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‘Capturing’ Immigrant Children

The Issue of Americanization in Photographs by Augustus F. Sherman and Lewis W. Hine

Klara Stephanie Szlezák


Pages 9 - 29



At the beginning of the twentieth century, the emergence of mass immigration to the United States turned the question of how to integrate newcomers to American society into a major national concern. Different societal groups suggested various models of integration, such as assimilation, the ‘melting-pot,’ or pluralism. Particular significance was ascribed to immigrant children, who were assumed to play the crucial role of linguistic and cultural mediators between their Old-World homes and the supposedly distinct ‘American way of life.’ As various groups in American society struggled to promote their response to mass immigration as well as their views on immigrant children, the diverse positions were also reflected in the photography of the period. Indeed, the contrary ways in which photographers as different as Augustus F. Sherman and Lewis W. Hine ‘captured’ immigrant children is not only an expression of their respective political stances but also of their notions of photography as a medium and as an art form. The motif of immigrant children on the Ellis Island roof playground as pictured by Sherman and Hine shall serve as a case study to support this claim.

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