Top Young Historians: 121- Thomas A. Guglielmo


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

121: Thomas A. Guglielmo, 2-14-11


Teaching Position: Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies, American Studies Department, George Washington University
Area of Research: Race and ethnic studies, immigration, and twentieth-century U.S. social, cultural, and political history.
Education: PhD, University of Michigan, 2000
Major Publications: Guglielmo is the author of White On Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003);Thomas A. Guglielmo
He is presently at work on a second book, forthcoming with Oxford University Press and tentatively entitled Race War: World War II and the Crisis of American Democracy. Guglielmo is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others:
“Fighting for Caucasian Rights: Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and the Transnational Struggle for Civil Rights in World War II Texas,” Journal of American History 92 (March 2006): 1212-1237;
“Encountering the Color Line in the Everyday: Italians in Interwar Chicago,” Journal of American Ethnic History 23 (Summer 2004): 45-77;
“Rethinking U.S. Whiteness Historiography,” in Whiteout: The Continuing Significance of Racism, ed. Ashley Doane and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (New York: Routledge, 2003), 49-61;
“‘No Color Barrier’: Italians, Race, and Power in the United States,” in Are Italians White?: How Race Is Made in America, ed. Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno (New York: Routledge, 2003), 29-43;
“The Changing Meaning of Difference: Race, Color, and Ethnicity in America, 1930-1964,” (co-authored with Earl Lewis) in Race and Ethnicity in America: A Concise History, ed. Ronald H. Bayor (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 167-192.
“Toward Essentialism, Toward Difference: Gino Speranza and Conceptions of Race and Italian-American Racial Identity, 1900-1925,” Mid-America 81 (Summer 1999): 169-213.
Awards: Guglielmo is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians, 2004;
Allan Nevins Dissertation Prize, Society of American Historians, 2001;
Horace H. Rackham Distinguished Dissertation Award, University of Michigan, 2001;
Evans Prize (best dissertation of the year in history), University of Michigan, 2000;
Massaro Prize in History (best essay of the year), Italian Americana, 2000;
Distinction, Ph.D. Exam, Department of History, University of Michigan, 1998;
Fellowship, Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, Harvard University, 2008-2009;
Fellowship, Institute for Historical Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 2008-2009 (declined);
Fellowship, 2008 Festival of Ideas, Aspen Institute, Aspen, Colorado, July 2008;
Fellowship, Research Institute for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Stanford University, 2005-2006;
Associate Fellowship, Michigan Society of Fellows, University of Michigan, 2000-2001;
Mellon Dissertation Fellowship, University of Michigan, 1999-2000;
Mellon Candidacy Fellowship, University of Michigan, 1998-1999;
Regents Fellowship, University of Michigan, 1996-1998.
Additional Info:
Formerly Assistant Professor, Department of American Studies, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, 2002-2005; Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2001-2002.


Christmas Day, 1988. I was a nineteen-year-old sophomore in college. My sister, Jennifer—a history major at UW-Madison at the time (now a professor at Smith College) and the very best sibling anyone could ask for—had for several years been finding me all manner of cool reading material: a Barbara Kingsolver novel, a Mary Crow Dog memoir, an Alice Walker essay collection. This holiday she gave me a new book about the civil rights movement, Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters. It’d go on to win the Pulitzer Prize, among other big awards, but none of this I knew at the time. What I did know, what any reasonable person could see as I labored to unwrap the thing, was its formidable, thousand-plus-page size. For someone who, up to this point, had an on-again-off-again relationship with reading, the book scared the hell out of me.

Still, it must have been a slow winter break—few friends home from college or little good football on TV—because I would soon part those thousand-plus pages, discovering something profound in the process: I was engrossed. I devoured the book in a few days and then reread bits and pieces of it for weeks and months afterward. I returned to college that spring term and enrolled in my first U.S. history class and, soon, declared myself a history major. I read everything I could get my hands on about King and the movement. I even composed a related rap song, which my don’t-completely-humiliate-yourself instinct prevents me from sharing. Consider yourself fortunate. Really.

Of course, it’d take a longer essay to explain why my sister thought to buy me Branch’s book in the first place and why it—and other work on the black freedom struggle—spoke to me in such a profound way. But, when thinking about my journey to becoming an historian, that wonderful holiday gift from twenty-plus years ago proved huge (in every sense of the word).


By Thomas A. Guglielmo

  • The “new,” subtler forms of racism that social scientists and a few historians have seen as emerging in the 1960s and beyond as a response, in part, to civil rights movement successes had earlier roots. When Americans were fighting the Nazis and their racist regime, when scientific racism was on the defensive, and when civil rights activists tirelessly pressed both points, some whites and others formulated different, less essentialist defenses for race-based discrimination. Like those of the Red Cross and military leaders, these defenses were racist in one sense, by helping maintain a deeply unequal racial order, without appearing racist in another, by avoiding talk of races as fundamentally and immutably distinct. This point serves as a reminder that as wartime civil rights activism grew, the defenders of a white-supremacist status quo also mobilized—and innovated. — in “‘Red Cross, Double Cross’: Race and America’s World War II-Era Blood Donor Service,” Journal of American History 97 (June 2010): 66
  • White On Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945 JPG Immigrating to the United States, Italians, like all others arriving on America’s shores, were made to fill out a standardized immigration form. In the box for race, they faced several choices: Italian, Southern Italian, Mediterranean, or Silician. On the line requesting information on color, they wrote simply “”white.”” This identification had profound implications for Italians, as Thomas A. Guglielmo demonstrates in this prize- winning book. While many suffered from racial prejudice and discrimination, they were nonetheless viewed as white on arrival in the corridors of American power–from judges to journalists, from organized labor to politicians, from race scientists to realtors. Taking the mass Italian immigration of the late 19th century as his starting point, Guglielmo focuses on how perceptions of Italians’ race and color were shaped in one of America’s great centers of immigration and labor, Chicago. His account skillfully weaves the major events of Chicago immigrant history–the Chicago Color Riot of 1919, the rise of Italian organized crime, the rise of fascism, and the Italian-Ethiopian War of 1935-36–into the story of how Italians approached, learned, and lived race. By tracking their evolving position in the city’s racial hierarchy, Guglielmo reveals the impact of racial classification–both formal and social–on immigrants’ abilities to acquire homes and jobs, start families, and gain opportunities in America. Carefully drawing the distinction between race and color, Guglielmo argues that whiteness proved Italians’ most valuable asset for making it in America. Even so, Italians were reluctant to identify themselves explicitly as white until World War II. By separating examples of discrimination against Italians from the economic and social advantages they accrued from their acceptance as whites, Guglielmo counters the claims of many ethnic Americans that hard work alone enabled their extraordinary success, especially when compared to non-white groups whose upward mobility languished. A compelling story, White on Arrival contains profound implications for our understanding of race and ethnic acculturation in the United States, as well as of the rich and nuanced relationship between immigration and urban history. — About “White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945”

About Thomas A. Guglielmo

  • “An important advance in our understanding of the racial dynamics involving early twentieth-century immigrants. A major contribution that deserves to exercise a major influence on the discussion of race in the US.” — American Historical Review
  • “White on Arrival gets here right on time. As we increasingly require histories that speak to the ways race has been made both in the U.S. and beyond its borders, Guglielmo provides a meticulous local study aware of the international flows of migrants and ideas. As we urgently need mature historical accounts providing the historical context for debates over affirmative action and reparations, he carefully and compellingly shows how Italian Americans both felt the brutalities of race and benefitted from the privileges of whiteness.” — David Roediger, University of Illinois
  • “How did the ‘New Immigrants’ of the early twentieth century become the ‘White Ethnics’ of the postwar era? In this exhaustively researched study of one immigrant group’s encounter with race, Tom Guglielmo provides an unusual perspective on the everyday bases of racial identity, thinking, and behavior. He roots his discussion in the everyday lives of Italian immigrants and their neighbors and in the process illuminates the complex process by which Italians became ‘Americans’ in the racially-charged atmosphere of early twentieth century Chicago’s politics, labor relations, popular culture, and residential life. An outstanding social history, White on Arrival also speaks to cultural and intellectual historians concerned with the idea of race and its implications for the cultural lives of common Americans.” — James R. Barrett, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • “Every time I think the ‘whiteness studies’ paradigm has crashed and burned, another careful innovative, illuminating study comes along to prove me wrong. Thomas Guglielmo’s White on Arrival is just such a study. It is a deeply researched, richly textured treatment of both sides of a complicated equation: the ways in which it mattered that ‘Italianness’ was conceived in biologized, ‘racial’ terms, and the ways in which it mattered (and continues to matter) that Italian immigrants and their American-born children nonetheless shared a safe haven of legal whiteness with a number of other ‘white’ groups on the scene.” — Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University
  • “In this original, provocative, and theoretically sophisticated study, Thomas Guglielmo offers us the first substantive, in-depth examination of Italian immigrants, racial categorization, and racial identity in early 20th century America. Grounding his arguments and findings in extensive primary research, he successfully refutes many of the premises and conclusions advanced by the ‘whiteness school,’ providing an alternative and often compelling narrative and methodology for exploring the history of immigration and race.” — Eric Arnesen, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • “During the 1990s, a variety of studies adopted the notion of south, central, and eastern European immigrants as ‘in-between people,’ who were neither fully black nor white, during their early encounter with industrial America. While such studies illuminated racial formation as a historical process, Professor Guglielmo convincingly argues that such studies often oversimplified the phenomenon. Based upon a broad range of archival sources and oral interviews with Italians in Chicago, Professor Guglielmo carefully documents the white skin privileges that Italians enjoyed from the outset of their sojourn on American soil.” — Joe W. Trotter, Carnegie Mellon University
  • “Great teacher! Class was interesting and material was very organized.”…
    “He is one of the nicest professors I have ever had. Incredibly approachable and eager to help students.”…
    “Great lecturer- so organized- one of the few classes I’ve taken where the time just seems to pass and I’ve learned a lot!” — Anonymous Former Students
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