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Strangers in the Land: A View from Western History

  • Katherine Benton-Cohen (a1)

My task for this retrospective was to discuss John Higham's treatment of region in Strangers in the Land, with particular reference to the American West. My analysis looks especially at race and imperialism. These choices reflect in part the interests and approaches of John Higham, but also the general direction of the field of western history in the twenty-first century.

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1 Higham, John, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860–1925, corrected, with a new preface (1955; New York, 1968), preface [i].

2 For example, reviews by May, Henry, Pacific Historical Review 25 (May 1956): 188–89; and (the most negative contemporary review I encountered), Handlin, Oscar, Political Science Quarterly 71 (Sept. 1956): 453–54.

3 Especially Leonard Dinnerstein and David M. Reimers; see note 7, below.

4 Higham, John, “Instead of a Sequel, or How I Lost My Subject,” Reviews in American History 28 (June 2000): 327–39. Higham, John, “Multiculturalism and Universalism: A History and Critique,” American Quarterly 45, Special Issue on Multiculturalism (June 1993): 195219. Even here, in comments with which I generally disagree, Higham did raise the issue of class in the academy and curriculum, which later came to the fore.

5 May, review of Strangers in the Land, 189; see footnote 2. Subsequent scholarship has explored this relationship between nativism and Indian policy in closer detail, though it still deserves further attention. Research has been published on the relationship between colonialism abroad, nationalism, and Indian policy, but more could be done on that as well. It is hard to see Indian policy in the West as nativism, after all; it is colonialism. For a formative essay on these relationships, Williams, Walter L., “United States Indian Policy and the Debate over Philippine Annexation: Implications for the Origins of American Imperialism,” Journal of American History 66 (Mar. 1980): 810–31.

6 Archdeacon, Thomas J., Becoming American: An Ethnic History (New York, 1983), 141; Carpenter, Niles, Immigrants and their Children, 1920: A Study Based on Census Statistics (Washington, 1927), 119.

7 Dinnerstein, Leonard and Reimers, David M., “John Higham and Immigration History,” Journal of American Ethnic History (Fall 2004): 325; see also Dinnerstein, and Reimers, , “Strangers in the Land: Then and Now,” American Jewish History 76 (Dec. 1986): 107–16.

8 Higham, Strangers in the Land, 325; Cárdenas, Gilberto, “United States Immigration Policy toward Mexico: A Historical Perspective,” Chicano Law Review 2 (Summer 1975): 6870.

9 Higham, Strangers in the Land, 43.

10 Dinnerstein and Reimers, 10, cites Higham, Strangers in the Land, 2nd ed., 344.

11 Perhaps this reflects the fact that Higham began his work just after World War II, when the awareness of Japanese internment was still fresh.

12 Higham, Strangers in the Land, 129–30.

13 Ibid., 265.

14 Ibid., 165.

15 Ibid., ch. 10.

16 Ibid., 64.

17 Ibid., 74, 80–86.

18 Ibid., 114.

19 Quotations from Korman, Gerd, review of Strangers in the Land, Wisconsin Magazine of History 40 (Autumn 1956): 74.

20 Higham, Strangers in the Land, 169; Orsi, Robert, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem (1988; New Haven, 2002); Barrett, James R. and Roediger, David, “Inbetween Peoples: Race, Nationality and the ‘New Immigrant’ Working Class,” Journal of American Ethnic History 16 (Spring 1997): 345.

21 Jacobson, Matthew Frye, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA, 1998), 42.

22 As I was writing my book on the history of race in southeastern Arizona, Higham's nuanced account of the rise of scientific racism helped me understand how the supposedly untutored politics of labor unions and the working class melded with the seemingly high-culture theories of Madison Grant, Prescott Hall, and the eugenicists. See Benton-Cohen, Katherine, Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands (Cambridge, MA, 2009).

23 Higham, Strangers in the Land, 11.

24 Ibid., 76.

25 Ibid., 77.

26 Kammen, Michael, “John Higham and the Nourishment of Memory,” Reviews in American History 32 (June 2004): 296.

27 Higham, Strangers in the Land, 170.

28 Ibid., 173, 175–76, 179.

29 Hofstadter, Richard, The Age of Reform (New York, 1955); on the elite members of the Immigration Restriction League and their ties to Harvard University, Solomon, Barbara M., Ancestors and Immigrants: A Changing New England Tradition (Cambridge, MA, 1956).

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  • EISSN: 1943-3557
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