Immigration Visualizations

During the Progressive Era, almost every aspect of American life had changed (Daniels, 2004). However, from the periods of 1860-1920, the population of immigrants in the United States remained relatively stable (Daniels, 2004). Interestingly, this is the same period where we begin to see the “golden door of opportunity” (a reference to Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”) start to close with the advent of a new wave of immigrant exclusionary acts.

According to Roger Daniels in, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy Since 1882, the best way to look at the patterns in immigration history in the United States is to look at the percentage of foreign-born residents from census data (Daniels, 2004). As illustrated in the scatterplot below, the immigrant population slowly declined then dropped between 1931-1971, due to the depression, war, and anti-immigration policies which limited the number of immigrants coming to the country. In fact, fewer immigrants arrived during this time than the first decade of 1900-1910. The significant drop in 1970 is primarily the result of an increase in mortality of immigrants because so few immigrated in the following decades.  Therefore, the visualization supports Daniel’s argument that the notion of America receiving an unprecedented influx of immigrants, is simply false.

For this assignment, I used census data provided to create a series of visualizations that reflect patterns of immigration in 1890 & 1920. The first bar chart was designed to answer the question, what does the gender distribution look like for first-generation immigrants in 1890? The second bar chart expands upon gender distribution, by looking at how it changed over time (1890 & 1920). The two pie charts can be used comparatively to look at the population distribution by nativity, gender, and race in 1890 and 1920.  Unfortunately, I had a difficult time with  I would have liked to plot distributions of populations over time but ran into trouble when I attempted to combine grids.  However, looking at the examples of charts and graphs on’s website, I can see how it can be a useful tool for historians.

The scatterplot used census data from Table 11 in Daniel’s text. Reading information straight from a grid or table is difficult to comprehend. By creating the scatterplot, I was able to better understand the trend in US immigrant population.   The visualizations serve as an excellent tool for processing information.  Thus, historians can use visualizations to either supplement, strengthen, or even replace text.

Overall, the charts illustrate the relative stability of immigrant populations during this period (as supported by Daniel’s text). While there’s little change in the immigrant population from 1890-1920, Daniels argues what changes is our attitudes regarding immigration and immigrants. The US developed a “dualistic” attitude about immigration. On the one hand, we embrace our country’s rich immigrant history, yet we reject our immigrant present on the other.  While (some) of our founding father’s protected immigration and saw its value in many different ways, many American’s held nativist feelings toward certain groups. This tension led to a contradiction in not wanting the “other” and realizing the need for cheap labor.  Therefore, the first pieces of anti-immigrant legislation were established for political reasons, rather than restrict immigration.

However, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act initiated an era of steadily increasing immigration restriction, which had severe implications, such as the creation of “illegal aliens” and racial profiling. Later, the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act set quotas for the number of immigrants from each country.  This act ultimately arranged the world into a hierarchy of desirable/undesirable positions.  Unfortunately, anti-immigrant sentiment is still very relevant today, and often rely on age-old nativist arguments like, “bad habits,” “clannish,” “doesn’t speak English,” or “going to take over.”  Therefore, the targets will change, but the complaints remain the same.


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