Thanks to Assistant Professor Kristen Anderson, a slice of St. Louis history is coming to life in Webster classrooms.
Anderson is giving students the opportunity to learn how historically tense race relationships affected the ancestral people of St. Louis, thus helping them understand how history impacted the city they call home.
Anderson came to Webster in 2009, after completing a dissertation on the relationships between German American and African Americans in St. Louis during the 19th century. Teaching in St. Louis had great appeal to Anderson because of her knowledge and passion for the history of the city. It is an expertise that few academics choose as their focus.
“St. Louis is a really understudied city, and in recent years, myself and a few other historians have begun doing studies but not much has been written on it in comparison to a city like Chicago,” Anderson said. “A lot of times we don’t talk about St. Louis, but a lot of history did happen here, and at the end of the day, all history is local history, so St. Louis went through all the same events that the U.S. did.”
German American and African American Relationships
Her dissertation focused on Missourians’ perceptions of German Americans towards African Americans, during the time of slavery, civil war, and then the emancipation. Although the traditional view has been that German Americans were less racist than the rest of white society, Anderson found that they were quite similar to other white Americans in that their attitudes towards race and slavery shifted over time. Although few Germans were proslavery, they proved willing to tolerate it when it did not negatively impact their own lives. When slavery seemed to threaten their economic future or the survival of the nation in the 1850s, they became actively opposed to it.
However, despite their strong opposition to slavery during the Civil War, most St. Louis Germans ultimately came to reject granting full political equality to African Americans, aligning themselves with other white Americans to hold African Americans at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
Currently, Anderson is working on expanding her research and delving into post-Civil War Memorial Day celebrations. She is investigating how St. Louis acknowledged the war and its soldiers after the emancipation. It was often the case that these celebrations were very consolatory and frequently excluded the mention of slavery and freedom.
History in the Classroom
Anderson has found it be a great advantage that she has been able to incorporate her knowledge on race relationship in St. Louis into a number of her history classes. She has discovered that many of her students are intrigued by the idea of how history impacted their ancestors.
“It comes up in a number of my different classes. I teach a class about St. Louis history and the St. Louis part of my research comes up. I can bring in documents or anecdotes that I have come across. It’s really great to teach here in St. Louis because the students are interested in learning about its history. Often they have ancestors that lived through these events and it creates a more personal experience for them.”