Tyson Erdmann

From William A. Percy
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Biography

This is the recommendation letter I wrote for Tyson, giving more of an insight to who he is.

Dear Dean of Admissions,

I met Tyson Erdmann in 2004 when he first enrolled at the University of Massachusetts. He stood out immediately as extremely confidant, contributing in class, displaying knowledge and experience rarely seen in undergraduates. The A in the first course that he took with me was based, along with class participation, on a forty minute presentation that became a twenty page paper. Because he demonstrated excellent oral skills I selected him to give an extra class presentation about his experience in Guantanamo Bay and about the issues concerning the detainee facility that were developing at that time. Again he did an outstanding job.

As I got to know more about Tyson through classes, office hours, and discussions during lunch, I learned that he had served a significant time as an elite Army Airborne Ranger. Besides Guantanamo, he worked as a security consultant in several developing countries after his military service, before working for several years as a private detective in Boston. His willingness to participate with feedback, and when appropriate, valuable questions, especially in my pre-law course, made him a pleasure to have in class. Tyson took a total of four of my courses, receiving an A in each. His overall grade point average in the department was 3.73 with a cumulative average of 3.6. His attention to detail in his research and his prose style are both strong points. He has continued to hone his intellectual skills while here at UMB.

The last course of mine that Tyson took was graduate level research that I designed to target problems with textbooks. He wrote an exceptional paper discussing the dismissive manner in which the German minority in America from the 1600s up through the civil war is being portrayed to college students in entry level history courses. Because it is so brilliantly analytical I decided to publish it on my website.

Tyson has an honest, loyal character. I have asked his advice on a legal matter of mine which pertained to his expertise in asset recovery, which he gained from his employment as an investigator. I have also had him carry out tasks to help me with grading and reporting exams once he had fulfilled his degree requirements with the history department because of his impeccable organizational skills. His attendance record was exceptional throughout his time in my classes and he has displayed punctuality with classes and office hour’s meetings throughout his career at UMB.

Descended from a long line of lawyers and having taught pre-law students for 45 years and advised the pre-law society for 35, I can attest with assurance that Tyson will do well in law school and become an asset to the bar.

Sincerely,

William A. Percy

Professor of History

Works

Germanic Influence on US History Analysis of Textbook: “The American Past” A Survey of American History 2nd Ed, Joseph R. Conlin

The manner in which Germans and their contributions to American culture are presented in the first half of “American Past,” a US history college text book, leaves considerable room for improvement. Numerous historical facts being either brushed over or ignored caused perspective on appropriate due credit to weaken. From the first German immigrants who accompanied Captain John Smith to Jamestown to the more than 7 million who have since followed them to US shores, Americans of German descent have played a vital role in establishing the country’s assets in a many areas, including science, art, engineering, medicine as well as military and political organization. The resulting cultural enrichment deserves mention not only for accurate historical record and perspective, but also so that US citizens attending college understand and appreciate the origin of many customs, beliefs and even educational methods and trends.

What is today known as Germany has evolved over the course of history consisting of multitudes of border discrepancies giving it several different titles. The Romans first referred to the land as “Germania,” after that it became the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, and eventually Germany, with borders that changed even more frequently than most European nations. In its developmental stages several fairly independent duchies have led to a variety of references to essentially the same cultural and linguistic population. Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Hessia and others are often cited in historical contexts without reference to their common German heritage and origin. At a 100 entry level course for college students, with disconnected names and references it can in fact promote confusion as to cultural origins. It would seem more beneficial to word it in a way that students could recognize it and relate it to a contemporary culture or region that they are familiar with. It could in some instances be as simple as stating, “The state of Saxony, which is today a region in Germany.”

German culture began long before the rise of Germany as a nation-state and spanned the entire German-speaking world. From its roots, culture in this country has been shaped by major intellectual and popular currents in Europe, both religious and secular. As a result, it is difficult to identify a specific German tradition separated from the larger framework of European culture; nevertheless, historians still do their best to trace sources of societal contributions to their roots. This particular American history textbook first introduces Germany with the Protestant reformation, and it is one of the relatively few cases where the text adequately covered the specific incidents relating to the Germans. It addresses Luther’s original 95 theses, posted in 1517 in the German city of Wittenberg, in which his challenge to the Roman Catholic Church’s authority, gained rapid support from most classes in Germany as well as those of bordering regions. (Conlin, 22) It was not emphasized that Germany’s reformation was also a bold reaction to the corruption and malpractices that had become widespread under Catholicism. At the time the church owned over one third of all the land outright, and also held vast political power. This German monk challenged this on fundamental issues, such as the practice of selling indulgences. This was a highly controversial issue in that the Pope himself had promoted the practice by granting salvation and or purgatory indulgence to many who volunteered to help build St. Peter’s Basilica. Luther stated that only God himself, and not the Pope, possessed the power to offer forgiveness of sins. The challenge started at a theological level but the German political leadership strongly supported it which welcomed an opportunity to reduce the excess worldly power wielded by the Pope and Church. The religious reformation in Germany instituted by the Lutheran Church spurred several European nations into reform and somewhat less directly influenced England’s break with Catholicism in forming the Church of England (Anglican). The latter development was mentioned in the text but the threads were not connected to Germany’s original contribution to the underlying initiatives.

The only other significant mention of Germans in the chapter covering the beginning all the way through 1620 is found in a diagram on early ship navigation. It describes a mathematical formula devised by an astronomer in 1752 that could pinpoint a ship’s longitude and latitude from the position of the moon. The textbook called this seemingly advanced calculation method “not practical” for its time because it took several hours to accomplish the task. (Conlin, 32) This would seem a rather pessimistic view considering the time required to sail across the ocean, and particularly the cost of navigational errors with respect to time lapse. A relevant background note not mentioned in the citation, is that Germany was one of the leading contributors to scientific research at that time.

In the period covering Colonial America there are a few brief lines mentioning the Pennsylvania Dutch, who were in fact descendants of German immigrants and not Dutch. The term, as stated in the text, was coined due to the pronunciation of the German word for their country “Deutschland,” so when one referred to a German they often called them Dutchmen, a term which ended at the turn of the 20th century. The book brings up the Pietists, the Amish, and the Mennonites and credits them with successfully establishing parts of Pennsylvania. These subcultures favored the philosophy maintained by William Penn, the governor at the time. (Conlin, 48, 65) In a side note box the text discusses slavery and makes a very misleading reference in comparing the African American’s tragic treatment with that of the Jews by Nazi Germany: “Some historians have compared the experience of enslavement to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany: a midnight call by the Gestapo, weeks of being shunted about like livestock, every moment living in fear of death and at the constant cruel mercies of all powerful captors, all leading to a bewildered sense of unreality and helplessness. In one sense, the African’s lot was better than that of the Jews. Their masters wanted to keep them alive; the Jews in Germany were scheduled for deliberate extermination.” (Conlin, 82)

This passage takes an event which took place during the developmental stages in US history, of which readers should be made aware, actually undermines its significance by comparing it to one of the most horrific atrocities ever committed by mankind. This type of presentation does not benefit the reader’s understanding and focuses the attention on occurrences that will certainly justify more appropriate coverage in later chapters. The sentence, “In one sense, the African’s lot was better than that of the Jews,” (Conlin, 82) rather disturbingly conveys a ludicrous message: “slavery was bad but it could’ve been worse.” When discussing the immigration of Germans to the colonies the text discusses how the Germans, German-speaking Swiss, and the Austrians were so numerous that in light of the sour feelings toward the British in 1776, Pennsylvanians suggested that German be the official language for the independent state, and the Declaration of Independence saw its first print in German on a newspaper, the Wochenliche Philadelphische Staatsnote. This paragraph on immigration from Germany then describes many Germans as “plain living” like the Quakers and as not having much interest in active politics. (Conlin, 89) It is perhaps odd that William Penn, the very political founder of the colony was himself a Quaker and evidently made a life in politics. Fluent in German, he actively recruited in regions of Germany which he had frequently visited. This paragraph in the textbook is somewhat ironically followed by one twice its size dedicated to and titled “The Scotch-Irish,” a population group of less than half the size of the German one in America at the time. The book distinguishes Philadelphia as the first colony to develop into a metropolis comparable to that of European cities of that time. As a commercial, educational, and cultural center, the city served as the capital for the original 13 colonies, and it was in this city that some of the ideas, and subsequent actions, gave birth to the American Revolution and American independence. (Conlin, 91) What is not said in the text is that on October 16, 1683 a ship full of German settlers sailed to this city on the “Concord.” This initiated a constant flow of German pioneers who flourished in Philadelphia, so that by 1800 there were over 150,000 new German Americans in Pennsylvania alone.

When discussing the colonial wars and subsequent wars in Europe at the time the text delves into great detail on several French and British interactions in the wars mentioned, such as King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, King Georges War and the French and Indian War which makes sense in that some of those conflicts carried over into the “New World” and impacted the colonialists. The book describes King George as an amazing soldier who dominated over the French King Louis XIV with only the “limited resources of the Dutch and a few German princelings.” (Conlin, 94) This could have been stated more explicitly that after some initial success by the French side in trying to invade the Rhineland, Germans (Brandenburg, Saxony, Bavaria, and Palatinate) decisively defended their ground by offering resources to the Grand Alliance, which at that time included many of the most experienced soldiers in Europe. Moving into the chapters dealing with America’s developing the fight for independence the text’s only mention of Germans is that the population of the colonies being mostly British also had a large minority German population. (Conlin, 106) The War of Independence coverage immediately depicts how British Lord North contracted 30,000 Hessians from Germany as mercenaries to fight against the Americans. George Washington expressed his lack of confidence in his men against such highly trained soldiers. Closer to the end of the chapter there is a rather quick brush over Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s actions in turning the American unorganized militias into a real army. (Conlin, 139-148) For someone indispensable to America’s process of gaining freedom, von Steuben receives minimal “gratitude” in this book.

The book stated nothing of how German born Steuben became an officer in the Prussian army, quickly gaining rank and experience, he worked on the general staff where he developed the expertise needed later for his contributions to the American Revolution. Steuben’s discharge from Prussian service could have been related to rumored homosexual activities with young males that were never proven. It is verified that he never married or had any children however; his discharge also occurred during a time when the Prussian army needed to downsize. If his sexual orientation did not force him out of the military it could well have influenced his decision to relocate. In the search for employment after his discharge, he found himself in France where Benjamin Franklin discovered of him and sent word to America. Offered a position in the new American army, he volunteered his services, without a required salary. George Washington, impressed with his performance and the progress he had made with the ragged American militia, appointed Steuben inspector general of the army. After rigorously training these new officers and soldiers for war, Steuben led the army to several unexpected victories while acting as Washington’s chief of staff during the course of the revolution. He accomplished this while only able to communicate in German and basic French spoken by only a few of the colonial officers. After his discharge with honors he finally accepted a small compensation from the American government in the form of a pension and a land grant in New York State, where he lived as a full American citizen for the remainder of his life.

The next mention of Germans comes several chapters later and halfway into the next century when a team of them set a record time in 1836 for traveling down the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo in 7 days. (Conlin, 249) This is followed next by a short paragraph about religious communities in a chapter dedicated to culture in utopian communities. This describes followers of the German George Rapp, known as the Rappites, in their failed attempt to establish communities in Pennsylvania and Indiana. Their practice of celibacy and non-admittance of outsiders caused a predictable early termination of this cult. (Conlin, 291) When it comes time for the text to address the mass immigration of Germans in the mid-19th century, it is introduced in a paragraph entitled “The Stresses of Immigration.” It portrays these newcomers as a burden that remained isolated in their community speaking only German and maintaining their “Old-World” culture, of which the only example given was the beer garden. When the text makes a comparison, it states that the Irish were even “worse than the Germans,” a fairly clear indication of the author’s viewpoint as to the undesirability of the Germans. Furthermore, it is portrayed in this section that 968 Germans entered the US in 1820 and 79,000 in 1850. (Conlin, 307) These numbers alone are blatantly misleading considering that nearly one million Germans actually relocated to the US within that decade, with the highest rate reached in 1854 with 215,000. This is a highly unsatisfactory representation of an extremely important component of the new American population, particularly in light of the numerous positive societal, cultural and technological impacts this immigration had on America.

The great majority of these German-Americans opposed the institution of slavery, and they played an important role in the civil war, with enlistments in the Union Army. Over half a million of the total army (approximately 25%) consisted of German-Americans, and some entire regiments, such as the 9th Ohio Infantry and the 9th Wisconsin Infantry, consisted of solely of these citizens. Captain George Armstrong Custer is displayed in a photograph in the chapter on the civil war, depicting him with several staff officers of that time and identifying him as the war’s youngest general. (Conlin, 399) It is interesting, albeit not mentioned in this book, that Custer’s family emigrated from Westphalia, Germany in the late 16th century then known as the Duchy of Julich, with the spelling, Kuster, in the German manner. The text did not contain any other significant mention of Germans in the remainder of the first portion of American history which ends at approximately 1877.

History is written to a certain extent by those who write the history books. The examples that were highlighted in this brief examination of a standard college text, and perhaps even more significantly, those not included in it show quite clearly that the treatment of the German component was not that of very balanced perspective. The proper understanding of that is beneficial to all elements of the population; particularly as international travel, communication, and exchange develop at ever increasing pace. Recognizing that any authored book inherently contains prejudices, viewpoints and selectivity, in textbooks there is a much greater expectation of responsibility for objectivity and rigor. American “culture” resulted from a synthesis of many immigrant components of which the German one happened to be very significant. The critical thinking expected of advanced students of history is best promoted by constant review of text content to ensure that particular views are not overemphasized at the expense of others.

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