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American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

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Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl: Immigrant Women in the Turn-of-the-Century City

An unexpected friendship between two Italian and Jewish immigrant girls provides the backdrop for this story of labor organizing and women’s growing activism. While working in harsh sweatshops and factories, the young women also experienced the thrills of movies, amusement parks and dance halls. As their numbers in the workforce grew and working conditions declined they took matters into their own hands. In 1909, garment workers staged the “Uprising of the 20,000,” a massive strike that won union recognition and transformed the role of women in the union movement. (Length: 30 minutes)

Savage Acts: Wars, Fairs, and Empire 1898-1904

Travel back in time to the 1893 World’s Fair with its grandiose buildings and displays of “exotic” people from around the world. The fairs promoted America’s interest in overseas expansion and notions of Anglo-Saxon superiority. Savage Acts links the pageantry of fairs to the story of the Philippine War, America’s first attempt to claim an overseas colony and a turning point in U.S. foreign policy. Philippine diplomats and fighters as well as U.S. politicians and soldiers tell their experiences of the conflict and the opposition it sparked. (Length: 30 minutes)

1877: The Grand Army of Starvation

A nationwide rebellion brought the United States to a standstill in the summer of 1877. Eighty thousand railroad workers walked out, joined by hundreds of thousands of Americans outraged by the excesses of the railroad companies and the misery of a four-year economic depression. Police, state militia, and federal troops clashed with strikers and sympathizers, leaving more than one hundred dead and thousands injured. The Great Uprising inaugurated a new era of conflict over the meaning of America in the industrial age. (Length: 30 minutes)

Dr. Toer's Amazing Magic Lantern Show: A Different View of Emancipation

In the aftermath of the Civil War and Emancipation, southern African Americans struggled to realize the promise of equality. Told by J. W. Toer and his company of traveling players who performed for audiences of recently freed slaves, this program chronicles the many ways African Americans sought freedom in the face of growing repression and violence. (Length: 30 minutes)

Five Points: New York's Irish Working Class in the 1850s

New York’s Five Points, the most notorious urban slum of the antebellum period, is seen through the conflicting perspectives of a native-born Protestant reformer and an immigrant Irish-Catholic family. Members of the Mulvahill family describe daily life in a complicated neighborhood, contradicting nineteenth-century stereotypes about the immigrant poor. (Length: 30 minutes)

Doing As They Can: Slave Life in the American South

The harsh realities of slavery on a cotton plantation in the antebellum period are brought to life in this documentary, told from the point of view of an escaped slave. On the plantation, time and work are dictated by the master. Still, slaves strive to make life in the quarters independent of his control. The narrator escapes to the North, only to discover that her former master’s power extends even to New York City because of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. (Length: 30 minutes)

Daughters of Free Men

When the first American factories were built in places such as Lowell, Massachusetts, many of the workers were young women. Daughters of Free Men is about the women who entered New England’s textile mills in the 1830s: Where did they come from? Why did they go to work? How did they struggle to stay independent in a new world of opportunity and exploitation? (Length: 30 minutes)

Tea Party Etiquette

American independence was born in the streets of colonial Boston. Based on the life of George Robert Twelves Hewes, Tea Party Etiquette follows the poor shoemaker through celebrated events such as the 1770 Boston Massacre and the 1773 Boston Tea Party. The program reveals how working people participated in the American Revolution and were changed in the process. (Length: 30 minutes)

History: The Big H

Private eye Clio Malarkey doesn’t like history much. But when a client hires him to investigate “how things got to be the way they are,” he discovers the importance of learning U.S. history as well as the hazards of interpreting it. In the guise of a film-noir detective story, The Big H questions some of the ways history is taught, revealing working people’s role in shaping the nation’s past. (Length: 26 minutes)

Published January 5, 2009

In this talk to New York City schoolteachers, historian Matthew Jacobson challenges conventional notions about America's immigrant past.Read full description

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