Read the introduction to Thomas and Znaniecki’s study ‘The Polish Peasant in Europe and America’ (1919) on page 222. Now study the additional information below and discuss the questions that follow:
Thomas and Znaniecki realised that there had been much correspondence between Poland and America and hoped that their advertisements in newspapers would produce a good range of letters. In America they found it relatively easy to find letters, especially as they offered cash for each one they received.However, they had to visit Poland in order to acquire letters sent from America. They returned to America with a suitcase full of letters, but they still faced a number of problems.
Thomas and Znaniecki wished to study how new immigrants became integrated into American society and the extent to which traditional family solidarity remained. Of course, the letter-writers did not always address this issue and they therefore had to pick up fragments of information wherever they were available. Only rarely were they able to acquire full sets of correspondence.
Offering a cash incentive was not always enough to persuade people to give up their letters. Many letters contained very personal and sensitive material, or they were cherished love letters. Some contained derogatory remarks that the writers or recipients would not want to be seen by others. An additional problem was that some of the letters had not been written by the sender, but by someone else in the village who was able to write. There was no guarantee here that the message sent was precisely what was intended by the sender.
- Thomas and Znaniecki found that some people did not want to give or sell them their letters. Why might this have been? Could this have affected their results?
- Explain the reasons why Thomas and Znaniecki’s collection of letters was probably a biased sample.
- Read the account of the principles set out by John Scott for assessing documentary sources on page 223 to 224. How would you assess the Thomas and Znaniecki study in terms of Scott’s criteria of authenticity, credibility, representativeness and meaning?