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Capozzola, Christopher, 21H.221 The Places of Migration in United States History, Fall 2006. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 10 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

The Places of Migration in United States History

Fall 2006

Black/white photo of immigrants on steerage deck of ship.
"The Steerage" by Alfred Stieglitz (1907). (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction number: C-USZ62-62880 [b&w film copy neg.].)

Course Highlights

This course features lecture notes and an extensive list of readings. This course also features archived syllabi from various semesters.

Course Description

This course examines the history of the United States as a "nation of immigrants" within a broader global context. It considers migration from the mid-19th century to the present through case studies of such places as New York's Lower East Side, South Texas, Florida, and San Francisco's Chinatown. It also examines the role of memory, media, and popular culture in shaping ideas about migration. The course includes optional field trip to New York City.


Syllabus Archive

The following syllabi come from a variety of different terms. They illustrate the evolution of this course over time, and are intended to provide alternate views into the instruction of this course.

Fall 2008, Christopher Capozzola


The course calendar is available below.


The idea that the United States is a "nation of immigrants" is one of the fundamental premises of American history and popular culture. Of course, the United States is historically a nation of immigrants. Yet cross-border migration characterizes the experience of many nations, and even this nation of immigrants has had a changing and uneasy relationship to actual immigrants in our communities. This class takes up the challenge of examining migration in United States history from a global perspective, and does so by looking at migration from the perspective of several individual places. Some of them are familiar sites; others may be less so. Some, too, are conceptual places ("Chinatown," "Hollywood," "Ellis Island") that can be both conceptual and real. We will examine how ideas and representations of immigration have also shaped politics, economics, and demography in the modern United States.

Chronologically, the class begins in the late nineteenth century, with two founding moments: the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (the first major federal law regulating immigration) and the establishment of the immigration processing center at Ellis Island in 1891. These events responded to and ushered in an era of mass migration from Europe and Asia that is the focus of the first half of the course. In the semesters second half, we will focus on the mass migrations since the mid-1960s, returning to many of the sites we studied earlier. We will also visit several area sites to get to examine the history and culture of immigration. Right now two trips are planned: one to New York City, another to Lawrence, Massachusetts. These are not required, but strongly recommended.

Grading and Requirements

Collaborative Research Project 10%
Writing Exercises 10%
Class Participation 20%
Short Paper (3-5 Pages) 20%
Research Paper (11-14 Pages) 40%

The success of this class depends on the active participation of all students. Class participation (20%) represents a substantial portion of the grade, and will be evaluated in terms of preparation, participation in large and small group discussion, active listening, collaboration, and overall contributions to the class experience during the term. Needless to say, if you do not attend a class it is impossible for you to contribute to it. In preparation for discussion, you may be asked to write short response papers or send me your thoughts and questions by email. Completion of these exercises will factor in your participation grade. An additional portion of the grade will be based on participation, preparation, and presentation of the collaborative research project (10%) at the end of the semester.

Everyone will write one 3-5 pages essay (20%) and a longer 11-14 pages essay (40%) on a topic of your choosing. Preparatory writing exercises (10%) will help students develop a topic, a bibliography, and an argument in advance of the final paper itself. There are no midterms or final examinations in this class. Adherence to standards of academic honesty is required; if you have any questions about how to go about your writing or cite your sources, don't hesitate to ask.


Part 1: Then
1 Lecture and Discussion: Where is Immigration History?  
2 Lecture: European Migrants at the Turn of the Century  
3 Discussion  
4 Lecture: Asian Immigrants at the Turn of the Century  
5 Discussion  
Mapping Lawrence, Mapping Chinatown

Multimedia Resources

Informal Student Presentations

7 Film: Farmingville Short paper due
8 Lecture and Discussion: The World of Caribbean Migration  
The Border
9 Lecture and Discussion: The Border/Nuestra America  
10 Lecture: Was the Great Migration Great?  
11 Discussion  

Discussion (cont.)

Film: The Jazz Singer

Research paper topic due

Film: The Jazz Singer (cont.)

The Lower East Side
14 Lecture: Remembering Ethnicity in an Age of Multiculturalism  
15 Discussion  
  Trip to New York City  
Part 2: Now
The "New" Immigration
16 Lecture and Discussion: What's New about "New Immigration"?  

Film: The New Los Angeles

Brainstorming for Collaborative Research Project

Research paper prospectus due
18 Lecture: American Imperialism and Filipino/a Experience  
19 Discussion  
Collaborative Research Project: U.S. - Mexico Border Relations
20-21 Discussion  
22 Guest Lecturer: Raúl Rubio on the Cuban-American Experience  
23 Lawrence  
24 Paper Meetings  
25 Student Presentations on U.S.-Mexico Border Relations  

Film: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Research paper due   Tell A Friend