Students watch a video about Germans from Russia who immigrated to and settled in North Dakota. Students then write about the challenges that they faced as they adapted to life in America.
This lesson is part of "Great States | North Dakota | Unit 7: Statehood & Citizenship" - a survey of what it means to be a citizen of North Dakota. Learn about government structures and challenges citizens of North Dakota have faced.
4.4.1: Identify the roles, rights, and responsibilities of a citizen in North Dakota (e.g., obedience to laws, the right to vote)
4.6.2: Explain the contributions of various ethnic groups (e.g., Native Americans, immigrants) to the history of North Dakota (e.g., food, traditions, languages, celebrations)
- Video: It’s All Earth and Sky | Citizenship and Language
- An interactive whiteboard, projector, or other type of screen to project videos to the class
- Class set of Gaining Citizenship in North Dakota handout
Tell students they will be watching a video about German immigrants of North Dakota. Explain that these German people actually came from Russia. In the mid 1700s, Russia’s ruler was a German-born woman, Catherine II (also known as Catherine the Great). In order to expand Russia’s food supply and agricultural industry, Catharine II invited Germans to emigrate to Russia in exchange for free land and other advantages. However, when Alexander II came to power in 1874, he ended many of the programs Germans had enjoyed. Many decided to flee Russia.
Explain that these Germans from Russia were trying to find a balance between their traditional ethnicity and being American, as well as struggling with language barriers. Explain that the video uses the term “assimilation,” which has since become a negative term. In the 1700-1800s however, it was similar to saying “adapting.” So in this video, assimilation was referring to people adapting to the culture, not the current definition, which has a negative implication of forcing someone to accept someone else’s culture and integrate it into their actions.
Provide students with the Gaining Citizenship in North Dakota handout. Instruct students to take note of important information about the challenges that these immigrants faced.
Play the video, It’s All Earth and Sky | Citizenship and Language [Stop at 6:07].
Have students write a paragraph on the challenges of being a German from Russia in North Dakota and how the adjustment process was different for each generation.
Here are some points to look for in student paragraphs:
Gaining citizenship [0:19]
Adjusting to life in a new land, learning the English language [2:08]
Being from countries with which the United States had poor relations during the previous century:
Having German ancestry and culture during WWI/WWII [3:03]
Having Russian background in the 1960s [4:25]
Balancing the German culture and language, while adapting to American culture and English language [5:28]
How citizenship changed over the generations:
First generation homesteaders were required to have citizenship. If they were living as a laborer or in the city, citizenship was not a priority. Many never became citizens [0:01]. Prior to WWI, they maintained pride in their home culture and largely spoke German with one another. Once the two World Wars came about, many German immigrants hid their German ancestry and focused on being from Russia [3:03].
Second generation immigrants worked harder to adapt to American culture and learn English. Many spoke German with their parents and English with their siblings and peers [5:27]. After WWII, US-Russia ties were strained, so many worked harder to learn English and adapt to American culture. Some shifted focus back to their German ancestry and now hid their Russian history [4:25].
For more information, go to: Germans from Russia [North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum].