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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: People: Assimilation and the Crucible of the City
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: People
Text 1. The American Metropolis
Text 2. Coney Island
Text 3. Horatio Alger, Jr., Ragged Dick
Text 4. Lewis W. Hine photographs
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Text 5. Jacob Riis, How the Other Lives
Text 6. Anzia Yezierska, Russians
Text 7. Two Wives
Text 8. Lee Chew, The Biography of a Chinaman
Text 9. Exclusion
Text 10. Zitkala-Sa, Native Americans

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
Ellis Island, 1905
Ellis Island, 1905
Lewis W. Hine, photographs of immigrants, Ellis Island, 1905

During this period immigration brought unprecedented cultural diversity to American life. As more and more immigrants streamed into the nation's great manufacturing cities, they transformed tenements and older residential neighborhoods into enclaves of mystery and foreignness. Among native-born Americans immigrants evoked curiosity, fear, and animosity. Lewis Hine (1874-1940) tried to address all those responses. Born in Wisconsin, he attended the University of Chicago and taught at the Ethical Culture School in New York. In his classes he used photographs to illustrate his lessons and later, on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee, he began to photograph life in New York's tenements. He built a career in sociological photography, which sought to promote a rational understanding of social and economic inequities in the hope that greater public awareness would result in corrective social action. Among his many subjects he photographed immigrants arriving at New York's Ellis Island. We offer a sample of seven photographs. 4 pages.

Discussion questions
  1. Who is Hine's audience?
  2. What is he trying to achieve with these photos?
  3. In "Getting Tagged," how does the family confront the official? How does the official treat them?
  4. In "Bohemian" and "Bohemian (Joys & Sorrows)" we see an example of Hine's editing of a photo. What is his strategy of presentation?
  5. How does Hine present foreignness in these photos?
  6. What do the photos tell us about immigrants?
  7. What do they tell us about America?
  8. What does Hine suggest about his subjects' prospects for assimilation?

» Link

Topic Framing Questions
  •  How was the American cultural mainstream defined at this time?
  •  What messages and strategies of socialization did the government and other culture brokers extend to immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americans during this period?
  •  What benefits and costs for these groups were associated with a strategy of assimilation?
  •  How did the city function as a site of assimilation?

Toolbox: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Memory | Progress | People | Power | Empire

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Revised: May 2005