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Allison Schmidt

Student Profile

Journey to PhD makes stop at Max Kade Center

Many of us are fond of saying, “it’s the journey, not the destination.”

But most of us don’t get to devote our dissertation to that concept. Allison Schmidt, a doctoral candidate in History at KU, recently presented a paper on migration control in eastern German borderlands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the 2014 Social Science History Association meeting in Toronto. She was able to attend thanks to funding through KU’s Max Kade Center for German-American Studies.

Most German migration research focuses on the immigrants’ settlement in the United States, but Schmidt’s research is all about the journey: How did they get to the U.S.? What was their travel like? How involved were the German police and health officials in migrant control?

“The questions of ‘Why and how do people move?’ have long interested me,” Schmidt said. “Humans can be remarkably adaptable and brave in this sense.”

One of the things Schmidt discovered just might change what we know of German migration patterns before the first World War.

“The longtime narrative has been that states heightened migration control due to the war,” Schmidt said, “but migration historians are pointing out precursors that began in the 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Her research zeroes in on a migrant registration station in Leipzig, where German officials checked migrants’ medical and financial status.

“During this time, thousands of eastern Europeans, mainly bound for the United States, were traveling through Germany by rail in order to reach northern European harbors,” Schmidt said. “I was researching in Dresden archives when I stumbled upon reports on this registration station in Leipzig. It was like stars had aligned because the topic combines my interest in German history, eastern Europe, and migration.”

Fluent in German, Schmidt has found that knowing the language has been pivotal to her research.

“It is much easier to obtain funding when you can demonstrate you know the language,” she said. “The number of resources available increases exponentially. I can communicate with professors, archivists, and researchers across Germany. Many of them of course speak excellent English, but speaking German shows you're willing to meet them halfway.” 

Schmidt, who will serve as a GTA in Humanities & Western Civilization during the 2015–16 academic year, plans to defend her dissertation this fall.

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