First Advisor

Katrine Barber

Date of Publication

Spring 6-12-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History




Russian Germans -- History, Russia -- Colonization, Russian Germans -- Cultural assimilation -- Oregon -- Portland



Physical Description

1 online resource (iii, 130 pages)


The Volga Germans assert a particular ethnic identity to articulate their complex history as a multinational community even in the absence of traditional practices in language, religious piety, and communal lifestyle. Across multiple migrations and settlements from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, the Volga Germans' self-constructed group identity served historically as a tool with which to navigate uncertain politics of belonging. As subjects of imperial Russia's eighteenth-century colonization project the Volga Germans held a privileged legal status in accordance with their settlement in the Volga River region, but their subsequent loss of privileges under the reorganization and Russification of the modern Russian state in the nineteenth century compelled members of the group to immigrate to the Midwest in the United States where their distinct identity took its full form. The Volga Germans' arrival on the Great Plains coincided with an era of mass global migration from 1846 to 1940, yet the conventional categories of immigrant identity that subsumed Volga Germans in archival records did not impede their drive for community preservation under a new unifying German-Russian identity. A contingent of Midwest Volga Germans migrated in 1881 to Albina, a railroad town across the Willamette River from Portland, Oregon where the pressures of assimilation ultimately disintegrated traditional ways of life--yet the community impulse to articulate its identity remained. Thus, while Germans are the single largest ethnic group in the U.S. today numbering forty-two million individuals, Portland's Volga German community nevertheless continues to distinguish itself ethnically through its nostalgia for a unique past.

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