The idea that the United States is a "nation of immigrants" is one of the fundamental premises of American history and popular culture. Of course, the United States is historically a nation of immigrants. Yet cross-border migration characterizes the experience of many nations, and even this nation of immigrants has had a changing and uneasy relationship to actual immigrants in our communities. This class takes up the challenge of examining migration in United States history from a global perspective, and does so by looking at migration from the perspective of several individual places. Some of them are familiar sites; others may be less so. Some, too, are conceptual places ("Chinatown," "Hollywood," "Ellis Island") that can be both conceptual and real. We will examine how ideas and representations of immigration have also shaped politics, economics, and demography in the modern United States.
Chronologically, the class begins in the late nineteenth century, with two founding moments: the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (the first major federal law regulating immigration) and the establishment of the immigration processing center at Ellis Island in 1891. These events responded to and ushered in an era of mass migration from Europe and Asia that is the focus of the first half of the course. In the semesters second half, we will focus on the mass migrations since the mid-1960s, returning to many of the sites we studied earlier. We will also visit several area sites to get to examine the history and culture of immigration. Right now two trips are planned: one to New York City, another to Lawrence, Massachusetts. These are not required, but strongly recommended.