Becoming An "American": Immigration, Culture and Society in 20th Century America

History 103D.003

Spring 2007
Instructor (text): 
2303 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
Wed 2-4

";Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history."; Oscar Handlin, The Uprooted, 1951

American history is largely the story of immigration. Through novels, memoirs, autobiographies, diaries, letters, and documentary films, we will investigate how American culture and society changed the lives of different groups of immigrants and how they, in turn, have transformed this country's racial, economic, political and cultural life.

Immigrant experiences varied considerably, depending on a person's gender, and his or her national, ethnic, racial and educational background. Equally important was when an individual or a family arrived during the 20th century. Students will explore the many obstacles and opportunities encountered by different groups of immigrants as they reinvented--by embracing or rejecting aspects of consumer culture, language acquisition, an individualistic ethos, and a racial identity --what it has meant to become an ";American.";

In addition to learning about cycles of nativism and xenophobia, students will also study the changing laws and policies that affected immigrants, and grapple with the different ideals of a melting pot, pluralism, multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. In addition, all seminar participants will attend a research workshop at which a librarian will help them identify available primary sources at U.C Berkeley and other collections. As part of the seminar, students will learn how to interpret and analyze primary sources, so that they can use them effectively in their final research papers.

These are among some of the questions we will explore in this seminar: Why did a particular group emigrate to the U.S? What were their expectations? How were they treated by those who came before them? How did their culture of origin help or hinder them? Why were some groups accepted more easily than others as ";Americans?"; How did the migration of African Americans to the North affect both them and the society they entered? What role did religion, language acquisition and race play in each immigrant experience? How did different immigrants imagine America, in their literature, letters and diaries? Did immigrants encounter something they viewed as a ";dominant culture"; and if so, what did they think were its core values and major characteristics? Why did some groups embrace that dominant culture, while others rejected them? Was there a gendered immigrant experience?

All students will write a final paper that involves both primary sources that evaluate the usefulness and accuracy of particular theoretical and historiographical approaches.
Those students expecting to write their thesis in any related area of 20th century social and cultural American history, very broadly construed, will be asked to write a thesis ";pre-prospectus"; outlining a possible topic for their theses and some primary sources they would use in writing it.

Ruth Rosen is a Professor Emerita of History at the U.C. Davis where she taught American history, women's history, immigration history and public policy for over two decades. The recipient of the University of California at Davis Distinguished Teaching Award and many other national research fellowships, she has taught and lectured all over the world. She is the editor of the The Maimie Papers, and the author of The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1982; and The World Split Open: How The Modern Women's Movement Changed America 2001. An award-winning journalist, she has also worked as an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. She is currently a visiting professor of history at U.C. Berkeley.