Migration and Empire

Chair: Julie Greene, University of Maryland, College Park
• Robert McGreevey, The College of New Jersey
• Julie Greene, University of Maryland, College Park
• Reena Goldthree, Princeton University
• Richard Kim, University of California, Davis

This roundtable discussion explores the overlapping histories of migration and empire in the early twentieth-century United States. By highlighting how colonial histories of various forms have shaped migration streams to the U.S., this work challenges notions of American exceptionalism by demonstrating how U.S. immigration patterns have resembled those of other imperial nations, such as that of Britain. This work also highlights the agency of migrants within the U.S. domain as a necessary part of a broader history of American empire that includes not only examples of state power but also claims of non-state actors, in particular those of migrants contesting racial ideologies, immigration laws, and discriminatory labor practices. This work, then, explores a history of empire shaped as much by the force of U.S. state power overseas as by the claims of colonial migrants within the United States.

War, occupation, and economic upheaval pushed many people from the outer reaches of American expansion to the center of conflicts in the United States and its territories over colonialism, migration, labor, race and citizenship. Such migrations were marked by what historian Paul Kramer has described as “asymmetries of power” as migrants arriving in locations as diverse as California, New York and the Panama Canal, faced exploitative labor regimes and a variety of discriminatory laws. Yet in asserting claims to work, live, and become citizens in the United States, migrants desperate to find work in the “domestic” U.S. contested, at times successfully, the colonial categories that defined them as “foreign.” This work contributes to an emerging literature on the history of the U.S. in the world that shows not only the reach and power of America’s imperial ambitions but also its limits, as migrants challenged American labor regimes, racial ideologies, and immigration laws within the United States.

Building on pioneering work at the intersection of imperialism and immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such as that of Paul Kramer, Dorothy Fujita-Rony, Catherine Choy, and Eiichiro Azuma, participants in this session will discuss their latest work in this field, ranging from the Caribbean to the Pacific, and facilitate a discussion with the audience on new directions in the field. Julie Greene (Chair) will speak on her current project entitled, Movable Empire: Labor Migrations the Making of U.S. Global Power, 1890-1934, which focuses on labor migration as a defining element of American expansion in the early twentieth century. Moon-Ho Jung will speak on his current project, entitled, The Unruly Pacific: Race and the Politics of Empire and Revolution, 1898- 1941, highlighting the role of migration and empire in racial formations. Reena Goldthree will speak on her recent work, “’A Greater Enterprise than the Panama Canal’: Migrant Labor and Military Recruitment in the World War I-Era Circum-Caribbean,” (Labor, Special Issue: Labor and Empire in the Americas, 2016) and Robert McGreevey will discuss his book, Borderline Citizens: The United States, Puerto Rico, and the Politics of Colonial Migration, 1898-1934, (forthcoming, Cornell University Press, 2018).

Recorded in April 2018 at the OAH Annual Meeting held in Sacremento, California as part of the Mellon-funded Amplified Initiative.

Full Session


Loading Video...
Migration and Empire - Full Session / System Administrator / February 12, 2019

OAH Members can access all of the recorded panels by logging into the member portal at the OAH website.