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.