The Welsh in Metro America
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Dr. Robert Tyler Publishes Book on Welsh in Metro America

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YEREVAN, Armenia — The American University of Armenia (AUA) is pleased to announce the recent publication of Associate Professor Dr. Robert Tyler’s latest book, The Welsh in Metro America: Respectability and Assimilation in San Francisco, Seattle, Columbus, and Milwaukee, 1870-1930. Published by Lexington Books, the book provides a micro study of four Welsh immigrant communities in urban America. Through a consideration of settlement patterns, economic activity, language use, and cultural and religious institutions, The Welsh in Metro America endeavors to understand the strength and long-term viability of these communities and the ways in which they changed by analyzing the forces that enabled Welsh immigrants and their children to so rapidly become Welsh Americans and, ultimately, to almost seamlessly enter the mainstream world of white, English-speaking, Protestant America.

We sat down with Dr. Tyler to find out about his research inspiration, interesting findings, and more. 

What inspired you to research this subject? 

I’m a migration historian. This is my third book on the topic, along with some 30 articles. I’m intrigued by diaspora. Actually, the reason I came to Armenia was because of the diaspora; you have an enormous spyurk. I’m from Wales. Welsh migrants in the United States (U.S.) are interesting in that they’re from the United Kingdom (U.K.), they’re mainstream, they’re Protestant, they’re European. However, they don’t have English as a first language, unlike the Irish, the English, the Scottish. They’re not like the other Europeans exactly, but they’re certainly not like other migrants from the U.K., either. I’ve been researching this topic for 35 years. My Ph.D. was on the Welsh in Australia, my master’s was on the Welsh in the U.S., and I’ve continued from there. 20-25 years ago, you had to go to specific countries to access the source material — to the U.S., to Australia, to Argentina. But nowadays, everything is online, so you can basically go anywhere you want and do your research from anywhere in the world.

My first book was on the Welsh in Australia, in the gold mines, and the second on the Welsh in small-town U.S. But this one focuses on metropolitan areas: big cities like San Francisco, Columbus, Milwaukee, and Seattle. Prior to that, I focused on more specialized, localized, small towns that were dominated by single industries — iron, steel, slate, coal mining — in up-state New York, Vermont, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. Welsh migrants typically specialized as miners, slate quarry men, steel workers. 

So, this book is more a study of how quickly they disappear and become absorbed into the mainstream. Some ethnic minorities, ethnolinguistic groups, took decades to absorb, to assimilate into the U.S. mainstream. (I am intrigued by the extent to which Armenian migrants marry each other, keep their religion, pass on their language — it fascinates me the extent to which you guys passed/pass on your Armenian language, whether it’s Western or Eastern, overseas.) That didn’t arise with the Irish, for example. The Irish language was spoken by a minority even 150 years ago, whereas Welsh was overwhelmingly the language spoken by the Welsh people. Yet in one generation, it was gone: the Welsh became indistinguishable from their fellow Americans, whereas the Irish, who spoke English, were still categorized as a migrant group three generations later. 

What were some interesting findings from your research? 

The idea of clannishness within an ethnolinguistic group: the Welsh 150 years ago primarily couldn’t speak English. They spoke Welsh as a first language, but the willingness to marry outside of the group — we call this exogamy. Endogamy is when you marry within your own people, and exogamy is when you marry outside your group. Now, in most of these industrial communities, naturally there’s a bias in favor of men, single men — it’s a frontier town, essentially, even if in the eastern parts of the U.S. — but many Welsh women married outside the group. I found lots of individual examples that illustrate that, and this is also quantifiable from the census reports. We’re getting minorities that are marrying into other groups. They’re marrying people whose languages they don’t speak too well, they’re marrying other migrants from other parts of the world, or they’re marrying Americans with no discernible migrant roots whatsoever. It depends on each community. 

Welsh women in the US seemed to have been much more liberated than they would have been elsewhere. You have plenty of examples of older women marrying younger men, which is unusual. The level of exogamy is higher than is normally associated with other ethnolinguistic groups from Europe. The Irish are different, because there’s frequently a predominance of women in domestic work, and then they marry outside of the group, because there are not enough Irish men. It’s the other way around in industrial Welsh immigrants, because they’re mostly men, but plenty of women marry outside the group as well.

The idea that Welsh migrants, because they arrived with industrial skills — again, unlike Irish immigrants who were mostly from rural backgrounds, and I don’t mean that in a negative sense, they don’t have any industrial skills. Most Welsh migrants, however, turn up with skills in coal mining, iron, steel, slate, tinplate, and so on. The typical narrative promulgated by Welsh leaders was that they succeeded, they got out of the coal mines within a generation and became white collar workers or professionals — no, this is false. Many stayed for their entire lives and their children, their sons, continued in the same occupation. Many don’t rise up the occupational ladder at all, they just start on that higher rung. The Irish and Eastern Europeans also climbed up the occupational ladder, but from a lower starting point. 

All ethnic groups are filiopietistic — community leaders always focus on the positives of their own community. “Our guys work really hard, never get drunk, never commit crimes.” Recently, Welsh historians have gone to great lengths to prove that wasn’t the case. The Welsh migrants, of course, broke the law. However, I’ve gone through the prison records, and Welsh imprisonment is at a significantly lower level than other ethnic groups at the time. When it comes to women, they are virtually absent from the prison records. 

Generally, you’re looking at acceptance into mainstream U.S. society. If you look at contemporary newspapers, there’s this perception of Welsh immigrants being perfect, law-abiding Americans. Although it does not apply universally, the Welsh have a great reputation. You can see examples of this throughout American history. Welsh presidents were elected from the beginning. Half of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence were individuals of Welsh origin. 

Even though Welsh migrants had a different language, they were Protestants like the dominant U.S. society, whereas most of the later Irish immigrants were Catholics — that was a greater hurdle to overcome to acceptance than a different language altogether.

How has your associate professorship at AUA influenced your process of writing the book? 

I started working on this book before I came to AUA, so it just carried on when I got here. I’ve received great encouragement from colleagues, and I appreciate the teaching load during my first semester here: I teach two classes, which gives me sufficient time to dive into research. Support in general has been brilliant. I have access to all the materials I need here. Remember, that in many parts of the world, certain resources are blocked. The IT team has been extremely helpful as well with their logistical support. Research is acknowledged here, so I feel I have the space I need to conduct my research.

How do you hope this book will be used by future students, scholars, etc.?

My publishers, Lexington Books, contacted me after I published an article on this topic. They have a world-class marketing department, and they proposed marketing this book to not only the general public, but also universities and academic institutions. Lexington has just been taken over by Bloomsbury. The reviewers indicated that there is great potential for the book to be used in immigration courses in universities, especially in the U.S. The book is very much an academic work — four micro-studies combined into one — but it also has a great human-interest angle. 

Dr. Tyler teaches several courses in AUA’s undergraduate General Education program, including The Study of History, History of the Modern World, and Freshman Seminar. He is currently developing several new courses and is participating in the development of an undergraduate minor in history.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.