Historical actors make history! Such axioms allow my project to include the lives of many Jewish settlers that, by in large, have been excluded in the overarching narrative of the American West. The entire dissertation views Jewish settlers as part and parcel of a much large settler colonial project set into motion by the federal government through the Oregon Donation Land Act, the Homestead Act, and the Dawes Act. Immigrants were promised free land! Although it was not technically free (filing fees and $1.00 per acre), the ability to own land was largely unheard of in many of the settlers’ home countries. This was especially true for Russian Jews who left their country for various reasons: pograms and the inability to own land. For many Russian Jews their lives were torn asunder.
Close reading of the some of the documents reinforce, and then, add to these historical narratives. For example, in the case of Charles Losk who’s family fled Russia right after the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, they chose to farm because when they had traveled across Europe they witnessed German farmers. For the Losk family, those German farmers led a peaceful life that was free of government intervention. Yet, the word clouds do not show the reasons why they chose to move to North Dakota over the more urban locales. In the case of Sigmund Shlesinger (below), the topics in the word clouds directly reflect the actual text.
Collectively, the Jewish male data set reflect a concern for family, land, farming, and traveling to the United States. Some of these things might not surprise historians. We can understand the travelogues. One might also think that topics such as farming and land would be natural fits for immigrant families coming to the Dakotas. Which in turn make topics like the seasons not so ordinary. What is so fascinating, especially when one looks at the topics with special attention to gender–the fact that these men are writing a great deal about the family is especially telling. It might lend itself to understand that Jewish males viewed the home and their family as a refuge from the outside pressure to assimilate.