Reflecting on Reviews of “In Sight of America”

John J. Bukowczyk, of Wayne State University, seemed overall impressed with Anna Pegler-Gordon’s book on photography and its involvement in immigration, “In Sight of America: Photography and the Development of U.S. Immigration Policy,” declaring that it was “excellent and thought provoking.” Bukowczyk claims the book opens a new dialogue for methods and motivations behind immigration laws and actions against immigrants that led to reactions by the immigrants. He also addresses the book’s wide range of topics and interpreted the main theme to be “the creation of race as fact,” which Bukowczyk clarifies is not her original thought but that of Coco Fusco. In the end, he conceded that Pegler-Gordon was likely overestimating the value of images and he claims they more likely confirm rather than define the oral and print culture of immigrants, officials, and immigration history.

Krystyn Moon, of the University of Mary Washington, also praises Pegler-Gordon’s book. She praises her complexity and how Pegler-Gordon addressed double and contradictory meanings of photographic documentation in history. Moon provides a clear layout of the book’s main themes and a summary of her interpretation of those sections. Closing her review, Moon states that the book is a positive source for immigration history and is a part of a growing movement to incorporate visuals and critically analyze their significance to the field.

David M. Hernandez, of UCLA, like Moon clearly addresses the different parts of the focus of Pegler-Gordon’s book. He praises her discussion of Angel Island and El Paso, Texas, in addition to Ellis Island, but in terms of the book’s content the praises end there. Hernandez is quick to address that he finds it obvious that Pegler-Gordon is knowledgeable on the subject. However, he states the book is bloated and over-complex, therefore, confusing its readers. In its entirety, he does believe that it offers a detailed explanation of photography in immigration, but the review is clear that in its detail the book may be unnavigable.

These three reviews provide a clear image of what a reader should expect when picking up “In Sight of America” by Anna Pegler-Gordon. However, there are some clear differences within the three. While all three mention the details provided by Pegler-Gordon creating complexity in the book only Hernandez deems it a negative. Bukowczyk focuses on the book’s declaration, according to him, that the creation of race was due to the mandatory photographs of migrants. Hernandez seems to focus on the official documentation and complexities within the system rather than the people. Only Moon seems to address the book as a whole, both in its details, people, cause and effect on immigration history, and, therefore, she provides the most helpful review of the book. Moving forward, it is important to note that multiple book reviews on a source can be more helpful than one, not only for setting an expectation of its content, but the level of knowledge the reader needs to have when approaching a text.

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