Sounds of Ethnicity

Listening to German North America, 1850 - 1914

Barbara Lorenzkowski (Author)

Sounds of Ethnicity takes us into the linguistic, cultural, and geographical borderlands of German North America in the Great Lakes region between 1850 and 1914. Drawing connections between immigrant groups in Buffalo, New York, and Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, Barbara Lorenzkowski examines the interactions of language and music — specifically German-language education, choral groups, and music festivals—and their roles in creating both an ethnic sense of self and opportunities for cultural exchanges at the local, ethnic, and transnational levels. She exposes the tensions between the self-declared ethnic leadership that extolled the virtues of the German mother tongue as preserver of ethnic identity and gateway to scholarship and high culture, and the hybrid realities of German North America where the lives of migrants were shaped by two languages, English and German. Theirs was a song not of cultural purity, but of cultural fusion that gave meaning to the way German migrants made a home for themselves in North America.

Written in lively and elegant prose, Sounds of Ethnicity is a new and exciting approach to the history of immigration and identity in North America.


“This first book by Concordia University historian Barbara Lorenzkowski offers a new and creative model for thinking about the creation of ethnic identity in North America.”

– Marlene Epp, University of Waterloo, Labour

“Lorenzkowski’s focus on the role of language in the formation of ethnic identities complicates the simplistic assimilation-resistance dualism of other studies. Her transnational approach illustrates the creation of an ethnic community that spanned the Canadian-American border, while paying attention to the particularities of immigrant lives in each developing nation.” –

– Mario Nathan Coschi, McMaster University, Histoire Sociale / Social History.

Sounds of Ethnicity is a major contribution to ethnic history, and not just to that of German immigrants or the Great Lakes region.”

– Stan Nadel, University of Portland Center, Michigan Historical Review

“Lorenzkowski’s focus on language and sound provides a very creative approach to the history of immigration and identity in Canada. While her juxtaposition and linkage of German immigrants in the U.S. and Canada make a major contribution to the field, the attention she pays to language and soundscapes makes this a serious advance in the art of research in the field.”

– Cecilia Morgan, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

“Lorenzkowski’s fine study of soundscapes makes an important contribution to our understanding of the complex constructions of ethnicity. The study moves away from an assumption of broader group identifications into a far more flexible and volatile field of identity switches based on particular situations and personal perceptions.”

Christian Lieb, H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online)

About the Author

Barbara Lorenzkowski teaches history at Concordia University. She is the author of several articles and book chapters on the cultural history of post-Confederation Canada. Sounds of Ethnicity is her first book.

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