COPLAC: Voices of Migration

Beginning to Seek Out Available Resources

For this assignment, my partner and I met with two MCLA reference librarians to ask questions about migrant communities in the area and resources available for our research. As a disclaimer, MCLA does not employ a campus archivist; instead, the reference librarians take upon the responsibilities of managing primary source documents and helping students prepare for research.

Through speaking with the librarians, my partner and I learned about many migrant communities in North Adams and the Berkshires in general. We were told about historically strong Italian migration into North Adams, whereas the children and grandchildren of the migrants keep alive an Italian-American support organization.

Referring to Pittsfield (south of North Adams), we discussed vibrant Jewish and Greek communities. Historically, Jewish migrants owned many Pittsfield businesses (I am unclear on the histories/present conditions of those businesses) and remain connected through synagogues in the area. Similarly, Greek migration into Pittsfield has helped solidify a strong community, strengthened by church organizations and annual festivals. In addition, we were told the Berkshires region is suffering from an aging population and is encouraging more migration into the area. Perhaps this aspect could be included into our overall final project.

As for resources, the reference librarians gave us many different outlets to explore. For community knowledge and primary source documentation , the North Adams Public Library, the Berkshire Athenaeum, and the North Adams Historical Society were recommended to us. Specifically for their business acumen, the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce was mentioned, as well. In addition, we discussed the Berkshire Immigration Center and different places of worship as organizations pertaining specifically to immigration/community support. Lastly, for updates on current migration news, the Berkshire Eagle Daily Newspaper was suggested.

The final part of this blog post is dedicated to the brainstorming of potential interview questions for our oral history project. While the following questions are created specifically for the Jewish migrant community, my partner and I have not yet decided which community we intend to focus on for our final project. However, due to my own ethnic background and family history, I am interested in learning about the Jewish migrant community’s experiences in Pittsfield. As a side note, I have not conducted any research so far; therefore, these questions are hypothetical, academic exercises in creating well-formed interview questions, and represent my general curiosity.

  1. For the first-generation of Jewish migrants, what was the primary impetus for relocation? Was it related to World War Two and persecution/European anti-Semitism? Or, was the migration mainly focused on economic opportunities? Perhaps for a different reason altogether?
  2. What job opportunities were available for Jewish migrants directly after migration? Were American companies hiring or did the migrants create their own businesses? Was there some combination of the two?
  3. How has religion connected/strengthened the community of first-generation migrants? Have religious organizations helped foster relationships between the second and third-generations?

4 Comments

  1. Cali

    It sounds like you find a lot of good information. Maine also has the same situation of an aging population that has attracted migrants. I think it will be really interesting to see where your research questions lead you.

    • Morrison

      Absolutely! Our librarians gave us a lot of helpful information to work with! In addition, the aging population conundrum (relating to migration) was something I had never really thought of before. However, it makes sense that communities with aging populations would try and attract migrant workers and their families. If the area does not have enough workers, production will decrease no matter the type of industry (factory work, bakeries, retail, etc.). Further, if a town has a decreasing population, the locality has less collectable tax revenue. Migrant workers and their families would help solve some of these problems. This is an interesting aspect of the community that I would like to somehow include in the final project.

  2. Sarah Leaird

    It will be interesting to know what impact World War II had on migration to the United States. You may be able to look at government census data to determine when large spikes of migration from countries like Germany occurred. I hope to see what you find soon!

    • Morrison

      I’m glad that you mentioned the US Census! I had not even considered using it as a resource until I read about it in Cali’s blog post. It is pretty amazing how much information can be found simply by looking at migration numbers and the years attached to the data. Just today, my partner and I decided to research Greek migration into the area and I am interested to see if either of the World Wars had any effect on the migration patterns; my predication is yes. I am very excited to dig into this research and share what we discover!

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