7 Int'l Migration Rev. 4 (1973)

handle is hein.journals/imgratv7 and id is 1 raw text is: 





How Historians Have Looked at
Immigrants to the United States

by  Robert D. Cross*

     If the world of historical scholarship was well-ordered, the first chapters of
 the history of immigration to the New World would have been written by the
 first human being who, some 20,000 or 30,000 years ago, would almost certainly
 have looked back across the icy ocean (what was later called Bering Strait), and
 uttered some remarks about those human beings who followed him on to the as
 yet uninhabited continents of what were to be called North and South America.
 It is impossible, of course, to know whether the first immigrant did look back;
 even if he did, it is plausible to suppose that he could not write down his
 thoughts; but it is plausible to surmise that if he did look back, and if he was able
 to write, only part of his thoughts would have been what today we regard as
 printable. The history of immigration to the New World, like the history of
 immigration elsewhere - like, indeed, the history of anybody by somebody else
 -  has been ethnocentric, a more or less uneven balance between curiosity about,
 affection for, fear of, and antipathy towards someone new, and so almost in-
 variably different in some respects. Mr. Dooley, that supremely American Irish-
 American, was  in the great tradition of immigration history when he inveighed
 in rich brogue against the uncouthness of recent immigrants, at the same time
 that he let it be known that he resented the patronizing airs put on by those who
 had arrived, as he put it, a few boat lengths ahead of him, beaching at the mouth
 of the James River, or at Plymouth Rock. His own view, he asserted with the
 kind of feeling we  associate with immigration history, was the only truly
 American  one -  the only one informed with clarity and dispassion. (I have no
 doubt that although I write a few years after Mr. Dooley spoke up, and have
 tried to guard against his amusing ethnocentrism, by thinking about what he and
 other conscious or unconscious historians have said, and why they said it, and by
 picking up whatever clues I could to what other participants, such as the first ar-
 rival, the last, and those in between have thought, but not written down, my
 brief history, which follows, of what historians have thought about immigration
 to the United States is a biassed one.) Richard Saveth, in American Historians
 and European  Immigrants, and John Higham,  in Strangers in the Land, have
 documented  all too persuasively how narrow have been the perspectives, how
 straitened have been the outlooks, of those good men and rascals who have writ-
 ten on  this theme. I can plead only  good intentions, plus a more  recent
 perspective, plus the possibly longer view of the dwarf who sits on the shoulders

 *Professor of History and Dean of Faculty of Arts and Science, University of Virginia.


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