Through his pioneering use of photography and muckraking prose (most especially in How the Other Half Lives, 1890), Jacob Riis earned fame as a humanitarian in the classic Progressive Era mold. Yet in recent years some revisionist scholars have denounced Riis as an unreconstructed racist who merely posed as a benevolent reformer. Does this rethinking of Riis and the character of his work mean that public historians who have come to revere his photographs should shun them when producing public history related to themes of ethnicity, immigration, multiculturalism, and tolerance? The author argues against this conclusion for two reasons. First, a careful analysis of Riis's entire career and body of written work reveals a man who, despite his lapses into the language of racist stereotypes, was fundamentally tolerant to a degree that far surpassed his contemporaries. Second, the bold use of Riis's words and photos provides the public historian with an extraordinary opportunity to delve into the complex questions of assimilation and Americanization, labor exploitation, cultural diversity, social control, and middle-class fear that lie at the heart of the American immigration narrative.

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