I teach general graduate and undergraduate courses in American immigration and ethnic history as well as more specific graduate and undergraduate courses in Irish American history, my specialty. In all my graduate and undergraduate courses I use the article “The Invention of Ethnicity” by Kathleen Conzen et al., in the Journal of American Ethnic History, 1992, as well as Charles Tilly’s “Transplanted Networks,” in Virginia Yans-McLaughlin’s Immigration Reconsidered (Oxford, 1990). They establish two of the most important theoretical frameworks for the courses: first, that assimilation is a poor, not very helpful, way to talk about the history of ethnic groups in America and that it is better to understand that ethnic groups and communities are shaped in the historical contingencies of space and time; second, that immigration is a social process, that networks are critical to who leaves one country and why, and how those people adapt in a new one. In my graduate course, I have used Deborah Dash Moore’s fine books, At Home in America (Columbia UP, 1981) and To the Golden Cities (Harvard UP, 1996), to illustrate both this kind of change over time and variation over space, and books by Chris McNickle, To Be Mayor of New York (Columbia UP, 1993), and Joshua Zeitz, White Ethnic New York (UNC Press, 2007), on Jewish and other ethnic politics in New York City. In my undergraduate course, I have used the example of Jewish emigration in a discussion of the causes of emigration, and lectured on the history of interactions between German Jews and east European Jews as a case study in the evolution of ethnic groups. That lecture comes in the first half of the course, when I draw on the history of several groups to establish the general principles and themes of the course.
In that part of the course, I have also given the students copies of two pages of passenger lists from ships carrying Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants from European ports to New York in the early twentieth century, and asked them to pick out and quantify the most important differences among the three groups of immigrants. Those differences are dramatic (perhaps even exaggerated in these small samples, though I chose the pages randomly), and the exercise in studying them powerfully illustrates the variety among immigrants in who came and how they came to America: single Irish women often migrating in migration chains made up largely of other Irish women; single and married Italian men traveling in small bands without their families, many of them returning to America after previous visits; and Jewish families, led by wives and mothers, traveling with their children to meet husbands in America. They illustrate not only the diversity of migration experience, but also the critical significance and variety of networks in the migration process.
Finally, in my undergraduate Irish American course, I have devoted a class to the antisemitic Father Charles Coughlin. I have a joint appointment as both a tenured member of the history faculty and director of Catholic University’s Archives and Manuscript Collections. Some years ago we discovered two cryptically and confusingly labeled recordings in our holdings. We were able to have them digitized. One was a recording of Monsignor John Ryan’s broadcast in 1936, organized by the Democratic Party, defending Franklin Roosevelt against attacks by Coughlin. The other turned out to be a national broadcast, sponsored by Catholic University, of talks by ve bishops and Al Smith in 1938, condemning Kristallnacht, four days after that Nazi atrocity. For the class session in my Irish American history course I invited Dr. Maria Mazzenga, the education archivist at our archives and an expert on Catholic antisemitism, to speak on the Ryan-Coughlin controversy. We have teaching websites focusing on each of the broadcasts with contextualizing historical background and documents. They can be found at the Catholic University Archives, American Catholic History Classroom website: http://cuomeka.wrlc.org/exhibits.
Timothy J. Meagher is associate professor of History and curator of American Catholic History Collections at Catholic University. He co-edited with Ronald Bayor a collection of essays, The New York Irish (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), and is the author of Inventing Irish America (University of Notre Dame Press, 2001) and The Columbia Guide to Irish American History (Columbia University Press, 2005).