Labor, Immigration, and Reform in New York City

Director:  Maurice Isserman, Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History

Immigrants today account for over forty percent of New York City’s workforce. That percentage has grown in recent decades, as new waves of immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America have moved to the city. But there has never been a time in the past three centuries when immigrants were not a vital component of the city’s working class population. New York City’s history is thus intimately bound up with the history of labor and immigration, and the history of reform movements working on behalf of the immigrant working class. These movements for social and economic justice drew on inspiration from abroad, and profoundly influenced American politics and life outside New York City, from the 18th century down to the present. We will explore this complex, interrelated history, both in our reading assignments and discussions, and by exploring the streets and neighborhoods that witnessed and shaped three centuries of working class immigrant life. We begin with 18th century artisan protest, and conclude with Occupy Wall Street.

College 398 Seminar:  Labor, Immigration, and Reform in New York City

The course is organized around readings, class discussion, films, guest discussion leaders, and field trips in New York City. We will begin our exploration of immigration, labor, and reform by reading Sean Wilentz’s Chants Democratic:  New York City and the Rose of the American Working Class, 1788-1850, move on to works concerned with later immigrant groups and social movements, including Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers: The Journey of East European Jews to America and the Life that They Found and Made, and continue down to readings about present day immigration, labor and reform movements, concluding with Todd Gitlin’s Occupy Nation:  The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street. We will visit sites associated with this three-century history, including the streets of the Lower East Side, Ellis Island, the New York City Tenement Museum, and Zuccotti Park.

College 396: Independent Study

A tutorial resulting in a substantial paper that integrates experience and learning from the internship with an academic perspective and knowledge gained in the seminars or other tutorial readings.

College 397:  Internship

An Independent Study supervised by the director of the Program in New York City and based on an internship with a firm, organization, agency or advocacy group appropriate to the theme of course.

College 395:  Further readings in Labor, Immigration, and Reform

Student-directed discussions of books and films that illustrate the history of labor, immigration, and reform in the history of New York City.


Contact Name

Maddie Carrera

Director of Experiential Learning

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