Task 3: American Society and Immigrant Experience

28 September 2010

Figure 1: Statue of Liberty. New York.

In today’s seminar for the Strand A section of our course, we discussed immigration, Jewish American culture and literature with Dr. Alan Gibbs, whose research interests involve Jewish American literature. Gibbs introduced the subject, which was relatively new to the majority of us, by looking at Emma Lazrus’ poem “The New Colossus” that is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.  An excellent reading of the poem can be viewed on Youtube . This poem captures the tone and theme of today’s class discussion because it refers to the millions of immigrants who travelled to America and passed through Ellis Island at New York harbour. Lazarus’ poem, with it position on the base of the Statue of Liberty, inadvertently becomes a welcoming plaque to all the immigrants travelling to the United States.

Figure 2: The Plaque at the Statue of Liberty. Wikipedia.

Gibbs advanced our discussion of immigration by displaying photographs of immigrants, immigrant conditions on board the ships and immigrants passing through Ellis Island’s quarantine on the overhead projector.

Figure 3: Photograph of Ellis Island. Blackboard Lecture Slides.

Figure 4: Photograph of Immigrants on board a ship. Blackboard Lecture Slides.

These photographs visually convey the hardship and degradation involved in immigration that the immigrants suffered in pursuit of a better life.  This led us to discussing the possible reasons why immigrants would risk their lives and their family’s lives by fleeing their home countries to come to a place where the conditions were no better if not worse.

The answer to the question ‘what were they escaping?’ cannot be answered in one simple sentence, as there is numerous reasons contributing to their departure from their homeland.  One reason is because of the pogroms in their home countries. The 600 anti-Jewish decrees and conscripting of boys from age 12-25 years by Tsar Nicolas I were all aimed at annihilating Jews. Jews were utilised as scapegoats for Russia’s economic hardships and held to blame for widespread poverty. The mass exodus of Jews westward to Europe and beyond to the United States in the summer of 1881 is a symptom of the widespread tradition of anti-Semitism.

[The rest of this section is completed in another part of my blog.]

2 responses to “Task 3: American Society and Immigrant Experience

  1. anne Tierney

    I have just being looking at your wonderful blog. I am interested in
    immigrants leaving Ireland and have seen a picture on your blog you have used in Figure 4: Photograph of Immigrants on board a ship. Blackboard Lecture Slides.
    Could you please tellme where you obtained it from and has it copyright . I would love to use it in a project we are doing


    • Dear Anne,
      thank you for your comment. I obtained the Figure 4 photograph from my lecturer’s overhead projector slides so, unfortunately, I don’t have the referencing citation for it. When I was posting it to my blog, I did a search of the web in an attempt to locate its origins and I did a search again after reading your comment, but to no avail. Yes, it is copyrighted material so a reference is required, if you are using it for academic purposes. My lecturer may have obtained it from the Library of Congress website (http://www.loc.gov/index.html). You might be able to locate it there or find a similar photograph. Best of luck with your project!

      Best wishes,

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