Who Is America? Social History as the History of Immigration and Multiculturalism

by Prof. Hangen - April 1st, 2018

In our final unit (!) of the course, we explore America as an ethnic mix, a melting pot, and as a contentious, diverse society. At certain times in our history and for certain groups, this is framed as a positive good and the source of the distinctive American character. At other times, and for other groups, it’s framed as a fundamental threat to American democracy and stability.

Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King on the Montgomery-to-Selma march, 1965

As we explore this unit’s reading and topics, we’re looking at the past from the perspective of various ethnic, racial and immigrant groups. These divergent, diverse histories help complicate the portrait of America we’ve crafted in our previous units.

And keep working on your final research paper project, a “microhistory” firmly anchored in primary source evidence. Remember the point is not why your chosen person (or small group of people) is “important” but why their very UNIMPORTANCE helps us understand their worldview / experiences or illuminates something meaningful about their time / place.

We begin on Monday, April 2 with Zinn’s perspective on immigration, nation and migration – Chapter 12. This puts us in the middle of the story, in the era of peak immigration from Europe into Ellis Island (which is often the prototypical, celebrated version of American immigration).

On Wednesday April 4 we’ll discuss (again using Zinn, Ch 17) how the nation moved from the low point for African Americans in the same time period, during the era of Jim Crow, lynching, and exclusion from voting, to the era of public mass struggle for — and some success achieving — civil rights for African Americans.

On Friday April 6, Courtney and Andrew have the Prof for a Day, see suggestions below.

Prof For a Day #5 Suggestions

Choose one of the Black History Month resources or lesson plans from Smithsonian Education

Explore an exhibition from the Digital Public Library of America relevant to this week’s topics

Dive into a digital archive related to African American history, report on your findings, and highlight some of its important holdings.

Learn about lynching in America through an interactive map and digital project titled “Monroe Work Today” (named after a Tuskegee Institute researcher who documented lynching cases)

Read the 1947 report issued by the Truman Administration documenting the case for black civil rights in his administration, “To Secure These Rights.” How much progress did that report seek? What happened with the politics of civil rights in the 1948 election?

Introduce us to the artwork of Jacob Lawrence, whose paintings documented African American migration northward to cities during and after World War I.

Connect the work of early 20th-century activist and journalist Ida B. Wells Barnett with the current Black Lives Matter movement. Resources here, here, here, and here.

Explore how LIFE magazine portrayed Southern segregation on the eve of its dissolution, in 1956. How bad was it? In what ways was it changing?

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