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Discovery of American Nativism through Primary Source Material

Created by:
James Daniels
William Davies Middle School of Hamiliton Township, New Jersey


Grade Level:
6 to 8


Discovery of American Nativism Through Primary Source Materials is a lesson plan that explores anti-immigrant sentiment and stereotyping during the 19th century. As the American identity and experience has developed, our national character has occurred through the interaction of various racial groups coming in contact with each other.

The exploration of various primary source materials such as political cartoons, lithographs, trading cards and stereopticon slides will allow the student to role play being a specific ethnic group during the late 1800s.

Historical Context

In the time period of American History, starting with the end of the Civil War and for our purposes ending with the beginning of the First World War, various ethnic groups have entered the American landscape. As each group became assimilated into the "American Dream" they had to face victimization, discrimination based on national character and physical characteristics, and scapegoating as they competed for jobs and living space. As one group moved into acceptance over time and new group would replace it and face a new round of discrimination based on their individual religious, linguistic, cultural, and racial backgroud.

Added pressures of societal changes from an agricultural to industrial based economy exposed each new group to job competition. As the United States was drawn into ever increasing global involvement, additional grounds for exclusion were based on such anti-American democractic principle such as papism and monarchy.


Principles of American Democratic Rights, responibilites and roles of American Citizens, Heritage/Culture/Family Background, Stereotyping, Prejudice/Discrimination/Subjugation/Exploitation

Goals and Objectives:

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

1. Define the term Nativism.

2. Interpret political cartoons, posters, and trading cards that discuss various issues in American immigration from 1860 to 1910.

3. Role play various immigrant ethnic groups and their reaction to the primary source materials.

4. Use primary source docuements to discover anti-immigrant sentiment and nativist viewpoints in the late 19th century.


STANDARD 6.2.8 (Civics) All students will know, understand and appreciate the values and principles of American democracy and the rights, responsibilities, and roles of a citizen in the nation and the world.

E. International Education: Global Challenges, Cultures, and Connections

6. Describe how one's heritage includes personal history and experiences, culture, customs, and family background.

9. Discuss how cultures may change and that individuals may identify with more than one culture.

10. Engage in activities that foster understanding of various cultures (e.g., clubs, dance groups, sports, travel, and community celebrations).

12. Discuss the impact of stereotyping on relationships, achievement, and life goals.

13. Analyze how prejudice and discrimination may lead to genocide as well as other acts of hatred and violence for the purposes of subjugation and exploitation.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Photo Story 3

LCD Projector/Computer Monitor/TV cabled to a Computer.

Primary Source Materials printed out and laminated.

Details of Activity

Two class periods (42 minutes - can be extended to three periods)

Day One

Warm-up Activity (5 - 8 minutes): Using the "Uncle Sam is a Man of Strong Features" poster have the students analyze the components that make up the cartoon and what they represent.

1st Activity (5 - 8 minutes): Have the students brainstorm their understanding of the terms racism, discrimination, and stereotype. After coming to a common group understanding present the definition of nativism.

2nd Activity (10 minutes) Present the YouTube video on Chinese Immigrants and Nativism which takes two minutes. Discuss the historical context of the times and refocus on the individual cartoons used in the presentation. Then present the cartoons to be used in the 3rd activity through either a Picasa or Photo Story 3 presentation.

3rd Activity (20 minutes): Jig-saw the classroom assigning each group one cartoon. Using the Cartoon Analysis Worksheet have each group review their cartoon. This should be the end of the first class.

Day Two

Warm-up Activity (5 minutes): Using a question of the day written response have the students quickly write on the question "What have you learned about Nativism?" Quick class discussion.

1st Activity (10 Minutes): Divide the class back into their jig-saw groups. Tell the class that each group is going to make a presentation on their cartoon based on the Cartoon Analysis Sheet. Using role-play, each group will present what they discovered about the cartoon and how it made their ethnic group feel.

2nd Activity (20-25 minutes): Students will make their presentation to the class.

3rd Activity (Can either be assigned as homework or extended into a third class.): Students are to write a letter to the editor presenting their viewpoint on how it made them feel as they role-played their ethnic group. Letters are to be graded on a rubric based on how they interpreted their cartoon and their understanding of nativism.

Practice and Reinforcement

Idea - writing assignment on what was learned and how it made them feel.

Please see web-links below.

Web Links:
Ethnic Images from the Appel Collection.

Chinese Immigrants and Nativisim


Glossary Terms

Cartoon Analysis Worksheet

Nativism Images

For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here