The Invention of Ethnicity in the U.S. & Race, Nation, and Culture in Recent Immigration Studies

For our History 297 class, we had to read Kathleen Conzen’s The Invention of Ethnicity in the United States. In this essay, Conzen et al bring up the argument that the modern Immigration historians have accepted. Specifically the argument that the immigrants who came to the U.S. tried to resist “Americanization” as best they could. From there, the authors show the competing theories of historians on the idea of immigrant ethnicity, with some thinking that it is an immutable part of who they were, while others think that it was something that would simply fade away with assimilation. The authors then posited their own theory, that ethnicity itself is a construct built by the collective experiences of a people. From this, the various ethnicities were able to “invent” themselves, to create cultural guidelines, taboos, etc. This developed as each of the immigrant groups interacted with one another. Ultimately, the created an average between their ethnicity and “American-ness”.

We also had to read George Sanchez’s Race, Nation, and Culture in Recent Immigration Studies. Sanchez starts the paper on one of the darker notes of American history, the indentured servitude of Thai and Latino women in sweat shops. The story spiraled out to highlight the problems with how the U.S. deals with illegal immigration. This event, as Sanchez described it, sat at a crossroads for the major problems that immigrants in American history had to deal with. Both those who came hear voluntarily and those who did not. Sanchez then focused on the historic rise in tensions between the U.S. in Asia, from the ban on “oriental” immigration, loss of citizenship, and Japanese Internment to modern ideas of foreignness and competition with the east.   Sanchez then described the way that Mexicans and Latin Americans are perceived as “foreign” to Americans. The problems with how easily forgotten that everything west of Oklahoma used to be a part of the Mexican Empire before Americans took it by way of military force or purchase.

Immigrant Women: Nowhere at Home & Women’s Place in the Irish Diaspora

For our History 297 Class, we had to read Immigrant Women: Nowhere at Home? by Donna Gabaccia. Throughout the article, Gabaccia expresses her discontent with the state of the research on women in history. More specifically, she describes the problem with the studies on women in the history of immigration. The problem being the detachment from studying women in the history of immigration as being research on the history of immigration rather than women’s history.  Gabaccia gives the example of Louise Tilly and Joan Scott’s Women, Work and Family, which was praised by ethnic historians but criticized by women’s studies.  During this time, scholars in women’s studies made the argument that became popular in the 70’s, the idea that migrant families were “authoritarian (and) disorganized.” Immigrant historians, however, argue that had migrant society truly held them back, then ethnic identities would never had survived as long as they did. For this reason, Gabaccia argues, immigrant historians see familial solidarity in a positive light.  Gabbaccia finishes the article by stating that, “unless feminist theorists are willing to dismiss massive evidence”, then they will have to accept that one of the things immigrant women viewed in a positive light was their family.


We also had to read Women’s Place in the History of Irish Diaspora by Janet Nolan. In this, Nolan asserts the idea that there were a number of Irish immigrants to the U.S. who came here, not only without their families, but also to gain financial independence from their families. Nolan also made reference to how women are now being treated more equally in the lens of history due to the increased belief that leaving them out would leave out truths that show what that time was actually like. Since the mid-2000’s, works have come out to illustrate the importance of women in Ireland during the age of immigration in religious, economic, and cultural aspects. For this reason, Nolan argues, it is imperative that women be returned to historical record.

Hyphen Nation

For our History 297 class, we had to read chapter one of Roots Too by Matthew F. Jacobson. The chapter was entitled Hyphen Nation.

Jacobson begins the chapter by stating the importance of President Kennedy’s “return” to the Republic of Ireland.  Jacobson wrote about the importance that the descendent of an Irish immigrant became the President of the United States. From this, Jacobson shows that Kennedy was able to celebrate his Irish heritage without being “un-American”, and not an assimilation of the Irish-American into simply being American. It should be noted that amongst the many Irish people who greeted President Kennedy was Eamon de Valera. de Valera was born in New York City, led the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and became President of the Republic of Ireland.

From there, Jacobson highlights the rise of the hyphen American movement and the increased love of the culture of ones ancestors.  However, as he noted, with this movement, especially after the civil rights movement, there was a side effect of increased white nationalism. With this their was also an increase in Zionist thought, as well as anti-Zionist thought. Jacobson made the point that, as these ideas were rising and as the grievances of these races were aired, the idea of trying to distance oneself from “whiteness” became more appealing. The idea of group rights was widely accepted, yet people were hesitant to say the same for white groups, especially in the wake of Birmingham.

Immigration as an Experience in Uprootedness

For our 297 class, we were required to read Oscar Handlin’s Immigration as an Experience in Uprootedness. In his essay, Handlin describes the life of the European peasant. These would be the people who would come over and, eventually, be farmers in America. He took the position that all peasants, regardless as to which country they came from, likely had similar experiences. The peasant communes in these countries were very close-knit groups. Handlin argues that this was one of the obstacles a peasant would have to overcome when they came to America: group reliance. Many of the peasants came over alone and had to work a farm without a community to help them. From the subsequent hardships of this, many peasants accepted the ideas of authority and tradition that, today marks the conservative ideology. On a side note, I found some of the grammar in this essay to be simply atrocious.

We also had to read John Bodnar’s Immigration Portrayed as an Experience of Transplantation. Bodnar argued that there existed two types of immigrants, the larger group being those who performed menial tasks and labor, and the smaller being those who came looking for personal gain.  The majority of immigrants, when they came to the U.S., were concerned with the more immediate issues of work, money and food. That is to say, they were not focused on starting their own business of making a fortune. While many aspects of their lives were controlled by the market, the church, and their work, the immigrants tried to ensure that they had complete control over what little they could. It should be of note that the manner in which the Bodnar writes in is almost accusational of the capitalist system.

Military History

For our History 297 class, we had to read Robert Cirno’s essay Military Histories Old and New. Seeing as I heavily enjoy reading military history, I enjoyed reading about the ways military historians write. Recently there has been a new movement within the study of military history. Historians have been focusing on the study of the social and political influences on war and vis a versa. Cirno contrasted Ramold and Shaffer, two civil war historians, and focused on how the African-American man was accepted into the military. From there, Cirno talked about the increase in writings on “the greatest generation” and the various forms of racial and gender politics that took place during World War II. One such result from this is the fact that WWII historians no longer view the Holocaust and the military campaigns of the Wehrmacht as being separate. That the Nazi army had played a major role in the Holocaust.  Cirno backed this up by referencing Edward Westermann, who wrote that the Wehrmacht was acting out the Holocaust as the army pushed East during Operation Barbarossa. From this, Cirno reinforces the idea that social and political ideas can be very closely tied to the actions of the military. This, he explained, was not a new idea. This had been the thinking of Medieval Historians for over a century.

Cirno brought up the issue of the “Military Revolution”, which has been of some debate for military historians. It refers to the drastic change of going from an army that relied upon cavalry and feudalism to a uniformed army with guns. Various military historians have tried to pinpoint when this truly began and what exactly caused it. There are those who believe it came about from the Thirty Years War or from much further before then. Personally, I am in agreement with the Thirty Years War theory, as it was the war in which the Swedish Empire came into existence and created combined arms tactics, as well as many other reforms. But I digress. Cirno notes that, if the revolution happened before the Thirty Years War, then that would mean the Absolute Monarchies came from military restructuring and not the other way around. From this, Cirno brings up the point that social and political issues not only influence the military during war, military structure influences society.

Historical Consciousness & Mapping the Discipline

Today, for my History Colloquium class, we had to read chapter three of Mark T. Gilderhus’  History and Historians.

The third chapter, entitled Historical Consciousness, looks at how the views on history have changed within the last 500 years. Around the time Francesco Guicciardini published History of Italy, the well-to-do during the renaissance took up philology as what may as well have been a hobby. This was done more out of respect for the classics than historical interest. Though this trend did lead to the discovery that Constantine did not give political authority over to the bishop of Rome. Later, various Protestants, including Martin Luther, would use history in an attempt to discredit the Catholic Church. Ultimately, it became a job to teach the version of history that one church would preach. This was one of the first examples of a history professor. The process for teaching history would later be improved by Jean Bodin, who reformed the teaching methods and held that primary sources are superior to secondary sources. The chapter goes on with the secularization of history, the problems faced with historians that wrote apocryphal stories, and the close documentation of current events for future review. Historians began writing about the histories of their cultures and kingdoms. Of course, these were subject to the biases of the individual historians. When the enlightened historian Edward Gibbon wrote The Decline of the Roman Empire, he pinned the blame almost entirely upon the Christians. These types of writings would later be heavily criticized by future historians.

The chapter highlights the difficulties that historians have had with people re-interpreting or rewriting history to suit their own needs. Some did so for religious purposes, some did it to further an agenda, others did it just to romanticize the past. However, it also highlights the gradual triumph as history grew more and more secular and historians began recording the events around them to help later historians.  Such things helped in keeping modern interpretations of history as being based more on fact, rather than bias.


We also had to read chapter two from History in Practice, by Lyudmila Jordanov. She covered a similar topic as Gilderhus’, but her focus is less on the historical progression of the practices of historians and more on the modern practices of historians and students. She commented on the difficulty with secondary sources and their flexibility depending on who has authored them. She specifically referred to The Diary of Anne Frank, which, depending on which publishing company the reader purchases it from, may have been omitted due to a conflict with the publisher’s ideas. However, this is not to say that Primary sources can be free of bias. Journals and letters are subject to the biases of their authors. That being said, such opinions would still provide a litmus test for the opinions of the people in that time. The personal accounts and journals also open up the possibility of a psychoanalysis of the author.


Historical Awareness

For the History 297 class, we were required to read from John Tosh’s The Pursuit of History. Tosh opens by trying to convey his opinions on the general idea that humans, as we currently exist, rely more on experience than instinct. The culmination of all of our experiences, our memories, are what ultimately make it history. I like to think of this in the sense that history is the memory that tells us we will burn our hands on the stove. Tosh continues in the first chapter by establishing that all societies have this type of “memory.” These are the things that can unite a culture, as they focus on certain ‘defining’ events. However, this ‘memory’ that these cultures share can often be historically inaccurate. In here is the difference between Historical Awareness and Social Memory. Both are important for a historian to understand. With Social Memory, these are the ideas which some societies operate on. It is how they answer the question “why is x the way it is?” Even if the answer is not entirely accurate, it is the answer that forms their societal policy. Historical Awareness, however, refers to the observation of the past for what it is. It marks the significance of many points in history without influence from modern politics. Historical Awareness was particularly popular with the historicists, who believed that the presentation of history must be done without bias. They also believed in three main principles: difference context, and process. Understanding the difference between each time period, understanding the context of the actions of that time by knowing what else was going on, and understanding that these actions made more of an impact later on.

We also had to read Chapter 2 of Pursuit of History, Uses of History. In a similar fashion as the first chapter, Tosh opens by pointing out two contrasting views on history: Destiny and ‘bunk’. One tells us that human history has been on a progressive course that will ultimately lead to our destiny. The other states that nothing can truly be gained by learning it, or that the past does not justify actions in the present. It also states that it may be better to advance society if we do so without the continuation of tradition. However, both ideas have their problems. The first would believe that history could prophesize the future and, in doing so, would negate the idea of human agency. The other would state that we should not hold on to certain ideas and leave nothing for social order. From history, we can try to attain “experience that is simply not possible in our own lives.” Tosh continues by stating that the point of history is not to see what we have already done, but to see “the possibilities.” It is indispensable, for both society and the individual, to seek out this “experience.” Which is why we are here, as historians.

Writing as Communicating

For our history 297 class, we were required to read from The History Student Writer’s Manual. Specifically, we read Chapter 2, Writing as Communicating.

The chapter starts by referencing the greater wordsmiths of American History; Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and John F. Kennedy.  These men, as the chapter states, did not begin their lives with some Mozart-esque talent at writing. Their speeches were prepared, proofread, edited, and revised many times before the public ever heard it. This process is the main theme of the chapter.

The paper starts by telling the reader that, even if the subject they have to write about is not within their area of interest. It tells them to remain confident in their work and work on it with the same level of enthusiasm they would have shown in any other case. From there, it returns to the first actual step in writing a paper: choosing a topic and narrowing it down. For historians, this is not as simple as saying “write about the Revolution.”, but rather “write about how the patriot movement was popularized in the colonies.” After that the topic has to be narrowed down to something more specific, without being so specific that the historian would have incredibly limited resources. So, continuing with the theme of the revolution, the topic would become about “the acts of the British government and their effect on the Patriot movement.”

From there, it reads a bit like the books we had in our public speaking class. We must choose whether or not we are trying to inform or to persuade. This is also affected by who the audience is. Understand what the audience is seeking to get by reading the paper. The tone of the paper would also be different if the paper is being written for the professor, your colleagues, or for some form of historical journal.

After that, the chapter goes back to the formatting of the paper. Creating outlines, formatting those outlines, writing statements for each paragraph to get the general idea, etc. Continuing from there, it adds in the usual advice for a paper. Keep away from slang terms, be formal; do not use clichés, if you have to use an analogy, be original about it.

All in all, I found the whole chapter a bit refreshing, in the sense that it is the type of document you would find in a refresher course. It goes over the same type of writing rules that we have learned, but done so in a way where it is more conducive to the writings of a historian. It certainly is worth reading. Especially considering that it’s the fall semester, and people forget things like these over the summer. It establishes the criteria for what is expected of us in our writings. That being said, it does at times, seem a bit tedious. There is the sense that, considering most of our class are in the junior year, we would understand this by now. Still, it is nice to look back at the rules of writing, knowing that it might influence our writing for the better.