Early American Immigration Books
Readers looking for a solid, readable overview of the history of American immigration and its impacts on American life will find a fine starting point in Roger Daniels's Coming to America.
It is impossible to understand the history of American immigrations without understanding the individual experiences of immigrants to America. Here Thomas Dublin collects a remarkable selection of true first-person accounts spanning two centuries of American immigration, from the late eighteenth century to the late twentieth century.
John Higham's Strangers in the Land is an old book, written more than forty years ago now, but it remains the seminal history of nativism in American politics and culture. Readers who want to understand the forces that drove anti-Irish Know-Nothings, anti-Chinese Workingmen, or anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klansmen should begin here.
Jacobson's challenging but important book makes the argument—startling to many—that the American social construct of "whiteness" has changed dramatically over time. Nineteenth-century Americans believed that non-English European immigrants—Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, Italians—actually belonged to separate (and often "inferior") races—the Celtic race, the Nordic race, the Iberic race, etc. Jacobson chronicles the tortuous path by which these many white races blurred into a single "Caucasian" white racial category as European immigrants drew sharp distinctions between themselves and black Americans.
How the Irish Became White covers some of the same conceptual territory as Jacobson's Whiteness of a Different Color, but focuses entirely on the Irish experience. Ignatiev argues that the Irish in America—initially demonized and regarded as an inferior race—only rose to a respected place in white America by becoming enthusiastic participants in racist attacks on blacks and Asians.