This exhibition tells the story of European emigration to the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibition, jointly curated by the Digital Public Library of America and Europeana, uses photographs, manuscripts, broadsheets, paintings, letters, and other unique materials to chart peoples’ journeys across the European continent and their settlement in the United States. The digital items displayed are from US and European libraries, museums and archives and the accompanying narrative was commissioned specially for the exhibition from US and European experts.
America is well-known as a land of immigrants; a notion that is essential to its identity. European migration to America may be dated from 1620 when 100 Pilgrims from England set out on the difficult four-month journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Most Europeans emigrated to America between 1820-1920. They came in two major waves, first from northern and western Europe in the early 19th century, then from southern and eastern Europe between 1860 and 1920. While the Pilgrims left their homeland seeking freedom from religious persecution, immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries were also fleeing poor economic conditions or political oppression.
In early 19th-century America, immigrants worked as farmers and domestic servants. As the country moved from an agricultural to an industrial economy in the latter half of the 19th century, they laid railway tracks and worked in factories. They opened small restaurants, barbershops, and shoeshine parlours. They worked in the textile industry and in coal mines. They helped produce iron and steel, and worked on gas, electricity, and water projects. America’s immigrants settled the country, developed its infrastructure, and advanced its politics and culture. They had a profound impact on the country; at the same time, by uprooting themselves from their home countries, they profoundly changed their own lives.