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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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Pioneers and Native Peoples: The Discrepancy between Historical Scholarship and Its Popular Presentation in the United States and Switzerland



“We did not think of the great plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as ‘wild.’ Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him was the land ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it ‘wild’ for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was that for us the ‘Wild West’ began.” (Luther Standing Bear 1868–1939)1

The New World as seen by Europeans was indeed not a wilderness, but rather an Old World that had been settled, shaped, formed and constantly changed by peoples native to their respective homelands.2 For at least 15,000 years, numerous cultures with widely diverse languages, worldviews and traditions have existed in the regions now part of the United States. Some native people were fishermen, hunters and farmers in stable or mobile villages, others lived in cities and engaged in commerce or worked as craftsmen and artisans. The native peoples of North America were involved in a mercantile ← 85 | 86 → system and its corresponding network of land- and waterways. They built huge mounds as ceremonial places, terraced agricultural fields and constructed irrigation systems in order to...

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