For centuries scholars, historians and professors have been the go-to source for historical theory that is often taken at its word- largely in part because who else would have the credentials or the access to find evidence to challenge their assertions?
As it turns out, a 14-year old girl was able to do just that to one retired professor, challenging his scholarly publication by using everyone’s favorite tool: Google search. In doing so, she is debunking his claim that Irish immigrants in the United States never really faced the type of discrimination that they claimed, a myth that has been gained quite a following over the past decade.
In 2002 Richard J. Jensen, a history professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, published a bold article in the Oxford Journal of Social History entitled “No Irish Need Apply: A Myth of Victimization.” As noted in the Daily Beast, his abstract claimed that despite Irish Americans having a “vibrant memory” of discrimination in the workplace, including signs that stated “No Irish Need Apply” (NINA), that there is little evidence to support that any of that every really happened.
Jensen continued on to state that the work-based discrimination that is so deeply entrenched in the historical struggle of Irish immigrants in America was actually just a false belief, minimizing the struggle to acclimate which so many immigrants faced. However his conclusion is now being formally challenged from an unlikely opponent: an eighth-grader with some spare time and an internet connection.
Rebecca Fried, who attends the Sidwell Friends school in Washington, D.C., took an interest in the supposedly non-existent NINA signs after reading an article her Dad printed for her. Once intrigued, she did what most Americans do when they have a question- she asked Google.
With relative ease she began finding example after example, eventually leading to dozens of newspaper help wanted ads and posters in shop windows dating as far back as 1842 and as recent as 1909 in over 20 states, all of which bore the discriminating text “No Irish Need Apply.”
With the help of her father, Michael Fried, Rebecca presented her findings to Pulitzer Prize nominated retired professor Kerby Miller, of the University of Missouri. Miller was one of the few historians who had attempted to challenge Jensen’s claim only to be dismissed and accused of believing the myth because he was either Irish American, Catholic or sensitive to the plight of the Irish.
Miller help Rebecca build her paper into academic text worthy of publication, and facilitated getting it published in the same journal as Jensen’s original work, giving scholarly evidence against his findings. After Irish Central posted about Rebecca’s article, the story was shared over 34,000 times, and Richard Jensen repeatedly posted in the comments in an effort to discredit her work. With poise and maturity of academics three times her age, Rebecca engaged with Jensen to provide specific examples in her article to rebuke his statements, as well as stating it was “fun for her” to debate it with him.
And now thanks to her article, the “myth of victimization” is being discussed and bringing to light the real-life issues that many of our ancestors faced on a regular basis. Not bad for a teen heading to 9th grade this fall. Perhaps the rest of us should follow in her footsteps and do our own Google searches!