The Immigrant Family Johann Heinrich Carl Bohn: Life Stories and Social Practices of a Transnational Family Network, 1852-2005

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Ursula Lehmkuhl (book project)

On the basis of an immigrant letter series of 201 letters from Thuringia, this research project investigates the social and communicative practices of a transnational family network across different generations and historical crisis situations (Revolution 1848, First and Second World Wars, Soviet occupation, construction of the Berlin Wall, GDR). The book project will examine a) processes of social inclusion and exclusion, b) the cohesion factors within the family network and its significance as social capital for the emigrated family members, and c) the subjective and thus micro-historical dimension of the emigration experience (expectations, identities, experiences of continuity and upheaval, etc.). On the basis of the digitization and digital annotation of the letter series, the research project tries to identify typical patterns of individual life stories and practices of writing about oneself and reconstructs the coordination and communication as well as the control function of the transatlantic family network. The research project thus contributes not only to historical network analysis, but also to emigrant letter research in the narrower sense, insofar as the genre "emigrant letter" is considered and evaluated as a medium of transnational self-understanding, the transmission of identity-forming family myths, and as a medium of cultural transfer. 

The research project builds on the heuristic models developed by David Gerber ("Authors of their Lives" 2006). It goes beyond the established analytical perspectives by including digital methods of network visualization and by analyzing the relations between social spaces and the life worlds of the letter writers on the one hand and the significance of the generational context and socio-economic conditions in the network on the other. The project thus combines socio-historical and sociological perspectives and historical-anthropological questions and develops analytical concepts in order to bridge macro- and micro-perspectives. 


Lehmkuhl, Ursula (2014): Reading Immigrant Letters and Bridging the Micro-Macro Divide, in: Studia Migracyjne (40:1), 9-30.

Lehmkuhl, Ursula (2014): Johann Heinrich Carl – The Revolutionary: The History and Collective Memory of a German-American Family, 1852-2004, in: Studia Migracyjne (40:1), 31-56.