“20 Years of Irish-American History” and “No Lamps Were Lit for Them” (Reading Blog #17)

“Twenty Years of Irish-American History” by Kevin Kenny tries to examine Kerby Miller’s Emigrants and Exiles, which is regarded as the most influential work about Irish-American history. In the first part of the essay,  he looks at Miller’s argument that Irish rural culture was communal, static, dependent, and fatalistic. He also looks at Donald Akenson,  who states that the Irish had easier time thriving in Commonwealth nations (Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) than in the United States. In the second part of the essay, Kenny covers the criticism that Miller faced. One criticism that stood out to me was the fact that some, like Timothy Guinnane, found Miller’s Irish rural history too pessimistic, saying that it is “gloom and doom”. While I do agree that the life of Irish immigrants in America was indeed bad and terrible, I believe that at this point in time (around the mid-late 1800s) Irish people were better off somewhere else. In this part,  he also looks at several works that deal with the history of Irish immigrant women,  looking at both Miller’s and Guinnane’s view. To conclude his essay, Kenny states that the new methods used to approach history will have considerable merits for the study of ethnic nationalism and that works like Thomas N. Brown’s Irish-American Nationalism and even Emigrants and Exiles play a huge role in furthering the field.

“No Lamps Were Lit for Them”, an essay by Roger Daniels, covers the history of Angel Island, the main immigration station on the Pacific coast between 1910 and 1940. In the first part of the essay, Daniels covers the early history of the island when it was established as Fort McDowell. After the Civil War, the island was then used as the main entry point for Asian immigration into the United States. In the second part of the essay, he looks at some of the literature about Angel Island and how it mostly focuses on the Chinese. He also talks about the layout of the island and its two mess halls. I found his description of the two mess halls important because it shows the division between the Asians and Europeans who came through Angel Island. In this part,  he also states that there was some resistance by Chinese immigrants to Angel Islands, mostly in the form of lawsuits. He also mentions that following the San Fransico earthquake and fire in 1906, most Chinese immigrants successfully claimed that they were native-born citizens (the fire had destroyed much of the immigration records, so there was no way to dispute their claims). This would allow them to travel back and forth to China and work. To conclude his essay, Daniels states that Angel Island, just like Ellis Island in the east,  became a symbol to those that have had ancestors come through their doors and that we should not forget its history.

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