Northern Illinois University Press

Robert F. Zeidel on Stigmatizing Immigrants

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In this Q&A we ask Robert F. Zeidel three questions about his new book, Robber Barons and Wretched Refuse: Ethnic and Class Dynamics during the Era of American Industrialization (published under Cornell University Press’s NIU Press imprint), and how stigmatizing immigrants as subversives contributed to the passage of the Quota Acts.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

When presenting a paper, based on one of the book’s chapters, at a conference in San Francisco, I ran past the Federal Building where immigration processing took place. The line of prospective immigrants seeking papers stretched around the building. It made me aware of the timeliness of my study, of the connection between America’s contentious history of welcoming immigrants and the similar issues involving those of today.  

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

The nature of America’s emergent industrial businesses. As I looked at the nature of their interest in and behavior towards immigrant workers, I encountered more complexity, based on time and place, than I anticipated.  While central themes remained constant, variables and distinctions added to the challenge of studying their practices.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of history?

I wish that I could do more to promote academic writing for general audiences. I hope that I have written a book that fellow academics will find pertinent to their teaching and scholarship. I also hope that I have written a work that will appeal to all readers who are interested in immigration history and its lessons for our day. Yet, I worry that scholarly books find too small of an audience, and I wish that I could change this.

*Featured photo by Cole Patrick on Unsplash.

Robert F. Zeidel is Professor of History and Associate Dean at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He is the author of Immigrants, Progressives, and Exclusion Politics.

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