Understanding the American Past: American History and Its Interpretation

By Edward N. Saveth | Go to book overview

The Third-Generation American

by MARCUS L. HANSEN

[ "The Problem of the Third-Generation Immigrant," from Augustana Historical Society Publications ( 1938). Reprinted by permission.]

The continuous stream of immigrants to this country's shores from all parts of the world has been a unique feature of American history. For a long time, however, the historiography of immigration was largely in the hands of the amateur historian and the filiopietist who, while serving as trail blazers for latecoming professional historians, frequently did so in the spirit of attempting to prove that the peoples they were writing about were as good as, nay better than, other ethnic groups in the American population. John Fiske, no innocent himself when it came to singing the praises of the Anglo-Saxon, nevertheless was quite justified in wondering in connection with extravagant claims of achievement made by the ethnic historians, "whether the people about whom we are reading . . .ever left anything for other people to do. . . ."1

In the 1920's the field of immigration found an outstanding advocate among professional historians in the person of Marcus L. Hansen . His essay "The History of American Immigration as a Field for Research" pointed out a great many avenues of historical investigation connected with the impact of immigration on American development, and he invited scholars to explore this rich field.2

American historians, however, did not respond to Hansenas they did to the Turner thesis. Nevertheless, with the growing emphasis upon minority problems in the 1930's and 1940's -- among the mass of good, bad, and indifferent literature ground out in this area -- some notable work in the history of immigration was done by

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