Opportunity Costs: The Perils
and Profits of Assimilation

Thursday, February 23, 2012
7:00–8:30 p.m. (EST) Enter Classroom Enter Forum


Joy Kasson

Professor of American Studies,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
National Humanities Center Fellow

About the Seminar

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries immigrants to America gladly gave up the hunger, poverty, and oppression of the Old World to embrace the opportunity of the New. But that opportunity came at a price. Left behind were family, friends, traditions, language, and, in some cases, even the name that told you who you were.

The adopted country demanded a lot. What did assimilation mean? What strategies of assimilation were available to immigrants at that time? What of the Old World did immigrants have to jettison? What could they safely retain?

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Assigned Readings

  1. From the American Memory Timeline from the Library of Congress: The Rise of Industrial America, 1876–1900: Immigration to the United States, 1851–1900.
    1. Chinese vs. Negroes as American Citizens
    2. First Land
    3. French Canadian Textile Worker
    4. German Immigrants in Texas
    5. Home, Home on the Plains (North Dakota)
    6. Minnesota as it is in 1870
    7. Recollections of a Norwegian Immigrant
  2. From the American Memory Timeline from the Library of Congress: Progressive Era to New Era, 1900–1929: Immigrants in the Progressive Era.
    1. The Sarnoff Family Embraces America
    2. Henry Boucher, French Canadian Textile Worker
    3. Louis T., “I Sell Fish
    4. Adam Laboda, Polish Textile Worker
    5. Steve Comeau, French Canadian Immigrant
    6. An Interview with Roland Damiani
    7. Photos and Films of Immigration
  3. From the American Memory Timeline from the Library of Congress: The Rise of Industrial America, 1876–1900: Chinese Immigration to the United States, 1851–1900.
    1. Mark Twain’s "Observations About Chinese Immigration in California"
    2. A Memorial from Representative Chinamen in America to President U.S. Grant
    3. Mary Cone describes the Chinaman in California
    4. David Phillips discusses the “Chinese Question
    5. Hinton Rowan Helper on Chinese Immigration
    6. Enactments So Utterly Un-American
    7. Edward Holton’s "Observations about Denis Kearney, a Leading Advocate of Chinese Exclusion"
    8. William C. Pond’s "Ministry Among Chinese Immigrants in San Francisco"
  4. From the National Humanities Center's primary source collection Gilded & Gritty: America, 1870–1912: People: Assimilation and the Crucible of the City.
    1. Lewis W. Hine, photographs of immigrants, Ellis Island
    2. Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives, Studies Among the Tenements of New York, excerpts
    3. Anzia Yezierska, “The Lost Beautifulness