Choose a sentence or section from the text only about Irish immigration. Copy and paste the sentence or section into your discussion. Now briefly explain how your choice illustrates the concept of change over time?Also, answer: How does this article give you a better understanding of the changing perception of Irish immigrants in America? What forces allowed the Irish to be assimilated into U.S. culture, despite initial resistance?


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Theme: Approaches to History
How can thinking like a historian be useful even if you’re not looking to become a historian yourself?
This course will show you how applying historical thinking skills can benefit you, no matter what you’re
looking to learn at SNHU. In this course, we’ll show you the value of historical thinking across
(Click icon for citation)
To start, we’ll explore the ways in which
historians typically approach understanding
historical events in the eight learning blocks that
make up Theme: Approaches to History. In order
to understand how historians think, we’ll first
establish why historians look at historical events:
they identify historically significant events of
interest to them and choose a specific historical
lens they will use to analyze those events. Next,
we’ll establish what historians do to analyze
historical events: they develop and refine a
research question to focus their analysis, develop
search terms based on their research question, and
locate primary and secondary sources to
determine the context of their historical event.
Finally, we’ll close Theme: Approaches to History by walking you through the process of drafting a
writing plan. Even if they don’t write a formal writing plan like you will be doing, all historians begin to
write a historical event analysis with some kind of strategy in mind—a plan for finding information in
primary and secondary sources that will help them answer their research questions and enhance their
understanding of the topic at hand.
This approach is actually pretty similar to approaches used in different fields, if you think about it. In
drafting a proposal for a business plan, an entrepreneur would identify a gap in the market for a new
good or service, research what evidence could help make a case for this gap, and develop an argument to
a potential investor in order to secure funding. This approach might also remind you of the scientific
method used in the physical sciences in which a natural phenomenon is observed, investigated, and
tested in order to draw a conclusion.
Although we’re looking at history in this course, keep in mind that the skills you are refining here are
also relevant in other, sometimes unexpected, fields of study at the university.
Course Outcomes
After completing this theme, you should be able to:
Apply key approaches to studying history in addressing critical questions related to historical
narratives and perspectives
Select appropriate and relevant primary and secondary sources in investigating foundational historic
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Theme: Approaches to History | Learning Block 1-1: The Rights of
Over the centuries, millions of immigrants have journeyed to America. Most sought to fit into American
society, yet most also sought to hold onto certain aspects of their native lands. The experience of
different immigrant groups illustrates the difficulty of “fitting in” and attaining the full range of rights
that the Constitution guarantees to all citizens, when one is perceived as somehow different from native­
born Americans.
In this theme, we will look at the experiences of two different immigrant groups—the Irish and the
Québécois, French­speaking immigrants from Quebec—who came to America in large numbers during
the 19th century. Looking at the experiences of these two groups will help us learn how to begin to think
like historians: to assess the historical significance of events, to place them in context, and to understand
the different perspectives, or lenses, through which we can view these events. You will begin developing
the historical thinking skills necessary to ask questions, investigate sources, and begin outlining your
historical analysis essay, using these two immigrant groups as backdrops.
Learning Objectives
In this learning block, you will:
Be introduced to the core concept of this theme: the rights of immigrants
Learn about the concept of historical significance
Apply the concept of historical significance to your own experience
The Rights of Immigrants
The United States, as the saying goes, is a nation of immigrants. In 2014, according to the U.S. Census
Bureau, 13.3 percent of all Americans were foreign­born (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014), while everyone
else—including Native Americans—was descended from someone who, however long ago, came here
from somewhere else.
That simple fact defines America as something different from most other countries: a place whose
national identity is not rooted solely in geography or ethnicity but which comprises such shared values as
democracy, liberty, opportunity, and upward mobility.
Ellis Island was the main entry facility for immigrants entering the United
States between 1892 and 1954. (Click icon for citation)
But it is also a fact that America, as a nation, has not always embraced newcomers to its shores. For
many immigrant groups, the path to acceptance—and the ability to exercise the full panoply of rights
enjoyed by native­born Americans—has been a tortuous one.
There is a strong strain of nativism that runs through American culture and society. Especially in times
of economic hardship, immigrants have been demonized for “taking American jobs”; at other times they
have been victims of religious or racial/ethnic discrimination. The struggle of different immigrant groups
to overcome these obstacles, and to be incorporated fully into American society and economic life, is a
crucial element of the American story. (Schrag, 2010)
Immigrants came here from many countries, and they entered the country through many different ports.
Perhaps the most famous gateway was Ellis Island in New York Harbor—the first federal immigration
station, through which 12 million immigrants passed. Today, Ellis Island, as part of the Statue of Liberty
National Monument, stands as a symbol of the American immigrant experience.
Kimball, A. (1997, March 31). Ways of Seeing History. Retrieved from
Schrag, P. (2010, September 13). The Unwanted: Immigration and Nativism in America. Retrieved from­immigration­and­nativism­america
U.S. Census Bureau (2014). American FactFinder fact sheet: Selected Characteristics of the Native and Foreign­
Historical Significance
Significance is one of the most important concepts in the study of history. Historical significance is
closely related to the concept of importance, but it implies a higher standard: lots of events may seem
important at the time they take place, but how many are historically significant? Historical significance
can help us understand the experience of immigrant groups in the United States.
Historians generally rate historical significance by asking four key questions:
How notable, or important, was the event at the time it occurred?
Did the event affect a great many people?
Were the consequences of the event extensive and enduring?
Does the event symbolize or relate to broader historical trends? (Phillips, 2002)
To gain a better understanding of the concept of historical significance, watch the video below:
Video Transcript: Historical Significance
From the historian’s standpoint, significance is a measure of whether an event or person is worth
remembering, worth teaching about, and worth being the subject of historical research. Human
history consists of every event that’s ever happened, but only a few are remembered and taught
about many years later. Those are the events with historical significance. Think about your own
personal history. You’ve probably done a lot of different things today: eat lunch, worked out, drove
to work, walked the dog. Maybe you’ve done something genuinely important, such as paying your
mortgage or calling your mother on her birthday. Thirty years from now, when you’re writing your
autobiography, would you write about any of the things you did today? If not, then those events are
not historically significant moments in your life. An individual might be considered historically
significant if he or she is connected in some way to a larger historical event or trend. John F.
Kennedy, the great grandson of Irish immigrants, was a historically significant figure because of his
close involvement in many momentous events: the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the
Space Race, and the American involvement in Vietnam, to name just a few. Other individuals may
be considered more or less historically significant through their connection to historically
significant events. Let’s say your grandfather was an immigrant from Ireland who enlisted in the US
army and fought in World War II. That fact alone lends him some degree of historical significance.
He would be seen as a more historically significant figure if he had a direct impact on the course of
events during the war, say, as a battlefield commander or as a participant in a major turning point in
the war, such as the D­Day invasion. Similarly, if your great grandmother emigrated from Quebec
at the turn of the last century, and then sang in a radio program broadcast by radio station KDKA in
Pittsburgh, one of the first regularly scheduled radio stations in the nation, she would have had
some measure of historical significance. She would be seen as a more significant figure if she had
gone onto a career as a radio network personality in New York, say, or if she had become an
official of AFTRA, the labor union for radio and later television performers. By this measure, most
people can claim some measure of historical significance. The task of the historian, however, is to
make a judgement about which events and people are significant enough to write about and to
teach. Historians make those judgments after looking at evidence and considering events and
individuals in light of the historical context. It’s important to remember that historical significance
is not an absolute. One group of people might consider an event or person to be historically
significant while other groups may not. An event may be significant to people in one part of the
world or one region of the country, but not to those who live elsewhere. But it remains the job of
the historian to judge which events and individuals are so historically significant that they merit
being written about and studied by future generations.
Kimball, A. (1997, March 31). “Ways of Seeing History.” Retrieved from
Phillips, R. (2002). Historical Significance – The Forgotten “Key Element?” Teaching History (106) (March 2002)
14­19. Retrieved from­
The process by which immigrant communities, over time, integrate themselves into their host society is
known as assimilation. In America, this process generally involves the gradual adoption of the English
language, along with American culture and values, by the immigrant group. Full assimilation is said to
occur when members of a particular group are indistinguishable from the rest of American society.
(Brown and Bean, 2006)
Throughout American history, assimilation has generally been assumed to be the logical and desired end
result for any immigrant group coming to America. This assumption is not universally shared, however,
and some immigrant groups have resisted assimilation by holding on to their native language, food, and
cultural practices. Other immigrants saw themselves as “birds of passage,” coming to America to take
advantage of the greater economic opportunities here but returning home after they’d earned enough
money to live comfortably in their native lands.
Sociologists measure assimilation by the extent to which members of an immigrant group:
Improve their socioeconomic status, making it comparable to national norms;
Increase geographic mobility, moving beyond the ethnic enclaves in which many immigrants
first settle;
Adopt English as a second and, eventually, first language; and
Intermarry—that is, marry people from outside their ethnic group or community. (Waters and
Jiménez, 2005)
Barriers to Assimilation
The classic theory of assimilation holds that immigrants inevitably become more “Americanized” with
the passage of time. But there are many barriers to assimilation that can delay or even prevent a group’s
full assimilation. (Brown and Bean, 2006)
Language is one of the primary barriers to assimilation. Immigrant groups whose members speak
English may find it easier to assimilate than members of other groups, though this is not always the case.
Race may also block a group’s assimilation into American society. The nation’s tragic history of racial
division has had a long­lasting impact on American society; the simple fact is that having a darker skin
color undeniably marks a person as different from the majority of white Americans. For that reason
alone, an English­speaking immigrant from Nigeria, for example, might find it harder to “blend in” than
an English­speaking immigrant from Scotland.
Finally, religion has historically been a major barrier to assimilation. From the earliest colonial days,
religious minorities have often faced prejudice and discrimination in America. From the anti­Catholic
riots of the 19th century to the widespread anti­Semitism of the 20th century to the anti­Muslim
sentiment of the post­9/11 era, religious prejudices have proven to be a powerful impediment to
Brown, S. and Bean, F. (2006, October 1) Assimilation Models, Old and New: Explaining a Long­Term Process.
Retrieved from­models­old­and­new­explaining­long­term­
Kimball, A. (1997, March 31). Ways of Seeing History. Retrieved from
Phillips, R. (2002). Historical Significance—The Forgotten “Key Element?” Teaching History (106) 14­19.
Schrag, P. (2010, September 13). The Unwanted: Immigration and Nativism in America. Retrieved from­immigration­and­nativism­america
U.S. Census Bureau (2014). American FactFinder fact sheet: Selected Characteristics of the Native and Foreign­
Waters, M. and Jiménez, T. (2005). Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenges.
Annual Review of Sociology 31 (1): 105 ­ 125. DOI:10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.100026
Theme: Approaches to History | Learning Block 1-2: Historical Thinking
Studying history is not a matter of memorizing names and dates. Studying history is an effort to make
sense of the past—to understand why certain events took place and to draw from that understanding
larger conclusions about human society.
To do all that requires a particular mindset, a way of looking at the events of the past that allows us to
see connections and causalities that may elude the casual observer. Thinking like a historian is a vital
skill, and learning that skill is one of the central goals of this course. The skills you learn in this course
will be useful both in completing your historical analysis essay and in your future studies at SNHU.
Learning Objectives
In this learning block, you will:
Be introduced to the concept of historical lenses
Learn to look at historical events through different lenses
Thinking Like a Historian
For too many people, history is an unconnected list of names and dates—a litany of people and events
that needs to be memorized but not necessarily understood.
Needless to say, that’s not the way historians think about history. They know that history, in the most
fundamental sense, is a story: a complex narrative with lots of moving, interdependent parts, all of which
inform and instruct us about the past. And historical thinking is a way to think about the world that helps
us understand not only the past, but the present. (Wineburg, 2010)
The first step toward thinking like a historian is to understand that there is no single, “right” way to look
at history. Studying history is all about interpretation—how we try to make sense of events and
individuals from the past. Different historians may have different interpretations of the same event, but
neither one is necessarily right or wrong. What matters is how well each interpretation meshes with the
historical evidence. (Cohen, 2011)
There are many different kinds of historical evidence: documents, artifacts, buildings, paintings or
photographs, and oral histories, to name just a few. But it’s also important to realize the many things that
are not historical evidence: opinion, rumor, propaganda, and political rhetoric, among many others.
Example: Thinking Historically by Examining the Impact of Irish Immigration
The Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s led to an enormous movement of Irish immigrants to the United
States. But what were the most important effects of this historical event?
One historian might argue that the vast influx of Irish immigrants was good for the American economy
because it contributed to the rapid industrialization of the American North, providing a large pool of
cheap factory labor in the major coastal cities where most of the immigrant Irish settled. Another
historian might argue that Irish immigration, regardless of its effects on industrialization, had a
destabilizing effect on American society because it led to urban overcrowding, public health problems
caused by slum­like conditions, and social conflict arising from religious differences.
Neither interpretation is necessarily right or wrong. And it’s entirely possible that both could be justified
by the historical evidence, which in this case would include the number of industrial jobs created in
Northern cities in the 1840s and 1850s; statistics on housing and infectious diseases; and contemporary
accounts of anti­Catholic discrimination and violence.
Historical Lenses
Different historians can develop different interpretations of the same event because they are looking at
that event from different perspectives and emphasizing some pieces of historical evidence more than
The different perspectives from which historians approach the task of historical research are known as
historical lenses. More generally, the study of historical methods, and of the techniques for researching
and writing history, is known as historiography.
Historical lenses are often referred to as categories of history or approaches to history. This is not meant
to be an exhaustive list of the way historians examine different aspects of history, however. (Endy, 2015)
As you begin to think about what topic you would like to explore further for your historical analysis
essay, you will want to consider through which historical lens (or lenses) you will examine the different
aspects of the event.
Political history
political events, parties, elections, voters, and government actions
Social history
social structures and processes and, more generally, the conditions that prevail in an entire society at
a particular point in history
Military history
military leaders, battles, and strategy
Economic history
economies or economic phenomena of the past
Religious history
religious ideas, movements, and institutions
Cultural history
culture and the arts …
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