Hey Eric Metaxas, Please Stop Using Ethnic Slurs About Italians So Cavalierly

Watch this Salem Radio love-fest between Eric Metaxas and Sebastian Gorka:

Most readers of the blog know Metaxas.  He is a court evangelical, author, and host of the Eric Metaxas Show on Salem.  Gorka’s brief and controversial stint as a Trump adviser landed him a radio show on the Christian network.

In this exchange, Metaxas and Gorka are discussing CNN anchor Chris Cuomo’s recent profanity-laced outburst toward a man who was harassing him on a family vacation.  The CNN celebrity took offense to this man calling him “Fredo,” a reference to the weak Corleone brother in The Godfather.

Cuomo claimed that “Fredo” is an ethnic slur against Italians.  I am half-Italian and grew-up around a lot of Italian family members, but I have never heard the name of the late John Cazanale‘s character in The Godfather used as a slur–ethnic or otherwise. So on this point, Metaxas and Gorka are probably correct.

But Metaxas does not stop there.  He says, “you would think that someone had called him [Cuomo] a ‘no-good guinea, wop;’ and even that’s funny in this day and age.”

I am sure Metaxas will think I am a snowflake for saying this, but calling an Italian-American a “guinea” or a “wop” is NOT funny–not even in “this day and age.”  For many Italian-Americans, especially those of a certain generation, these terms still open-up old wounds.  Perhaps Metaxas should study some Italian-American history. 

Let me be clear.  We Italian-Americans now enjoy white privilege. Today, the words “guinea” or “wop” do not have the sting that they once had.  Things have changed over time for Italian-Americans.  I would thus never equate the discrimination Italian-Americans have faced with the the plight of African-Americans in our history.  (Although I know many Italian-American political conservatives who would make this kind of moral equivalence argument).

But many of us have also sat at the feet of elders who told us stories about the prejudicial treatment they once faced.  Some of these stories are not pretty.  A few of these elders are still alive.  Some of their wounds have not completely healed.

Italians No

It is also worth noting that Metaxas appears to defend Tucker Carlson’s recent “white supremacy is a hoax” line.

At one point in the conversation Metaxas says, “In America, we have the freedom to say stupid things.” Yup.

Benjamin Franklin’s Thoughts on Germans


Here is a taste Franklin’s Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind. We talked about this letter today in my Colonial America course.

23.  In fine, A Nation well regulated is like a Polypus; take away a Limb, its Place is soon supply’d; cut it in two, and each deficient Part shall speedily grow out of the Part remaining. Thus if you have Room and Subsistence enough, as you may by dividing, make ten Polypes out of one, you may of one make ten Nations, equally populous and powerful; rather, increase a Nation ten fold in Numbers and Strength.

And since Detachments of English from Britain sent to America, will have their Places at Home so soon supply’d and increase so largely here; why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion f ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by theEnglish, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

24.  Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Compexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.

Read the entire document here.


The Author’s Corner with Peter Gilmore


Peter Gilmore is a ruling elder at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh and teaches history at Carlow University. This interview is based on his new book Irish Presbyterians and the Shaping of Western Pennsylvania, 1770-1830 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018). 

JF:  What led you to write Irish Presbyterians and the Shaping of Western Pennsylvania, 1770-1830?

PG: In Irish Presbyterians and the Shaping of Western Pennsylvania I want to show how Irish immigrants attempting to recreate their religious culture inadvertently laid the foundations of Presbyterianism in a region notable for its Presbyterian density. My goal is to unpack “Scots Irish Presbyterian,” particularly for a time and place in which the terms “Irish” and “Presbyterian” were often interchangeable—a circumstance generally not known or understood, but instructive when thinking about migration, diaspora, and ethnic diversity in the Early Republic.

JF:  In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Irish Presbyterians and the Shaping of Western Pennsylvania, 1770-1830?

PG: Irish migration to the Pennsylvania backcountry, 1770-1830, created mutually reinforcing religious systems and near-subsistence farming communities. The shift to market-driven production eclipsed an old-world religiosity founded on days-long ritual and church discipline.

JF:  Why do we need to read Irish Presbyterians and the Shaping of Western Pennsylvania, 1770-1830?

PG: As a study of an ethnoreligious group in a particular time and place, Irish Presbyterians and the Shaping of Western Pennsylvania is a potentially useful exploration of ethnic and religious diversity and of the significant role of religious values in shaping life in the Early Republic. This book offers an explanation of how religious controversies could be immigrant strategies of assimilation as well as strategies of accommodation to the Market Revolution.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PG: My grandfather sharing with me Revolutionary War sites in his beloved Boston excited in my childish self an unending sense of wonder and curiosity. In the decades since I’ve been obsessed with the meaning of it all, especially the transnational movement of people and ideas and the intersection of ethnicity, religion, and class. My work is largely in the Early Republic, and yet rooted in eighteenth-century Ireland.

JF: What is your next project?

PG: Following up on the research for this book, I’m working on an article that explores Pittsburgh Presbyterian responses to Ireland’s Great Hunger in the context of intensified anti-Catholicism. I’m also preparing an investigation into “Old School” Presbyterian responses to slavery in the Upper Ohio Valley. Presbyterians of Irish origin didn’t always respond to developments in United States in the same manner as other American Protestants, and the differences (and similarities) are fascinating.

JF: Thanks, Peter!

Happy Columbus Day


Mulberry Street, NYC, circa 1900

That’s right.  I said it.

I have blogged about Columbus statues here and here, but I also want to call your attention to Yoni Appelbaum‘s piece at The Atlantic: How Columbus Day Fell Victim to Its Own Success.”  The subtitle is “It’s worth remembering that the now controversial holiday started as a way to empower immigrants to celebrate diversity.”

Here is a taste:

Christopher Columbus has been, from the first, a powerful symbol of American nationalism. In the early American republic, Columbus provided a convenient means for the new nation to differentiate itself from the old world. His name, rendered as Columbia, became a byword for the United States. Americans represented their nation as a woman named Columbia, adopted Hail, Columbia! as an unofficial anthem, and located their capitol in the District of Columbia.

Italian-Americans, arriving in large numbers in the late nineteenth century, took note of the reverence which their famous countryman enjoyed. It was a far cry from the treatment they themselves received. Many Americans believed Italians to be racially inferior, their difference made visible by their “swarthy” or “brown” skins. They were often portrayed as primitive, violent, and unassimilable, and their Catholicism brought them in for further abuse. After an 1891 lynching of Italians in New Orleans, a New York Times editorial proclaimed Sicilians “a pest without mitigation,” adding, for good measure, that “our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they.”

Italians quickly adopted Columbus as a shield against the ethnic, racial, and religious discrimination they faced in their adoptive country. They promoted a narrative of national origins that traced back beyond Plymouth or Jamestown, all the way to San Salvador. How could a nation, they asked, reject the compatriots of its own discoverer?

Instead of accepting Italians, many nativists chose to reject Columbus. They cast about for a racially acceptable discoverer of the New World, and found him in Leif Erikson. The exploits of the great Viking explorer, recorded in Icelandic sagas, were already being promoted by Norwegian immigrants, eager to find acceptance of their own. If America did not, after all, owe its existence to an Italian Catholic, then there would be no need to accept his modern compatriots. “At a moment of increasing fear that the nation was committing race suicide,” explains historian Joanne Mancini, “the thought of Viking ghosts roaming the streets of a city increasingly filled with Irish, Italian, and Jewish hordes must have been comforting to an Anglo-Saxon elite.”

Read the entire piece here.


Statues of Christopher Columbus and Italian-Americans

Columbus Cirlce

Columbus Circle (Wikimedia Commons)

In case you have not heard, New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio is considering removing the statue of Christopher Columbus in the circle that bears his name.  David Marcus of The Weekly Standard explains how that statue got there:

The earliest celebration of Columbus in North America took place in in 1792. A newly formed New York City government called Tammany celebrated the 300th anniversary of his discovery of America. Eight years earlier, the Manhattan college formerly known as Kings College had been renamed, Columbia. This happened before many people who actually were Italian became residents of the world’s first constitutional democracy, and it greatest city. One hundred years later, Italians would begin to pour through Ellis Island like water drained through pasta. By 1900, Italians were becoming a fixture in the United States.

These Italian immigrants weren’t greeted warmly. In the 1890s, a group of Sicilian immigrants were lynched in New Orleans. Few Italian Americans today would suggest that they faced greater bigotry than blacks have. But, the lynching happened, and it is a part of our country’s dark history of racial resentment. In the wake of this bigoted violence, Il Progresso, the leading Italian language newspaper of the time in New York City, began a campaign to raise money for a statue of Columbus, as a gift to the city, and a symbol of Italian Americans’ dedication to be good citizens.

It worked: Small dollar donations led to an image of Columbus towering over the city. Italian immigrants chose Columbus as their avatar for good reasons. Not only was he a great man, who had inaugurated the trade between the New and Old World, he was a founding father of America. Only the Norwegians with Leif Erickson had a similar figure, but he was a tourist, not a man who changed the course of history.

This is interesting.  Many have argued that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson monuments need to be removed because they were erected during the Jim Crow era as a way of glorifying the “Lost Cause” and white supremacy.  In other words, we need to understand these monuments in light of the meaning they carried at the time they were erected.  Could a similar argument be made for Columbus statues?

I am half-Italian.  I have spent a lot of time listening to my late grandfather (died a few years ago at the age of 103) talk about discrimination against Italian-Americans. White Americans treated him as a member of another race.  None of my grandfather’s stories about working in the breweries of Newark, New Jersey were as bad as the lynchings that Italians suffered in 1890s New Orleans.  And like Marcus, I do not pretend to believe that the story of Italian-Americans is synonymous with the sufferings faced by African Americans in this country.  That would be bad history.  But Columbus became a symbol of pride for Italian-Americans.  The statue in Columbus Circle, as Marcus points out, was erected “as a symbol of Italian Americans’ dedication to be good citizens.”

What do you think?  Should Columbus go?

Doing History in the (Literal) Shadow of Trump



Historians in the wake of a Trump rally. L to R: NPR report Sarah McCammon, Susan Fletcher, some tall guy who crashed the picture, and Conference on Faith and History President Jay Green

Back in October 2016, Donald Trump crashed the 30th biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History held at Regent University in Virginia Beach.  I wrote about it in a piece syndicated through Religion News Service.

Susan Fletcher, the historian and archivist at The Navigators, an evangelical ministry in Colorado Springs, was also in Virginia Beach for the conference.  Over at the blog of the American Association of State and Local History, Fletcher offers her perspective on this crazy day.

Here is a taste:

In late October 2016 I attended the 30th Biennial Conference on Faith and History held at Regent University. Our theme this year was “Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity.” Talking about these subjects only a few weeks before the general election in November made the atmosphere crackle with urgency. I prepared a paper on how I interpret ethnicity at the parachurch ministry in which I serve as the Historian/Archivist and the practical steps that the ministry is taking to foster racial reconciliation within our ministry.

As I was getting ready to board my plane, I learned from my colleague (and guest AASLH blogger) John Fea that Donald Trump was going to “crash” our conference.  Surprise! At the last minute Trump decided to hold a campaign rally at Regent on the steps of the academic buildings where we had intended to hold our conference, so we had been displaced. Regardless of our personal political views, I think that every historian at the conference was a little perturbed about this turn of events. Furthermore, this surprise rally was scheduled at the exact same time as my own panel session. (So much for hoping for a late-afternoon audience!)

On the big day, my fellow panelists and I sat on a park bench before our session, watching the rally supporters streaming in and philosophizing about the surreal nature of the day. With our conference papers in hand, we geared up to talk about racial reconciliation, religion, and empathy at the same time as a certain then-candidate was likely to deliver a different message a few hundred yards away.

Read the entire piece here.

Regent 2

Fletcher, Green, and that tall guy again



The Unraveling of White Working-Class America


My maternal grandfather, a milkman, died 21 years ago today.

Over at The Wall Street Journal, journalists Bob Davis and Gary Fields have written a very interesting piece about the decline of working-class community in Reading, Pennsylvania. It is titled “In Places With Fraying Social Fabric, a Political Backlash Arises.”  This piece needs to be read alongside the Jedidiah Purdy piece that we posted on last week.  Populist voters are not just hillbillies and tea partiers, they are also members of the white ethnic working class–the children and grandchildren of immigrants who arrived in this country in the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century.

Davis and Fields argue that “Donald Trump gets strong support where churches, civic groups and safety nets are in trouble.”  It is yet another version of the argument Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam made in his 2000 book Bowling Alone.

Here is a taste:

The buckling of social institutions fundamental to American civic life is deepening a sense of pessimism and disorientation, while adding fuel to this year’s rise of political populists like Donald Trump  and Bernie Sanders.

Here and across the U.S., key measures of civic engagement ranging from church attendance to civic-group membership to bowling-league participation to union activity are slipping. Unlocked doors have given way to anxiety about strangers. In Reading, tension between longtime white residents and Hispanic newcomers has added to the unease.

Read the entire piece here.

This makes perfect sense to me, although I can only speak anecdotally. I grew up in white working class America.  I am the son of a general contractor and a housewife.  I am the grandson of a milkman and a Teamster.  My extended family are (or were) plumbers, carpenters, police officers, linemen, mechanics, tavern-owners, beer distributors, backhoe operators, secretaries, and housewives.  My mother’s side of the family built our local volunteer fire company. Somewhere in my parents’ house is a box of bowling trophies I earned from the Saturday morning leagues I participated in as a kid.  We spent our Labor Days, Memorial Days, and July 4ths with one another–throwing horseshoes, playing softball, swimming in an above-ground pool, solving the problems of the world over hot dogs and beer, and going to parades and town carnivals that featured ferris wheels and other rides mounted on trucks.

It was a good childhood, although I now know that my parents shielded me, my brothers, and my sister from the hardships.  It was also a pretty white upbringing.  I think there were one or two African Americans in my graduating class.  I don’t remember any Latino classmates.  My elders were suspicious of newcomers who did not look like us. As a young boy this attitude was hard to ignore.  The real divisions in my community were class-based.  I lived in the older, more working-class part of town.  The other side of town was decidedly upper-middle class and professional.

The world of my childhood no longer exists.  Sure, some of my family still live in the North Jersey town where I grew up, but they will be the first to tell you that it is a very different place.  The working class community of my youth has been replaced by new housing developments–lots of so-called McMansions–filled with white collar immigrants from non-western countries.  (This is largely because the school system in my home town remains very strong).  The small Cape Cods and split-levels that still dot the landscape look like they are remnants of some strange universe that existed long ago.  Most of my extended family is gone.  My grandparents’ generation–the generation that helped build this town–has passed away.  Some of my parents’ generation is still around, but others have retired and moved elsewhere.  They probably feel the loss harder than anyone.

Most of my extended family–especially my parents and their siblings, siblings-in-laws, and friends are probably going to pull the lever for Trump in November for the same reasons that the people in Reading, Pennsylvania will be voting for Trump.  Some really like Trump.  Others are voting for him because they hate Hillary and especially hate Obama.  Many of them are Christians and thus believe that a vote for Trump will help them bring back (through Supreme Court nominations) the morality of the Christian nation that has been lost.  Or at least this is what they are told by their favorite conservative talk radio hosts.  But a vote for Trump, they believe, will also bring back jobs and in some small way restore the sense of community that they have lost.

Amy Sopcak-Joseph: SHARP Things at AHA 2016

SHARPAmy Sopcak-Joseph checks in with another dispatch from the floor of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta.  To read Sopcak-Joseph’s previous post at The Way of Improvement Leads Home click here.  –JF

This conference has been such a whirlwind of activities – scoring some $5 books, trying to cram in food and sleep between panels and good conversations with old friends and new.  I was so exhausted when I wrote my first post that I didn’t mention that this is my second time at AHA.  I attended about a day and a half of the 2015 conference in New York.  This year I’m all in, here in Atlanta for the whole thing.

As John mentioned in my first post, I’m primarily attending AHA this year because I serve as one of the co-liaisons from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP) to the AHA.  You may have noticed sessions in your program with the “affiliated society” designation.  There are more than a hundred organizations that are affiliated with AHA – whatever your subfield, this list probably includes the appropriate organization.

So what does being a liaison entail?  The work consists of two phases: the prep before the meeting and activities at the conference.  I’ve been working with my co-liaison for the past year to connect SHARP members to AHA activities.  We organized an affiliate panel, “Exploring Race and Ethnicity through Book History.”  After choosing the papers, we spread the word about it through the SHARP at AHA social media accounts and through the SHARP email list.  Stephanie Kingsley of the AHA also discussed it in her blog post about book history panels.

At the conference much of my Friday revolved around SHARP things at AHA.  Each year the affiliated societies are given a chunk of time for exhibits to recruit members and talk to current members.  You may have noticed a number of tables set up on Friday outside of the registration area where liaisons were touting the virtues of membership in their organization.  If you didn’t stop by the affiliate displays here in Atlanta, you should think about doing so next year!  The liaisons love to chat with people, and you never know what kind of cool swag you can add to your AHA tote bag.

The SHARP panel, “Exploring Race and Ethnicity through Book History,” featured an eclectic group of papers on topics ranging from pre-Columbian Mexico to twentieth century book agents.  But all four of the papers made the case that book history methods – paying attention to the development, production, content, and dissemination of texts and images – can bring new insights on the formation of racial and ethnic identities.

In “ Erasure and Reinscription in MesoAmerican Divinatory Almanac: The Curious Case of the Codex Vaticanus B,” Jamie Forde discussed the complicated history of the Codex Vaticanus B, a document created by indigenous peoples but so named because it now resides in the Vatican. Forde and his co-author, Elodie Dupey Garcia, traced where the Codex was edited – images were erased and repainted with designs that were not commonly found in the area where it was created.  They linked these new designs in the Codex to common designs from other areas of Mexico, showing influences of other ethnolinguistic groups.

Kathryn Schwartz’s paper, “‘Civilization’ and the Idea that Print Catalyzes Progress, Late Ottoman Cairo,” explored the meaning ascribed to Cairene textual production.  Europeans, oddly enough, saw printing as a sign of “civilization” that placed them atop a hierarchy of groups.  The introduction of printing in Cairo could be interpreted as both a civilizing influence and a threat – what if Egyptians eventually outpaced Europeans?  Joan Bryant took her first foray into book history with her paper, “Agents Wanted: Kelly Miller’s Book Marketing and the Challenge of Negro Progress.”  Miller was an interesting figure – a writer who wanted to elevate his race and to sell publications.  Bryant pointed out that book agents were often itinerant and moved on to other professions, but these agents were crucial to Miller’s distribution of his works.  

Aston Gonzalez presented the paper most relevant to scholars broadly interested in early America.  “Reforming the Reader: Seeing Race in The Narrative of James Williams and The Slave’s Friend” compared two uses of a portrait of an escaped slave.  Gonzalez walked us through the how the original 1838 engraving from Williams’ narrative provided visual cues of his respectability.  The way that light hit Williams’ face, the nice clothing that he wore, and even his non-caricatured facial features didn’t conform with the stereotypical depictions of African Americans that circulated in the 1830s.  Gonzalez was able to identify a second use of the portrait of Williams’ in an 1839 issue of the children’s periodical The Slave’s Friend, produced by the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS)  The AASS began publishing the periodical in 1835, and it saturated the market with 200,000 copies in its first year.  The Slave’s Friend did not include the specific details of Williams’ story or identify him in any way.  But his portrait was paired with text that clearly touted his freedom and humanity: “This is a picture of a freeman! … Either he or his forefathers were once slaves. He now breathes the sweet air of liberty, and looks like a MAN.”  The use of Williams’ portrait in both of these publications taught readers how to see, how to read, and how to understand race.  I particularly appreciated this paper because I was already familiar with The Slave’s Friend.  In a previous life I worked on K-12 teacher education programs at the American Antiquarian Society.  I used The Slave’s Friend in workshops on abolition.  If you’re interested in the periodical, you can see some of it (including Williams’ portrait) here.

Why Are Democrats Doing So Well in the South?

Mitch McConnell needs evangelicals to win in Kentucky

Over at The Atlantic, Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institution has made a very interesting observation about evangelicals and the mid-term elections in the South.  Jones argues that the five closest Senate races in the region (Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky)  have one thing in common: the proportion of white evangelical Protestants has dropped significantly.  Here is a taste:

Two forces account for the declining proportions of white evangelical and mainline Protestants: the growth of non-black ethnic minorities and, perhaps surprisingly, the growth of the religiously unaffiliated across the South. Notably, each of these growing constituencies leans decidedly toward Democratic candidates. For example, in 2007, the religiously unaffiliated constituted 12 percent each of the populations of Kentucky and North Carolina. By 2013, the percentage of unaffiliated Kentuckians had jumped nine points to 21 percent, and the percentage of unaffiliated North Carolinians had jumped to 17 percent. While increases in the proportions of the religiously unaffiliated in Arkansas, Georgia, and Louisiana fall short of statistical significance, the patterns all point in the same direction.

So what does this mean for the 2014 elections? Certainly, events on the ground are still paramount; the campaign machines and peculiarities of candidates matter. And in low-turnout elections such as the midterms, the real weight of these demographic and religious shifts will not yet be fully felt at the ballot box. White evangelical Protestants have a strong turnout record, while non-black ethnic minorities and particularly the religiously unaffiliated are much less likely to vote. PRRI’s pre-election American Values Survey found that while two-thirds (65 percent) of white evangelical Protestants report that they were absolutely certain to vote in the November elections, less than half (45 percent) of the religiously unaffiliated report this kind of certainty. But the underlying trends indicate that at least one reason why there are a number of close elections across the South is the declining dominance of white evangelical Protestants, the most stalwart of GOP supporters.

Historians of the South:  Feel free to chime in.

Where America Came From

This is a fascinating map.  It shows the ancestry with the largest population in every county in the United States based on the 2000 census.  Here are the rankings:

1.  Germans
2.  African Americans
3.  Irish
4.  Mexicans
5.  English
6. “Americans” (People who label themselves this way or do not know their ancestry)
7.  Italians
8.  Polish
9.  French

No state has one ethnicity that dominates every county, but Pennsylvania (German), Wisconsin (German), Massachusetts, (Irish), Maine (English), Utah (English), and Nebraska (German) come very close.

A few more observations:

  • Notice the Dutch enclaves in Western Michigan and south central Iowa.
  • Why do so many people in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, the western portion of Virginia, Arkansas, and western North Carolina identify as “Americans?”
  • South Carolina and Mississippi have the strongest concentrations of African Americans.
  • New York metropolitan area is dominated by Italians
  • I didn’t know that there we so many Finns in northern Wisconsin
  • Note the Italian enclave in south Florida

OK immigration historians and historians of ethnicity, have at it.

Some Great Stuff Today at Religion in American History

If you do not read Religion in American History, you should. In the last day or two Paul Harvey and his cast of American religious history bloggers have posted some great stuff.  First, check out Harvey’s tribute to civil rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth, who died today at the age of 89.  Then check out Chris Beneke’s brief review of The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age by Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson.  I have a review copy of this book on my shelf and I hope to get my own short review out very soon.  Finally, take a look at Emily Clark’s reflections on lived religion in an ethnic Catholic family.

Good stuff.

Oscar Handlin R.I.P.

I always begin my course on the immigrant experience in America by talking about the work of Oscar Handlin and his book The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1952.  I was thus saddened to hear of Handlin’s passing.  Here is a taste of an obituary published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Oscar Handlin, 95, a prolific, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose best-known book altered public perceptions about the role of immigration in U.S. history, died Tuesday at home in Cambridge, Mass.

Mr. Handlin wrote many scholarly volumes on immigration, race, and ethnic identity during his nearly half-century as a history professor at Harvard University. His work as a chronicler of the migrations of Puerto Ricans and African Americans to cities attracted a generation of scholars to the field of urban studies in the 1950s, when it was considered marginal.

But his best-known work, The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People, which won the 1952 Pulitzer for history, was aimed at general readers in making his case that immigration, more than the frontier experience, or any other episode in its past, was the continuing, defining event of U.S. history. Dispensing with footnotes and writing in a lyrical style, Mr. Handlin emphasized the common threads in the experiences of the 30 million immigrants who poured into U.S. cities between 1820 and the turn of the century. Regardless of nationality, religion, race, or ethnicity, he wrote, the common experience was wrenching hardship, alienation, and a gradual Americanization that changed the United States as much as it changed the newcomers.

The book used a form of historical scholarship considered unorthodox, employing newspaper accounts, personal letters, and diaries as well as archives.

Mr. Handlin, whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, was among the first Jewish scholars appointed to a full professorship at Harvard, where he taught from 1939 until 1984. 

“All his work tried to capture the voice and experience of people undergoing this uprooting process, this process of immigration,” said David J. Rothman, a history professor at Columbia University and a former student of Mr. Handlin’s. “He was alert to the fact that every group was different. But this process, regardless of whether you were Irish or Jewish, was something shared.”

Kathy Sprows Cummings: Becoming Irish

Over at Religion in American History, Kathy Sprows Cummings, an American Studies professor at Notre Dame, reflects on becoming an Irish citizen.  A fitting St. Patrick’s Day reflection from a thoughtful scholar.  (And I am not just saying that because I watched my first and only Notre Dame football game with Kathy’s husband, Tom).

Here is a taste:

My Irish citizenship papers arrived this week. By virtue of having a grandparent born in Ireland, my siblings and I were eligible to apply for this status, and I responded enthusiastically to my sister’s proposal that we pursue this opportunity (especially when she volunteered to do all the research and paperwork, which involved, among other tasks, tracking down a birth certificate for a man who was born in rural Ireland in 1899). I’ll admit I was enticed by the prospect of easy travel that an EU passport would permit. But mostly I agreed for very sentimental reasons, grateful for the chance to remember and honor my family’s immigrant past. So I prepared the application with a light heart and little reflection.
You would think I would have known better. I am, after all, writing a book about citizenship, religion, and national identity, so I should have known that actually becoming an Irish “citizen of foreign birth” would evoke conflicting and complicated emotions. While I am glad to have this new connection to my past, I also deplore the way that many Americans–Irish and otherwise–romanticize Ireland and its culture. When I see the elaborate celebrations that mark St. Patrick’s Day, I cannot help but call to mind Margaret Atwood’s critique of “ye olde country shoppes.”: “History, as I recall, was never this winsome, and especially not this clean, but the real thing would never sell: most people prefer a past in which nothing smells. “

Read the rest here.

What is Happening to Little Italy?

My grandmother was born in Little Italy, New York and I have taken students there in the past, but according to this article, New York City’s enclave of Italian culture is shrinking.  In fact, you would be hard pressed to find many Italians who still live there.  Here is taste:

In 1950, nearly half of the more than 10,000 New Yorkers living in the heart of Little Italy identified as Italian-American. The narrow streets teemed with children and resonated with melodic exchanges in Italian among the one in five residents born in Italy and their second- and third-generation neighbors. 

By 2000, the census found that the Italian-American population had dwindled to 6 percent. Only 44 were Italian-born, compared with 2,149 a half-century earlier.

A census survey released in December determined that the proportion of Italian-Americans among the 8,600 residents in the same two-dozen-square-block area of Lower Manhattan had shrunk to about 5 percent.

And, incredibly, the census could not find a single resident who had been born in Italy.  

Read the rest of this very interesting article here.

Richard Rodriguez on Cesar Chavez

Richard Rodriguez, the author of Hunger of Memory and several other books about Latinos in America, has an article in the recent Wilson Quarterly that takes a pretty hard shot at Mexican labor leader Cesar Chavez.

Rodriguez concludes that Chavez was a failure. Here is a snippet:

…From his reading, Chavez would have known that St. Francis of Assisi desired to imitate the life of Jesus. The followers of Francis desired to imitate the life of Francis. Within 10 years of undertaking his mendicant life, Francis had more than 1,000 followers. Francis realized he could not administer a growing religious order by personal example. He relinquished the administration of the Franciscans to men who had some talent for organization. Cesar Chavez never gave up his position as head of the ­UFW.

In 1977 Chavez traveled to Manila as a guest of President Ferdinand Marcos. He ended up praising the old dictator. There were darker problems within the UFW. It was rumored that some within the inner circle were responsible for a car crash that left Cleofas Guzman, an apostate union member, with permanent brain damage.

Chavez spent his last years protesting the use of pesticides in the fields. In April of 1993, he ­died…