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Exploring Nativism in Pennsylvania

Exploring Nativism in Pennsylvania is a cross-curricular lesson plan that explores anti-immigrant sentiment and stereotyping during the 19th century. Using the Irish as a case study, students learn about the reasons nativism emerges in American life, and how they can apply the lessons of history to critically understand and contextualize attitudes toward immigrants today.


19th century

Ethnic history



Big Ideas

Pennsylvania History

US History

Essential Questions

  • How does continuity and change within Pennsylvania history influence your community today?

  • How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to Pennsylvania society?


  • Textual evidence, material artifacts, the built environment, and historic sites are central to understanding the history of Pennsylvania.

  • Conflict and cooperation among social groups, organizations, and nation-states are critical to comprehending society in the Pennsylvania. Domestic instability, ethnic and racial relations, labor relation, immigration, and wars and revolutions are examples of social disagreement and collaboration.


  • Synthesize a rationale for the study of individuals in Pennsylvania history.

  • Analyze a primary source for accuracy and bias and connect it to a time and place in Pennsylvania.

  • Summarize how conflict and compromise in Pennsylvania history impact contemporary society.

Background Material for Teacher

End of Unit Assessment

  • Grade student-generated material from Lesson 2. Students could be graded on accuracy, creativity, participation/involvement, clarity, etc.

  • Have students orally debate or write a paper comparing and contrasting ethnic tensions and violence  in Philadelphia today with that of the 1840s.  They may compare current news accounts to the primary sources in Lesson 2 to substantiate their claims


Plans in this Unit

Reading Anti-Immigrant Images

Reporting Ethnic Violence

Grade Level

High School

Standards/Eligible Content







PA Core Standards





This unit was created with funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Lindback Foundation, the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation, William Penn Foundation, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

About the Author

This lesson was created by Kathryn Wilson. Updated for SAS by Casey B. Wernick and Amy Seeberger, Education Interns, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Unit Plan

The Promise and Challenge of Religious Freedom

Unit Plan

Exploring Anti-Irish Attitudes

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