What did “Europe” look like and what did it mean to migrants who crossed the Atlantic? What role did European immigrants and émigrés play in shaping transatlantic networks of exchange between the United States and Europe during the middle of the twentieth century? These questions form the basis of the GHI research project Transatlantic Perspectives. The project traces ranscultural perspectives on Europe among European migrants—including long- and short-term immigrants—in the United States, as well as the role these migrants played in transnational transfers between the 1930s and 1980s.
Transatlantic Perspectives traces transnational entanglements, European influences on American society, and multidirectional transfers that complicate narratives of postwar “Americanization.” The project aims to uncover the ways in which migrants—at the height of the “American Century”—helped shape the Cold War Atlantic Community and numerous aspects of American and European life from politics and the arts, to the sciences and mass consumption. While prominent individuals such as the sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld, for example, contributed to the postwar development of American social science and marketing research, which soon became models for the Western World more broadly, larger networks like those around the émigré designers and architects of the Bauhaus facilitated sustained transformations of the world of goods and the postwar built environment. Their “international” style was a transnational mélange of interwar European and American modernism.
Elite migrants, furthermore, played a significant role in shaping the Cold War world. As intellectuals, academics, policy advisers, and political activists, they informed American views of Europe, its political “totalitarianisms,” and its potential for economic and cultural reconstruction after the war. As returning émigrés, they similarly brought an American perspective to postwar European societies, acting even—in some ways—as agents of “Americanization.” Their careers were marked by a continuous back-and-forth between the continents and frequently by a trans- or international outlook. Many of them consequently became involved with the growing number of supranational institutions and international professional associations, such as the International Federation for Housing and Planning. Along with American foundations such as the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, these institutions formed the organizational support structure for the transnational exchange processes that the migrants contributed to.
This website aims to introduce students and scholars to individual migrants and their transatlantic careers in various professional fields. It draws attention to the transnational institutions and networks that facilitated transfers and exchanges between Europe and the United States. It also contextualizes the migrants and their professional biographies within the wider world of transatlantic relations and the mutual perceptions of Europe and the United States of America during the second half of the twentieth century. It provides documents, bibliographies, links to archival records, and tools for educators. In developing this website, we hope to facilitate further research and a growing understanding of the continued interconnectedness of the Atlantic World.
The Transatlantic Perspectives project, on which this website is based, is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and receives further academic and financial support from the German Historical Institute in Washington and its director Prof. Dr. Hartmut Berghoff. As part of the project, several workshops and publications pursue an overarching set of questions:
- Can we trace a connection between migration experiences and the emergence of a “European” sense of belonging among migrants? This was a guiding question of the 2011 Summer Seminar Europe – Migration – Identity organized by Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, Donna Gabaccia, and Jan Logemann at the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center. Selected papers from this workshop were published in the spring 2013 issue of the journal National Identities. The issue will be re-published as a hardcover volume by Routledge in spring of 2014.
- The 2012 workshop More Atlantic Crossings? Europe’s Role in an Entangled History of the Atlantic World, 1950s-1970s, held at the GHI in Washington, was convened by Jan Logemann, Mary Nolan, and Daniel Rodgers. It explored transnational and transatlantic influences on American society and inquired about the extent to which reciprocal transatlantic exchanges extended into the post-World War II decades. To what degree was the much discussed “Americanization” of postwar Western Europe tempered by a continued influence of European ideas and voices on transatlantic relations in a variety of fields? Selected papers from this workshop will be published in the 2014 GHI Bulletin Supplement.
- What role did immigrants and returning émigrés play in transnational processes of transfer and exchange in the postwar Western Europe? This question stood at the center of the 2013 workshop Migrants as ‘Translators’: Mediating External Influences on Post World War II Western Europe, 1945–1973, convened by Jan Logemann and Miriam Rürup at the Institute for the History of German Jews in Hamburg.
By emphasizing the role of migrants as actors in reciprocal processes of exchange and perception, the Transatlantic Perspectives project ultimately aims to probe notions of unidirectional “Americanization” during the postwar decades. Investigating migrant biographies can potentially show that transatlantic history during the American century was in fact characterized by a complicated entanglement of social, cultural and economic developments in Europe and the United States.
For more on this project, please see the full description in the Spring 2011 issue of the Bulletin of the German Historical Institute. Read full text article.