Italian Immigrants in Pennsylvania

Home Education Unit Plans Italian Immigrants in Pennsylvania

Italian Immigrants in Pennsylvania

Through the use primary sources, this unit introduces students to Italian immigration as well as the settlement and the development of Italian American ethnic identity in Pennsylvania. So many Italians headed to Pennsylvania looking for jobs that, from 1890 to 1960, their population by state was the second highest in the country, behind only New York State.

Though 90% of Italian immigrants in the U.S. settled in major cities,71% of the Italians who immigrated to Pennsylvania moved to mid-size and smaller industrial towns scattered throughout the state rather than to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the two largest cities. Students will learn about the reasons for Italian immigration, the development of ethnic communities, the differences between urban and rural life, the development of a uniquely Italian American ethnic identity, and how Italians fit into the larger context of immigration and ethnic history in the state and nation.


19th century
20th century
Ethnic history

Big Ideas

Pennsylvania History
Perspective on Events

Essential Questions

How can the story of another Pennsylvanian, past or present, influence your life?
How does continuity and change within the United States history influence your community today?
What role does analysis have in historical construction?


  • State and local history can offer an individual, discerning judgment in public and personal life, supply examples for living, and thinking about one’s self in the dimensions of time and space.
  • Learning about the past and its different contexts shaped by social, cultural, and political influences prepares one for participation as active, critical citizens in a democratic society. 


  • Contrast multiple perspectives of individuals and groups in interpreting other times, cultures and places.
  • Synthesize a rationale for the study of individuals in Pennsylvania history. 

Background Material for Teacher

End of Unit Assessment

Divide the class into small groups. Using the information gleaned from primary source documents and secondary source readings, each group is to write a short dramatization (10 minutes) that they can perform based on one of the themes listed below that pertain to Italian American history and identity in Pennsylvania. Alternatively, aspects of the themes could be successfully combined into one dramatization

  • Family Life
  • Work Life
  •  Community and Festive Life

Encourage the students to be creative while maintaining historical accuracy. The dramatization should illustrate one key theme or make one key point that is relevant to the history of Italian immigration and settlement in Pennsylvania.

If time allows, you could have each student in the group do some supplementary research or read one of the longer background readings provided for the teacher in this lesson that can potentially be incorporated into the final production. The resource list provided with this lesson has many suggested sources for further research.

Note: Instead of a dramatization, students could use alternative forms such as creating a video, a radio show, or they could create a web site based on additional research they complete.