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Immigrants in the United States: Primary Sources

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Primary Sources

Primary sources are documents that were recorded or written down at the time an event occurred. Primary sources can include diaries, letters, speeches, photographs, newspaper articles, government documents, and much more. For more information, see What are Primary Sources

To find primary sources held at the MSU Libraries, perform a keyword search in the library catalog with the terms s:Indians and s:North America and one of the following subject keyword(s)  s:archives; s:archival resources; cs:orrespondence; s:diaries; s:manuscripts; s:notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.; s:personal narratives; s:personnel records; s:records and correspondence; and s:sources.   The last option -- s:sources will probably be the most productive. 

Primary Sources Online Exhibit

Primary Sources Online Exhibit - Introduces the many types of primary sources used by researchers, with examples from Special Collections.  Courtesy of Ruth Ann Jones and Lesley Brown.

Selected Online Resources

American Memory (Library of Congress). Includes a number of collections of print and non-print materials (photographs, posters, archival sources) pertaining to immigration, such as Pioneering the Upper Midwest and The Chinese in California, 1850-1925.

Aspiration, Acculturation, and Impact : Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930.  "Immigration has shaped the contours of this nation's history from its founding to the present day. Immigration has shaped the nation's cities, its institutions, industries, and laws, its literature and its culture. Harvard's world-renowned library and museum holdings reflect these realities through guidebooks, ethnic publications, policy documents, diaries, photographs, and organizatonal records that chronicle the continuing impact of immigration on the United States." Sidney Verba, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Research Professor and Founder of the Open Collections Program at Harvard University.  Immigration to the US, 1789-1930 is a web-based collection of selected historical materials from Harvard's libraries, archives, and museums that documents voluntary immigration to the United States from the signing of the Constitution to the onset of the Great Depression. For Internet users worldwide, Immigration to the US provides unparalleled, free and open digital access to a significant selection of unique source materials—more than 410,000 pages, 100 individually cataloged maps, and 7,800 photographs.

Border and Migration Studies.  A collection that explores and provides historical background on more than thirty key worldwide border areas, including: U.S. and Mexico; the European Union; Afghanistan; Israel; Turkey; The Congo; Argentina; China; Thailand; and others. Featuring at completion 100,000 pages of text, 175 hours of video, and 1,000 images, the collection is organized around fundamental themes associated with border and migration issues.

Dillingham Commission Reports.  During the 2nd and 3rd sessions of the 61st Congress, reports on Immigration issues were issued to the Senate by the Dillingham Commission. The immigration reports include statistical reviews, emigration and immigration conditions in Europe and other parts of the world, occupations of immigrants (including extensive coverage of immigrants in the industries of the time), living conditions, conditions of immigrants in major metropolitan and agricultural areas, the schooling of immigrant children, social and cultural organizations and societies of immigrants, and immigration legislation at the state and federal levels. The 41 volumes of these reports were digitized and converted into PDF format under the supervision of Stanford University Libraries' Social Sciences Resource Center.  Note:  To download the documents you have to create a profile.

The Finlandia University Finnish American Historical Archive offers two collections of potential interest: Finnish Folklore and Social Change in the Great Lakes Mining Region Oral History Project 1972-1978 (Funded in part by the National Endowment For The Humanities) and the F.F.S.C.G.L.M.R. Digitization Project 2010-2011 (Funded in part by the Keweenaw National Historic Park Advisory Commission). Scroll down past the alphabetical listings and it will include a short description of what each interview focused on. If a transcript is available, it will have a .pdf link under the interviewee's name. If audio clips are available, there will be a link at the bottom of the interview description. Not all interviews have transcripts or excerpts. Often, that means the interview was in Finnish, and it hasn't yet been fully translated. It is also possible to order copies of full interviews on CD. The cost would be $10/interview + shipping.

Immigration and Multiculturalism  : Essential Primary Sources / K. Lee Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, and Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner, editors.  Detroit, Mich. : Thomson Gale, c2006. This volume of primary source documents focuses on some of the leading social issues of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries: immigration and multiculturalism. It contains approximately 175 full and excerpted documents---speeches, legislation, magazine and newspaper articles, essays, memoirs, letters, interviews, novels, songs, and works of art---as well as overview information that places each document in context. Entries are organized into chapters that feature a general overview of the chapter's subtopic. Also included is an introduction to the topic, a chronology of major events associated with the topic, and a general index.

Immigration Challenges for New Americans : Photographs, maps detailing immigration patterns, official documents, song sheets and streaming audio recount the immigrant experience in America, their reasons for leaving their homelands, and the reactions of established Americans. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Immigration History Research Center. An "interdisciplinary research center in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. Founded in 1965, the IHRC promotes research on international migration with a special emphasis on immigrant and refugee life in the U.S."

In their own words : letters from Norwegian immigrants / edited, translated and introduced by Solveig Zempel. Minneapolis, Minn. : University of Minnesota Press, c1991. 225pp. E184.S2 I5 1991 (also availalbe online)

John Novak Digital Interview Collection. Consists of interviews about immigration, migration, and the Civil Rights Movement. The interviewees, who range in age from 20 to 90, speak of their experiences moving to and within the United States. Listen to interviews from Esperanza Perez whose Mexican mother crossed the border to give birth to her daughter so that she could be an American citizen, Earnest Stamps who recounts his train ride to Detroit and his wonderment upon arrival at the Michigan Central Station, or Yvonne Revell who was a participant in the Greensboro Sit-in demonstrations. The project began in 2004 as part of a Teacher-Scholar award received by Professor Dena Scher in the Psychology/ Social Sciences Department of Marygrove College. In 2006, librarian Michael Barnes adapted the digital interviews into a special collection within the auspices of the Marygrove College Library.

Migration to New Worlds explores the movement of peoples from Great Britain, Ireland, mainland Europe and Asia to the New World and Australasia. Split across two modules, and including collections from 26 archives, libraries and museums, Migration to New Worlds brings together the movement and memories of millions across two centuries of mass migration....Migration to New Worlds: The Century of Immigration concentrates on the period 1800 to 1924 and covers all aspects of the migration experience, from motives and departures to arrival and permanent settlement.  Adam Matthew database.

North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral HistoriesNorth American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral Histories includes 2,162 authors and approximately 100,000 pages of information, so providing a unique and personal view of what it meant to immigrate to America and Canada between 1800 and 1950. Composed of contemporaneous letters and diaries, oral histories, interviews, and other personal narratives, the series provides a rich source for scholars in a wide range of disciplines. In selected cases, users will be able to hear the actual audio voices of the immigrants. The collection will be particularly useful to researchers, because much of the original material is difficult to find, poorly indexed, and unpublished; most bibliographies of the immigrant focus on secondary research; and few oral histories have been published.  Access restricted to the MSU community and other subscribers.

North American Women's Letters and Diaries, Colonial-1950When complete, North American Women's Letters and Diaries will be the largest collection of women's diaries and correspondence ever assembled. Spanning more than 300 years, it will bring the personal experiences of 1,500 women to researchers, students, and general readers.  Sample search: click on Browse, then Personal Events, and then choose Emigration for a list of 141 documents.  Access restricted to the MSU community and other subscribers.

Oral History Interviews (Hope College/Holland Joint Archives)..  An extensive collection of oral history transcripts covering a variety of events, ethnic groups, and citizens of Holland, Michigan. Includes sections on members of the Hispanic community (1990), Dutch immigrants (1992), Hispanic residents (1993), and Asian and African American Residents (1994).

Oral History Online.  Try searching the terms immigrant or immigration.

Red Star Line Museum (Belgium).  Between 1873 and 1934, the legendary Red Star Line transported more than two million European passengers to America. At the port in Antwerp, Belgium, emigrants in steerage class underwent disinfection and medical examinations while clerks scrutinized their documents. Today three warehouses stand as a testament to this emigrant experience. In 2012, Red Star Line / People on the Move will open a new museum at this historic location. It will be a place of remembrance, experience, debate and research into international mobility, both past and present....Millions of passengers travelled with Red Star Line, they told hundreds of stories to their (grand)children about their journey. Read selected stories.

Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600 - 2000.  A resource for students and scholars of U.S. history and U.S. women's history. Organized around the history of women in social movements in the U.S. between 1700 and 2000, the website seeks to advance scholarly debates and understanding at the same time that it makes the insights of women's history accessible to teachers and students at universities, colleges, and high schools. The database includes more than 25,000 pages of documents pertaining to Women and Social Movements, a dictionary of social movements and organizations, a chronology of U.S. women's history, and teaching tools with lesson ideas and document-based questions related to the website's document projects.  Sample search: click on Browse, then Immigration for 162 documents

Selected Print Resources

Between the lines : letters between undocumented Mexican and Central American immigrants and their families and friends / translated, edited, and with an introduction by Larry Siems ; with a preface by Jimmy Santiago Baca.  Hopewell, N.J. : Ecco Press, c1992.  311pp. Main Library E184.M5 B49 1992 : In the continuing U.S. debate over illegal immigration, a human face has rarely been shown. This collection of letters between undocumented immigrants in California and their families in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador reveals the other side of the story. Published for the first time in paperback, this book reveals the often poignant human drama currently being played out along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is the first book that tells the story of these immigrants in their own words, in Spanish and English. It is also of inestimable value to anyone who wants to understand the full dimensions of the problem.

British Immigration to the United States 1776-1914 / edited by William E. Van Vugt.  London : Pickering & Chatto, 2009.  4 volumes.  Main Library E184.B7 B758 2009 : Each of the four volumes in this new set features three useful components. In addition to the evocative pieces of correspondence, the editor has devoted a large segment of each volume to an often-overlooked source: the individual biographies that appeared in US county histories during the late-19th and very-early-20th centuries. He complements these generally brief sources with more extensive primary accounts collected from the pro-immigration pamphlets of resettlement agencies and railroad companies, and the more evenhanded accounts of immigrants and local historians. This collection covers a wide geographic range as well, drawing on sources from both sides of the Atlantic and throughout the eastern and midwestern US. Van Vugt ably conveys the British perspective, using much of the unpublished correspondence originally collected by the venerable historian Charlotte Erickson (d. 2008). On the US side, van Vugt incorporates materials from Florida to Wisconsin, transcending the regional approach usually taken in previous collections. Finally, he includes a brief but wide-ranging introduction to each volume that summarizes the gathered sources and sets the background for them. He precedes each item with a brief introduction, placing the source within a larger historical context and highlighting its particular contribution to the field. This valuable reference work is an important addition to any immigration collection, offering new energy to the once-dormant field of British movement to the US.

Cultures in contact : world migrations in the second millennium / Dirk HoerderDurham : Duke University Press, 2002.  779pp.  Main Library  GN370 .H64 2002 : A landmark work on human migration around the globe, Cultures in Contact provides a history of the world told through the movements of its people. It is a broad, pioneering interpretation of the scope, patterns, and consequences of human migrations over the past ten centuries. In this magnum opus thirty years in the making, Dirk Hoerder reconceptualizes the history of migration and immigration, establishing that societal transformation cannot be understood without taking into account the impact of migrations and, indeed, that mobility is more characteristic of human behavior than is stasis. Signaling a major paradigm shift, Cultures in Contact creates an English-language map of human movement that is not Atlantic Ocean-based. Hoerder describes the origins, causes, and extent of migrations around the globe and analyzes the cultural interactions they have triggered. He pays particular attention to the consequences of immigration within the receiving countries. His work sweeps from the eleventh century forward through the end of the twentieth, when migration patterns shifted to include transpacific migration, return migrations from former colonies, refugee migrations, and distinct regional labor migrations in the developing world. Hoerder demonstrates that as we enter the third millennium, regional and intercontinental migration patterns no longer resemble those of previous centuries. They have been transformed by new communications systems and other forces of globalization and transnationalism.

Debating American immigration, 1882--present / Roger Daniels and Otis L. Graham ; introduction by James T. Patterson.  Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, c2001.  231pp.  Main Library JV6483 .D35 2001 : In "Debating American Immigration, 1882-Present", prominent historians Roger Daniels and Otis Graham offer competing interpretations of the past, present, and future of American immigration policy and American attitudes towards immigration. Through original essays and supporting primary documents, the authors provide recommendations for future policies and legal remedies. This compact and clearly written text is an excellent introduction to one of today's most emotionally charged issues.

Discoveries of America : personal accounts of British emigrants to North America during the Revolutionary Era / edited by Barbara De Wolfe ; foreword by Bernard Bailyn.  Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1997.  228pp.  Main Library E184.B7 D57 1997 : Discoveries of America is a collection of personal letters written by eighteen of the thousands of British emigrants who came to North America in the fifteen years preceding the onset of the American Revolution. These accounts are rare: few letters sent by emigrants during the colonial period exist. The letters reveal the motivations, experiences, characteristics, and emotions of these people, who populated America at a crucial time in its history, and provide new insights into the mechanisms of the British-American migration, especially the organization of personal networks of family and friends.

Ellis Island and the peopling of America : the official guide / Virginia Yans-McLaughlin and Marjorie Lightman, with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation ; designed by Hall Smyth.  New York : New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton, c1997.  231pp.  JV6483 .D35 2001 :  Over three million people visit Ellis Island, the "Golden Door to America," every year. Ellis Island has become an invaluable resource center on immigration and genealogy as well as a national tourist attraction, widely praised for its excellent displays and informative exhibits. Now, the best of the Ellis Island Museum is available to readers everywhere from The Ellis Island-Statue of Liberty Foundation. Fascinating primary-source documents offer an exciting overview of Ellis Island, placing it in historical context with a concise history of immigration and global migration. This comprehensive guide is a must for anyone interested in immigration in general and Ellis Island in particular. Ellis Island: A Reader and Resource Guide includes * Entry interviews with immigrants * Descriptions of mental and physical health evaluations * Oral histories and memoirs of immigrants and immigration officers * Correspondence from the 1921 Commissioner of Immigration to the Secretary of Labor * Census information on immigrants * Photographs and prints from the 1800s to the present * Maps, charts, graphs, and political cartoons * Activities and topics for writing and discussion* A bibliography of related materials: books, videos, and CD-ROMs.

Emigration from Europe, 1815-1914 : Select Documents / edited by Charlotte Erickson. London : A. And C. Black, 1976. 320pp.  Main Library JV7590 .E45 1976

Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America. Primary Documents / edited by Jeffrey Lehman. Detroit, MI : Gale Group, c1999. 2 volumes. Main Library E184.A1 G15 1999 : Primary documents, including letters, articles, cartoons, photos, and songs, illuminate the experience of culture groups in the U.S. from colonial times to the present.

Immigrant Voices : New Lives in America, 1773-1986 / edited by Thomas Dublin. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1993.  319pp.  Main Library JV6450 .I553 1993 : Dublin offers a collection of first-person immigrant accounts of life in the United States. This book grew out of Dublin's desire to provide his undergraduates (he teaches history at SUNY-Binghamton) with a reader showing how immigrants saw and understood their own experiences. Dublin draws from a wide range of already published classic immigrant recollections, ranging from "The Diary of John Harrower" to "The Nguyen Family: From Vietnam to Chicago." There is a balance between accounts by men and women; two of the ten chapters are written by the children of immigrants. The selected bibliography is a particularly useful list of book-length first-person accounts.

Immigration : A Documentary and Reference Guide / edited by Thomas Cieslik, David Felsen, and Akis Kalaitzidis.  Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 2009. 351pp.  Main Library JV6465 .I46 2009 : The uncomfortable contemporary realities of immigration, enmeshed as they are in economic, human rights, and national security issues, have once again propelled foreign immigration to the United States toward the top of the list of U.S. domestic policy concerns. Three respected authorities on immigration and international affairs here present a carefully calibrated history of U.S. immigration in primary source documents, tracing the roots of the current debate in the history of our profoundly divided and surprisingly cyclical response to foreign immigration. This book documents this national ambivalence, identifying the major waves of immigration and clarifying the ways in which the existing social and political fabric conditioned both the response to the newcomers and their prospects of eventual integration into American society.

Immigration and the American tradition / edited by Moses Rischin. Indianapolis : Bobbs-Merrill, 1976.  456pp.  Main Library JV6450 .I56

In their own words : letters from Norwegian immigrants   / edited, translated and introduced by Solveig Zempel.  Minneapolis, Minn. : University of Minnesota Press, c1991.  225pp.    Main Library E184.S2 I5 1991  (also available online)  :

Irish immigrants in the land of Canaan : letters and memoirs from colonial and revolutionary America, 1675-1815 / written & edited by Kerby A. Miller ... [et al.].  New York : Oxford University Press, 2003. 788pp.  Main iLbrary E184.I6 I683 2003  (Also available online) : Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan is a monumental and pathbreaking study of early Irish Protestant and Catholic migration to America. Through exhaustive research and sensitive analyses of the letters, memoirs, and other writings, the authors describe the variety and vitality of early Irish immigrant experiences, ranging from those of frontier farmers and seaport workers to revolutionaries and loyalists. Largely through the migrants own words, it brings to life the networks, work, and experiences of these immigrants who shaped the formative stages of American society and its Irish communities.

Italians in the United States : a repository of rare tracts and miscellaneaNew York : Arno Press, 1975.  591pp.  Main Library E184.I8 I84  

Latin America and the United States : a documentary history / Robert H. Holden, Eric Zolov.  New York : Oxford University Press, 2011.  2nd edition, 414pp.  Main Library  F1418 .L354 2011  :  Brings together the most important documents on the history of the relationship between the United States and Latin America from the nineteenth century to the present. In addition to standard diplomatic sources, the book includes documents touching on the transnational concerns that are increasingly taught in the classroom, including economic relations, environmental matters, immigration, human rights, and culture. The collection illuminates key issues while representing a variety of interests and views as they have both persisted and shifted over time, including often-overlooked Latin American perspectives and U.S. public opinion. Now fully revised in its second edition, Latin America and the United States: A Documentary History features updated selections on current trends, including key new documents on immigration, regional integration, indigenous political movements, democratization, and economic policy. The second edition adds twenty-one documents and revises ten existing texts to ensure maximum clarity. The first edition's careful consideration of the Latin American perspective on hemispheric relations has been strengthened in the second edition, with many selections translated from the original Spanish by the editors. Comprehensive introductions to each document provide the reader with essential information about its historical context and significance. The book's detailed index identifies and cross-references the themes, events, problems, personalities, and nations discussed in both the documents and their introductions. Ideal for undergraduate and graduate courses in Latin American history and U.S.-Latin America relations, this book also serves as a unique reference tool for foreign policy professionals, international law specialists, journalists, and scholars in a variety of disciplines.

Major Problems in American Immigration and Ethnic History : Documents and Essays / edited by Jon Gjerde. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c1998.  486pp.  Main Library JV6450 .M36 1998 : This unique volume explores such themes as the political and economic forces that cause immigration; the alienation and uprootedness that often follow relocation; and the difficult questions of citizenship and assimilation.

Major Problems in Asian American history : documents and essays / edited by Lon Kurashige, Alice Yang Murray.  Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c2003.  522pp.  Main Library  E184.A75 M34 2003  : This collection, designed to be the primary anthology or textbook for courses in Asian American history, covers the subject's entire chronological span. The volume presents a carefully selected group of readings that requires students to evaluate primary sources, test the interpretations of distinguished historians, and draw their own conclusions.

Major problems in Mexican American history : documents and essays / edited by Zaragosa Vargas.  Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., c1999. Cesar Chavez Collection (1 East) E184.M5 M354 1999 : This volume in the Major Problems in American History series chronicles the history of Mexican-Americans from the pre-Colonial era through the present.  "... documents the presence of the largest Spanish-speaking Latino subgroup in the United States while it marks its contributions to the nation's life. The primary aim of this volume is to illustrate the Chicano experience from as many vantage points as possible, and with as many Chicano views as possible. The documents and essays gathered [in this book] invite readers to see Chicanos in their everyday life and in their organizational life"

News from the land of freedom : German immigrants write home / edited by Walter D. Kamphoefner, Wolfgang Helbich, and Ulrike Sommer ; translated by Susan Carter Vogel.  Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1991.  645pp.  Main Library  E184.G3 B7513 1991 : This superb contribution to American immigration history focuses on grass roots narratives of the everyday life of German immigrants to all parts of the US from 1820-1920. Letters in this volume are part of the Bochum Immigrant Letter Collection at Ruhr University-Bochum. This English translation of the German edition (1988) presents a truer picture of German immigration to the US than was possible heretofore, and demonstrates the highest standards of research and documentation. Written to relatives in Germany, these letters reveal family relationships, motives for coming to the US, economic and political orientations, varieties of work undertaken, Church affiliations and religious values, impressions of the new country, political activism, and cultural activites as methods through which German immigrants assimilated into the American mainstream. The essays that introduce each section are helpful in assessing what really happened to the family members whose correspondence describes their personal risks, tragedies, and wonderful successes. Letters of German settlers along the East Coast, in the central US, along the Texas gulf region, the Rockies, and the Far West are included providing a fairly typical cross-section of German immigration during the 19th century as a whole. The excellent editing of the letters as well as the clearly written syntheses of some family histories are marked by a charming and fluid style that captivates the reader.

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues : A Documentary History / edited by Michael LeMay and Elliott Robert Barkan.  Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1999.  336pp.  Gast Business Library KF4818 .I85 1999 : Explore immigration and naturalization issues throughout American history with this comprehensive collection of primary documents.  The era of unrestricted entry and unrestricted admission: Colonial Period to 1880 -- Limited naturalization, unlimited immigration: 1880 to 1920 -- Restrictions, refugees, and reform: 1920 to 1965 -- Immigration and naturalization in an age of globalization: 1965 to 1996.

Words of the Uprooted: Jewish Immigrants in Early Twentieth-Century America / [compiled by ] Robert A. Rockaway. Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 1998. 230pp.  Main Library E184.J5 W885 1998 ;  American Jewish leaders, many of German extraction, created the Industrial Removal Office (IRO) in 1901 in order to disperse unemployed Jewish immigrants from New York City to smaller Jewish communities throughout the United States. The IRO was designed to help refugees from persecution in the Pale of Russia find jobs and community support and, secondarily, to reduce the Manhattan ghettoes and minimize antisemitism. In twenty-one years, the IRO distributed seventy-nine thousand East European Jews to over fifteen hundred cities and towns, including Chino, California; Des Moines, Iowa; and Pensacola, Florida. Wherever they went, these twice-displaced immigrants wrote letters to the IRO's main office. Robert A. Rockaway has selected, and translated from Yiddish, letters that describe the immigrants' new surroundings, work conditions, and living situations, as well as letters that give voice to typical tensions between the immigrants and their benefactors. Rockaway introduces the letters with an essay on conditions in the Pale and on early American Jewish attempts to assist emigrants.

Microfilm Resources

The immigrant in America [microform].  Woodbridge, Conn. : Research Publications, [1983?-]  Microforms, 2 West 19148 Microfilm : Microfilm collection of books and pamphlets for most of the European immigrant groups for the period 1820-1929. Individual titles are in the online catalog. Guide is in Microforms Library Guide Collection: Z7164.I3 I57 1983.

Papers of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy [microform.]  Frederick, Md. : University Publications of America, c1983.   24 reels.  Microforms, 2 West  19379 Microfilm  Accompanying guide in Microforms Library Guide Collection: JV6415 .A3 1983

Voices from Ellis Island : an oral history of American immigration : a project of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Frederick, MD : University Publications of America, c1988.  8 microfilm reels.  Microforms, 2 West  27533 Microfilm r.8  -  Guide is in Microforms Library Guide Collection:; JV6450.D62 1988.
 

Selected CD-ROM Resources

The immigrant experience [electronic resource]  Woodbridge, CT : Primary Source Media, c1997 DMC CD-ROM Collection JV6450 .I54 1997 : Collection of primary sources concerning immigration to the United States. Includes time lines, essays, document descriptions, picture captions, maps.

Subject Guide

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