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Historiography: Osborne v. Golab

Essential question

How do historians interpret the same events from different perspectives?


Read the following passages. The first passage is from Italian Immigrants and the Working Class in Paterson: The Strike of 1913 in Ethnic Perspective by James Osborne. The second passage is from a commentary on Osborne's writing by Caroline Golab. Your task is to read the two passages and interpret their stance on the role of immigrants in Paterson and then answer the questions afterward.




"Paterson shared with most other American cities in the recurring cycle of immigration, and with it a constant turnover of its work force. The sheer expansion of the city, from thirty-three thousand inhabitants in 1870 to over seventy-eight thousand twenty years later, and to over one hundred and twenty-five thousand by 1910 is staggering in itself. Englishmen, Scots, Irishmen, Germans, Frenchmen, and Dutchmen all came in large numbers. They were followed from the mid-1890s by Italians, Poles, and east European Jews. Although they often came from artisan textile centers in Europe, these immigrants were for the most part unfamiliar with factory discipline and even with each other. Each group faced the problem of adjustment to its new life in the city's mills. However, immigration into Paterson was continuous, spreading over half a century; adjustment to industrialism was uneven in its timing and impact. The absence of a common background with shared values and traditions, coupled with the forcing of older immigrant groups into new occupations or out of the city as "green" hands moved in, all made for a work force fragmented rather than unified. Although most immigrants underwent a similar process, the experience was never collective, and it was never likely to form the basis of deep-rooted and permanent solidarity."




"Moreover, during the nineteenth century northern Italian workers had already experienced all the blessings and evils of an incipient industrial economy: periods of unemployment; recurring episodes of partial or irregular employment; constant fluctuations in the business cycle; long hours of work; insufficient wages; unsafe working conditions; lack of social supports during sickness, layoff, and injury; and, in their view, an oppressive government and a ruling class indifferent to the plight of the workingman. Under these circumstances northern Italian workers were very receptive to movements such as socialism and, especially, anarcho-syndicalism, which proposed to alleviate these conditions. It would have been helpful had Mr. Osborne given us this background, for the "Italian" workers who staffed the silk mills of Paterson were northern Italians, many of whom had worked in textile mills prior to their arrival in America. (In fact, many were probably second- or third-generation mill workers.) Subject to great irregularity of employment after 1860 due to silkworm disease and greater competition from the Orient, the insecure silkworkers of northern Italy were easily recruited for the silk mills of the United States (and France)."

Part A: Detecting Conflicting Perspectives (Osborne v. Golab)

  1. Which parts of the two passages are in conflict or disagreement?

Part B: Analyzing Historiographical Perspectives

  1. What do you think each author’s overall argument is with regards to the makeup of the immigrants who were staffing the silk mills in Paterson at the time of the strike?
  2. Why do you think each historian chooses their different perspectives on the role of immigrants in the Paterson silk mills? (What are their possible individual interests or motivation?)