Singing-in and Singing-out Ethnicity: An Immigrant Songbook as a Locus for Negotiations of Ethnic Identity, Cultural Heritage Preservation, and Acculturation, 1880s–1940s

Tina Langholm Larsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This article extends research literature on the cultural production of nineteenth-century immigrants to America by exploring how a Danish American songbook constitutes an important historical source documenting the ethnic identity, political standpoint, and gradual acculturation of its compilers and users. Based on the seven editions of Songbook for the Danish People in America published between 1888 and 1949, the article demonstrates how the songbook was compiled as an ideological tool for intergenerational cultural transmission and cultural heritage maintenance, which ultimately laid the foundation for a new, Danish American cultural heritage. By linking the physical manifestation of the songbook with the semantic content of its songs and the social, embodied practice of singing, the article argues that the songbook became a locus for negotiations of ethnic identity, cultural heritage preservation, and acculturation among Danish Americans by the end of the nineteenth century and throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Each time a new edition was compiled, the editorial process spurred public debates about the current state of Danish ethnicity in America and the ideal strategy for integration. As such, the songbook offers a window on the variable and negotiable nature of ethnicity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of American Ethnic History
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)40–72
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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