15th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the GHI

Nov 17, 2006

Award of the Fritz Stern Prize and Honoring Konrad Jarausch (First President of the Friends of the GHI) at the GHI | Prize Winner: Lars Maischak (California State University at Fresno); Speakers: Elizabeth D. Heinemann (University of Iowa), and Christoph Klessmann (University of Potsdam)

Presentation by the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize Winner and Award Ceremony

A Cosmopolitan Community: Hanseatic Merchants in the German-American Atlantic of the Nineteenth Century
Lars Maischak (California State University at Fresno)

Fritz Stern

11:00 a.m.-12:00 noon

Honoring Konrad Jarausch (First President of the Friends of the GHI)

Elizabeth D. Heinemann (University of Iowa)
Laudatio by Christoph Klessmann (University of Potsdam)

Prize Citation

The Stern Prize Selection Committee was composed of Doris Bergen (University of Notre Dame), Norman J.W. Goda (Ohio University, and Craig M. Koslofsky (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). 

Lars Maischak (California State University), A Cosmopolitan Community: Hanseatic Merchants in the German-American Atlantic of the Nineteenth Century. (Ph.D. dissertation, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 2005; Advisor: Professor Ronald G. Walters). For more information on Maischak's dissertation, see his article in the GHI's Bulletin.

Prize citation: A Cosmopolitan Community is extraordinary in the range of issues it addresses, its depth of research, and its elegance of style. At once transnational and clearly focused on Bremen, Maischak’s dissertation brings to life a group of people who emerge as a self-conscious elite but also as individuals and members of complex family and business networks. Part of a trans-Atlantic community, long-distance, wholesale merchants from the city-republic of Bremen were bourgeois conservatives who rejected what they considered the democratic excesses of the French Revolution and post-revolutionary American politics. At the same time, as Maischak shows us, they were mothers, sons, fathers, wives, cousins, and friends who promoted international improvement and embraced technology in an attempt to produce a form of capitalism that would preserve their Calvinist traditions. Their efforts, Maischak argues, failed. By the end of the century, the force of nationalism, the rise of industrial capitalism, and the upheavals of war on both sides of the Atlantic had overwhelmed the cosmopolitan world of Bremen’s mercantile elite. Maischak notes the irony that its members’ own economic activities had helped consolidate a new kind of world economy and bolster the power of nation-states.

Dr. Maischak’s dissertation is based on extensive and creative research: in family and business correspondence; newspapers; and parliamentary, diplomatic, and court records from archives in Baltimore, Bremen, and New York. These rich and varied materials give the work remarkable nuance and texture. We learn much about the ethos of "Christian seafaring" from a poem Gustav B. Schwab penned for the christening of a ship in 1839. Meanwhile, the contents, destinations, and profitability of those Bremish ships are carefully quantified in tables and graphs showing everything from "U.S. Tobacco Exports between 1855 and 1860" to "Share of German Immigrants Arriving in New York via Bremen, 1844-1864." Remarkably, all of this insight and information is crafted as a story that is both charming and convincing. In sum, Lars Maischak’s dissertation succeeds on every level: it is ambitious, original, transnational, innovative in its focus, aware of gender and religion, and beautifully written. It is a model for what many scholars seek to do, not only as an integrated approach to the past, but in its understanding of cultural, economic, intellectual, and political exchange in the Atlantic world.