Teacher | Student
Originally produced in: France
Also available in: en


Between 1850 and 1930, the US greeted millions of migrants and its population increased from 23 to 130 million inhabitants. Most of those migrants were European. Thanks to these men and women who dreamt of a “promised land”, the “new country” grew.

Huge migratory movements started in the middle of the 19th century and lasted until the 1920s. There was a considerable flow of population whose demographic, economic, political and cultural consequences could be observed in Europe as well as in America. The massive scale of the European migration to “the new worlds” was related to changes in the European industries and the revolution in transport and communication ; but this huge migration to the US also happened due to a demographic increase which resulted in: building railroads, digging canals, exploring new lands and the increase in industrial labour. The understanding of this major phenomenon is based on hopes of those who left their native land to meet what Mary Antin, as others, thought was the new “promised land”.

Conceptual Objectives

  • To define and characterize international migrations of the 19th century and of the beginning of the 20th century.
  • To learn that millions of Europeans migrated to “new countries” between 1850 and 1930 (North America and Latin America, Australia and New Zealand).
  • To understand the different reasons why Europeans left their countries.
  • To learn the importance of migrations of the US population.
  • To get to know the main characteristics of the American society and its transformations (“the conquest of the Wild West”, industrialization, urbanization, violent relations between different “communities” and harshness of social conflicts).

Methodological Objectives and Skills

  • To understand and identify an autobiographical text.
  • To describe and analyse an engraving.
  • To interpret a table with demographic data and to relate it to a map.
  • To see interrelations between different documents (texts, engravings, tables, maps, graphs) and to write a comprehensive summary.

Suggestion of Activities

After having read the extract from the autobiographical text of Mary Antin to the students, the teacher should explain the historical context:

  • The economic and social transformations of Europe in the 19th century;
  • The modernization of transport and the conditions while crossing the Atlantic by European migrants;
  • discrimination of Jews in the Russian Empire;
  • Hopes and difficulties of migrants to the “new world”, more precisely to the US, which experienced strong economic and demographic development due to the migratory flow which was essentially from Europe.
  • Geographical diversity and transformation of migratory flows to the US from 1850 to nowadays.

After having read the extract from Mary Antin’s book, students will answer the questions; then they will describe the engraving and answer questions related to the map and graphs. Finally, they will write comprehensive conclusions concerning the main aspects of the European immigration from 1850 and 1930 to the US referring to documents of the corpus.

They will make complementary research on:

  • The Jewish communities in the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century: economic activities, the diversity of political commitments and cultural practices of “Yiddishland”, discrimination...
  • Travelling conditions of immigrants: departures from their home land, the crossing, the stay on the Ellis Island, the discovery of the “promised land”...
  • Current realities of migrations to the US.

Suggestion of Evaluation

The teacher should make sure that their students:

  • know how to identify and read or describe different documents of the corpus;
  • know how to locate different documents in their historical and geographical context;
  • master the relevant vocabulary and the topic of the given lesson;
  • can write a few lines of comprehensive conclusions referring precisely to the studied documents.

Additional and Interdisciplinary Tasks

  • English: translate the extract from Mary Antin’s book into French.
  • Geography: compare migratory flows to the US at the beginning of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century.
  • Literature: read extracts from La Jungle written by Upton Sinclair.
  • History of arts: watch movies on the history of the European migrations to the US.
    • The immigrant, Charles Chaplin, 1917
    • America! America! Elisa Kazan, 1963
    • Fievel et le Nouveau Monde (An American Tail), a cartoon of Don Bluth, 1986
    • Golden door, Emmanuele Crialese, 2006
    • A photograph from « Ellis Island – portraits by Augustus Sherman », National Museum of the History of Immigration (from 14 November 2007 to 7 January 2008) with an information file written by Jean-Marie Baldner: