Topic outline

  • General

    Immigration to the United States: 1840-1920

    Ellis Arrival Statue
  • Topic 1

    Where are YOU from?

    The United States is referred to as a "melting pot" because so many cultures have come together to make America what it is today. The vast majority of people who live in the United States are immigrants or descendants of people who emigrated. Some of those immigrant histories are told as tales of glory and triumph, such as those of the pilgrims and many European immigrants. However, the process of coming to America and assimilating was not always easy. Some immigrant stories contain deep sorrow and loss, such as the journey of those who arrived to be sold as slaves or those who fled war and violence. In this “getting to know you” module, you will have the chance to learn about your own immigration/migration history and the history of others.
  • Topic 2


    Vocabulary: As you read the various materials, you will encounter some important words that you may not be familiar with. You can click below to access a list of vocabulary words that you can refer to as you read. Some materials were written long ago and may include language or words that we do not use today. Do your best to use context clues to help you. Don't worry if you do not understand every single word – just get the main idea.

    Sources: Some materials that you will encounter are primary sources, while others are secondary sources.

    A primary source is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time something happened. It can also be something written by someone who was present at an event, although they may not write about it until later. Common primary sources include diaries, photographs, letters, autobiographies, news articles, etc.

    A secondary source is something that is not from the actual event, or that was written by someone who was not actually there. Common secondary sources include encyclopedias, books, websites, etc.
  • Topic 3

    Why do immigrants come here?

    Why would a person leave his or her own home to go and live somewhere far across the world? Traveling to the new country can be dangerous, and once you have arrived, life can be difficult as you do not know the language, customs, etc. What makes someone want to leave what they know for something so risky and unknown?

    In this module you will have the opportunity to read and view some primary source documents that may give you some ideas as to why people chose to emigrate to the United States. You will need to use your skills of interpretation and inference (make educated guesses) in order to figure out why they came. Click below and follow the steps in order, leading to the assignment.
  • Topic 4

    The Push-Pull Theory

    Based on your reading, viewing and prior knowledge, you developed a list of reasons for why someone might immigrate to another country. In 1966, University of Pennsylvania professor Everett Lee developed the Push-Pull Theory of Migration which tried to explain why people move to different places. In this module you will have the chance to learn more about these important factors that not only "push" people out, but "pull" them in to new places. This is a very important concept that forms the foundation of our thinking behind immigration.

    Please follow the steps below.
  • Topic 5

    The Journey

    Most immigrants coming to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s arrived by ship. Passage on these ships was often a terrible experience, as the ships were crowded and disease spread quickly. Many immigrants died aboard the ships, and those that survived suffered terrible hardships and often arrived emotionally and/or physically scarred. You will now have the opportunity to read more about passage to America. Brace yourself -- what you will read can be unsettling.
  • Topic 6

    Castle Garden and Ellis Island

    Many immigrants who arrived from Europe landed in New York City at Castle Garden, and then later at Ellis Island, where they had to be processed for entry into the United States. While the conditions on the ships were difficult, the experience at both places was not much better.

    Please follow the steps below to learn more about what it was like to finally arrive in America.
  • Topic 7

    Immigrant Experience: The Irish

    During the last three centuries about seven million people immigrated from Ireland to the United States. Most of these people came after the Great Potato Famine of 1845-50. These first young Irish immigrants, who were mostly male, helped dig America’s first canals, lay the track for the first railroads, pave the first streets and lay the first water lines. However, life was not easy for the Irish in America, and it took many years before they were able to successfully assimilate into American culture.

    Follow the steps below to learn more about the Irish experience in America.
  • Topic 8

    Immigrant Experience: The Chinese

    The Chinese were the first Asian immigrants to enter the United States. While the first records show that the Chinese began coming to the United States in the 18th century, there have been claims stating that they were in the area now known as America at an even earlier date.

    The Chinese made tremendous contributions to American society, but also faced some of the harshest discrimination. In fact, they were the first immigrant group to be prevented from coming to America.

    In this module you will have the chance to learn more about the Chinese immigration experience, and will have the opportunity to analyze some political cartoons that show some of the negative feelings towards the Chinese at the time.
  • Topic 9

    Immigrant Experience: The Scandinavians

    Scandinavian immigrants – the Swedish, Norwegians, and Danish – began immigrating to the United States in growing numbers beginning in the 1840s but the numbers increased dramatically after United States Civil War. This module will give you the chance to learn more about the Scandinavian immigrants, many of whom settled in the upper Midwest, including Minnesota.

    Again, please follow the steps. Good luck!
  • Topic 10

    Final Assessment

    Congratulations! You have completed all the modules of this course, and are now ready to take the final assessment. Hopefully you have learned a lot about the importance of immigration to the United States. Good luck!