2009-2011 Program

“The Intersection of Diaspora, Immigration and Gender In World History”

Image of an African American woman

Originally, the Greek word diaspora, according to some scholars, referred to the movement of Greeks to new lands, with a “negative connotation, implying processes of dispersion and decomposition.”  After translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, diaspora came to specifically refer to the exile of Jews living outside of Palestine.  Diaspora took on new meanings:  for some it bespoke removal from one’s homeland as punishment, to others it simply denoted people living away from their homeland, but for centuries there usually existed the belief that diaspora had disastrous consequences for those removed from their homeland even if they enjoyed prosperity in new lands.  By the 1950s, diaspora was applied to the forced migration of Africans to the Americas, and has continued to be associated with any forced migration of a people, but most recently diaspora has been conflated with all group migrations across national lines.  Whether these migrations were forced or voluntary, all involved local contingencies pushing populations from their homelands, and the pull of forces drawing them to new lands.  Each diaspora involved unique political, religious, social, economic and environmental factors, but they share commonalities.  Migrating groups tended to attempt to maintain language and culture, and to varying extents they also influenced their host communities.  Another commonality is that diasporas provided opportunities and pressures to alter traditional gender roles, though demographically some diasporas were characterized by a preponderance of one gender over another.

Our program proposes to analyze diasporas through the lens of gender.  A gendered analysis of group migrations may help us better differentiate the meaning of forced and voluntary migrations, and the processes by which groups maintained, discarded, and transformed their cultures, and their host cultures.  Although there have been gendered studies of diaspora, particularly of the African diaspora in the Americas, there has been little to no attempt to use gender as a category for comparative analysis of migrations over time and space.  We believe that a gendered analysis may help identify new patterns in migration history, shed light on specific migrations, and bridge the historiographical gap between diaspora and immigration histories.  Some of the specific questions we will ask seminar presenters to consider include:  Did women’s and men’s roles alter as a result of diaspora?  How did females and males of varying ages respond as females and males to diaspora?  To what extent did the gender roles carried into diaspora influence the gender roles of host communities?  And did gender have an impact on the abilities of immigrant communities to maintain or adapt their cultures in new settings?

Slave Market

The CHR will examine in a comparative way migration experiences that vary geographically but are roughly contiguous in time.  For example, CHR seminars can explore the diaspora experiences of Jews, Greeks and Phoenicians in the Ancient World, and the African, Irish and Chinese experience in the early modern period.  We can compare the migration experiences of Jewish war brides from Germany to the United States after World War II, with Korean War brides to the United States after the Korean War.  We are also interested in migrations within nations, such as Indian Removal in the United States and forced Irish migration within the United Kingdom.  The CHR program is open to considering a great variety of diaspora experiences around the globe in a broad time span that stretches from the Ancient World to the present day, and to do so in an interdisciplinary manner.

This will be a two-year program.  For 2009-2010 we will be covering the Ancient World through the Eighteenth Century.  The 2010-2011 program will focus on the Nineteenth Century to the present.  We are open to scholars from any discipline.  (Presenters in our first two-year program included historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, economists and art historians.)