John Herbst

  • Arts Administrator
Herbst, John

“I'm so grateful for the opportunity the Arts Council provided that allowed me to thoughtfully climb my own family tree. Most of all, I gained great appreciation of the immigrant experience in our shared American history.”

President and CEO of the Indiana Historical Society, John Herbst’s renewal research revealed a story about his family's ancient geographical and cultural roots. For Herbst, “This is a story of how great events like Napoleon's conquests and reforms to bring about the end of feudalism after the 1848 Revolution impacted an ordinary family.”

Herbst used his fellowship to travel to Germany for several weeks in the fall of 2015 to source his family's oral history in German archives. With the help of a research assistant and a local historian, Herbst discovered many records that recorded his family's situation in 1882, 1883, and 1884. These records documented their tax burdens, land sales, and loans, as well as public assistance provided to underwrite the purchase of ship passages for family members to the United States. During his visit, he stayed with relatives in the village his family left in 1884, and even helped his cousins with the grape harvest. The harvest involves many traditional rituals and allowed him to work in fields where his own ancestors toiled.

Herbst says of the renewal process, "The trip allowed me to dig into archival sources, analyze the data, and add details to the general story of my grandparents. My relatives in Germany extended warm hospitality and showed great interest helping me connect the dots. It was an immersive experience which helped me draft a first pass on the book”. He wrote a detailed narrative about his experiences, which he hopes to illustrate and publish in a few years when he retires. "The experience opened me up to the challenges and frustrations typical to researchers we try to serve at the Indiana Historical Society as well as the joy of discovery.”

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