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Festschrift

Festschrift: from fest, meaning festival or celebration, and schrift, meaning writing. A volume of writing, prepared as a tribute to a scholar, consisting of
learned articles or essays by colleagues and admirers.

Over the years Dr. Robert P. Swierenga has published and edited numerous works of Dutch-American studies that are, as Larry Wagenaar says, "a treasure trove of information." During his years at Kent State University, he taught and guided many students who are now, in their own right, notable in the wide field of history, including Hans Krabbendam of the Roosevelt Study Center in the Netherlands, whose doctoral studies were supervised by Dr. Swierenga, and Wagenaar, who has for many years headed the Joint Archives of Holland. Working together in transatlantic collaboration, these former students organized a conference, "The Dutch American Experience: A Celebration of the Career of Robert P. Swierenga," which would honor him with a festschrift.

"The actual conference emerged as a 'cover' for the book we were working on," according to Wagenaar. "As we brought together scholars to participate in this volume, it was clear we needed both an event to present it and, since all of the contributors know Robert Swierenga, a way to hide our activities. The conference gave us great cover to 'hide in plain sight.' It also allowed us to get our honoree as a keynote speaker without tipping our hand!"

Following a welcome by Hope College Provost Jacob E. Nyenhuis, the first conference address, "Robert P. Swierenga, Historian and Teacher: An Appreciation," was given by Dr. Harry Stout of Yale University. "Few, if any, contemporary American historians," Stout said, "have achieved the breadth of Robert P. Swierenga's scholarly oeuvre. In a career spanning thirty-five years and still very much in high gear, Professor Swierenga has published definitive works of scholarship in such diverse fields as econometrics, the history of agriculture and the frontier, immigration historiography and Dutch immigration in particular, quantitative methods and social scientific theory, and American religious history."

Conference presentations were given in four sessions: "Immigrant Ideology," at which the speakers were Hans Krabbendam and Janel M. Curry; "Mobility," at which Suzanne Sinke, Yda Schreuder, Donald Luidens, and Roger Nemeth spoke; "Dutch-American Religion," where the speakers were Richard Harms, James Bratt, and E. William Kennedy; and "Portrait Gallery," where Cornelis van Minnen spoke on "America's Most Popular Dutchman: Hendrik Willem van Loon," and Annemieke Galema presented her research on Dutch emigrant Pieter Ypes Groustra amd his descendants over the years 1881-1946. Each session corresponded to a section of the festschrift volume, which also includes an introductory section, "Robert P. Swierenga and the Dutch-American Experience."


The Dutch-American Experience: Essays in Honor of Robert P. Swierenga
is presented to Dr. Swierenga. Dr. Swierenga, on the right, holds a copy
of the book, edited by Hans Krabbendam, left, and Larry Wagenaar, center.

The plausible hypothesis that a conflict with the church automatically led to a rejection of the state is unjustified, at least for the majority of Seceders. A careful analysis of the ideas about the relationship between church and state shows that those who defended an intimate bond opposed emigration and vice versa. Though many emigrants were not aware of this argument, they were influenced by it nonetheless. Those who considered their Seceded churches, whether belonging to the Seceded denomination or not, as the only true continuation of the Reformed Church of the Dutch Republic, rarely left the country. Those who did, usually had a broader, cosmopolitan perspective, based on their religious insights.

Once in America, the Dutch Seceders easily adapted to the new arrangements between church and state. Since the group migration initially led to homogeneous settlements, the Dutch seized the opportunity to organize their own local society. The combination of official separation of church and state and the public presence of religion made them feel comfortable. This is not to say the Seceders acted upon carefully developed theoretical ideas. But the broader expectations of the world certainly helped them to let the old world go. Later in the century, when the political system in the Netherlands was democratized, the Seceders entered politics and after joining forces with the rising Abraham Kuyper developed a political philosophy and became a formidable political power. The later waves of Dutch immigrants exported those ideas to the Dutch settlements in the Midwest.

Robert Swierenga's objective "number-crunching" in combination with his subjective empathy with the religious world- view of many immigrants secured a balanced portrait of this phenomenon....His immigration research not only generated a wealth of data, it also proved a reliable basis for further inquiry, which encouraged a detailed investigation of the connection between ideas and action.

From "Emigration as Protest? Opinions About the Relation Between Church and State as a Factor in the Dutch Emigration Movement" by Hans Krabbendam in The Dutch-American Experience: Essays in Honor of Robert P. Swierenga.

The Dutch-American Experience: Essays in Honor of Robert P. Swierenga edited by Hans Krabbendam and Larry J. Wagenaar (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2000) is available from the Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, P.O. Box 9000, Holland, MI 49422-9000.