More Trans, Less National; Globalizing Migration Histories

“More Trans, Less National” by Matthew Frye Jacobson is a careful critique of older immigration historiography, particularly taking on Oscar Handlin’s The Uprooted¬†despite the author’s praise for the invaluable influence of that work. The article makes the point that “nation of immigrants” rhetoric has become essentially another form of nationalism and American exceptionalism. By viewing immigration to the United States as the story of the development of the exceptional nation-state of the USA rather than within the wider context of migration back and forth to North America, important nuance is lost in favor of a mythic nationalist narrative. The article goes on to point out that with increased awareness of globalization, such as the economic dominance of transnational corporations over the governments of nation-states, there should be a common understanding that the history of globalization is much older than is often supposed. As the article puts it, globalization begins with Columbus, not Master Card. Jacobson proposes three ideas to start improvement in immigration historiography: restoring emigration to immigration, replacing the nation with the continent in terms of organization, and recovering the corporation in terms of significance. The first of these is basically that instead of focusing on American exceptionalism, outward migration patterns should be more objectively studied to reveal all the various places historical migrants chose to go, whether that be Canada, South Africa, Argentina, the US, etc. The second suggestion essentially makes the point that the continent of North America makes a much more logical destination to examine than the United States as a sovereign nation. This is because the complex history of North America is not easily fit into the compartment of the United States alone, with imperialism, colonization, forced migration and other factors complicating this issue. The last change Jacobson suggests is to greatly expand on the role of corporations in immigration history. As he puts it, “ConAgra or Wal-Mart or Tyson’s can shape immigrant lives as profoundly as Homeland Security.”
“Globalizing Migration Histories? Learning From Two Case Studies” by Bruno Ramirez discussing semantics, then saying “it is not my intention to turn my discussion into one of semantics,” and then continuing to discuss semantics. After exploring the meanings of the term “global” for another few paragraphs, he begins to describe the history of the historiography of immigration. He first mentions the Eurocentric nature of immigration historiography in the late ’70s and ’80s, and the tendency to view the pattern of immigration as simply occurring between two countries, as a process of shedding one nationality for another, as Ramirez calls it “bi-national terms.” Following this however came a new understanding of transnationalism, an awakening to the reality that “migration engendered cultural, political and identity dynamics that transcended the parameters of nation-states.” He goes on to claim that it is not the case that this transnationalist historiography only originated with the past few decades of increased globalization, but rather that transnational history has always been inherent to the field.
Ramirez goes on to talk about his collaborative work with George Pozzetta The Italian Diaspora: Migrations Around the Globe, which he identifies as an early historiographical use of the word “globe.” This mostly concerns the outflow of Italian migrant workers across the globe, showing an enormous transnational influence which simply cannot be properly¬†analysed in a bi-national context. This changes with the Canadian case, which Ramirez nexts examines. In the Canadian case, “diaspora” would be a misleading term for the intense immigration which occurred during the 19th and 20th centuries from Canada to the United States. The most studied of these is the migration from Quebec to New England, which Ramirez terms “regional,” despite the crossing of an international border. Despite the French Canadian immigration being much more studied, at least initially, Ramirez points out that for every one French Canadian immigrant to the US there were three Anglo-Canadian immigrants. Ramirez largely considers this regional as well, pointing out that Eastern Canadians tended to head to New England, Midwesterners stayed within central regions, and British Columbians overwhelmingly went to Washington State and California. This is in contrast to the Italian case, and Ramirez concludes by saying that for this reason the idea of “global” migration needs to be studied case by case.

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