The 2012 series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores major historical events through the ancestries of prominent Americans. In Episode 8, Dr. Gates explores the family histories of comedienne and actress Margaret Cho; neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta; and author and television personality Martha Stewart. Each prominent individual is either a first- or second-generation American, and each individual’s family came to live in the United States due to conflict in their homelands.
This hands-on, media-enhanced lesson explores why groups of people leave their native countries, often to come to the United States, and what major historical milestones prompted mass migrations. In the Introductory Activity, students look at immigration to the United States from 1880-2000 and hypothesize as to the reasons for large influxes of groups of people. In the Learning Activity, students learn about the family histories of Cho, Gupta, and Stewart, and explore why each person’s family left his/her homeland and the historical milestones surrounding each departure. In the Culminating Activity, students will explore 10 events or topics that were or led to mass migrations, and they will discuss the similarities and differences surrounding each topic/event.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
- Describe reasons behind movements of peoples due to historical events.
- Discuss historical milestones in India, Korea, and Poland that led to mass exoduses from each country and compare and contrast the milestones.
- Describe the impact of migrations using information from a map or chart.
- Analyze the similarities and differences among mass migrations in history.
(2-3) 45-minute class periods
For each student:
- Foreign-Born Trends in the United States Student Organizer
- Exodus and Upheaval Student Organizer
- Mass Migrations in History Student Organizer
For the class:
- Exodus and Upheaval Student Organizer Answer Key
- Mass Migrations in History Student Organizer Answer Key
For the IntroductoryActivity and Learning Activity:
Part I: INTRODUCTORY ACTIVITY
- Ask students whether or not they know how or why their families came to live in America. What are some of the reasons students’ families migrated to America? (Accept all answers.)
- Tell students that America has historically been a beacon of hope for people around the world. Ask students why they think this is the case. (Accept all answers, but suggest that the level of freedom and equality in America is a safe-haven for people around the world; historically, too, America provides opportunities for many people to better their lives.)
- Navigate to The New York Times “Immigration Explorer”. On the right side of the page, select “Number of residents” for SHOW. Ask students what is being represented on the map. (The map represents how foreign-born groups settled across the United States. With “Number of residents” selected, it shows the relative number of people from regions all over the world and where they settled in the United States. Data is provided in decades, starting with 1880 and lasting until 2000.)
- Navigate to “1920” and ask students what information they can gather from the map. (A huge number of immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe lived on the East Coast and in the Midwest during this decade; states bordering Mexico started noticing an influx of immigrants from Latin America; few immigrants moved to the southern United States or the Rocky Mountain region.)
- Move the slider to “1880” and slowly slide up to “1910”, stopping at each decade in between for a few seconds. Ask students to take note of what happens to the map. (The blue and purple bubbles, representing Russia/Eastern Europe and Western Europe, respectively, grow significantly). Ask students to hypothesize why this growth might have happened, based on what they know of U.S. and world history. (Factors may have included the Industrial Revolution, reduced costs of transatlantic travel, and conflict in Europe). Ask students to hypothesize as to what happened to immigration into the U.S. as a result of the Great Depression. (Suggest that due to reduced opportunities, immigration to the U.S. affected the foreign-born population in the U.S.)
- Distribute the Foreign-Born Trends in the United States Student Organizer. Move the slider to each decade, starting with 1880, and allow one minute per decade for students to list a trend they see on the map and hypothesize, if they can, as to what caused the trend.
- Take 5-10 minutes to share trends and hypotheses that students noticed. (Accept all answers).
Part II: LEARNING ACTIVITY
- Contextualize the next activity by asking students why they think immigrants come to America. (Accept all answers, but if it is not mentioned, suggest that war, political/religious conflict, famine, etc., have all been major factors that have driven people out of their homelands and, often, into the free and historically prosperous land of America).
- Explain to students that using video segments from the PBS series Finding Your Roots, you will be exploring why the families of Margaret Cho, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Martha Stewart left their homelands and eventually came to live in the United States. Tell students that these celebrities’ families left their homelands for very specific reasons, as many families and individuals have had to do in history. Distribute the Exodus and Upheaval Student Organizer.
- Tell students that they will be watching a video segment about Sanjay Gupta’s family history. As they are watching this video segment, they should record who left his/her homeland and why they left. Students should use the Exodus and Upheaval Student Organizer to record their notes. Play the The Partition of India Video.
- After showing the segment, ask students to identify why Dr. Gupta’s mother left India in the 1940s. (She left with her family due to the conflict that arose as a result of the partition of India and Pakistan. 14 million Muslims and Hindus were displaced as a result of the partition). What did Dr. Gupta know prior to Dr. Gates’s research? (He knew very little; his mother was hesitant to talk about her experience). Ask students why they think she hid her past from her son. (Accept all answers, but suggest it was a very painful time and she did not want to pass the pain on to her family). How does Dr. Gupta feel about his lack of knowledge regarding his family history? (He is very curious as to what his mother experienced during the partition of India and Pakistan). How did Damyanti’s grandmother feel about leaving? (She did not want to leave – it was the only home she had ever known. She said, “I came as a bride and I’m not leaving this place.” She carried keys for locks holding her possessions in her homeland. She left reluctantly, ending up in Bombay with her family).
- Next, tell students that they will watch a video segment explaining actress and comedienne Margaret Cho’s family history. As they are watching this segment, they should record who left his/her homeland and why they left. Students should use the Exodus and Upheaval Student Organizer to record their notes. Play the A Hurried Escape Video. Pause at 2:35, after Cho says “…that would be too hard to face.” How much did Margaret Cho know about her father’s departure from his homeland? (Like Dr. Gupta and his mother, Cho knows very little about her father’s past. Cho believes her father did not want to pass on the painful memories.) What does Cho’s father say is his reason for keeping his past a secret? (He did not want his daughter to know what “world he went through.”) Ask students why Cho’s father’s family escaped from what is currently North Korea. (“Cho’s grandfather worked for the Japanese as a station master during their occupation of Korea which began in 1905. After Japan withdrew from Korea at the conclusion of World War II, her grandfather was labeled a traitor and risked being executed by North Korea’s new Communist leadership. For the safety of Cho’s family, they moved from North Korea to South Korea.”) When Cho learns the truth about her father’s past, how does she feel? (She says she understands why he never told her, because it would be too hard to face). Resume playing the segment through to the end.
- Tell students that finally, they will be watching a video segment featuring Martha Stewart’s family history. As they are watching this video segment, they should record who left his/her homeland and why they left. Students should use the Exodus and Upheaval Student Organizer to record their notes. Play the Leaving Poland Video. Pause at 1:31, after Stewart finishes reading the letter. Did Stewart’s relatives share stories about their lives in the “old country?” (No. Stewart had to draw answers out of them. She says memories were not as discussed in those days. She wishes she had learned more about her grandparents when they were alive). Ultimately, how does Stewart learn the fate of her great-grandparents? (Research discovered a letter from Stewart’s grandmother Helen’s husband to his family. The letter describes how they had“clothes and shoes to send home” to Helen’s parents but that “Bolsheviks took everything and they do not have anything.” They “sent two ship tickets for passage to America” for Helen’s sister and brother because “their parents died and the house burned down and they do not have anybody there in the country”).
- Resume playing the Leaving Poland Video through to the end. When did war break out in Poland and why? (War broke out between the “newly independent Polish state and Soviet Russia” in 1919 shortly after the conclusion of World War I.) Ask students what they think happened to Helen’s parents. (Accept all answers, but suggest that they died during the war between Russia and Poland). What happened to Helen’s siblings? (Six out of eight siblings ended up settling in America). Ask students why they think so many of the siblings resettled in America. (Accept all answers, but suggest that the turmoil they experienced in their homelands probably drove them to find a safe, conflict-free home in America.)
- Tell students that they will now be comparing and contrasting the exoduses of Cho’s, Gupta’s, and Stewart’s ancestors. On the white/black board, create a chart with two columns – label one column “Similarities”, the other “Differences”. Have students first identify the similarities among the three individuals’ families’ departures. (All left out of necessity, due to a conflict, imminent danger, or because they were unable to survive in their homelands; all families eventually settled in the U.S.; all of those who left were reluctant to recall the past and what they experienced in their native countries; all left as children/young people). Next, ask students to list the differences among the three individuals’ families’ departures. (The families fled at different times [Gupta’s mother and Cho’s father in the late 1940s, and Stewart’s in the 1910s/1920s]; they each migrated from their homelands to different areas [Gupta’s to Bombay; Cho’s to South Korea; and Stewart’s to America]). Ask students why they think there was a delay between when Gupta’s and Cho’s relatives left their homelands to when they migrated to the U.S. (Accept all answers, but suggest that reasons could have been financial, emotional or logistical.)
- Return to The New York Times “Immigration Explorer”. On the right side of thepage, select “Number of residents” for SHOW. Navigate to “1910”, and then “1920”. Ask students which group(s) are most heavily represented. (Russia, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe,with limited numbers from Latin America). Ask students if, based on the video segments they’ve seen today, this assessment makes sense. (Yes –Martha Stewart’s grandmother and her siblings came to the U.S. from Poland during this time due to the Polish-Soviet War). Next, navigate to “1940”, and then to “1950”. Ask students which group(s) are most heavily represented. (Russia, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe, with limited numbers from Latin America). Ask students if, based on the video segments they’ve seen today, this assessment makes sense. (The video segments featuring Cho and Gupta would suggest possible migrations from Asia; however, there does not seem to be any Asian representation.) Ask students why they think this might be. (Accept all answers, but make sure students understand that it is noted on the website that Census data is limited, which could explain the absence of an Asian presence during the 1940s and 1950s).
Part III: CULMINATING ACTIVITY
- Divide students into ten groups. Assign each group a topic from the following list:
- The Oregon Trail
- Hurricane Katrina
- Darfur conflict
- The partition of India and Pakistan
- World War II/the Holocaust
- Puritan migration in the 17th century
- The U.S. Gold Rush
- The Great Famine in Ireland
- African American migration from the South in the 20th century
- Explain to students that each of the topics listed above is or led to a mass migration in world history.
- Distribute the Mass Migrations in History Student Organizer.
- Ask students to work within their groups to consider the following questions about their group’s assigned topic:
- Describe the mass migration associated with your topic, including where the people originated from and where they (for the most part) moved, if this information is available.
- What caused the mass migration?
- What are 1-2 long-term effects of the mass migration?
Students should use the Mass Migrations in History Student Organizer to record their answers.
- Have each group share their answers with the class. Have each group record answers given by the other groups on their Mass Migrations in History Student Organizer. Lead a group discussion comparing and contrasting elements of each of the migrations. What is similar among the migrations? What is different? (For example: “similarities” include that each event spurred both short- and long-term effects; “differences” include that some events involved voluntary migration, where people sought new opportunities or a better life, while others involved involuntary migration, where people were forcibly removed from their homes.)
- Ask students to summarize what they have learned today. (Accept all answers, but if the following are not mentioned, add: there are many reasons, both voluntary and involuntary, that people leave their homelands; that many historical events have led to mass migrations of people, and these migrations have had lasting effects on the world; and that the “melting pot” that is America can be attributed to many things, including mass migrations throughout history.)