Historical society head to talk turn-of-century immigration

garrity, tim

Mount Desert Island Historical Society Executive Director Tim Garrity presents “Immigrants in the Borderland, 1880-1920” at College of the Atlantic’s Human Ecology Forum on April 12. PHOTO COURTESY OF COA

BAR HARBOR —Mount Desert Island Historical Society Executive Director Tim Garrity will explore a convergence of cultures in Bar Harbor during a time when nativism and racism were powerful forces in American Society at the next College of the Atlantic Human Ecology Forum in the McCormick Lecture Hall on Tuesday, April 12, at 4:10 p.m.

A master historian and writer, Garrity presents “Immigrants in the Borderland, 1880-1920,” a history of Mount Desert Island that connects the immigration issues of a century ago to today’s Twitter feed.

“I think a lot of people think of history as being just about the past, and what’s really great about this particular presentation is that Tim shows just how relevant history is to understanding what’s going on in the present,” said COA Professor Ken Cline.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as a tourist economy boomed in Bar Harbor, a wave of foreign immigrants arrived to find a place and culture already occupied by native Mainers and wealthy and influential summer residents who had well-established and powerfully-held ideas about foreigners. In time, Garrity said, immigrants overcame long-established prejudices, while locals and summer residents set aside their fears to create a more accepting community.

The parallels with that time and the present one present a compelling story, Cline said.

“His opening segment features immigrants from that period mixed with pictures of Syrian immigrants now, and people in the Middle East, and talk of discussions and speeches that could have come out of Donald Trump’s mouth but are from 100 years ago – it’s really powerful,” he said.

Garrity writes and presents on a wide range of Mount Desert Island histories including the Civil War and its impact on soldiers, sailors, women and dissidents; historian Francis Parkman’s arguments against women’s suffrage; and how Acadia’s mountains got their names. He is the managing editor of the society’s annual magazine, “Chebacco,” and earned a master’s in history from the University of Maine.

For Garrity, the topic of the presentation is both political and personal, he said.

“I hear in our public discourse the same fear-filled language that was common a century ago,” said Garrity, an Irish-American. “No child of the Irish, or any other immigrant group, should stay quiet when the political speech that once denigrated our grandparents is being recycled for a new audience.”

The Human Ecology Forum is a weekly speaker series based on the work of the academic community, which also draws on artists, poets and political and religious leaders from around the world. The forum is open to the public.

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