Immigration in the Early 20th Century Research Proposal

Pages: 8 (2651 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage

¶ … Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People" by Oscar Handlin, "The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America" by John Bodnar, and "Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917" by Matthew Frye Jacobson. Specifically it will compare and contrast the books.

In "The Transplanted," John Bodnar covers not only the European immigrants into the United States; he covers the Asian and Hispanic, as well. His main argument is that immigrants experienced tension between the needs of their families and the challenges of American capitalist society. He states this on the opening page of his book when he writes, "Most of the immigrants transplanted to America in the century of industrial growth after 1830 were in reality the children of capitalism" (Bodnar 1985, 1). He then goes on to discuss the numbers of immigrants from different areas, the disparity between those numbers, and the reasons immigrants chose to come to America, which differed by culture and region. He covers a broad range of topics in the book, from families coming to America, unions, a rising immigrant middle class, and social mobility, and ties them all back to his theme of capitalism and change.

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Throughout the book, the author often returns to the notion of families and their vital importance in immigrants' lives. The family was there for each other when times were tough, they helped find jobs for each other, they all worked to support the family members, and they worked together to learn how to assimilate to American culture while leaving behind their peasant roots. He discusses how immigrants ultimately became the American middle-class, and their work conditions helped create unions and labor laws that guide employers to this day. Through it all, he shows how the families were tied to capitalism and conforming, the major themes of this work.

TOPIC: Research Proposal on Immigration in the Early 20th Century Assignment

Bodnar defends his point-of-view with exhaustive research and calculations. He clearly knows how to research history as he presents calculations of the numbers of immigrants from their respective homelands, compared with nearby countries. He even breaks down counties and regions in some countries to note the disparity between one area over another. His bibliography is extensive, and includes sources such as journals, books, census reports, data, and memoirs, and he uses this information judiciously to prove his points throughout the book. It is also clear Bodnar is quite qualified to write this book. He is a professor of history at the University of Indiana, he has written other works on immigration, and his research methods indicate that he knows how to seek out the information he needs to back up his point-of-view.

Bodnar's view of the American immigrant is interesting because of the comparisons he makes between groups and cultures, and because he looks so deeply into the family and how it maintained importance in the immigrants' lives. He also looks at other elements of society, such as religion and labor unions, that affected and influenced the immigrants, giving a broader picture of what their new lives were like and how they coped with a very different future. It makes the reader more aware of what these people went through to come to this country, and how it totally transformed their lives. In the end, he writes that immigrant culture "was not based exclusively on ethnicity, race, class, or progress. More precisely, it was a mediating culture which confronted all these factors. It was simultaneously turbulent and comforting. It looked forward and backward, although not very far in either direction" (Bodnar 1985, 212). That sums up his book quite nicely. It is a broad view of the immigrants who formed the backbone of the nation from the 1830s on, and it offers some new insight on what drove those people to come to America and change their lives.

Matthew Frye Jacobson presents a very different view of American immigration. He maintains that America's nationalism grew from industrial imperialism because the economy and markets required labor the immigrants could provide, colonial expansion brought more immigrants to the country, and people argued about these "barbarians" that provided so much labor to the land. He writes early in the book, "National well-being depended upon the grass-skirted native's willingness both to purchase the sewing machine and to take up the needle trades" (Jacobson 2000, 13). He maintains that immigration was necessary to keep the American machinery running smoothly, and much of that immigration was based largely on American imperialism, particularly in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, areas where large numbers of immigrants swelled America's population during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He writes, "This approach to entire peoples as pawns in a vast geopolitical game represented a heightened degree of imperialist vision, which was to become standard fare over the course of the twentieth century" (Jacobson 2000, 7). While Bodnar looked into the reasons immigrants chose to come to this country, Jacobson looks at American policies that created autonomous nations that were not quite self-governed, and the overall immigration policies of the government during this time.

He maintains this was actually a time of anti-immigration, as many of the laws indicate. The Chinese laws banning immigration were especially harsh, and there were laws that ranked races by their natural abilities, used to screen immigrants when they arrived at Ellis Island and other locations, as well. His book looks at the underbelly of immigration and the laws that surrounded it, and illustrates there have always been issues surrounding immigrants, it is not something that has started in recent years with the backlash against Hispanic immigrants supposedly taking jobs from willing American workers. He effectively dispels the romantic myth that all immigrants were welcome with this book, and that is another one of his themes in writing this text. He calls these "striking failures of our national memory" (Jacobson 2000, 262), and works passionately to dispel them throughout his book. His work is not a look at why people came to this country, like Bodnar's is, but instead, why the country began to regulate immigration while actively seeking new territories with their "barbarian" populations.

Like Bodnar, Jacobson is quite qualified to write this work. He is an associate professor at Yale University, he has written other works, and he teaches American Studies. He did a copious amount of research for the book, as his 14-page bibliographic essays illustrates. He also uses a wide variety of sources for the book, from government documents, journals, books, articles, and such, to artwork and travelogues. He writes clearly, developing each of the three sections of his book with evidence and clear explanation to keep the reader interested in the topic, which can be rather convoluted.

He sums up his book with a statement, "Evidently the capacity of the republic to withstand its own diversity is greater than the capacity of many citizens to imagine an America that departs significantly from the demographic status quo (and lives to tell about it - in English)" (Jacobson 2000, 263). This relates both to what is happening in America today with immigration backlash, and what happened during the period of the book's setting. He illustrates a time of expansionism and change in America, combined with a time of serious world market development. The two areas combined to create a vast need for immigrants to perform all types of labor in the country, at a time when many Americans were quite fearful of where all those immigrants would take the country. The book relates directly to what is happening today, and his assessments are valuable for just about anyone who is interested in American history combined with immigration issues that make the reader think and ponder today's immigration issues in comparison.

Handlin's "The Uprooted" is the oldest of the three books, written in 1973 (originally in 1952) but still considered one of the best books on immigration in the country. Reviewers often compare Bodnar's book with Handlin's, in fact. The book won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize, as well. The book looks only at European immigrants, mostly peasants, and it takes a deep look into their lives, emotions, and thoughts about coming to America. It does not look at the causes of immigration, as the other books due, but rather the emotional cost of immigration, what he calls an "altogether different point-of-view" (Handlin 1973, 4). His thesis is stated in the same paragraph when he writes, "And it is the effect upon the newcomers of their arduous transplantation that I have tried to study" (Handlin 1973, 4). He accomplishes this goal by painting a graphic picture of the European immigrants - products of an agricultural, village lifestyle, suddenly transported to bustling city streets. The book actually reads more like a novel than a history text, and it uses few facts and figures, but instead relies on first-hand accounts, journals, census data, books, and memoirs to build his story of what it was like to immigrate to America.

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