Resources on the Internet
Many people study immigration for various reasons: historians look for patterns of the past that
are reflected today and genealogists search for personal links to the
past. Immigration history is deeply
intertwined with American history.
Ethnicities have become the subcultures of the overreaching American
culture. The Irish are important piece
of American history because of the persecution they faced in Ireland, the roads they paved in America, and the cultures they created and maintained at
home and abroad. This essay searches for information available on the
internet relating to the experiences of the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Ellis Island site is geared more for
genealogists searching for a particular person rather than focusing on the
immigration experience as a whole. While
Ellis Island was only open from 1892 to 1924, this site does
explore the experiences of immigrants before and after this time. This
site features modern day stories as well as a timeline with statistics of the
different immigrant groups. With registration, a browser can search the
records of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island.
of Congress provides a site for teachers and students, giving basic
information on immigration. Immigration
has descriptions of eleven ethnic experiences in America. Along with
links to digital primary documents in American
Memory and other teaching guides, “Immigration” has a special Pot Luck
section where visitors can browse regional and ethnic recipes that make up the
American fare. There are eight different
topics to the Irish
section which highlight the immigration since the American colonial age,
issues of Irish Catholicism, conflict with the overarching society, and
contributions to that culture. While the
information in these pages is general and textbookish,
it is very well written and would be a good starting point for anyone wishing
to learn more about immigration or a particular ethnic group.
The Library of Congress also offers
an online children’s program called Celtic Roots. This annual program like a symposium designed
for elementary schools visiting Washington, D.C. While this
site offers more information about the program itself, there are links to a webcast from the previous year’s program,
information on Irish immigration, word games, and a bibliography for
teachers to incorporate into their lesson plans.
The Internet Modern
History Source Book at Fordham University offers to links to other
immigration sites, all of which I have included here regarding Irish
Immigration. Nevertheless, this site has links to many other non-Irish
immigration sites which may be of interest to the immigration researcher.
The plight of all immigrants begins in their mother
country. Severe conditions in Ireland culminated with the Famine at mid-nineteenth
century, resulting in millions of Irish seeking asylum in the United States. Late in
the seventeenth century, the British government imposed Penal Laws against the
Roman Catholics in Ireland, preventing Catholics from many basic rights their
Protestant neighbors enjoyed. A project
at the Law Library at the University
of Minnesota has made the text of these documents available online.
The Famine of 1845 and criticism of the British
Government's involvement spurred many Irish Catholics to flee their
homeland. Liz Szabo
of the University of Virginia (see
below) has created an archive Interpreting the Irish Famine 1846-1850. This
archive includes contemporary Irish, American,
viewpoints of this devastating era. In
these sections are transcriptions from newspapers and other primary
documents. She also includes a handful
of dramatic photographs
and drawings. Included in the Glossary
are maps, biographies, and legislation, all of which, unfortunately, were
linked to the Encyclopedia Britannica, which requires a subscription for
Steve Taylor at Vassar University has also compiled an archive of newspaper articles of the Famine at Views of the Famine.
This is an online collection of selected articles and illustrations from the Illustrated London News,
the Cork Examiner,
and a pamphlet
by Lord Dufferin and the Honorable G.G. Boyle.
Like Szabo's archives, this collection is invaluable
to researchers who have difficulties obtaining out-of-print or hard to find
works. One of the advantages Views of the Famine has over Interpreting
the Famine is that Taylor
has made a concerted effort to include many illustrations from these
sources. He has also included a master list of all
the images to facilitate researchers looking for images.
History Web Project at the University of Houston, "designed and developed to support the teaching of American
History in K-12 schools and colleges," has a section dedicated to immigration
history. Clicking on The
Huddled Masses leads to "guided readings" that links essays
together chronologically for a broader understanding of immigration in America. There are two essays that relate to the
Irish-American experience. Irish
American Solidarity relates the solidarity that Irish Catholics created in
American as a political force. This essay also address
the issue of American anti-Catholicism. The second essay, The
Irish Potato Famine, outlines the causes for the Famine and the inactivity
of the British and the disastrous results of the loss of millions through death
or emigration. Because the intended audience, Digital
History has the feel of an expanded textbook entry. The supporters of this website (namely, the University
of Houston, the Chicago Historical
Society, and the National Park Service,
among others) makes the content more reliable.
Department of Education and the Connecticut
Department of Education have put teaching guides to the Famine
online. The Nebraska teaching guide, The Great Irish Famine,
was "approved by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education ... for
inclusion in the Holocaust and Genocide Curriculum at the secondary
level." This lengthy guide (120 pages) includes sections on the Penal Laws, Racism, Emigration, and Genocide.
Along with activities for the classroom, this guide contains bibliographies and
information about the important political figures, legislation, other contemporary
world events, and relevant statistics.
The Connecticut teaching guide, The
Irish: The Great Hunger and Irish Immigration to
America, tackles many of the same issues as the Nebraska teaching guide, but in slightly fewer pages.
The first three sections outline Irish history from prehistoric eras to the
Famine. Like the Nebraska Guide, this guide includes information on the
Celts and the influence of the Vikings, Normans, and eventually the
British. The Connecticut guide addresses the history of the Irish in America more explicitly than the Nebraska guide does. It addresses the Irish in America from the nineteenth century to the present,
focusing on the Irish's political involvement, religious identity, and
educational advancements. Local information of the Irish in Connecticut is also included. This guide also includes
bibliographies along with the informational essays. The Connecticut Board
of Education has developed activities for elementary through high school
levels. These guides would be essential to any teacher wishing to cover
nineteenth-century Irish emigration.
Unable to financially move to other sections of the
many poor Irish immigrants clustered around the port cities where they first
arrived. The New Orleans public library posts a listing of all archives in the New Orleans area. This handy listing also posts contact
information archives that are not yet online (such as the Archives of the
Sisters of Mercy). The Louisiana
State Museum has a good number of photographs and other items relating to
the Irish experience in Louisiana. The New Orleans Public Library
houses much information on local history, including the Irish Cultural Society of New
Orleans, and the Louisiana
Division Vertical Files probably hold more information regarding Irish
In Boston, one can browse the Irish Heritage Trail, which is a
walking tour of the memorials and historic sites dedicated to Boston's Irish population. The Boston Public Library
Collections include documents from modern Ireland, centering on the quest for an Irish Free State (see the Fenian Collection
at Catholic University). This library also holds many important American newspapers,
including the Boston Irish Reporter and New York City's Irish Echo.
New York is home to the American
Irish Historical Society, whose collection consists of over
10,000 objects. Unfortunately there are no online finding aids, but
contact information is available. The society also publishes quarterly
the Recorder, highlighting
Irish-American history and culture. The New
York Public Library has several Irish sources,
including Tithe Applotment Books, 1823-1832.
and Archives Division and the Irma and Paul Milstein
Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy probably
hold a wealth of information of the Irish in New York. However, not all of the collections have
online finding aids and they are not always available for a simple search.
Religion was a very important facet
to Irish-Americans. There are a great
number of repositories of Irish Catholic artifacts, especially with each
diocese. However, because of the
sensitive nature of many of the sacramental documents, diocesan archives
restrict access to their collections.
Fortunately, with the internet these archives can communicate to
researchers their holdings and availabilities.
Archdiocese of New Orleans does not have finding aids online, but does
outline guidelines and contact information for researching the
collections. The Archdiocese of Boston
has a brief description of the collections, which include bishops’ journals and
audio-visual materials. This site also
includes guideline for going about researching the archive. The
Archdiocese of Chicago is similar, yet it also includes links to their museum, which includes
many photographs from the collection.
Increasingly archives are posting
finding aids and pieces of their collections online. The University
of Notre Dame Archives holds 680 collections (not including nearly 450
collections of University-related records), of which each collection could have
thousands of documents. While few
primary documents are actually available online records, finding aids exist for
most of the collections and are searchable online. Many of these holding are the private papers
from clergy and other religious, as well as many parish histories and
other documents from
parishes around the country . This
collection and the online finding aids are quite extensive and it is easy to
get lost in all of the information. The
search function is quite useful, though the returns are numerous. Of interest to researchers regarding
Irish-Americans would be the Alphabetical
many books, manuscripts, and newspapers. See these basic searches for documents on Irish
in the Civil War, and anti-Catholic
literature for numerous listings.
Notre Dame's Rare Book Collection
might also be worth perusing. In the collection are Irish Maps and Sea
Charts, pamphlets from the Irish
Rebellion of 1798, Traditional
Irish Music, and the Wolf
Collection of Irish Postage Stamps.
Szabo, presumably a graduate student at the University of Virginia, has placed many primary documents on her personal website. She has created the Mary Anne Sadlier Archive.
This archive honors Sadlier, a nineteenth
century Irish-American writer. Szabo has posted a copy of Sadlier’s
novel Bessy Conway: or, the Irish Girl in America (1861),
that include works regarding other aspects of nineteenth-century life, contemporary
reviews, and a couple of Szabo’s own essays. Szabo also includes
links to “Mary Anne Sadlier's Cultural Context”: Irish History,
is very thorough in recreating important aspects of Sadlier’s
life and detailing the Irish Famine; one wonders if this project were part of a
dissertation. Unfortunately, Szabo gives no explanation as to why she created these
archives. The most disappointing part of the online collection, which is
dated 1996, is that many links to outside pages are broken. However, the
onsite pages are quite detailed and provide much pertinent information.
ÛCatholic University has posted some of the Fenian Brotherhood
Collection on the WRCL Special Collections’ page. In the nineteenth century, this Brotherhood
formed in the United States “with the avowed purpose of overthrowing British
rule in Ireland and establishing an Irish Republic.” The collection highlights
letters and newspaper articles regarding their activities. The online digital collection allows the
researcher to access to over three hundred objects.
Another Roman Catholic University, Boston College,
has many Irish-related artifacts in their libraries and archives. Housed
in the John J. Burns
Library is the Irish
Music Center, which is "committed to documenting the history of Irish
traditional music in America." The collection names are listed, but
few finding aids are provided. However, the Irish Music Center does hold a number of audio and visual materials
available to the researcher. The Irish Music Center also provides a webpage discussing upcoming Events
and Exhibits, which also includes listings for concerts and lectures.
and Irish American Manuscripts collection includes information about
particular people, many of whom are writers or political figures, and about
related societies and organizations.
The New York University Library holds Archives of Irish
America. The online collection includes primary documents of the New York City Irish
American Athletic Club, finding aids for the physical collection, and online
exhibits, which are definitely worth a look.
For more primary documents, the Bringham Young
University Library has links to online primary documents regarding the history of Ireland.
This site includes many of the above sites, but include
other political documents dating from the eleventh century to 1916. Since
all of the links are to outside sites, it is difficult to discern how long this
site will remain in working order, as the links could easily be broken.
The Special Collections and
Archives at the University of Louisville has sixteen reels of microfilm of The
Kentucky Irish American in their holdings. This newspaper ran
from 1898-1968 and was written for the Irish community of Kentucky and held an strong
"ethnic flavor" until the final decades of its publication.
Finally, two other websites explore "non-traditional" views of the
Irish in America. Tangle Roots at the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale University is a project focused on the Irish and African American experiences.
The site contains primary documents from the Gilder Lehrman
collection as well as links to other websites for those searching for more
information on a particular topic. Standford's The Irish-American West details this
experience through online texts of "rare and out-of-print works of
Irish-American writing from western America." This site also provides a forum for
scholarly articles, although there are none posted. This project began in
2001 and the lack of scholarly articles may attest to the fact that this is a
little-studied subject of Irish-American history.
The internet provides researchers, both amateur and professional, the
opportunity to view rare documents and artifacts that may otherwise be
restricted to public use. Even an online finding aid allows for
researchers to know which collections or repositories will be most helpful in
their search. Sometimes useful resources come in unexpected forms such as
teachers' guides or virtual exhibits. The Irish immigration experience is
important to both Irish and American histories and cultures. The Irish
paved the way for many other immigrant groups and their influences on
Protestant American society have been deeply felt. Having these resources
on the internet are valuable to the understanding of history, but at this
stage, the bulk of the research will still have to be done the old fashioned
way, in libraries and archives.
November 22, 2003