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HST 201 (Fernandez): Immigration and Racial Formation in the 20th Century: Primary Sources

The Immigrants

Welcome to the land of freedom. An ocean steamer passing the Statue of Liberty: Scene on the steerage deck

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.

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.

Immigration.  This feature presentation links educators to primary sources from the Library of Congress' online collections. These Web resources can make history come alive for students! The feature provides an introduction to the study of immigration to the United States. It is far from the complete story, and focuses only on the immigrant groups that arrived in greatest numbers during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The presentation was shaped by the primary sources available in the Library's online collections and these questions:

  • What happened to the Native American as waves of immigrants arrived from other nations?
  • Which nations yielded the most significant numbers of immigrants to the United States?
  • Why did each immigrant group come to the United States?
  • When did each immigrant group come to the United States?
  • Where did the groups settle, both initially and in subsequent migrations?
  • How were the immigrants received by the current citizens of this nation?
  • How did United States government policies and programs affect immigration patterns?
  • How did United States government policies and programs affect immigrants' assimilation into the life of the nation?
  • What role did the distribution of resources (natural and man-made) play in the immigration and subsequent migration patterns of immigrants?
  • How did economic conditions impact the immigrants' experience?
  • How did cultural heritage affect an immigrant's place of settlement?
  • What impact did immigrant cultural traditions have on the United States?

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."

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.

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

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