastimes

3 Jul
The "Crash at Crush" explosion.

The “Crash at Crush” explosion. THE TEXAS COLLECTION, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

ON SEPTEMBER 15, 1896, TWO locomotives crashed head on 14 miles north of WacoTexas. The locomotives’ boilers exploded on impact, sending debris flying through the air for hundreds of yards, killing at least two spectators and maiming countless others. One man even lost an eye to a flying bolt.

But no one ran from the calamity. In fact, after the crash, thousands of bystanders ran toward the destroyed locomotives hoping to claim a piece of the wreckage. That’s because the 40,000 or so people scattered along the tracks that September day knew the locomotives were going to crash and had paid to be there.

So begins Justin Franz’s fascinating account of staged train wrecks. You may read his entire Atlas Obscura piece here.

Slow journalism in an age of forgetting

24 Jun

In his novel Slowness, Milan Kundera writes that, “the degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.” Kundera illustrates this point ― what he calls “existential mathematics” ― with the example of a walking man. When he is attempting recollect something, he slows down. When trying to forget a disagreeable incident, he speeds up, “as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.”

There is a connection, Kundera suggests, between speed and forgetting, and our current era has sold its soul to the demon of speed out of an unacknowledged desire to forget: “it picks up the pace to show us that it no longer wishes to be remembered; that it is tired of itself, sick of itself; that it wants to blow out the tiny trembling flame of memory.”

So begins a thoughtful essay on slow journalism, by Australian journalism professor Megan Le Masurier. You may read the entire piece here.

The Wild West Meets the Southern Border

4 Jun

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

Tombstone’s reënactors re-create a peculiar and selective representation of the past. Photograph by Chris Verene for The New Yorker

Shakespeare is in New Mexico. Tombstone, in Arizona. Both are old mining towns near the U.S.-Mexico border. They came into existence in the eighteen-seventies, during the silver strike, but soon suffered the same fate as most of the other mining towns in the region: boom, depression, abandonment, and then a strange kind of afterlife.

Some years ago, I spent a summer in the Southwest with my then husband, our daughter, and my two stepsons, and we visited both places. It was 2014, the immigration crisis was very much in the news—unaccompanied children from Central America were arriving at the border in unprecedented numbers, seeking asylum—and I was beginning to do research on the situation. My husband and I were obsessively meeting deadlines, and the kids were getting impatient with us, feeling…

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The Day Christian Fundamentalism Was Born

26 May

For many Americans, it was thrilling to be alive in 1919. The end of World War I had brought hundreds of thousands of soldiers home. Cars were rolling off the assembly lines. New forms of music, like jazz, were driving people to dance. And science was in the ascendant, after helping the war effort. Women, having done so much on the home front, were ready to claim the vote, and African-Americans were eager to enjoy full citizenship, at long last. In a word, life was dazzlingly modern.

But for many other Americans, modernity was exactly the problem. As many parts of the country were experimenting with new ideas and beliefs, a powerful counterrevolution was forming in some of the nation’s largest churches and Bible institutes. A group of Christian leaders, anxious about the chaos that seemed to be enveloping the globe, recalibrated the faith and gave it a new urgency. They knew that the time was right for a revolution in American Christianity. In its own way, this new movement — fundamentalism — was every bit as important as the modernity it seemingly resisted, with remarkable determination.

Historian Matthew Avery Sutton suggests that 100 years ago, fundamentalist Protestantism was born. While the specific year and occasion are subject to debate, Sutton adeptly and concisely describes the concerns of fundamentalists and points out some ongoing impacts. You can read the rest of his New York Times op-ed here.

Let’s Change the Way We Talk About the Midwest

12 May

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

Movement, changing urban landscapes, and environmental violence are all Midwestern stories. A 4-11 Fire Alarm, Chicago. Source: The Newberry Library

Even as Seemingly Every Article on Midwestern History and Culture aims to complicate understandings of the Midwest, they still start with the assumption that the Midwest is a static, white, rural place. This assumption is not reflected in the historical record, contemporary scholarship, or the lived experiences of so many Midwesterners (including myself); rather, it is a harmful and political statement. For example, in Minnesota the narrative justifies elevating violent legacies of colonizers while erasing past and present Indigenous presence in battles over place names at Bde Maka Ska and Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote. Meanwhile, the Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota is unwilling to reckon with the racist histories associated with campus building names. The nostalgic characterization of the Midwest as perpetually white and…

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America is losing its memory

8 May

America is losing its memory. The National Archives and Records Administration is in a budget crisis. More than a resource for historians or museum of founding documents, NARA stands at the heart of American democracy. It keeps the accounts of our struggles and triumphs, allows the people to learn what their government has done and is doing, and maintains records that fill in family histories. Genealogy researchers depend on it, as do journalists filing Freedom of Information Act requests. If Congress doesn’t save it, we all will suffer.

So begins historian T.J. Stiles’ plea for more funding for the National Archives. (Full disclosure: I love Stiles’ books; I highly recommend them as outstanding histories, and great reads.) You may read his entire opinion piece here.

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