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Author, Editor, AADAS Chair:
A report on the work of Dr. Swierenga

Dr. Robert P. Swierenga has completed his magnum opus, a full-length history of the Dutch in his "hometown" of Chicago, where his immigrant ancestors settled in the 1890s. He has devoted most of his time to this project during the last five years. "I have never enjoyed the writing of a book more than this one," he says. "It tells the story of my own family and community." The book's tentative title is Dutch Chicago: A History of the Hollanders in the Windy City.

In the 1970s an estimated 250,000 Chicagoans claimed Dutch birth or ancestry and the Windy City was second only to Grand Rapids, Michigan, as a Dutch center. But with only 3.5 percent of the populace in the Chicago metropolitan region, compared to 20 percent in the Grand Rapids area, the Chicago Dutch have remained an invisible people to historians and journalists.The Chicago Dutch were a polyglot population from all social strata, regions, and religions of the Netherlands. Three quarters were Calvinists; the remainder included Catholics, Lutherans, Unitarians, Socialists, Jews, and the nominally churched. By all expectations, the Dutch should have rapidly Americanized, intermarried, and disappeared as an ethnic group. Indeed, this happened to those who preferred American denominations such as the Presbyterians, and to Dutch Jews and Catholics who joined German congregations. A Holland Presbyterian and a Holland Unitarian church also served the westsiders briefly, but both collapsed. Only one Catholic parish of some 200 families, St. Willibrord in Roseland-Kensington that was formed in the 1890s, preserved a Dutch Catholic identity in the twentieth century.

The Dutch Reformed were concentrated in four enclaves until the 1920s: the Old West Side, Englewood on the near South Side, and Roseland and South Holland on the far South Side. From these "nests" eventually came many other Dutch settlements in greater Chicagoland. Of the four core areas, the Old West Side was "in almost every respect the most interesting of them all," according to Amry Vandenbosch in his book, The Dutch Communities of Chicago (1927).

From Dutch Chicago: A History of the Hollanders in the Windy City by Robert P. Swierenga, to be published in 2002 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Dr. Swierenga is also editing the English translation of Amsterdam Emigrants: Unknown Letters from the Prairies of Iowa, published in Dutch by Dr. J. Stellingwerff in 1975. Walter Lagerwey has translated this important documentary on the Iowa immigration of the Rev. Hendrik Scholte. The work, under the auspices of the Dutch American Historical Commission, will carry the imprint of the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company and be a contribution to the Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, of which Prof. Donald Bruggink of Western Theological Seminary is general editor.

Students of the Dutch in America now have access to a basic library - the Lucas and Van Hinte histories; Lucas' Dutch Immigrant Memories and Related Writings (1955; reprint, 1997); Brink's Dutch American Voices (1995), a collection of immigrant letters; and my book, Faith and Family: Immigration and Settlement in the United States, 1820-1920 (2000), which provides immigration statistics and explains the behavioral complexities of the resettlement process from beginning to end. These five books comprise an essential library and put at one's fingertips the key information - letters, memoirs, historical narrative, and statistics. Let no one question the fact that Dutch American scholarship has arrived!
From "The Third Generation and Dutch American Studies, 1960-2000," Dr. Swierenga's keynote address given at the 13th Biennial Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Dutch American Studies.

In June 2001 Dr. Swierenga completed his two-year term as president of the Association for the Advancement of Dutch American Studies (AADAS). The biennial AADAS conference was held at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the theme "The Dutch Adapting in North America." Session topics dealing with issues of higher education, acculturation, and immigration featured speakers from the United States, including Dr. Bruins, and from the Netherlands, including Drs. George Harinck and Hans Krabbendam.