Book Talk with Benjamin Moore: The Names of John Gergen
History, Philosophy, and Religion
Rescued from the dumpster of a boarded-up house, the yellowing scraps of a young migrant's schoolwork provided Benjamin Moore with the jumping-off point for this study of migration, memory, and identity. Centering on the compelling story of its eponymous subject, The Names of John Gergen examines the converging governmental and institutional forces that affected the lives of migrants in the industrial neighborhoods of South St. Louis in the early twentieth century. These migrants were Banat Swabians from Torontál County in southern Hungary—they were Catholic, agrarian, and ethnically German.
Between 1900 and 1920, the St. Louis neighborhoods occupied by migrants were sites of efforts by civic authorities and social reformers to counter the perceived threat of foreignness by attempting to Americanize foreign-born residents. At the same time, these neighborhoods saw the strengthening of Banat Swabians' ethnic identities. Historically, scholars and laypeople have understood migrants in terms of their aspirations and transformations, especially their transformations into Americans. The experiences of John Gergen and his kin, however, suggest that identity at the level of the individual was both more fragmented and more fluid than twentieth-century historians have recognized, subject to a variety of forces that often pulled migrants in multiple directions.
Deb Ward, University of Missouri Libraries