No Lamps at Angel Island and 20 Years of Irish Historiography

For our History 297 class, we had to read No Lamps Were Lit for Them: Angel Island and the Historiography of Asian Immigration by Roger Daniels. In this paper, Daniels expounds on the grim history of Angel Island, San Francisco.  This was the site where Asian immigrants to the U.S. were held. To that extent, it is similar to Ellis Island in New York. However, the European immigrants at Ellis Island and the Asian immigrants at Angel Island were treated in two horribly different ways.  Something that rather easily set this tone was the fact that, at Ellis Island, one could see the Statue of Liberty, the shining symbol of our Republic. Meanwhile, at Angel Island, one would have a good view of Alcatraz prison, the symbol of inescapable and ever present government. Altogether, very few people passed through Angel island, due in large part to the immigration quotas that restricted or often banned immigration for Asians. As for the historiography of the paper, sources like the national park service are cited, as re records from the U.S. census. He also cites interviews and autobiographies written by those who had gone through Angel Island.

We also had to read Kevin Kenny’s 20 years of Irish American Historiography.  In this article, Kenny talks about the 1988 book on Irish Immigration, Emigrants and Exiles, written by Kirby Miller which created controversy within the ethno-historic department. Specifically, other historians believed that his ideas on the Irish lack of success in North America and its ties to the Irish reluctance to leave Ireland. However, Kenny argues that, to this day, Miller’s book is still one of the more accurate telling’s of Irish-American immigration, despite these problems. Kenny defends Miller by stating that, while the Irish may not have entirely perceived their emigration as exile, “they were predisposed to see it as such.” In here, Kenny talks about one of the necessary discrepancies of historical writing, showing the difference between the rhetoric surrounding a time and the reality of it. Miller presented a pessimistic tale that many historians were unwilling to accept at first.  However, as Kenny continues, it was also not as gloomy as Miller would have described it. Evidence collected by Irish-American women’s immigration historians have shown that there were women who acted upon their own sense of agency, rather than some collective or familial one. In more recent years, historians have also expanded their research to include Irish protestants.

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