Tag Archives: immigration

Investigating the Past through Documentary Source Problems

“The traditional stay-at-home and mind-your-own-business policy laid down by [George] Washington was wise for a weak and struggling nation…”

–Henry Watterson, newspaper editor, interviewed in The New York Herald, June 22, 1898

Debra Schneider, social studies teacher at Merrill F. West High School, comments on The Debate over the Philippines, 1898 – 1900, one of the many Documentary Source Problems created by Roland Marchand for his U.C. Davis students with modified versions for use in middle and high school class rooms.

I use this primary source investigation to introduce America’s imperialism at the end of the 19th century to my high school juniors in a U.S. history class. In fact, it was this documentary source problem that finally got me to teach this topic; these documents and the teaching methods were better than any others I had seen before then. I use documents from both the middle school and high school lessons, and guide the students with many questions from the middle school lesson.

Though it takes some work for students to make sense of the formal and old-fashioned language, this lesson never fails to intrigue and engage students with the powerful sentiments these documents express. Once we make sense of the documents’ meanings, we practice reading them aloud, to give expression and passion to the words. Students immediately identify the racism:  “Can we hope to close the flood-gates of immigration from the hordes of Chinese and the semi-savage races;”  the insincerity: “I didn’t want the Philippines, and when they came to us, as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them;” how George Washington is being disrespected: “The traditional stay-at-home and mind-your-own-business policy laid down by [George] Washington was wise for a weak and struggling nation;” the pride: “We are taking our proper rank among the nations of the world,” and the abandonment of democratic principles: “You have no right at the cannon’s mouth to impose on an unwilling people your Declaration of Independence and your Constitution and your notions of freedom and notions of what is good.” The knowledge they construct with this lesson creates a good foundation for our study of American interventions for the rest of the 20th century.

As a way to have students “do history” we encourage you to consider using lessons from our collection of Documentary Source Problems. Each one includes background text,  one or more investigative or guiding questions, and some activities to help students analyze the document excerpts and form conclusions.  Let us know about your favorites!

Debra Schneider is a social studies teacher at Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, California, and a fellow of the U.C .Davis History Project and the Great Valley Writing Project.


19th-Century Advertising & Anti-Chinese Sentiments

"No more Chinese cheap labor," exclusionist, c. 1880


Today’s post comes to us from Wendy Rouse who teaches United States history at San Jose State University.  Her book “Children of Chinatown: Growing up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850-1920” examines the unique experiences of Chinese immigrant children living in San Francisco during the exclusion era.

Chinese immigrants began arriving in the United States in large numbers following the discovery of gold in California in 1848.  After work in the mines dwindled, many Chinese immigrants found employment for the railroads, in agriculture or in factories.  Others opened their own businesses operating laundries, restaurants, and stores. Economic depression and nativist sentiment created hostility toward foreigners in the 1870s.  White laborers worried that a cheap Chinese labor force represented a threat to their own jobs.   Hostility often led to violent attempts to oust the Chinese from cities and towns in the West. Anti-Chinese politicians and labor leaders gained political power especially in places like California.  These groups successfully lobbied for the passage of legislation that would restrict the number of Chinese who could immigrate into the country.  In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act effectively banned Chinese immigrants from coming to the United States.

The above advertisement for celluloid collars was created during this era of intense anti-Chinese sentiment and is especially useful in helping students understand the intensity of the hostility toward Chinese immigrants.  The Chinese laundryman in the image is visibly upset about the potential of losing his business as a result of the invention of “celluloid cuffs, collars & bosoms” which required less starching and washing than traditional collars and would therefore eliminate the need for services offered by Chinese laundries. A happy Uncle Sam looks on as Columbia points to the writing on the wall which indicates that the invention means “no more Chinese cheap labor.”  The caption “Othello’s Occupation’s Gone” suggests identification between Shakespeare’s character Othello and the Chinese immigrant.  This advertisement reflects the popular attitude of the era that the “Chinese must go.”  In this case, however, it is not exclusion laws or violence that drives the Chinese out, but invention and therefore the advance of industrialization and modern civilization which is driving out the Chinese immigrant.

For more on this topic see Roland Marchand’s documentary source problem “THE CHINESE MUST GO!!!–The debate over the California Constitutional Convention available for university, high school and middle school classrooms.


Political Cartoons Provide Perspective

Title: “The Mortar of Assimilation,” 1889

"The Mortar of Assimilation," 1889

Description from Roland Marchand: The one unmixable element in the national pot was the Irish. A female U.S. figure, (“Uncle Samantha”?) stirs various stereotypes of different nationalities into the American melting pot, in “The Mortar of Assimilation,” 1889.

Political cartoons can be a powerful classroom tool. At best, they present issues clearly, allowing students to analyze multiple perspectives without the language challenges that they might find in a text-based primary source. The key to success is careful selection and preparation. Since political cartoons capture issues from the time of creation, some can overwhelm with details so it is important to choose those that depict an issue clearly and are relatively free of obscure references. It is equally important to anticipate where students may need additional context or background prior to attempting analysis. Finally, help students understand how political cartoon artists use caricatures, or drawings that exaggerate certain features or stereotypes, to indicate who the cartoon is about.

There are many ways to support student analysis of political cartoons. The Library of Congress for example, has a generic analysis guide available here, and a guide to persuasive techniques here, but a short set of carefully crafted questions can also be a simple and effective way for students to engage in analysis.

“The Mortar of Assimilation” is one of four political cartoons featured in an immigration lesson that asks students to investigate arguments made by Americans opposed to immigration in the late nineteenth century. This lesson, created by  middle school teacher Sara Schnack, is one of the image-centered investigations in the Marchand Archive’s Documentary Source Problems Collection.

For more political cartoons and other images related to immigration, browse the Marchand Image Collection “topic/themes” Immigration, Immigrants and Immigrant Societies and Organization.

Join the conversation! Share your favorite political cartoons and analysis techniques here.