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The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic Cityby James R Barrett
Synopses & Reviews
A lively, street-level history of turn-of-the-century urban life explores the Americanizing influence of the Irish on successive waves of migrants to the American city.
In the newest volume in the award-winning Penguin History of American Life series, James R. Barrett chronicles how a new urban American identity was forged in the streets, saloons, churches, and workplaces of the American city. This process of “Americanization from the bottom up” was deeply shaped by the Irish. From Lower Manhattan to the South Side of Chicago to Boston’s North End, newer waves of immigrants and African Americans found it nearly impossible to avoid the Irish. While historians have emphasized the role of settlement houses and other mainstream institutions in Americanizing immigrants, Barrett makes the original case that the culture absorbed by newcomers upon reaching American shores had a distinctly Hibernian cast.
By 1900, there were more people of Irish descent in New York City than in Dublin; more in the United States than in all of Ireland. But in the late nineteenth century, the sources of immigration began to shift, to southern and eastern Europe and beyond. Whether these newcomers wanted to save their souls, get a drink, find a job, or just take a stroll in the neighborhood, they had to deal with entrenched Irish Americans.
Barrett reveals how the Irish vacillated between a progressive and idealistic impulse toward their fellow immigrants and a parochial defensiveness stemming from the hostility earlier generations had faced upon their own arrival in America. They imparted racist attitudes toward African Americans; they established ethnic “deadlines” across city neighborhoods; they drove other immigrants from docks, factories, and labor unions. Yet the social teachings of the Catholic Church, a sense of solidarity with the oppressed, and dark memories of poverty and violence in both Ireland and America ushered in a wave of progressive political activism that eventually embraced other immigrants.
Drawing on contemporary sociological studies and diaries, newspaper accounts, and Irish American literature, The Irish Way illustrates how the interactions between the Irish and later immigrants on the streets, on the vaudeville stage, in Catholic churches, and in workplaces helped forge a multiethnic American identity that has a profound legacy in our cities today.
"'The Irish saloonkeeper, priest, cop, and ward heeler have become caricatures,' writes Barrett, 'but each really did interact with the new immigrants every day, as did the Irish nun, public schoolteacher, and street tough.' In this way, the Irish helped shape American identity, according to Barrett (William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism), a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Three million Irish immigrated to the U.S. and by 1900 the Irish-born and Irish-American population had expanded to five million. This scholarly history, with chapters like 'The Street,' 'The Parish,' and 'The Workplace,' details the interactions between the Irish and later immigrants in such public places as vaudeville houses, saloons, congested streets, and unions. In addition to the power and influence of Irish politicians, Barrett covers novels (e.g., James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan) and comic strips (Bringing Up Father) and the Irish influence on Hollywood, including Catholic censorship efforts that led to the Legion of Decency in 1934. Portraying colorful characters like New York reformer politician boss Timothy Sullivan and showing how the blending of African-American and Irish dance resulted in tap dancing, Barrett gives us an authoritative, fact-filled analysis. Photos." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The newest volume in the award-winning Penguin History of American Life series, this innovative and fascinating work chronicles how a new urban American identity was forged in the streets, saloons, and churches of the nation's cities during the nineteenth centuryandmdash;a process deeply shaped, according to author James R. Barrett, by the Irish. Drawing on contemporary sociological studies and diaries, newspaper accounts, and Irish American literature, The Irish Way illustrates how interactions between the Irish and later immigrants on the streets, on the vaudeville stage, and in workplaces from New York to Chicago helped forge a multiethnic identity that has a profound legacy in our country today.
About the Author
James R. Barrett is a professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbanaandndash;Champaign. He is the author of William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism and lives in Champaign, Illinois.
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