Welcome to Seminar 2: The Peopling of NYC

As a global city, New York has historically served as an important site of activism by immigrant and minority groups and as a battleground for vigorous political contestation. From the struggles for religious freedom fought by early Dutch settlers to the immigrant labor movements of the Gilded Age to the politics of the Harlem Renaissance to the struggle for Black Power to the activism of the Puerto Rican National Left in the 1970s to the voices of immigrants and communities of color within the women’s movement and LGBTQIA activism to contemporary political struggles within immigrant enclaves against fast encroaching gentrification, the precarious practice of grassroots democracy by its people has become a New York City tradition.

Even as they also otherwise assimilate to this American life, immigrants and racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and gender minorities, by their very presence within the American class system, tend to test established social boundaries, expose society’s contradictions, and push against the borders of the status quo. As such, conflict and social change often accompany waves of immigration and the emergence of new urban communities.

This course traces the histories of the people of New York through the lens of their social activism from pre-revolutionary to modern times, with special attention paid to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will place these histories within the philosophical tradition of radical democracy and will also explore the historical roles art and culture have played in the context of the histories of American political struggle and activism and, especially, in the political organizing of the many immigrant and minority communities of New York City.