History 248 Reading Guide

Immigration, Assimilation, and Nativism:  Becoming “American” in the Nineteenth Century?

  • James R. Barrett, “Americanization from the Bottom Up: Immigration and the Remaking of the Working Class in the United States, 1880-1930,” Journal of American History 79.3 (1992), 996-1020.  JSTOR

Further reading:

  • Kenneth Moss, “St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations and the Formation of Irish-American Identity, 1845-1875,” Journal of Social History 29.1 (1995), 125-148.  JSTOR


  • According to Barrett, the middle-class Americanization movement attempted to direct the process of acculturation by which late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century immigrants would embrace the values and behavior of “mainstream” America. Nonetheless, “Americanism was a contested ideal,” and the new generation of immigrants both sought and received guidance about alternative world views and values from other sources, environments, and contexts.
  • How does Barrett characterize the two “fairly distinct” generations of workers in American industrial communities between 1880 and 1925? How did they differ by ethnicity, work experience, by the support institutions that they had developed? What barriers strained relations between the two generations? Considered sequentially, what circumstances worked to unite them and to change the labor movement?
  • Within the complex and changing social, economic, and political context, how does Barrett characterize the various efforts (and motivations) for immigrant acculturation? What did each group focus on in their efforts to Americanize immigrants?
    What “Progressive” methods were sponsored and enforced by the native-born middle class?
    In what other contexts and with what other “teachers” and opportunities did the new generation of immigrants come to define Americanism for themselves? According to Barrett, what constituted “labor’s version of Americanism”?