American Passage: The History of Ellis Island

Vincent Cannato

A History of Ellis Island from the 1890s – 1920s

Over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island from the 1890s to the 1920s. It has been estimated that some 40 percent of Americans have at least one ancestor who entered through Ellis Island. Today, Ellis Island is one of the nation’s most popular historical landmarks and a symbol of the American immigration experience. This lecture will move beyond the myths and nostalgia that sometimes cloud our understanding of this important historical site and give a behind-the-scenes historical look at the operations of Ellis Island during its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The History of Ellis Island’s Immigrants

Professor Cannato will discuss the types of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and describe the process of inspection they encountered there. We will learn about the development of federal immigration law and the various categories for exclusion that might threaten to keep an immigrant from entering the country.

In our own time, immigration has once again become a hot-button issue. This lecture will give participants much-needed historical perspective in understanding how America dealt with mass immigration on Ellis Island.

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