The Cosmopolitan Elite

Last night I published a post about Trump adviser Stephen Miller’s response to CNN’s Jim Acosta’s question about the connection between the spirit of American immigration and the RAISE Act.  Read it here.

Throughout this exchange, Miller accuses Acosta of being a “cosmopolitan.” The first reference comes at about the 3:40 mark and then again at the 4:15 mark.

Several quick thoughts:

  1. Acosta misspoke and said that England and Australia are the only sources of English-speakers who come to America.  Does this make him a “cosmopolitan?” Stephen Miller thinks so.  Maybe I don’t understand the meaning of the word “cosmopolitan” (“citizen of the world”).  I wrote a book about it, but maybe the definition has changed since the 18th century.  But if Acosta really did believe that English is only spoken in two nations, wouldn’t that mean he was not very cosmopolitan?  Wouldn’t that make him parochial or provincial?
  2.  “Cosmopolitanism,” of course, is an anathema in a presidential administration that celebrates the idea of “America First.” For example, the Obama administration was cosmopolitan in its efforts at working together with other nations around the globe. Miller knows that simply mentioning the term is the equivalent of throwing red meat to the Trump base.  Steve Bannon knows this too.
  3.  Last night Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse tweeted a 1972 article “about how Democrats like George McGovern weren’t connecting with the white working class.”  The source reminds us that the white working class has been criticizing cosmopolitans for a long time:

Cosmpolitan

The Trump White House Needs Another Lesson in Historical Thinking

beautiful-day-to-seeStephen Miller, a senior aide of Donald Trump, is now telling reporters what is “ahistorical” and what is not.

In case you did not hear, today Trump and two United States Senators rolled out the “RAISE Act.”  In a nutshell, this law will limit future legal immigration to “highly skilled” workers and those who already speak English.

Today Miller met with reporters to answer questions about the RAISE Act.  Jim Acosta of CNN asked him if a bill limiting immigration to skilled workers and English-speakers violates the spirit of the words behind Emma Lazarus’s 1883 sonnet “The New Colossus.” Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” to raise money for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.  The statue was dedicated in 1886.  The “New Colossus” was engraved on a plaque inside the statue’s lower level in 1903.

I quote it here in full:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Here is the exchange between Miller and Acosta:

Several thoughts:

  1. Miller is technically right.  “The New Colossus” was added seventeen years after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated.
  2. Miller is wrong when he says that “The New Colossus,” with its reference to the “tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” was not connected in any way to the Statue of Liberty.  As noted above, Lazarus wrote it to raise money for the statue.
  3. Miller is probably correct to suggest that the addition of “The New Colossus” to the Statue of Liberty in 1903 turned the statue into a symbol of immigration.  One could even argue that the Statue of Liberty did not become associated with immigration until well after immigration to the United States dried in the wake of the 1924 Immigration Act.
  4. But all of these points miss Acosta’s argument.  Acosta wanted to know if the RAISE Act violates the spirit of American immigration as embodied in the words of Emma Lazarus.  Miller said that Acosta’s argument was “ahistorical” because he did not know that “The New Colossus” was added after the Statue of Liberty was raised.  Do you see what Miller is doing here?  He is practicing a form of misdirection.  His correction of Acosta on the facts is little more than a sneaky attempt to avoid the real question the CNN reporter asked about the connections between the past and present.  When Acosta asked about the relationship between the RAISE Act and the spirit of American immigration, he was asking a pretty good historical question. It deserved a better answer.  There is a difference between knowing facts about the past and doing history.
  5. Acosta could have responded to Miller’s misdirection without throwing the National Park Service under the bus.  The way Miller dealt with the past today bears little resemblance to the way the National Park Service promotes history.

Inventing “Immigration”

Noah

Noah Webster

The word “immigration” was invented by Noah Webster.

Matthew Wills explains at JSTOR Daily:

Here’s some trivia for you logophiles out there: Noah Webster, author of An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), invented the word “immigration.” That is, he took an existing word—in fact all the variations of to migrate, including commigrate, transmigrate, emigrate, and remigrate—and subtly but profoundly transformed them. He did this based on his long study of word origins and perhaps his own historical experience as an ardent American nationalist. In so doing, he created “definitions that had never before appeared in a dictionary of the English language,” writes scholar Neil Larry Shumsky.

What Webster did was make “space, time, and purpose fundamental characteristics of migration.” Shumsky tracks the changes from Webster’s lesser-known dictionary of 1806, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, which largely followed the definitions in Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language.

Johnson defined migration as “an act of changing place” but did not define migrate or immigrate. Webster did. This is Webster’s 1806 definition of immigrate: “to remove into a country.” It’s similar to his emigrate: “to remove from place to place.” Here’s Webster’s more elaborate, 1928 definition of immigrate: “To remove into a country for the purpose of permanent residence.”

Contrast Webster’s definition with the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of immigrate as “to come to settle in a country (which is not one’s own); to pass into a new habit or place of residence.” Shumsky calls this definition “more ample in its options and less pointed in its purpose than Webster’s.”

Shumsky doesn’t think Webster took his immigrate‘s tripartite characteristics of crossing international borders, permanency, and residency from any other lexicographer. But other lexicographers certainly took Webster’s definition, as it became an American word. Quoting half a dozen more recent dictionaries, Shumsky shows they have often used Webster’s exact wording.

Read the rest here, including Neil Larry Shumsky’s 2009 piece at The New England Quarterly.

immigration_ship

The National Endowment for the Humanities Funds the Japanese American History Digitization Project

Japanese Americnas

Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund programs like this:

The Japanese American History Digitization Project at California State University will help us better understand the story of Japanese Americans in the 20th century by digitizing the archives of several collections and placing them on line for researchers.

Here is a description:

The story of the Japanese Americans in the 20th century – their migration to this country, the Alien Land laws under which they lived, their incarceration during World War II, the redress movement – is a complex local and state topic as well as a national subject of great historical impact. The accumulation of archival materials telling these “local” stories has enormous potential for scholarly interpretation and forms a humanities topic of national importance. The California State University System (consisting of 23 campuses, once called “the 1000 mile campus”) and the local CSU archival collections scattered throughout California are too disparate to offer scholars a complete story or easy access. It is not serendipity that so many CSU archives have a great deal of material focused on this issue. Immigration patterns that determined where Japanese Americans (Nikkei) settled also relate to where CSU collections are located. Sacramento, San Jose and Fresno had early Japanese American agricultural populations. The Nikkei populations of Little Tokyo, Gardena and Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County are directly connected to the extent of materials that CSU Dominguez Hills and CSU Fullerton have collected. Grants to digitize and describe these archival collections are beginning to bring these local stories of national significance together for worldwide access.

Learn more here.

 

This is Racism

Here is Chris Cuomo’s interview this morning with Iowa congressman Steve King:

Here is a transcript of the last minute or so:

CUOMO: There are a lot of people teaching hatred in their families who are white, Irish, Italian, who are Muslim. A lot of people preach hate. There’s hate in a lot of different groups. I get you have Muslim extremism that there’s a concern in this country about it. But I asked you something else. These people are either all equal or they are not in your view. A Muslim American, an Italian American, German American like you and your blood, your roots. They are either all equal or they are not in your mind. What is the answer? 

KING: I’d say they’re all created in the image of God and they’re equal in his eyes. If they’re citizens of the United States they’re equal in the eyes of the law. Individuals will contribute differently, not equally to this civilization and society. Certain groups of people will do more from a productive side than other groups of people will. That’s just a statistical fact. 

CUOMO: It’s not as a function of race. It’s a function of opportunity and education. You’re not more likely as a Muslim American to contribute to American society. It’s about your education and your opportunity, not what your blood is. 

KING: Chris? 

CUOMO: Yes. 

KING: It’s the culture, not the blood. If you can go anywhere in the world and adopt these babies and put them into households that were already assimilated in America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby with as much patriotism and love of country as any other baby. 

It’s not about race. It’s never been about race. In fact the struggles across this planet, we describe them as race, they’re not race. They’re culture based. It’s a clash of culture, not the race. Sometimes that race is used as an identifier. 

This idea that some cultures and races are inferior to others and are thus incapable of making meaningful contributions to American society has a long history in the United States.

Here is Ben Franklin in 1751 writing about the influx of Germans in Pennsylvania:

Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation…and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain…Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it…I remember when they modestly declined intermeddling in our Elections, but now they come in droves, and carry all before them, except in one or two Counties…In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.

Here is King again. This time he is promoting something similar to the racial hierarchies that motivated the 1924 Immigration Restriction Act:

I noticed that King did not include Southern Europeans in his definition of “Western Civilization.”  Yup.  My ancestors have been there.

Italians

1888

Why doesn’t King just take his remarks to their logical conclusion by naming those groups that will be less “productive” members of American society.

Dwight Eisenhower on Refugees

ike

Ike meets with Hungarian refugee family

Dwight Eisenhower to the Congress on Immigration, March 17, 1960.

Here is a taste:

To the Congress of the United States:

I again urge the liberalization of some of our existing restrictions upon immigration.

The strength of this nation may be measured in many ways–military might, industrial productivity, scientific contributions, its system of justice, its freedom from autocracy, the fertility of its land and the prowess of its people. Yet no analytical study can so dramatically demonstrate its position in the world as the simple truth that here, more than any other place, hundreds of thousands of people each year seek to enter and establish their homes and raise their children.

To the extent possible, without dislocating the lives of those already living here, this flow of immigration to this country must be encouraged. These persons who seek entry to this country seek more than a share in our material prosperity. The contributions of successive waves of immigrants show that they do not bring their families to a strange land and learn a new language and a new way of life simply to indulge themselves with comforts. Their real concern is with their children, and as a result those who have struggled for the right of American citizenship have, in countless ways, shown a deep appreciation of its responsibilities. The names of those who make important contributions in the fields of science, law, and almost every other field of endeavor indicate that there has been no period in which the immigrants to this country have not richly rewarded it for its liberality in receiving them.

In the world of today our immigration law badly needs revision.

Ideally, I believe that this could perhaps be accomplished best by leaving immigration policy subject to flexible standards. While I realize that such a departure from the past is unlikely now, a number of bills have already been introduced which contain the elements of such an idea. The time is ripe for their serious consideration so that the framework of a new pattern may begin to evolve.

For immediate action in this session I urge two major acts.

First, we should double the 154,000 quota immigrants that we are presently taking into our country.

Second, we should make special provision for the absorption of many thousands of persons who are refugees without a country as a result of political upheavals and their flight from persecution.

The first proposal would liberalize the quotas for every country and, to an important extent, moderate the features of existing law which operate unfairly in certain areas of the world. In this regard, I recommend the following steps:

1. The removal of the ceiling of 2,000 on quotas within the Asiatic-Pacific triangle;

2. The basing of the over-all limitation on immigration on the 1960 census as soon as it is available in place of that of 1920 which is the present base;

3. The annual acceptance of 1/6 of 1% of our total population;

4. Abandonment of the concept of race and ethnic classifications within our population, at least for the purposes of the increases in quotas I have recommended, by substituting as the base for computation the number of immigrants actually accepted from each area between 1924 and 1959. In other words the increase in the quota for Italy, for example, would not be based upon a percentage of a so-called Italian ethnic group within our country, but upon a percentage of actual immigration from Italy between 1924 and 1959; and

5. The unused quotas of under-subscribed countries should be distributed among over-subscribed countries. This distribution should be in proportion to the quotas of the over-subscribed countries.

My second major proposal is for authorization for the parole into this country of refugees from oppression. They are persons who have been forced to flee from their homes because of persecution or fear of persecution based upon race, religion or political opinions, or they are victims of world political upheaval or national calamity which makes it impossible for them to return to their former homes.

This year has been designated World Refugee Year. The United States and sixty-eight other nations have joined together in an attempt to seek permanent solutions for the problems of these peoples. Nations who in the past have granted entry to the victims of political or religious persecutions have never had cause to regret extending such asylum. These persons with their intellectual idealism and toughness will become worthwhile citizens and will keep this nation strong and respected as a contributor of thought and ideals.

I have asked the Attorney General to submit a draft of legislation to implement the recommendations I have made. The Administration stands ready to supply whatever information is necessary to permit appropriate action by the Congress during its present session. If, notwithstanding my specific recommendations, the Congress should enact other or different liberalizations of our immigration law that are constructive, I will be glad to approve them.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER

Quote of the Day

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus

The Author’s Corner With R. Scott Hanson

City of GodsR. Scott Hanson is Lecturer in History and Director of the Social Justice Research Academy at the University of Pennsylvania.  This interview is based on his new book City of Gods: Religious Freedom, Immigration, and Pluralism in Flushing, Queens (Fordham University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write City of Gods?

RSH: I was completing my M.A. in Religion at Columbia in the Fall of 1993 when I became interested in the intersection of religion and immigration in American history. I was fortunate to find out about the Pluralism Project at Harvard, which sought to map the new religious landscape of America since the Immigration Act of 1965. I began work as a researcher in New York City the next summer, and this research ultimately led me to Queens and the microcosm of world religions Flushing. When I learned that Flushing was founded in 1645 and was considered by locals to be “the birthplace of religious freedom in America” I knew I had stumbled on a topic that I wanted to explore more deeply, and this turned into a dissertation at the University of Chicago which I then spent a long time revising into a book manuscript.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of City of Gods?

RSH: I argue that the absence of widespread religious violence in a neighborhood with densely concentrated extreme religious diversity suggests that there is no limit to how much pluralism a pluralist society can stand. On the other hand, I also argue that there are in fact some real limits of pluralism when it comes to cooperation and community—spatial limits, social limits, structural limits, and theological limits—and these limits illustrate the challenge of trying to find unity in a pluralist society.

JF: Why do we need to read City of Gods?

RSH: Flushing is an extreme case with a unique history, but there is reason to believe that other communities can learn from it—certainly other dense urban areas with similar recent economic histories and growing new immigrant populations, but similar changes in the religious landscape are likely to develop in many other types of communities across the country, too (in fact, they already are). Indeed, we may be able to glimpse the future of religion and intergroup relations in America by studying Flushing not only because the striking exaggeration of its diversity makes the issues more sharply defined but because the story of the neighborhood and its pioneering colonial history mirrors that of the nation in microcosm.

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

RSH: I was an English major (American literature) in college, so I’ve always been drawn to stories. But it was when I began a Master’s degree in Religion that I got into American religious history, and eventually immigration/ethnic history, urban history, and American history in general when I started my Ph.D.

JF: What is your next project?

RSH: Since moving to the Philadelphia area in 2002, I have been teaching and writing about the broader history of the Mid-Atlantic region (which includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland)—an area that was characterized more by religious pluralism than the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony and the largely Anglican southern colonies. There are plans to edit a new volume on religious pluralism and region, and I have been exploring the possibility of a documentary film based on City of Gods. In my free time, I have also been working on a screenplay adaptation of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

JF: Thanks, Scott!

Angela Merkel and the Future of Christianity In Europe

Mother AngelaI recently asked historian Benjamin Brandenburg to take some of his recent tweets on Brexit and Christianity and write them up for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  I am glad he agreed to do so.   

Brandenburg is an International Historian at Montreat College in North Carolina. His current project, “Evangelical Empire: Billy Graham’s Good News in the American Century,” investigates the politics of the gospel in the Global North and Global South. He tweets @benbrandenburg. Enjoy! –JF

As the aftershocks of Great Britain’s Brexit vote continue to reverberate across the globe, initial reactions focused on the future of capitalism, world order, and globalization.  The religious dimension was nowhere to be found. Contrary to what is often claimed on this side of the pond, Christianity continues to matter in European politics. When the returns signaled that a fear of immigration tilted the referendum towards Leave, it became obvious that voters had Mutter Angela on their minds. Europe’s current impasse was in no small part launched by the decision of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to invite over one million predominantly Muslim asylum seekers from the Middle East into the heart of the European Union. David Cameron, Britain’s lame duck Prime Minister, admitted as much.

So it is worth taking a deeper look at the ways Merkel’s Immigration Revolution of 2015 reignited Europe’s on-again off-again discussion about Christianity’s role in public life.

Europeans, it seems, have never quite stopped discussing the meaning of Christianity in Europe. Following the Second World War, debates about the future the European system resulted in the political phenomena of Christian Democracy. Harvard historian Samuel Moyn recently argued that this Western European ideology understood Europe to be nothing less than a Christian Civilization. Often misunderstood in the United States, the Christian Democratic movement is perhaps the most important ideological innovation of the postwar period.  With a surprising mixture of pan-Europeanism, Catholic social teaching, and anti-communism, the party took hold in Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries in the immediate aftermath of the war.  When Christianity began to lose its firm grip on postwar society Christian Democrats sought to push the conversation by inviting Billy Graham to the stadiums of Europe. Europeans debated whether America’s most iconic religious export could re-Christianize Cold War Europe. They later used Graham’s satellite TV events as a yardstick for discussing religious pluralism. More recently, the failed attempt at crafting a European Constitution in the early 2000s was dominated by discussions, with an assist by Jürgen Habermas, about whether Europe had an explicit Christian identity.

Enter Angela Merkel. In her eleven years in office, leaders within her conservative CDU (Christian Democratic Union) criticized the mild mannered politician for underemphasizing the “Christian” part of her party and for supporting relativism as she moved the party leftward. Her strongest belief, it appeared, was her effervescent love for Die Mannschaft, Germany’s national soccer team. Still, one can understand her reasoning for broadening the base, her CDU was one of Europe’s few remaining Christian Democratic strongholds.

And then Merkel made a momentous decision that would land her the cover of TIME’s person of the year.

She opened the German borders for Syrian refugees who were in limbo in Hungary. And she has stuck to her plan even as the price tag reached €94 billion. Some called the move a reaction to her upbringing in closed-border East Germany (Merkel’s father was a Lutheran official who earned the nickname “The Red Minister”). Others suggested it was a last ditch effort to save Europe’s borderless Schengen Zone or to bring in low wage labor. Perhaps a more accurate reading is to admit that Merkel attempted to reinvigorate a Christian Democratic understanding of politics on the continent. Merkel is forcing Christians in Europe to choose between her vision of Compassionate Conservatism and the Christian Nationalist vision of Fortress Europe that is cresting in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński’s Poland, and Nigel Farage’s Britain. In response to a question on the Islamisation of Europe, Merkel responded:

We all have the opportunity and the freedom to have our religion, to practice it, and to believe in it. I would like to see more people who have the courage to say ‘I am a Christian believer’. And more people who have the courage to enter into a dialogue with our guests…Fear was never a good adviser. Culture’s that are marked by fear will not conquer their future.

This Wilkommenskutlure should be interpreted as a distinct vision of Christian hospitality. Historians will need to wait for decades to see how this conversation plays out, but it could lead—to borrow a phrase from Robert Wuthnow—to a Restructuring of European Christianity.

Is Columbus Day a Racist or Anti-Racist Holiday?

It’s a day or two late, but I highly recommend reading Jay Case’s post on Columbus Day at his excellent blog The Circuit Reader.  


Case, who teaches American history at Malone College in Canton, Ohio, shows how Columbus Day was created by Italian-American immigrants in order to celebrate their heritage in the midst of racist attacks against them.   

As some of you know, my father’s side of the family is Italian-American and I grew up in an area of northern New Jersey where there were a lot of Italian immigrants, including my own grandparents. Columbus Day was not only a day off from school or a celebration of Italian heritage, but it also had the kind of anti-racist flavor to it that Case writes about.  As I listened to the stories of my Italian-American elders, and reconsidered those stories later in life, it became clear to me that Italians were not white. (And now as I read a lot of good scholarly literature on the Italian-American experience and “whiteness” my thoughts along these lines are confirmed). 

A few years ago when I interviewed my now-deceased Italian grandfather who emigrated to the United States through Ellis Island in 1913, he told horrific stories about how he was treated by German-Americans and Irish-Americans while employed as a chauffeur and later as a truck driver for several breweries in Newark, NY.  He faced a lot of racial discrimination.

Here is Case:

Columbus, of course, was also Italian. Immigration from Italy increased noticeably from the 1880s to the 1920s and this, too, provoked a backlash from many native-born Americans. Italians were perceived as dirty, prone to crime, (Mafia stereotypes abounded), and a people who did not mix well with surrounding communities. These characteristics would undermine democracy, it was thought, so a bunch of Harvard grads formed the Immigration Restriction League in 1894 to try to keep these “criminals” and other undesirable immigrants out. If Donald Trump had been around then, he would have been a founding member.
And then there was anti-Italian racism. Yes, Italians were actually thought to come from a separate race. In the scientific thinking of the day, there were three separate races under the rubric of the white race: Teutonic (which included Anglo-Saxons), Alpine and Mediterranean. Take a big guess who the genetically superior and the genetically inferior groups were in this scheme.
The founder of the Immigration Restriction League put it this way: Americans must decide whether they wanted their country “to be peopled by British, German and Scandinavian stock, historically free, energetic, progressive, or by Slav, Latin and Asiatic” (meaning Jewish) “races historically down-trodden, atavistic and stagnant.”
This form of racism had consequences. Organizations like the Immigration Restriction League campaigned for immigration restrictions based on race. They succeeded. The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 put quotas on immigration from different countries, with the biggest limitations placed on nations with “Latin” and “Slavic” races. Immigrants from southern and eastern Europe faced greater restrictions than immigrants from the more favored “Teutonic” races of Scandinavia, Germany, and Great Britain. In the late 1930s, those immigrant restrictions, the racially-based thinking behind them, and the economic anxieties of the Depression led Americans to refuse to accept any sizable number of Jewish immigrants from Germany and Austria, despite Hitler’s willingness to ship them out of his nation. Ouch.  Racially-based immigrant restrictions lasted until 1965.
So Italian-Americans had anti-racist reasons to campaign for Columbus Day.  So did Irish, German, Italian, and Polish Catholics.  After all, if Anglo-Saxons could celebrate an Italian Catholic like Christopher Columbus as a hero for the American nation, wouldn’t they be more likely to accept Italian-Americans on an equal plane? Wouldn’t this prove that one could be fully Catholic, fully Italian-American and fully American at the same time?
In 1892, on the 400-year anniversary of Columbus’ famous voyage, an Italian-American named Carlo Barsotti pushed for national recognition of Columbus. Building on existing affection for Columbus in the nation, Italian-Americans held massive rallies every year on October 12 (the date Columbus hit land in the Caribbean).  They had deeply personal reasons to convince fellow Americans to recognize Columbus as a true American and a hero.  By World War I, New Jersey, New York, California, and Colorado (all states with significant Italian-American populations) had made Columbus Day a state holiday. By 1921, thirty states had followed.  FDR proclaimed it a national holiday in 1937.
Oddly, despite the growing embrace of Columbus Day, Congress still passed racially-based restrictions on Italian and Eastern European immigration. Most Americans see what they want to see in their historical figures, and many Americans wanted to see a bold adventurer who discovered new lands, not an Italian Catholic who represented the immigrant dimensions of American society.
Nevertheless, the creation of Columbus Day was driven primarily by those who faced racism and wanted full and equal acceptance into American society.
Of course later in the twentieth century Native American groups protested the holiday because it commemorated a man who exploited and killed Indians.  Here is Case again:
Fast forward to the 1990s. While I was a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame, the Native American student organization on campus organized a protest against Columbus. They were particularly disturbed by a series of massive paintings depicting the life of Columbus that lined the hallway of the Administration Building (the one with the “Golden Dome,” which we alumni hold with such affection.) The Administration Building, with its paintings of Columbus, had been built in 1879, just when anti-Italian and anti-Catholic sentiment was beginning to rise again. For the Native American students in the 1990s, however, Columbus symbolized European destruction of their people.
The anti-Columbus cause, then, was driven primarily by those who faced racism and wanted full and equal acceptance into American society.
I’ll let you savor that irony for a moment.
OK, that’s enough of that.
Because I think the Native Americans have a point. Italian-Americans faced discrimination and prejudice, but not nearly on the scale or with as profoundly difficult consequences as Native Americans have faced. (I trust you are knowledgeable enough on this point that I don’t have to list or describe the historical injustices that Native Americans have endured).
I’m perfectly fine with changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.  We Americans already celebrate progress, the discovery of new knowledge, and a liberating break from old restrictions every time we upgrade our iPhones.  Furthermore, Italian-Americans today are thriving in America. They enjoy full acceptance, and do not face any structural racism that confounds their daily lives. The same cannot be said of Native Americans.
Read the entire post here, including Case’s final theological point.  
As an Italian-American, I would hate to abandon a festival that celebrates the success and achievements of Italians in the United States.  I thought about this a few years ago as I was walking with my family through the Columbus Day weekend street festival in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. It was a wonderful opportunity to tell my daughters, who have not been raised in the kind of Italian-American culture I was (we live in central Pennsylvania for goodness sake!), about the various foods and traditions of Italian-American life.  As we walked past the merchandise stands and food vendors I was able to relay some of the stories my grandparents told me about growing-up Italian in the United States.
On the other hand, perhaps Case is correct.  Maybe it is time that Italian-Americans come up with another historical figure that they can use to celebrate their rich heritage in the United States. 

Let’s Not Forget Pope Francis is a Latin American

Writing at The Anxious Bench blog, Gordon College history professor Agnes Howard offers a unique angle on Pope Francis’s visit to the United States.  She wants us to think harder about the Pope’s identity as a Latin American, his advocacy of Hispanic immigrants, and what it all means for how we move forward.


She writes:

First, American-history education should do due diligence to Spanish-colonial formation of many parts of the United States. Both in regions still distinctly marked by Spanish settlers’ experience (say, California) and those where traces are much fainter (Alabama), the period of Spanish presence should figure significantly in self-understanding. Part of the solution could be supplied by more robust instruction in state histories within U.S. history curricula. Another step toward getting our America right is the winsome approach of Felipe Fernández-Armesto, who demonstrates that Hispanic history is our American history.
Second, American kids should learn Latin American history, at least as a survey, at least for a year, because proximity, foreign policy, and culture make it useful to know.  Too many of us go about with woeful ignorance about our neighbors.
Third, the spectacle of non-Catholics cheering a new-world Pope should pique the curiosity of those unacquainted with the story of Catholicism and American freedom or insufficiently disgusted by the current of anti-Catholicism long in circulation here.  The influence of Catholicism is not only a nineteenth-century immigrant phenomenon but enters with the thirteen original colonies. That means you, Maryland, but also eighteenth-century Urusline sisters in Mobile and New Orleans, plus clusters of Catholics elsewhere in the colonies, often facing hostility.   Recent discoveries hint that there may even have been a Catholic presence in Jamestown.
Read her entire post here.

Milwaukee Bound

Lecturing to 500 Milwaukee Public School students at Marquette in 2009

I am about to depart for my third Gilder-Lehrman Institute workshop with the good teachers of the Milwaukee Public School District.  I was here in 2009 to do a lecture at Marquette University on children in colonial America.  In April 2013 I returned to Marquette for a lecture on immigration and religion in American culture.

During the next two days I will be leading a workshop with Gilder-Lehrman master-teachers Ron Nash and Nate McAlister (2010 National Teacher of the Year) on colonial America (for 5th grade teachers) and late 19th-century immigration (for 8th grade teachers). Someone at Gilder-Lehrman must know that I used to regularly teach a course called “Immigrant America” at Messiah College.

I am looking forward to meeting Ron Nash and reuniting with Nate, my partner in crime at Princeton this past summer.

Historian’s Eye

In case you have not seen it yet, I would encourage you to check out Matthew Frye Jacobsen’s website, Historian’s Eye.  Here is how he describes the project:

Beginning as a modest effort in early 2009 to capture the historic moment of our first black president’s inauguration in photographs and interviews, the “Our Better History” project and the Historian’s Eye website have evolved into an expansive collection of some 1000+ photographs and an audio archive addressing Obama’s first term in office, the ’08 economic collapse and its fallout, two wars, the raucous politics of healthcare reform, the emergence of a new right-wing formation in opposition to Obama, the politics of immigration, Wall Street reform, street protests of every stripe, the BP oil spill, and the seeming escalation of anti-Muslim sentiment nationwide.  Interviewees narrate and reflect upon their own personal histories as well, a dimension of the archive that now spans many decades and touches five continents.

Adopting its title from a passage in Obama’s inaugural address, the project seeks to trace the fate of “our better history,” as the nation faces unprecedented challenges with a president at the helm who is fully inspirational to some, palpably unnerving to others.  In addition to catching this moment like a firefly in a mason jar, the project seeks to encourage a new relationship to history itself—a mental habit of apprehending the past in the present and history-in-the-making.

The geniuses whose inspiring ghosts hover most conspicuously over this project are Dorothea Lange and Studs Terkel.  The wonderful thing about a camera, Lange once said, is that it can teach you how to see without a camera.  One of the primary goals of this project is to learn to see anew and to enable clarity about our own historical moment.  As for Terkel, no one perhaps has ever assembled as significant an archive of American voices as he.  Though he is often thought of as preserving the experience of ordinary folks, in giving them a platform Terkel also provided access to a neglected realm of vernacular wisdom, analysis, theorizing, and understanding.  The present gallery of interviewees differs from Terkel’s, including federal judges and high-end hedge fund managers alongside the carpenters, union organizers, immigrants, and unemployed office workers with whom Terkel would have been more familiar.  But the aim is much the same:  to document the experience of sweeping historical forces at street level; to render the diversity of worldviews and outlooks; to give voice to a vernacular analysis and wisdom that outshines our “punditry” more often than we are ever encouraged to imagine.

The momentum of our culture encourages very short memory and very quick judgment.  We take our public discourse mostly in sound bites, and hence things that predate the latest news cycle are most often crowded out of our consideration. Historian’s Eye asks you to slow down; to look and to listen; to pay close attention and to notice; to entertain a variety of perspectives; to ask varied questions; to think about the current moment as possessing a deep history, and also to think of it as itself historical—futurity’s history.  Above all, Historian’s Eye asks you to pitch in and to talk back.

Read more about the process and pedagogy behind Historian’s Eye in this interview with Social Text.

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.”

This Week’s Patheos Column: America, a Great and Flawed Nation

Of all the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson is the most complex. He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence—the document that declared that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom—one of the greatest statements on religious freedom in the history of the world. He was the founder of one of our great public universities—the University of Virginia. He defended the rights of the common man and he staunchly opposed big and centralized governments that threatened individual liberties.

At the same time, Jefferson was a slaveholder. Although he made several efforts to try to bring the “peculiar institution” of slavery to an end, he never succeeded. Jefferson needed his slaves to maintain his Virginia planter lifestyle—complete with all its consumer goods and luxury items. He was in debt for most of his adult life. And he is likely the father of several children born to his slave Sally Hemings.

Jefferson’s story reminds us that history is complicated. As Christians, we must always remember that there are no heroes in history. We are flawed, sinful human beings in need of redemption. Even the great ones, like King David, fail. But there are also no villains in history. All of us have been created in the image of God and thus possess dignity and worth. History reminds us that when we put our confidence in people, whether they lived in the past (such as the founding fathers) or live in the present, we are likely to be inspired by them, but we are just as likely to be disappointed.

Read the rest here.

Den Hartog on Islam, Immigration and Catholics

Christianity Today is running an interesting interview with historian Jonathan Den Hartog.  Den Hartog compares nineteenth-century American anti-Catholicism to the recent flap over Muslim immigration.  Here is a good example of how historians can bring some perspective to contemporary debates.

A taste:

How is the place of Islam in America today analogous to the place of Catholics in the past? 
One way is this concern for authority in the nation. The American ideal would be that citizens have to be self-governing and not dependent on outside forces. This was always the criticism of Catholics, that they were dependent on direction from the Pope and from their priests. This is an ongoing criticism of American Muslims. I’ll hasten to add that it’s not necessarily accurate, criticizing Muslims as having an outside authority—that they’re bound by the Qur’an, which would be seen as an antidemocratic document. Of course there’s no formal structure in Islam, but some of the passages in the Qur’an, if interpreted literally, would seem to be antidemocratic and, hence, against American republican values.
Secondly, trustworthiness: Are they just a secret column or can they be full citizens?
Let me add a third. What is the mental picture of the nation? What’s the desired composition of the nation? Just as 19th-century Protestants wanted a Protestant nation, you see still this desire for a Christian nation. The sociologist Will Herberg said after the 1950s that we’re a nation of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Okay. Does that mental picture also extend to Muslims? And I think many critics of Muslim immigration would say no.
The countercurrent, of course, is Barack Obama in his inaugural address when he said we’re a nation not only of Christians and Jews but of Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims, and even believers in nothing at all. There are strong competing voices here between those who want a strong religious definition to citizenship and those who want to define America as entirely neutral on any religious claim. I think that’s really the debate that’s going on right now.
I have seen evangelicals come down on both sides of this. Richard Land, for instance, has had some public pronouncements about, for instance, the Ground Zero mosque. On the other hand, he also has issued declarations in support of immigration. So there might be a separation between the questions over immigration and questions over religion.
Can we learn anything from the 19th-century experience? It seems, ultimately, that intimidation doesn’t work, that the church does not at all present a gospel face when trying to use power to intimidate minorities, but it has a much greater influence when it accepts immigration realities and seeks to work missionally in those groups. That seems to be much more productive than looking to take over the arm of the state to achieve a religious goal.

Ellis Island Museum Celebrates 20 Years

In September 1990 the Ellis Island Immigration Museum was first opened to the public. Ellis Island closed its doors to new immigrants in 1954 and then basically sat vacated for about thirty years before efforts were made to restore it. (The public was given limited access to the island between 1976 and 1984). The restoration of Ellis Island was the largest restoration project in United States history. Read more at New York History blog.

Faithful blog readers will remember that we took some students to Ellis Island last spring.

Putting on a Landfill

Head over to Front Porch Republic to read this great post by Susan McWilliams on the world’s most expensive golf course. It just happens to be located at Liberty State Park. Yes, that Liberty State Park. The same New Jersey park where some of you may have climbed into a boat and traveled to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

Here is a snippet:

Liberty National Golf Course, for those who have not yet been asked to play there, is the most expensive golf course ever built. It opened in 2006, having cost an estimated $250 million to create, and is the centerpiece of the Liberty National Golf Club. Membership in the club is by invitation only, and those lucky few who are invited may join for the low, low “initiation fee” of $500,000. The course’s website reassures would-be members that the course is easy to reach … because there are five landing strips for private jets nearby.

Some have justified Liberty National’s existence by saying that if it hadn’t been built, the site “would still be a toxic waste dump rotting on the banks of the Hudson River.” Because, I guess, the only way to fix something broken is to sell it off to the highest bidder, who will then paint it pretty colors and tell other people that if they want to look at it, they have to pay half a million dollars.

(I’m not sure how much legitimate environmental cleanup went into the construction of Liberty National, although I am sure that golf courses themselves tend to be environmentally dubious propositions, albeit environmentally dubious propositions that are aesthetically pleasing.)

Indeed, people who have had occasion to visit Liberty National Golf Course report that it is very pretty. I’m sure it is, what with “the huddled masses” and “the tempest-tost” kept a safe distance away from the “state of the art heliport.” And isn’t that what America is all about?