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Probing the Past

Festschrift in Honor of Leo Schelbert

Wendy Everham and Virginia Schelbert

This Festschrift acknowledges the scholarly work of Leo Schelbert and his mentorship of graduate students in the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago where for 33 years he taught American history. Professor Schelbert has specialized in the story of European migrations and especially of immigration to the United States. His courses offered not only pertinent data, but they also raised theoretical issues to which historical work is tied inescapably.
The varied essays included in this book reflect the range of themes former students, who now are scholars in their own right, have been pursuing. The topics of three essays center on North American Indians facing white intruders, another on émigré Hungarians living in Scotland, and one (contributed to this volume by a most esteemed colleague with whom Leo Schelbert shared many a student) on striking women straw workers in Tuscany. Another essay concerns matters relating to those grappling with mental health issues, while others deal with African newcomers in Chicago, Jewish immigrants to America who first worked as peddlers, contemporary Polish American politics in Chicago, and also with a nineteenth-century Swiss American theologian. Two of the last three essays honor Leo Schelbert’s work as a colleague and historian apart from the university setting, whereas the final one honors Leo Schelbert as a teacher as well as the Department of History at UIC in which its Swiss-born member worked from 1971 to 2003.
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The Battle against Forgetting



The first time I met Leo Schelbert in June 2006, I already was awed by his enthusiasm and profound knowledge about the world. «The battle against forgetting», that’s what he named his mission in life—and soon I was infected with his «battle virus» too.

Back in 2006, I had travelled to St. Meinrad, Indiana as a journalist for a news coverage for the Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. I was very lucky to meet the «Swiss abroad of the year,» the historian Leo Schelbert on that same journey. In my backpack was the manuscript of my book about women from the canton Schwyz, born and raised in the early years of the last century. Leo Schelbert got to see the drafts, and his spontaneous reaction was «We need such a book about Swiss immigrant women to the United States! Too little was known about the lives of immigrant women. And next to nothing was known about those from Switzerland.

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