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Ethnic Historians and the Mainstream

Ethnic Historians and the Mainstream: Shaping America's Immigration Story

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Ethnic Historians and the Mainstream
    Book Description:

    Do historians "write their biographies" with the subjects they choose to address in their research? In this collection, editors Alan M. Kraut and David A. Gerber compiled eleven original essays by historians whose own ethnic backgrounds shaped the choices they have made about their own research and writing as scholars. These authors, historians of American immigration and ethnicity, revisited family and personal experiences and reflect on how their lives helped shape their later scholarly pursuits, at times inspiring specific questions they asked of the nation's immigrant past. They address issues of diversity, multiculturalism, and assimilation in academia, in the discipline of history, and in society at large. Most have been pioneers not only in their respective fields, but also in representing their ethnic group within American academia. Some of the women in the group were in the vanguard of gender diversity in the discipline of history as well as on the faculties of the institutions where they have taught.

    The authors in this collection represent a wide array of backgrounds, spanning Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. What they have in common is their passionate engagement with the making of social and personal identities and with finding a voice to explain their personal stories in public terms.

    Contributors:Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp, John Bodnar, María C. García, David A. Gerber, Violet M. Showers Johnson, Alan M. Kraut, Timothy J. Meagher, Deborah Dash Moore, Dominic A. Pacyga, Barbara M. Posadas, Eileen H. Tamura, Virginia Yans, Judy Yung

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6226-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    The eleven essays in this book are offered to readers with two principal frameworks in mind. The essays provide examples of how some historians come by their creativity as scholars in a field that readily captures the personal stories of millions of ordinary people, intimately caught up in the processes of history. Through the stories these historians tell about how they found their subject matter and the struggle to gain legitimacy for it in the eyes of their discipline, the essays also serve to demonstrate the ways in which the academic mainstream came to be widened to include new voices,...

  5. 2 Worlds Apart and Together: From Italian American Girlhood to Historian of Immigration
    (pp. 17-31)

    I came of age during the 1950s in the small town of Mamaroneck, New York. Holding Mother’s or Father’s hand, when I turned left on our street up the hill and a long stretch away for my little legs, we would arrive at our Sunday destination: the sparkling, open waters of a peaceful harbor extending far away into the saltwater sound. Blue sky and skipping clouds sheltered the moored, bobbing yachts and varnished, sleek sailboats. Rich people owned those boats. Rich people also owned the big houses lining one side of the harbor’s edge, an assertion of their claim to...

  6. 3 Sidewalk Histories
    (pp. 32-45)

    In third grade, our class took a memorable field trip to do stone rubbings. I attended Downtown Community School (DCS), a parent-teacher cooperative. A progressive and integrated elementary school, DCS typically linked art projects with social studies, in this case, the required local history curriculum on New York City. However, instead of taking our gear across the street into the cemetery of St. Marks on the Bowery, where we might have done classic rubbings of early American gravestones, we walked around the school neighborhood staring at the sidewalks. When we found a manhole cover, we stopped, pulled out the paper...

  7. 4 Coal Town Chronicles and Scholarly Books
    (pp. 46-65)

    Growing up in Forest City in the 1950s, I caught a glimpse of a world that was rapidly vanishing. The once-booming anthracite coal industry of northeastern Pennsylvania was nearly at an end after reaching its peak around the time of World War I. I understand they still existed when I was a small child, but I have no conscious memory of seeing the actual mines or the large breaker erected by the Hillside Coal and Iron Company that shot nearly one hundred feet into the air and dominated the sky at the southeast end of town. I saw only remnants...

  8. 5 Ethnic and Racial Identities: A Polish Filipinaʹs Progress in Chicago and the Profession
    (pp. 66-79)

    How did I become a historian of American immigration and ethnicity? Perhaps I should begin at the beginning with other questions. How did I get to college in the first place? How and why did I become a historian? As with so many others who came of academic age in the 1960s and 1970s, the answers to these questions were never self-evident. Born and raised in a White, multiethnic, working-class neighborhood, Wicker Park, on Chicago’s near Northwest Side, I grew up in an interracial home in a tiny, two-and-a-half room, third-floor apartment and fulfilled my parents’ ambitions for me by...

  9. 6 From Back of the Yards to the College Classroom
    (pp. 80-93)

    Historians think of themselves as objective observers of the past, but like all human beings our points of view are largely shaped by our experiences. We began our journey as students of the past at a very young age as we took in our circumstances and understood our environment. These influences cannot help but impact our worldview. This is especially true for those of us who grew up in tight ethnic communities and then went on to write about the history of those communities. Ethnic families and neighborhoods shaped many of the immigrant, ethnic, and working-class historians who came to...

  10. 7 Why Irish? Writing Irish American History
    (pp. 94-110)

    He is a tiny figure in the photograph, so small that his features are hard to discern. In life, he had a long, thin face and nose, but in this photograph it is hard to see anything but a bowler hat, a snowy patch of white beard on his chin, a thin frame, and bowed legs. Yet the pose and the photo were important to him, because the place and the time were important to him. He is standing next to the door of a whitewashed cottage in Ireland. It was 1905, and he was home for the first time...

  11. 8 In Our Own Words: Reclaiming Chinese American Womenʹs History
    (pp. 111-127)

    The fifth daughter of Chinese immigrants, I grew up in the 1950s knowing very little about my own family history, let alone the history of the Chinese in America. Like most people in San Francisco Chinatown, my family went by two different surnames. Among our relatives and friends we were known as the Tom family, but at school and on our birth certificates we were known as the Yung family. We always knew that if ever questioned by anyfan gwai(foreign devils), we were not to divulge our real Chinese surname; otherwise, the family would be in big trouble....

  12. 9 Ordinary People
    (pp. 128-144)

    My research has highlighted issues of identity, marginality, and social justice as they impact the lives of ordinary people. I have been drawn to themes of power and resistance, oppression and dominance, competing interests and worldviews, and the oft-stated ideal of creating a more open society.¹

    At the same time, as a Japanese American in Hawai‘i, I have occasionally found myself in the unwelcome position of being a member of an ethnic group that has at times been accused of closing the door to others seeking better opportunities. These experiences have brought home to me the sobering realization that people...

  13. 10 Americana
    (pp. 145-156)

    Americana, the Spanish translation of the wordAmerican, positions one both within and beyond the nation-state. To say “yo soy Americana” can mean that I am a citizen of a specific country—the United States—or a citizen of a region or hemisphere—the Americas. I remember the first time I identified myself as Americana in a Latin American country, my host hesitated, smiled, and gently responded in Spanish “But, of course, dear. We areallAmerican.” People from the Caribbean, Central America, and the southern cone have long claimed this term. The fact that today most people around the...

  14. 11 Meddling in the American Dilemma: Race, Migrations, and Identities from an Africana Transnational Perspective
    (pp. 157-174)

    One day in my first year of full-time teaching in the United States, the class discussion got very heated over an assessment of the legendary early twentieth-century conflict between African American activist W.E.B. Du Bois and Jamaican immigrant Black nationalist Marcus Garvey. I attempted to steer the different factions away from arguments shaped solely by their personal, emotionally charged sentiments to interpretations grounded in clearly substantiated scholarly work. Responding to my efforts, one of the students remarked: “It is easy for you because you are not an American.” From the reactions of her classmates, it was clear that there was...

  15. 12 From Uncle Mustafa to Auntie Rana: Journeys to Mexico, the United States, and Lebanon
    (pp. 175-188)

    My family history has led me to question national narratives and to uncover discrepancies between the content of historical records and that of oral traditions. This has taken me to U.S. archives to understand how Mexico governed immigration, and conversely to work in Mexican archives to understand how the U.S. governed immigration as an adjacent nation-state.¹ The invitation by the editors has enabled me to ask how immigrant and national myths fuse and get translated into family histories. And most importantly, what do our family histories tell us about our national and larger transnational histories? In the case of my...

  16. Coda
    (pp. 189-204)

    I suspect that very few historians stop to reflect on their personal pasts before calibrating the direction of their scholarship. And yet, as a former graduate student once observed, historians often seem to write their autobiographies with the subjects they address in their books and articles. Perhaps the process is inevitable. As the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker observed, “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”

    The process is most frequently unselfconscious, the product of imagination and improvisation as much as what we have read and taught. We follow our inclinations, our curiosities, the “hot”...

    (pp. 205-208)