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Harvard's Open Collections Program Launches Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930

New digital collection provides open, online access to thousands of items from the Harvard libraries, archives, and museums.


November 21, 2006—The Open Collections Program of the Harvard University Library has launched Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930, a web-based collection of selected historical materials from Harvard's libraries, archives, and museums that documents voluntary immigration to the US from the signing of the Constitution to the onset of the Great Depression. The online collection is located at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration.

Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930, is made possible with the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The collection is part of a burgeoning international movement to provide educational materials on the Internet that the Hewlett Foundation has helped to pioneer and towards which the Foundation has disbursed more than $60 million in grants to advance the promise of open educational resources—or OER, as it is known to educators.

Concentrating heavily on the 19th century, Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930, includes approximately 1,800 books and pamphlets, 6,000 photographs, 200 maps, and 13,000 pages from manuscript and archival collections. By incorporating diaries, biographies, and other writings capturing diverse experiences, the collected material provides a window into the lives of ordinary immigrants. For example:

  • Images from Harvard's Social Museum, which was established in 1903 by Harvard professor Francis Greenwood Peabody, illustrate "problems of the social order" related to the rapid influx of immigrants.
  • Original manuscript and archival materials—ranging from records of the Immigration Restriction League to the papers of New Jersey librarian Jane Maud Campbell (1869–1947)—document the plight of newly arrived immigrants.

"This is an extraordinarily valuable collection of material relating to immigration," stated Stephan Thernstrom, Winthrop Professor of History in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "Immigration has long been one of the central themes of American history, and its significance is newly evident today, with the rising tide of newcomers since the liberalization of our immigration law in 1965 again made the United States a nation of immigrants. The mass immigration of the past four decades cannot be understood without a firm grasp of the influxes of people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Harvard's rich resources on this subject are now at the fingertips of any student—or faculty member—with a computer."

In addition to thousands of items that are now accessible to any Internet user, the collection includes contextual information on voluntary immigration and quantitative data. The site also provides links to related digital resources that cover other aspects of immigration to the US, including vital materials on the African diaspora.

"With the explosion of scholarship in so many fields related to so many immigrant groups, only the largest of research libraries can serve teaching and scholarship well," commented Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges. "For smaller colleges and universities, collections such as Immigration to the United States are an extraordinary boon."

Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930, is part of Harvard's Open Collections Program (visit http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu), through which the University advances teaching and learning on historical topics of great relevance by providing online access to historical resources from Harvard's renowned libraries, archives, and museums. OCP's highly specialized "open collections" are developed through careful collaborations among Harvard's distinguished faculty, librarians, and curators. The goal of the Open Collections Program is to offer a new model for digital collections that will benefit students and teachers around the world.

Harvard launched its first open collection in 2004: Women Working, 1800-1930, located at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww, was also developed with the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Additional open collections are under development now, including Contagion: Historical Views of Contagious Disease, supported by the Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund, and the Islamic Heritage Project, supported by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud.

According to Sidney Verba, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library, "The experience of working with this University’s historical materials has long been an irreplaceable part of a Harvard education. Now, by developing subject-based digital collections on topics of contemporary concern, Harvard is making that experience available to students and teachers everywhere."

The libraries and museums of Harvard University provide open, online access to a rich array of digital materials, including photographic collections, documents, musical scores, prints, drawings, historical maps, books, legal transcripts, diaries, manuscripts, and more. To explore the growing number of subject-specific collections available online, visit A Selection of Web-Accessible Collections at http://digitalcollections.harvard.edu.

 

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