Oscar Handlin, R.I.P.

by John J. Miller

The great historian is dead at 95. He is best known for The Uprooted, his book about the Ellis Island generation of immigrants and their assimilation into American life. It has a great opening line: “Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.” In portraying the immigrant as a uniquely American archetype, Handlin is both elegiac and optimistic. “A society already fluid, the immigrants made more fluid still; an economy already growing, they stimulated to yet more rapid growth; into a culture never uniform, they introduced a multitude of diversities,” he wrote. “The newcomers were on the way to being Americans almost before they stepped off the boat, because their own experience of displacement had already introduced them to what was essential in the situation of Americans.”

The Corner

The one and only.