The uprooted handlin thesis

Further Reading on Oscar Handlin

Whether Handlin was gratified by this source of instant association with a neat turn of phrase or was frustrated that his meaning was seldom gotten correctly, we can no longer know. Handlin died in at the age of 95, and to the best of my knowledge was never asked directly about the question that is being raised here, even though it is one of considerable consequence for understanding his canonical work. Like most historians, he probably hoped that his text ultimately provided the answers to whatever puzzles or paradoxes he placed within it.

In this essay, at times I will speak—sympathetically but not uncritically—for Handlin, an obviously risky method, but one I hope readers will find acceptable to the extent that the author no longer can speak for himself. That the two famous sentences have become central to his legacy was clear at the time of his death.


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The Washington Post and the New York Times , whose obituaries constitute our most authoritative public record on recently deceased eminent Americans, both quoted them. To be sure, the deeper you go, the more mixed the quality of the results of such a web search, principally because there is a great deal of repetition of entries.

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But the volume of quotation is still astonishing, and seems to establish the opening sentences of The Uprooted as American historiography's "Four score and seven years ago. Web and traditional literature searches alike reveal that a great many people aspire to bask in the reflective glow of Handlin's words. Whether found in a book, a news article, an advertisement for an immigration attorney, a syllabus, a lesson plan, a publisher's announcement of a new book in immigration studies, a conference paper, a journal article, or someone's blog, the use of Handlin's statement fulfills one of a relatively few distinct purposes—purposes sometimes in conflict with one another.

Oscar Handlin

Several are critical of Handlin himself, while acknowledging his authority to declaim as he did and acknowledging the interpretive importance of The Uprooted. By far the greatest use of the quotation is at the beginning of a text to establish the claim that immigration is an abidingly important, maybe the most important, aspect of our past, and, hence, that what one is about to read has claims to the same significance.

Close behind are the instances of use that make this point but add that immigration or immigrants have been neglected, misunderstood, or misconceived as forces in history or the present.

The latter remarks sometimes make the point that this was the case until Handlin published The Uprooted and began the displacement of the study of high politics, Founding Fathers, and WASP elites in favor of studies emphasizing ordinary people and daily life. These are banal points that Handlin would have hardly contested, except in two instances. First, while Handlin doubtless believed that immigration was important, the reach Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

Handlin decided to become an historian at the age of eight. He graduated from Brooklyn College in Handlin taught at Brooklyn College from , during which time he married Mary Flug, and began his long career on the Harvard University faculty in The book was highly regarded for its innovative research involving sociological concepts, census data, and the previously untapped immigrant press; in , the book won the prestigious Dunning Prize from the American Historical Association for being the outstanding historical work published by a young scholar that year.

Oscar Handlin | Harvard Square Library

Handlin was a prolific writer throughout his career. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history. By the late s Handlin was publishing a book almost yearly, with works in the fields of civil rights, liberty, ethnicity, urban history, the history of education, foreign affairs, migration, biography, adolescence, even a book of poetry.

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Sometimes he wrote collaboratively with Mary Flug Handlin and, after her death in and his second marriage a year later, with Lilian Handlin. In the s, Handlin produced 11 books including the controversial Fire Bell in the Night: The Crisis in Civil Rights , wrote a monthly book column for the Atlantic Monthly , directed the Center for the Study of Liberty in America, helped manage a commercial television station in Boston, chaired a board that oversaw Fulbright Scholarship awards—all this in addition to his teaching duties at Harvard.

From —, he was director of the Harvard University Library. He also edited a volume collection of books on subjects relating to immigration and ethnicity, The American Immigration Collection

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