One-year research project explores the social and political nuances of migration in the Americas

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This story was originally posted on October 16, 2020. It has been updated with details on events and participants.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the University of Rochester one of its prestigious grants for a Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures, to support the project “Migration Without Borders in the Americas: Causes, Experiences, identities ”.

The interdisciplinary seminar series will explore the neglected but vital aspects of human migration in the Western Hemisphere, given the political, social and economic circumstances of migration to and within the Americas over time.

Starting in September, the project will offer public lectures, bi-weekly seminars, monthly workshops, film screenings and an art exhibition, all free and open to the public. Featured speakers include:

  • Serena Parekh, Northeastern University philosopher and author of No Refuge: Ethics and the Global Refugee Crisis (2020)
  • Alex Aleinikoff, former United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees
  • Douglass Massey, professor at Princeton University and author of American Apartheid (1993)
  • David Chang, University of Minnesota historian and author of The World and All the Things Upon It: Native Hawaiian Geographies of Exploration (2016)
  • Sarah Fine, political philosopher from King’s College London and co-author of Migration in Political Theory: The Ethics of Movement and Membership (2016)

Human migration from many angles

Migration is a topic of vital and current importance.

Politicians debate border laws and the criminalization of immigration. Violence and discrimination stimulate and inhibit the movement of people from one country to another. The cumulative effects of climate change, combined with other factors, are driving large-scale migration from places like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. And the COVID-19 pandemic – with closed borders, restricted movement of people, heightened xenophobia, and perilous conditions in detention centers – only adds to society’s need to address issues raised by people. human migrations.

The Sawyer seminar aims to bridge humanistic and social scientific research on migration with the aim of bringing a more nuanced understanding of migration to conceptions of justice.

The grant’s principal investigators are Joan Shelley Rubin, Professor Dexter Perkins of History, and Director Ani and Mark Gabrellian of the Humanities Center; Daniel Reichman, associate professor of anthropology and former chairman of this department; and Ruben Flores, associate professor of history.

Created by the Mellon Foundation in 1994 to support comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments, the Sawyer seminars engage researchers in interdisciplinary forms of inquiry. Such work is generally difficult to continue due to the institutional and field limitations of the study. The Mellon Foundation calls the seminars temporary research centers, indeed.

Migration, justice and local knowledge

The Rochester metropolitan area is home to one of the largest per capita refugee populations in the United States, and part of the project is bringing together academics from the Rochester area with community leaders to investigate migration and justice in the region.

“Justice for migrants is a matter of immense urgency in these circumstances, but ensuring justice in this area is not straightforward,” the research team wrote in its request for support. “We cannot approach these developments as academics and citizens without a set of sustained interdisciplinary conversations about their origins, contemporary form, and implications for the future.”

The Sawyer Seminar will connect academics from the University of Rochester with experts from neighboring institutions, including the Rochester Institute of Technology, SUNY Brockport and Monroe Community College, as well as Ganondagan State Historic Site and ‘other local organizations. The grant also supports postdoctoral fellow Daniel Lee McDonald, a historian specializing in Brazil and Latin America and focusing on issues of rights, migration, social health protection and gender, as well as for the research of two graduate students: Ouma Amadou in visual and cultural studies and Ande Shen in economics.

The other project organizers, who are all Rochester faculty members, are Molly Ball, professor of history; Travis Baseler, assistant professor of economics; Randall Curren, professor of philosophy and chair of his department; Matthew Omelsky, assistant professor of English; Pablo Miguel Sierra Silva, associate professor of history; Rosa Terlazzo, associate professor of philosophy; and Brianna Theobald, assistant professor of history.

The University’s Human Sciences Center is the host base for the seminar.

Scheduled event


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