Faculty in Race, Ethnicity, and Migration are broadly engaged in exploring how individual and collective identities are produced and analyzing the settings and ideologies that give rise to these categories. We have particular strengths in the study of race, ethnicity, and migration in the United States, but we also investigate the experiences of diasporic peoples, as well as the circulation of goods and ideas, across time and around the globe. Our work is particularly invested in understanding how categories of identity intersect and inform one another in spaces of cultural exchange. Our course offerings reflect our specialties in colonization and resistance, slavery and its legacies, migration and immigration, and nation-building and empire. Our research demonstrates a commitment to exploring relationships between race and ethnicity and other vectors of identity (such as gender, religion, citizenship, and national origin) as populations encounter one another. We welcome inquiries from prospective graduate students interested in our areas of specialty and look forward to welcoming new minds into our collective.
Over the past thirty years, debates around race, ethnicity, and migration have cultivated a vibrant academic dialogue that crosses disciplinary boundaries. Spurred by the recent intensification of globalization processes on the one hand and an insistent focus on local realities of everyday life on the other, race, ethnicity, and migration studies have increasingly operated as a nexus of diverse scholarly investigations. Simultaneously, questions of racial identification, citizenship, and ethnic pride have captivated the public imagination, producing robust but often ahistorical commentaries on identity and belonging. Indeed, as historians Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob assert, “Because history and historical evidence are so crucial to a people’s sense of identity, the evidence itself often becomes the focus of the struggle.”[i] Faculty in REM are actively involved in research and pedagogy that engages both the history and historical evidence of race, ethnicity, and migration as both processes and outcomes, creating both innovative scholarship and important historical contexts for the broadest understanding of these complex phenomena. Further, as a flagship public university of a majority-minority state, Texas A&M University is in a prime position to foster public dialogue regarding the complex questions addressed in REM studies.
The work of faculty in REM reflects broader trends in the profession of history. The twentieth-century emergence of social history opened up a wide range of historical subjects whose experiences had never before been deemed worthy of inclusion in most grand historical narratives. For the first time, women, workers, and people of color began to appear in the work of professional historians who labored to liberate their lives from the margins. The ascendance of cultural history has meant that historians of race, ethnicity, and migration are necessarily attentive to narrative, language, and performance in their understandings of how such categories of identity operate. In the last thirty years, scholars have sharpened their efforts to explore the central role of race and ethnicity in shaping political, economic, and social opportunity, even as mass migrations across national, political, and social boundaries have accelerated.[ii] While early scholarship focused on uncovering the submerged stories of individuals who were marked as “different” by the dominant society in a given place and time, more recent work has complicated this approach by paying attention to historical agency of “Others” and highlighting the importance of considering interactions (including conflict) between and among racial and ethnic groups. No longer is North America viewed as a place where disparate communities rarely interacted; instead works like Gary Nash’s Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America (1974) and his later “The Hidden History of Mestizo America” (1995) helped to reveal that interracial unions and other close interactions between so-called separate races created a mass hybridization of cultures, peoples, and ideas from the colonial era to the present.[iii]
The history of immigration to the United States has also undergone important changes during the same period. Borrowing from sociology and legal studies, historians now understand U.S. immigration as more than a story of quick assimilation and upward mobility. As a result, narratives of U.S. immigration have become less linear and less triumphalist. For example, the sociological concept of “segmented assimilation” demonstrates that many immigrants have arrived into a stratified, unequal society where different paths of belonging to the U.S. nation-state were available and not all were necessarily beneficial. Furthermore, legal scholarship, such as Ian Haney Lopez’s White By Law (1996) has revealed that for many immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, and Catholic backgrounds, not being white, northern European, and Protestant have been serious obstacles to assimilation at one time or another. We draw upon these interdisciplinary and comparative approaches to the studies of immigration, race, and ethnicity to understand conflict and collaboration among and between the diverse peoples of the world.
Influential work in transnational history has further enriched our understanding of how categories of identity operate in specific historical contexts. Mary Louise Pratt’s Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation deployed the concept of “contact zones,” a useful way of theorizing the spaces in which peoples “geographically and historically separated come into contact with one another and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict.”[iv] This approach has proven especially fruitful for scholars of European empires and, as a result, Europe also is now perceived as a space where groups from different backgrounds came into contact and, through their negotiations, created new understandings of gender, racial, and economic relationships. Many new works, like Alec Hargreaves’s Immigration, ‘Race’ and Ethnicity in Contemporary France (1995) and Robert Aldrich’s Vestiges of the Colonial Empire in France: Monuments, Museums and Colonial Memories (2005) in the case of France, are especially attuned to how the migration of former colonial subjects to European metropolitan territories has called into question the boundaries of the nation-state and racialized definitions of citizenship, forcing a re-evaluation of more traditional narratives about modernity and universalism in European history.
As noted, this cluster cuts across traditional temporal and geographical subfields of the profession, uniting faculty members based on the kinds of historical questions they ask and the methodological strategies they employ to answer those questions. In fact, one of the great strengths of this cluster is its internal diversity. Faculty members in REM are interested in similar questions— for example, asking how broad processes of identity formation take place in historically specific moments of cultural exchange— but their areas of specialization range from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries and focus on the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. They bring these differing knowledge bases to the undergraduate and graduate courses they offer in the department, exposing students to cultures around the globe and across time. Thus, they make a strong contribution to achieving two high priority goals of Texas A&M’s Vision 2020 plan—diversification and internationalization.
Through their links with scholars in other College of Liberal Arts’ units, like the Women’s and Gender Studies, Africana Studies, Hispanic Studies, and International Studies programs, they also provide a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective, as well as serving as important points of contact for students seeking a multidimensional educational experience. They thus help to promote another central university goal: bringing critical interdisciplinary perspectives to our ever-broadening student body. REM pedagogical successes are exemplified in prizes awarded to their students.[v]
On a more local level, REM faculty demonstrate leadership within and beyond the Department of History by organizing colloquia and other events that promote the exploration of questions of race, ethnicity, and migration, and frequently do so in forums that are both attached to undergraduate instruction and conducive to public participation.[vi] Such events help educate the university community about the complex issues we explore in our research and teaching and make a powerful contribution to establishing and maintaining an open and respectful climate for diversity.
[i] Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth about History (New York: Norton, 1994), 4.
[ii] Some influential works include: Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993); Kathleen M. Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Matthew Frye Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001); Linda Gordon, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999).
[iii] Nash, Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America (New York: Prentice Hall, 1974) and “The Hidden History of Mestizo America,” Journal of American History 82:3 (1995): 941-964.
[iv] Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 1992), 8.
[v] For example, in the 2010 History Department undergraduate competition, first prize went to Kevin Pesek for his paper “Catholic Charismatic Renewal: Boom or Bust,” written for a HIST481 course directed by Felipe Hinojosa. Mr. Pesek’s paper focused on the Catholic Charismatic movement within the Latin American church and used a wide variety of sources, including interviews, church documents and newspapers. This is a topic of growing interest in the history of religion and in Borderland Studies. Second-prize co-winner, Brian Bajew, was enrolled in a HIST406 course directed by Rebecca Schloss. In 2009, another student of Rebecca Schloss’s won the undergraduate prize for her essay, “Constructing a Sense of Place: The Portraiture of Elite Jewish Women in Colonial British America.”
[vi] For example, during the past academic year alone, REM faculty organized numerous events. In 2010-11, the Indigenous Studies Working Group, co-directed by Angela Pulley Hudson, hosted events with Cherokee Fantasy Writer Daniel Heath Justice and Creek Poet/Musician Joy Harjo. In 2010, Felipe Hinojosa organized a showing of “The Longoria Affair,” a documentary film chronicling Mexican American Veteranos and the fight for Civil Rights with a special visit by the film’s director, John J. Valadez.