In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section German Influences in America

  • Introduction
  • Historiography and Political Implications
  • Appearance of Germans and German-Speaking People on the Stage of 17th- and 18th-Century North America
  • Ethnic Bubbles, Americanization, and Cultural Contributions of Germans to 19th-Century USA
  • Humanities, Germans, and US-American Society
  • Natural Sciences and Education
  • Economy, Trade, Finance, and Industrialization in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
  • German-Americans and Their Involvement in Slavery and the Antislavery Movement

Atlantic History German Influences in America
Claudia Schnurmann, Fenja Heisig, Sarah Lentz, Thorsten Logge, Philipp Wendler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0393


From the beginning of European expansion across the Atlantic, Germans (i.e., inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, covering today’s middle, western, and eastern Europe and parts of southern Europe) and German dialect–speaking people in its neighboring territories like Alsace or the Swiss Confederation had their share in the development of the Americas. They followed their contemporaries from colonizing states like England/Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain, or Portugal to the New World that of all things a German had baptized “America.” The German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller (b. c. 1472–d. 1520) in 1507 had produced a map of the world and named the continent west of the Atlantic, till then unknown to most Europeans, as “America.” He did so in honor of the Italian Amerigo Vespucci (b. 1451–d. 1512), who had delighted European readers with bestselling reports of his travels to Portuguese Brazil in the 1490s. In the early twenty-first century, Waldseemüller’s map from 1507 is held in high esteem as a sign of functioning German-US-American relationship and still serves political interests as it did in Renaissance Europe, as demonstrated by Lehmann 2016. The following bibliography presents scholarly works published in the twenty-first century; although many important titles, studies, and editions of sources on our topic had been published in the nineteenth century and especially in the 1960–1990s, they will be not mentioned here as they are well-known in the academic world and easy to detect in several title collections, databases, and catalogues of leading institutions like the “European Reading Room” provided by the Library of Congress. Recently published titles collected here pay special tribute to the idea of supranational Atlantic history: they put the study of influence by Germans and German-speaking especially on British North America/USA into the bilateral as well as the Atlantic context; this collection reflects less immigration and ethnic seclusion but more performance and achievements of Germans as brokers and “influencers” in their chosen new home, British North America/USA.


Germans who left for America not only changed their homeland by transforming its demographic conditions and social structure for many years to come. They also had an impact on their new abode as well as on the commonality in the Western Hemisphere. By their intercontinental communication, they helped to connect Old and New Worlds, families and friends into informal, personal Atlantic networks. Some of those networks found precipitation in extensive correspondences which reflect impact on and perceptions of American society as well as personal interactions with the chosen homeland, which can be studied in recent editions of 18th- and 19th-century transatlantic letters: Efford and Bilic 2021; Häberlein, et al. 2019–2023; Helbich and Kamphoefner 2006; Knoblauch, et al. 2021; or Schnurmann 2018. Besides these individual case studies, there are extensive digitized collections of letters and journals of German immigrants to North America available: provided for example by the University of Minnesota, the Max Kade Institute, or the German Historical Institute (Washington, DC) to name just a few.

  • Efford, Alison Clark, and Viktorija Bilic, eds. Radical Relationships: The Civil War-Era Correspondence of Mathilde Franziska Anneke. New Perspectives on the Civil War Era. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2021.

    This collection of private letters written 1859 to 1865 reveals insights into the personal and political life of the Prussian feminist Anneke (b. 1817–d. 1884), who moved to the USA and got romantically involved with the abolitionist Mary Booth.

  • Häberlein, Mark, Thomas Müller-Bahlke, and Hermann Wellenreuther, eds. Hallesche Pastoren in Pennsylvania, 1743–1825. Eine kritische Quellenedition zu ihrer Amtstätigkeit in Nordamerika, 8 Bde. Hallesche Quellenpublikationen und Repertorien. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2019–2023.

    The editors present official letters and diaries written by those pastors in North America, especially Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, to their employer in Halle and today kept in the Archives of the Franckesche Stiftungen in Halle/Saale, Germany.

  • Helbich, Wolfgang, and Wolfgang Kamphoefner, eds. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

    This volume collects letters from Germans on both sides of the conflict that separated the 19th-century USA and shows different perspectives on war, politics, and the problems of German migrants.

  • Knoblauch, Susanne C., Detlev Waack, and Claudia Schnurmann, eds. Nachrichten aus Manhattan: Die New Yorker Briefe von Carl Eduard Knoblauch, 1863–1867. Atlantic Cultural Studies 6. Münster, Germany: LIT Verlag, 2021.

    The bill broker Carl Eduard Knoblauch (Berlin 1837New York 1886) came from an influential family of entrepreneurs and architects who left their lasting mark in the Prussian capital. Knoblauch left for New York to become partner of his uncle, a broker in Manhattan, in 1863. His letters written in English and German to family and friends back home offer openhearted impressions of politics, culture, everyday life, and feelings of a young professional shortly before his take-off in the commercial elite of New York.

  • Schnurmann, Claudia, ed. A Sea of Love: The Atlantic Correspondence of Francis and Mathilde Lieber, 1839–1845. Brill’s Specials in Modern History 3. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2018.

    Francis Lieber (b. 1798–d. 1872) and his wife Mathilde (b. 1805–d. 1890) used to travel between Europe and North America; during the years 1839 and 1845 the wife of the busy scholar spent several years in her hometown Hamburg to accompany her sons, who got their education in local schools while her husband was busy in the USA/Canada or traveling across Europe. By an intensive correspondence across the Atlantic—the sea of love—the couple tried to stay in touch and exchanged multilingual letters that were filled with love, longing, lessons, and reflections on Lieber’s impact on US-American society.

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