Thursday, January 2, 2014

Important Place and Spaces in American History: Ellis Island

By Nina Kendall

Ellis Island has a prominent place in American history.  It has come to represent the common experience of migration that all Americans share. 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. It was an active immigration station on the East Coast from 1892 to 1954.  This station was the first stop in America for many immigrants on their way to a new life. Many Americans can trace their families to an immigrant who passed through Ellis Island. Today we study Ellis Island for its historical importance. Its practices reflect the morals and view of Americans in this 50 year period.

There are a great number of resources that help teachers teach about Ellis Island. Here are a few selected resources we recommend.
  • Ellis Island is an immigration station turned National Monument and museum that has great resources for teachers. Knowledgeable and friendly Rangers will visit students in New York City and video conference with classrooms around the country. They also have a curated set of primary sources available for use in the classroom that will help your students relate to the experience of immigrants.

  •  Scholastic will help you take different approach to studying Ellis Island. You can take an electronic tour of Ellis Island or take the class on a virtual field trip.

  • The Eastside Tenement Museum has an online game, From Ellis Island to Orchard Street with Victoria Confino, that students can enjoy. In this activity, each student assumes the role of an immigrant who packs their bags and moves from Europe through Ellis Island to a Tenement in New York. This allows students to have the experience of immigration whether in a real or virtual classroom.

 Many teachers choose to run a simulation of Ellis Island. This can be a meaningful approach to teaching this topic. I run a simulation with my high school students that they really enjoy. Here are a few primary sources I use to help create the experience for my students.

This is a short Edison clip from 1903 that show a ship arriving at Ellis Island and immigrants disembarking at Ellis Island. It is an interesting moving text that opens a variety of avenues for questioning.

This collection of images portrays the steps an immigrant took through Ellis Island including inspection. These photographs help make the experiences of immigrants relatable to students. With modern day measures by Homeland Security, students of this generation have a frame of reference for inspection stations. It will provide an opportunity to discuss why these things are happening.

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