American Immigration History: People, Patterns, and Policy

Widely considered a wellspring for US greatness, immigration has also been an abiding site of our deepest conflicts. The republican foundation of the United States, with its promises of democracy and equality for all, seems to strain against the high numbers of immigrants from parts of the world barely imagined by the Founding Fathers, much less as sources of new citizens. What is the breaking point for the assimilating powers of US democracy, and how much does national vitality rely upon a continued influx of diverse immigrants with their strenuous ambitions and resourcefulness? Today we remain divided by competing beliefs about how immigration shapes our nation’s well-being and to what ends we should admit, exclude, or grant citizenship to immigrants, and in what numbers. Professor Madeline Y. Hsu’s course enables students to better understand the terms by which immigration functions as a core aspect of US national identity.

Read the course outline here and listen to a history teacher introduce the course below. 


Please create a free K–12 student account. Note: Only K–12 students with a Gilder Lehrman account can access the registration form.


  • Twenty-five video sessions led by Professor Madeline Y. Hsu. 
  • Primary source readings that supplement Professor Madeline Y. Hsu’s lectures
  • certificate of completion for 12 hours of course time

Readings: The optional readings for each course are listed in the “Resources” tab on the course page. Please note that you are not required to read or purchase any print materials. Quizzes are based on the content of the seminar recordings rather than the readings.

Course Access: After registering, you may access your course by signing in and visiting your “My Courses” link.


Madeline Y. Hsu is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and served as director of the Center for Asian American Studies for eight years (2006–2014). She was president of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society and representative-at-large for the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas. Her first book was Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home: Transnationalism and Migration between the United States and South China, 1882–1943 (Stanford University Press, 2000). The Good Immigrants: How the Yellow Peril Became the Model Minority (Princeton University Press, 2015) received awards from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the Immigration and Ethnic History Society, the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, and the Association for Asian American Studies. Her third book, Asian American History: A Very Short Introduction was published by Oxford University Press in 2016, and the co-edited anthology A Nation of Immigrants Reconsidered: US Society in an Age of Restriction, 1924–1965 was published in 2019 by the University of Illinois Press.

The views expressed in this course are those of Dr. Madeline Y Hsu.