Degrees of Alienation: The Material Evidence of the Irish and Irish American Experience, 1850–1910

Abstract

Irish immigrants to the United States formed a large part of America’s poor from the mid-19th to the first decades of the 20th century. Considered the devious “foreign other,” they were exploited both in the workplace and in the landscape of U.S. cities. Irish immigrants formed communities in the relegated and marginalized spaces they were given and lived in cramped tenements that were fraught with unsanitary conditions. As a consequence of such environmental conditions, several epidemics occurred throughout the 19th century. Outbreaks emanating from these communities and spreading to other city neighborhoods caused panic amongst the U.S.-born citizens and in turn provided the fodder for stereotypes and moral judgments about the character of the Irish. Medicinal bottles recovered archaeologically from Irish and Irish-American deposits are physical manifestations of that social history of exploitation. It is argued here that there is a correlation between the shift from commercially prepared medicines to doctor-prescribed medicines and degrees of alienation of the Irish and Irish Americans in relation to mainstream society. the medicinal bottle data used in this research were recovered from two privies in the rear courtyards of two tenements at the Five Points, Manhattan (ca. 1850–1870) and from two single-family houses from the Dublin section, Paterson, New Jersey (ca. 1880–1910).

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Brighton, S.A. Degrees of Alienation: The Material Evidence of the Irish and Irish American Experience, 1850–1910. Hist Arch 42, 132–153 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03377158

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