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Ellis Island Era Immigration Books

Roger Daniels, Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life (1990)

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.

Thomas Dublin, Immigrant Voices: New Lives in America, 1773-1986 (1993)

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, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (1965)

John Higham's Strangers in the Land is an old book, more than forty years old 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.

Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910)

Half autobiography, half social history, Twenty Years at Hull-House is the classic first-person account of Jane Addams's long quest for the uplift of Chicago's beleaguered working-class immigrant communities. Any reader interested in the settlement house movement or, more broadly, in the history of American social reform, should begin here.

Martha Gardner, The Qualities of a Citizen: Women, Immigration, and Citizenship, 1870-1965 (2005)

Rooted in extensive primary research in immigration case files, Martha Gardner's The Qualities of a Citizen reassesses American immigration history through the prism of gender, exploring the many ways that federal immigration policy toward women reflected popular anxieties over race, sex, and power. In the hands of another writer, this academic book might be a ponderous read, but Gardner's talents for storytelling keep things lively and readable throughout.

Oscar Handlin, The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations that Made the American People (1951)

Historian Oscar Handlin asserts that most American immigrant histories written prior to World War II tell a story of newcomers arriving in the United States full of enthusiasm and optimism. The customary view of immigration, he says, is as a challenging but ultimately fulfilling process. Handlin, instead, describes the deep and inescapable sense of loss, betrayal, and upheaval that immigrants felt upon leaving their countries of origin. The promise of new opportunities in America ("pull factor"), he argues, was not as significant as the economic and demographic forces ("push factors") in Europe that violently uprooted individuals and their families. The Uprooted is a bleak and perhaps overstated immigration tale, but nonetheless one that has since influenced other historians to better understand the forces that pushed migrants from their original communities.

George Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity and Acculturation in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1943 (1993)

Historian George Sanchez reveals the ways in which Chicano communities in Los Angeles developed and transformed during the first half of the twentieth century. He discovers that, even in the face of discrimination and economic hardship, these immigrants and their children nourished a unique Mexican-American identity marked not by simple assimilation but by social experimentation and cultural compromise.

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