rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 2: p. 168
Sources: The Making of Modern Immigration: An Enyclopedia of People and Ideas
Eric Novotny

Humanities Librarian, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania

In an age of Wikipedia and instant information reference, publishers continue their quest to identify a niche for their works. One approach has been to focus on narrower topics. Rather than dealing with immigration in its entirety, recent works such as Anti-Immigration in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2011) have looked at specific aspects. The present publication differentiates itself by its depth of analysis. Instead of offering hundreds of brief essays on every conceivable topic, there are fewer than fifty essays covering significant themes, historical events, and ideas. The self-described goal is to make “the past intelligible and interesting to those searching for fresh insight and accurate information” (xxii).

This approach has its advantages. The disadvantage is that a reader will not find the expected essays on topics like the Dream Act, Ellis Island, or the Know Nothing Party. These terms appear in the Index, but they do not have separate essays devoted to them; instead they are embedded in larger discussions. There are relatively few biographies, and where individuals are profiled, the emphasis is less on the person, and more on illuminating what their life stories reveal about immigration issues. Additionally, very few essays discuss the experiences of specific ethnic groups. This is not the resource for students seeking to document the cultures and achievements of Italian-Americans (or Taiwanese Americans, etc.), although some groups are discussed in relevant essays like Salvadorans in the Sanctuary Movement. Researchers seeking recent analysis of specific cultures should consult Multicultural America: An Encyclopedia of the Newest Americans. (Greenwood Press, 2011).

While stingy in the selection of topics, the editor is generous with space for the major issues selected. The essays often run 15 pages or longer, allowing the authors to explore the nuances of their topics. The authors provide reflective overviews outlining the state of scholarship for the topic they address. The essays are more analytical than definitional. They present the diversity of historical thinking on topics such as Assimilation or Bilingualism. The contributors do an excellent job presenting the sometimes competing narratives that make up the historiography of immigration. The entry on Oscar Handlin, for example, provides an insightful discussion of Handlin’s seminal works, discussing his influence on immigration historiography and how subsequent historians have modified Handlin’s theories. While written to be accessible for students, the content is more scholarly than might be expected from an encyclopedia. It might better reach its intended audience if it were marketed as a handbook rather than a comprehensive encyclopedia.

This work is highly recommended for students looking for more rigorous analysis. The essays are outstanding introductions to some of the most complicated concepts in immigration. The excellent overviews will stimulate critical thinking about these long-examined issues. The bibliographies are unusually extensive, often running several pages, and will be invaluable to those looking to learn more about the historical development of American immigration. Given the value of the resource as a starting point for research, online access will be especially beneficial so users can discover this content as they begin searching.



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