“Why historians are fighting about ‘No Irish Need Apply’ signs — and why it matters” – Vox

I’m Irish-American and a historian, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I was unaware of this controversy over Irish-American immigrants.

The controversy began after the historian Richard J. Jensen published the article “No Irish Need Apply: A Myth of Victimization” in 2002. In it, Jensen argued that  the Irish victimization narrative in America was based on a myth about “No Irish Need Apply” signs. He claimed that “there is no evidence for any printed NINA signs in America, or for their display at places of employment other than private homes.”

At the time some historians pushed back against Jensen’s claims, but no serious challenge was mounted against his claims. Although the historian Kerby Miller tried to mount an attack, he realized that it was “an unwinnable fight when he went to New Zealand to present some work and he was bombarded with questions on why he didn’t believe Jensen.” (The Daily Beast)

It took a 14-year-old student, Rebecca Fried, to debunk Jensen’s claim about the nonexistence of the NINA signs. She diligently searched through many newspaper databases and found plenty of evidence that these signs in-fact existed. (I want to add that there is plenty other evidence for the persecution of Irish Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Maybe there was some exaggeration of the persecution the Irish faced but it was most definitely real.)

I question Jensen’s motives for his thesis. As historians we strive to be objective, but sometimes our bias get the better of us. This is why the study of history is a collective endeavor. We are all responsible for keeping other historians in check. In this case a curious student did what a fellow historian should have done. Great job Rebecca!

Read the interesting story here:  Why historians are fighting about “No Irish Need Apply” signs — and why it matters – Vox.

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4 thoughts on ““Why historians are fighting about ‘No Irish Need Apply’ signs — and why it matters” – Vox

  1. I did a search for ‘No Irish Need Apply’ on ‘Trove’ and got thousands of results, on historical Australian records… here: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/result?q=no+irish+need+apply

    I found a ‘No Irish Need Apply’ article written in 1877. It confirming advertisements were being
    placed in newspapers, stating ‘No Irish Need Apply’.
    http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/115376736?searchTerm=no%20irish%20need%20apply&searchLimits=

    One of the earliest opinion piece written in 1843, ‘No Irish Need Apply’, gives and amazing insight into how the Irish felt discriminated against, very scaring, important, as it was in prior to ‘the famine’, you can imagine the propaganda being implemented by the British in this Colony (Australia), at the time.
    http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/31740415?searchTerm=no%20irish%20need%20apply&searchLimits=sortby#pstart4232476

    In 1850, another discusses British Government policy or sentiment towards Irish, based on a report from Dublin. ‘GOVERNMENT EMIGRATION “NO IRISH NEED APPLY”
    http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/93135970?searchTerm=no%20irish%20need%20apply&searchLimits=sortby#pstart8143878

    Also a ‘No Irish Need Apply’ article written in 1895, confirming this type of advertisement was being published in England, appearing in the ‘London Tablet’ ,
    giving the example of what was published on 2nd and 9th of February 1877.
    http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/170164643?searchTerm=no%20irish%20need%20apply&searchLimits=

    The list goes on … fascinating, but reading the articles, you really get sense of the complete injustice and discrimination and racism at the time towards the Irish by the English Colonists, and this all before the Famine. For anyone to say it was a ‘myth’, is just like saying the Nazi attitude to Jews was also a myth. Lunacy.

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  2. The New York Times has also confirmed that Dr Richard J Jensen was completely wrong and has found thousands of classified adds from across the U.S. States from the 19th century with the “no Irish need apply” in the text. It beggars belief that a person with a Docorate could come up with “research ” when in fact it would appear no “research ” was done at all. I’m Irish , my Grandfather was Irish American ,born in the 19th century in NewYork .

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