Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life

By Thomas T. McAvoy | Go to book overview

VINCENT P. DE SANTIS*


IX. The American Historian Looks at the Catholic Immigrant

More than thirty years ago Marcus L. Hansen wrote his essay entitled, "The History of American Immigration as a Field for Research,"1 in which he suggested a number of problems having to do with immigration and its place in American history. But in the years that have followed, and in spite of the ever-increasing literature on all aspects of American history, only a few of Hansen's ideas have been explored, and most of the problems that he pointed out for possible examination still await investigation. Immigration as a field of study has been neglected by American historians in general, and very much neglected by historians of Catholicism in the United States. In fact, only a few really serious and scientific studies of Catholic immigration exist. Outside of the studies of Thomas N. Brown and Fathers Colman Barry and James P. Shannon one is hard put to find an objective study of the Catholic immigrant by a trained historian.2 Were it not for scholars like Hansen, Carl Wittke, Oscar Handlin, and Arnold Schreier, whose primary interests are elsewhere than that of American Catholicism, very little would have been done at all about the Catholic immigrant. Thus it is a formidable and hazardous task to deal with a problem about which the evidence is only slightly known.

This is not to say that writers have ignored the Catholic immigrant any more than they have avoided the general question of immigration, for an enormous literature on the latter subject has been built up over the years. But until recently, the field of immigration seldom attracted

____________________
*
Dr. Vincent P. De Santis is Associate Professor of History in the University of Notre Dame and a contributor to historical periodicals on political history.
1
Marcus Lee Hansen, The Immigrant in American History ( Cambridge, Mass., 1848), pp. 191-217. This essay first appeared in the American Historical Review, XXXII ( 1926- 1927), 500-518.
2
Colman J. Barry, The Catholic Church and German Americans ( Milwaukee, 1953); James P. Shannon, Catholic Colonization on the Western Frontier ( New Haven, 1957); Thomas N. Brown, "The Origins and Character of Irish-American Nationalism," Review of Politics, XVIII ( 1956), 327-358.

-225-

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