American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

Mid-Nineteenth Century Irish Immigrants and Race

Published May 6, 2009

Kevin Kenny, Boston College
“Irish Americans and the Meaning of Race in the Mid-Nineteenth Century”
The Graduate Center, CUNY
December 13, 2007

Speaking before an audience of New York City teachers, historian Kevin Kenny describes the profound impact of the first great wave of Irish immigration to the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century. Swelling the populations of major U.S. cities in a way that no previous immigrant group had ever done, the Irish played a central role in the growth of cities in the nineteenth century U.S., notably in New York City’s Five Points neighborhood. Like other immigrant groups, they experienced some prejudice from the native-born population; unlike other groups, however, such discrimination was never written into law.

In Part 1 of this podcast, Kenny outlines the demographic impact of Irish immigration on Ireland and the United States and discusses how Irish immigrants were both perpetrators of racism and victims of prejudice. In Part 2, starting at 44:47, he interprets a series of images that reflect the negative stereotypes that influenced the way native-born Americans viewed the new arrivals.

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