Doc Chat Episode Thirty-Five: Photographing Migration and Ethnicity at Ellis Island

By Julie Golia, Associate Director, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books and Charles J. Liebman Curator of Manuscri
November 8, 2021
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

On October 21 2021, Doc Chat analyzed photographs of Ellis Island immigrants from the early 20th century and considered the role played by social photographers at the height of America's second great wave of immigration.

Photograph of an Albanian Woman From Italy at Ellis Island

Lewis Wickes Hine, An Albanian Woman From Italy at Ellis Island, 1905; NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 212069.

weekly series from NYPL's Center for Research in the Humanities, Doc Chat pairs an NYPL curator or specialist and a scholar to discuss evocative digitized items from the Library's collections and brainstorm innovative ways of teaching with them. In Episode Thirty-Five, Bogdan Horbal, curator for Slavic and East European collections at NYPL, and Smoki Musaraj, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Ohio University, discussed photographer Lewis Wickes Hine's celebration of ethnic and cultural diversity as a manifesto against rising prejudice and discrimination against specific groups of immigrants, which led to the immigration quota laws of the 1920s. Drawing on racial ideologies and sentiments, the laws restricted the numbers of migrants from Southern and Eastern Europe and, explicitly or implicitly, excluded Asians and Hispanics from a pathway to citizenship. Analyzing Hine’s photos, Bogdan and Smoki analyzed how notions of race and ethnicity have been constructed in American public and legal discourse and how these notions have changed and/or persisted over time. 

Doc Chat Episode 32: Identity, Anti-Bias Practices, and the Library Catalog from The New York Public Library on Vimeo.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

Below are some handy links to materials and sources suggested in the episode.

Episode Thirty-Five: Primary Sources

Bogdan and Smoki examined photographs from the following collections available on NYPL's Digital Collections:

Lewis Wickes Hine. Series of photographic documents of social conditions, 1905-1939 Unit I, Immigration, (1), Ellis Island, scenes and personalities.

Lewis Wickes Hine. Series of photographic documents of social conditions, 1905-1939 Unit I, Immigration, (2), Life and labor in America with emphasis upon racial contributions.

Lewis Wickes Hine. Series of photographic documents of social conditions, 1905-1939 Unit II, Child labor in the U. S.: An historical record in pictures, 1905-1930.

I. E. Augustus F. Sherman photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island.

They also discussed the following law, which can be accessed in full text here:

1921 Emergency Quota Act

Episode Thirty-Five: Readings and Resources

Emily Greene Balch, Our Slavic Fellow Citizens (Charities Publication Committee, 1910).

Danielle Battisti, Whom We Shall Welcome: Italian Americans and Immigration Reform, 1945-1965 (Fordham University Press, 2019).

Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks and What that Says about Race in America(Rutgers University Press, 1998).

John J. Bukowczyk, A History of the Polish Americans (Transaction Publishers, 2008).

Jerome Davis, The Russians and Ruthenians in America: Bolsheviks or Brothers?(George H. Doran Company,1922).

Victor R. Greene, The Slavic Community on Strike; Immigrant Labor in Pennsylvania Anthracite (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968).

John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (Rutgers University Press, 1955).

Alexandra S.D. Hinrichs and Michael Garland, illustrator, The Traveling Camera: Lewis Hine and the Fight to End Child Labor (Getty Publications, 2021).

Maria Laurino, The Italian Americans: A History (W. W. Norton & Company, 2015). 

Paul Robert Magocsi, Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2005).

Dennis L. Nagi, The Albanian-American Odyssey: A Pilot Study of the Albanian Community of Boston, Massachusetts (AMS Press, 1989).

Mae M. Ngai, “The Architecture of Race in American Immigrantion Law: A Reexamination of the Immigration Act of 1924” The Journal of American History 86: 1(1999), 67-92.

Mae M. Ngai, “Nationalism, Immigration Control, and the Ethnoracial Remapping of America in the 1920s” OAH Magazine of History 21: 3(2007), 11-15.

Maddalena Marinari, Madeline Y. Hsu, and Maria Cristina Garcia, eds., A Nation of Immigrants Reconsidered: US Society in an Age of Restriction, 1924-1965 (University of Illinois Press, 2019).

Joel Perlmann, America Classifies the Immigrants: from Ellis Island to the 2020 Census (Harvard University Press, 2018). 

George J. Prpic, South Slavic Immigration in America (Twayne Publishers, 1998).

Kate Sampsell-Willman, Lewis Hine as Social Critic (University Press of Mississippi, 2009).

F. Trix and J. Dulong, Albanians in Michigan (Michigan State University Press, 2001).

Walter Dushnyck, Nicholas L. Fr.-Chirovsky, eds., The Ukrainian Heritage in America (Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, 1991).

Leslie Ureña, “Portraying Race beyond Ellis Island: The Case of Lewis Hine” International Journal for History, Culture, and Modernity 8 (2020), 13-37.

Josephine Wtulich, American Xenophobia and the Slav Immigrant: a Living Legacy of Mind and Spirit (East European Monographs; distributed by Columbia University Press, 1994).

Robert M. Zecker, Race and America's Immigrant Press: How the Slovaks were Taught to Think Like White People (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011). 

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