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Abstract

There were Germans, and there were Americans, but by the time the United States entered World War I, it was very hard to be a German-American. Anti-German hysteria and nativist American nationalism attempted to denigrate and suppress German-American culture, punishing any sympathy for Germany or German culture. These tales of wartime prejudice and division occupy such a prominent place in the history of German-Americans that it can be hard to believe the extent to which German-Americans were comfortable being both German and American, or the ways in which other Americans both tolerated and opposed these sentiments. Chicago is particularly apt place to investigate such tensions, as it hosted a large German population (in 1910, 19.5% of the city was German-born) with at least two large German-language newspapers, but was far from an ethnic enclave, making the city a site for potential conflict. Examining English and German-language newspapers from the city can shed light on both differences in perspective and the construction of German-American identity. When studying tensions between German-Americans and non-German-Americans in Chicago, comparing English and German-language newspapers of that city provides useful insights into the priorities of each community, giving numerous examples of how they expressed their own views and even how the different presses interacted with each other. A focus on the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the outbreak of war, and the sinking of the Lusitania allows a comparison of the newspapers’ different biases and priorities in covering these divisive incidents. The German press, as might be expected, expends both more ink and more emotion on news of Germany and matters of German-American identity. Indeed, the Illinois Staats-zeitung (ISZ) and the Abendpost, Chicago’s main German-language dailies, were unabashedly pro-German throughout their war coverage. What is more surprising, however, is the way Chicago’s German-American press supported an identity that involved bonds of loyalty to both America and Germany. Although the sinking of the Lusitania resulted in a dramatic upswing of anti-German sentiment, English-speaking newspapers did not entirely exclude German-American voices. Through the early days of the war, the German newspapers of Chicago continued to engage with the English-speaking press in a desperate effort to convince them of Germany’s righteousness while also promoting a particular ideal of German-American identity to their readers.

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