Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Paper Abstracts

Keynote Address: The Geopolitics of Mobility: Immigration Policy and US Global Power in the Long 20th Century
Paul Kramer, Vanderbilt University 

Panel I: What is a Border?
This panel explores the evolution of ideologies and institutions regarding borders as sites to impose controls over migration, emphasizing the contingent and constructed nature of this aspect of nation-state building.
Chair: Madeline Y. Hsu, University of Texas at Austin

  • "Climate Change and Migration: Perspectives from the Little Ice Age"
    Sam White, The Ohio State University
    Present global warming has raised alarms of mass climate-driven migration. Historical analogs may provide perspective on contemporary and future issues and guide research questions. Although not of the same pace and magnitude as present climate change, the early modern Little Ice Age was the most recent and pronounced era of natural climate variability, with significant human historical impacts. This presentation will review recent research relating climate, disasters, and migration during the Little Ice Age. It will make the case that these connections were discernible, but also complicated, contingent, and mediated through politics and culture. As in the present day, climate probably influenced the timing and conditions of migration, particularly accelerating rural-to-urban migration, more often than it created new flows of migration altogether.
  • "Making Law on the Border: The INS and Immigration Law and Policy in Modern America"
    S. Deborah Kang, California State University San Marcos
    In the popular and scholarly imagination, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was created to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.  Based on her recently published book, The INS on the Line: Making Immigration Law on the US-Mexico Border (Oxford University Press, January 2017), Dr. S. Deborah Kang’s presentation will unsettle this notion of the INS and trace the extensive role played by the agency in defining the nation’s immigration laws, immigrant rights, and the US-Mexico border.
  • “The Borders of Europe: Death and Political Activism in the Mediterranean”
    Barbara Laubenthal, University of Texas at Austin
    Description forthcoming
  • "The Border as Construction Site: Building between 1924 and 1954"
    C.J. Alvarez, University of Texas at Austin
    The three decades between 1924 and 1954 were critical both for the development of border policing and for the development of waterworks on the international divide. Within that span of time the U.S. Border Patrol grew from a fledgling organization with an uncertain enforcement authority and only the bare minimum of resources to a much more powerful organization run by a battle hardened former Army General. Similarly, the International Boundary and Water Commission transformed from a bureaucracy dedicated primarily to small land claims arbitration along the border rivers to an engineering agency that executed massive reconfigurations of the physical shape and flow capacity of the Rio Grande. This paper explains why these two seemingly unlike histories are in fact intimately connected.

Panel II: Racial Differentiation and Migration Rights
This panel explores how racial and ethnic categories have been used to allocate different legal rights to mobility, immigration, and citizenship, in turn reinforcing ethnic and racial inequalities.
Chair: Ruth Wasem, University of Texas at Austin

  • “Runaway Slaves and the Federalism Conflict: A Reappraisal, 1780-1860”
    Allan Colbern, Arizona State University
    In antebellum America, federal law and the U.S. Constitution considered runaway slaves to be unlawfully present in the North. Nevertheless, northern states passed laws to welcome and protect runaway slaves and end their enforcement of federal law. Historians have explained Northern personal liberty laws (the equivalent to today’s “sanctuary policies”) as a response to increased sectional conflict between the North and South. However, tracing the laws of six northern states from 1780-1860, this article contributes new research showing that Northern sanctuary laws were neither uniform nor simultaneously passed. Variation existed in their timing and spread. The article advances a theory of federalism and coalition building that posits two interconnected factors – 1) abolitionists’ strategic choice to fight for national, state or local reforms related to slavery policy and 2) their capacity to collaborate with elected officials or leverage political pressure to pass reforms – to explain the timing and scope of sanctuary policies. It complements the sectionalism account, but places the complexities in federalism and differences in abolitionist movements as the primary drivers of variation. This article is part of a larger book project that compares northern personal liberty laws over runaway slaves to immigrant sanctuary laws that protected Central American asylum seekers in the 1980s and undocumented immigrants post-2000.
  • “Unauthorized Migration: Notes Towards a Legal History”
    Kunal Parker, University of Miami
    This paper will seek to shed light on certain popular discourses related to undocumented immigrants in the contemporary United States by drawing on the longer history of unauthorized presence and movement in the United States, drawing not only on the history of immigration from outside the United States, but also on the histories of domestic racial minorities and the poor.  The object of connecting these histories together is two-fold.  First, I will argue that unauthorized migration and presence has a long history in the United States and that it should be seen as an established strategy of governance rather than as an extraordinary politico-legal response to the emergence of a particularly troublesome legal subject, the "illegal alien."  Second, I will argue that the long history of unauthorized migration reveals something hopeful about the role of law in the production of unauthorized migration that is all too often obscured by the most virulent opponents of undocumented immigrants.
  • “Destruction of Property Claims: Charting Immigrant Rights, 1880-1930”
    Torrie Hester, Saint Louis University
    In the late nineteenth century, several Chinese immigrant communities in California and Washington, among others states, were burned to the ground by white Americans. After the violence, a small number of Chinese immigrants used property rights based in international law to secure restitution for damages. Within a few years, California and Washington legislators passed alien land laws designed to deny Japanese immigrants the right to buy property. This paper examines the property cases launched by Chinese immigrants to illustrate the existence of a body of immigrant protections lodged in international law. It then illustrates the ways that legislators used domestic law to undermine that body of protections in their efforts to reify racial hierarchy in the United States.
  • “White Illegals: Undocumented Italians and the Origins of the Spiral of Illegality”
    Maddalena Marinari, Gustavus Adolphus College
    My paper uses Italian migrants to investigate the transnational impact of restrictive U.S. immigration laws in Europe and North America at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Italian government actively collaborated with the U.S. government to comply with its new U.S. laws, but, in doing so, it created new categories of illegality for Italians leaving the country and failed to satisfy U.S. legislators’ desire to restrict immigration from Italy further. At the same time, undocumented Italian immigration emerged as a key site for immigration authorities in Europe and North America to work out racial hierarchies as they sought to enforce a global regime of immigration restriction alongside national racial projects.

Panel III: Migration Restriction in the Disciplining of Labor
This panel compares strategies for controlling and profiting from workers through legal and institutional constraints on their mobility.
Chair: Marcelo J. Borges, Dickinson College

  • “Controlling Labor Mobility as a State Building Process: The Ascendancy of the English East India Company State in Bengal 1700-1819”
    Titas Chakraborty, University of Texas at Austin
    The Bengal Regulation VII of 1819 made breach of contract, especially through desertion, a criminal offence for all groups of workers in the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. In South Asian historiography this legislation is seen as the first major labor legislation of the early colonial state under the English East India Company (EIC), through which the state instituted a master-servant relationship based on contract, similar to the master-servant laws in England. But, what is elided in the discussion is that the EIC itself had been an employer in the region for over a century and the wisdom they gathered as an employer had informed the 1819 regulation. This paper, drawing from the experiences of two groups of workers who were one of the first formal contractual  workers in colonial Bengal–indigenous boatmen and European sailors and soldiers— show the extremely conflictual worker-company relation over the century which finally culminated in the 1819 regulation. The primary form of worker-company conflict was uncontrolled mobility or desertion of workers. In the pre-colonial period, workers managed to keep high wage levels through successful use of the strategy of flight. The early colonial state countered this strategy through the institution of a centralized police, which became the state’s primary recruiter. The police force used coercion, introduction of contracts and effective criminalization of desertion to maintain a steady supply of boatmen, European sailors and soldiers and to bring down their wages. The paper finally shows the substance, motives and measures utilized by the company state in framing the contracts of these workers informed the substance and language of the Regulation VII of 1819.
  • "The Chinese Sending State: Managing Migration Abroad"
    Fredy González, University of Colorado, Boulder
    This paper will illustrate the ways in which the Chinese state advocated for the interests of its nationals abroad and maintained links with its diaspora. Seeking to avoid a return to the abuses of Chinese free and unfree migrants during the nineteenth century, after 1911 the Republic of China set up governmental agencies with a responsibility to look after migrants abroad, particularly the qiaowu weiyuanhui (Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission). Moreover, it encouraged the establishment of chapters of the Chinese Nationalist Party abroad in part to organize migrant communities abroad. Its actions on behalf of migrant communities generated considerable goodwill that the Republic of China capitalized on in subsequent decades. Alberto Garcia (IHS): Soft Authoritarianism and the Bracero Program: This paper will explore the Mexican federal government's administration of the Bracero Program, the 1942-1964 bilateral initiative that allowed millions of Mexican men to work in the United States as seasonal contract laborers, primarily in the agricultural industry. When Mexican officials agreed to participate in the program, they had two primary goals: to prevent undocumented departures from Mexico, and to boost rural development levels via remittances. To that end, they initially centralized the contract distribution process in Mexico City and mandated that all braceros would have ten percent of their earnings automatically deducted and deposited for later withdrawal in Mexican banks. But these efforts were undermined by braceros who ignored the contract distribution protocols and by corrupt officials who sold contracts and refused to disperse the automatic deductions. Federal officials eventually abandoned their centralization attempt and the automatic deduction policy, opting instead to focus on deciding which states would send braceros north and negotiating the terms of the program with U.S. authorities.
  • "From Filipina Supermaids to Cybraceras: Brokering Labor in the Age of Robotics"
    Anna Romina Guevarra, University of Illinois at Chicago
    The Philippines has had a thriving labor export industry since it was formally established in the 1970s at the height of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. Premised on this industry, the country is widely recognized as one of the foremost global providers of carework labor. From nurses, domestic labor, to teachers, the Philippines fuels the feminization of a global division of care labor, contributing to so-called ‘global care chains.’ This presentation introduces and interrogates the most recent link on this care chain  - a laboring figure produced by the roboticization of care labor. For decades, science and the public have been both fascinated and fearful about the promise of artificial intelligence. Developments in the field of situated robotics have increasingly focused on the role of automation in revolutionizing arenas of everyday life, expressly using mimicry and simulation of human behaviors to achieve these ends. Focusing on three domains – education, health care, and domestic work – this paper explores the “simulations of care” produced by such roboticization. These simulations now mediate, broker, and discipline new forms of labor by the introduction of non-human actors and in so doing, are creating new forms of sociality and intimacy, and blurring the boundaries between human and machine. In a technological era where automation, simulation, and mimicry are the new vocabularies of innovation, this paper asks: what are new hierarchies, idioms of power, and theoretical frames to explore this altered landscape?  What are the implications of incorporating non-human actors into our social, economic, and political landscape, and how does this impact questions of labor, migration, and carework?
  • "Soft Authoritarianism and the Bracero Program"
    Alberto García Maldonado, University of Texas at Austin
    This paper will explore the Mexican federal government's administration of the Bracero Program, the 1942-1964 bilateral initiative that allowed millions of Mexican men to work in the United States as seasonal contract laborers, primarily in the agricultural industry.  When Mexican officials agreed to participate in the program, they had two primary goals: to prevent undocumented departures from Mexico, and to boost rural development levels via remittances.  To that end, they initially centralized the contract distribution process in Mexico City and mandated that all braceros would have ten percent of their earnings automatically deducted and deposited for later withdrawal in Mexican banks.  But these efforts were undermined by braceros who ignored the contract distribution protocols and by corrupt officials who sold contracts and refused to disperse the automatic deductions.  Federal officials eventually abandoned their centralization attempt and the automatic deduction policy, opting instead to focus on deciding which states would send braceros north and negotiating the terms of the program with U.S. authorities.

Panel IV: The Limits and Uses of Asylum and Refugees
This panel explores the limits of the international legal definition of refugee, especially during the late 1950s-late 1960s, and the implications for the US and the impact of US policy overseas on the life experiences of migrants and advocacy efforts.
Chair: Benjamin Claude Brower, University of Texas at Austin

  • "Africa’s First Failed Asylum Seeker? The Tragic Plight of Dugmore Boetie and the Exilic Geographies of Sharpeville"
    Benjamin N. Lawrance, University of Arizona
    In November 1960, the Sophiatown-born journalist and poet, Dugmore Boetie (1926-66), seemed desperate. Fleeing north from South Africa after the Special Branch police “visited” his Johannesburg home, he “managed to reach Tanganyika with one leg and no money.” After traveling overland, perhaps through Southern Rhodesia and Mozambique, Boetie found his way to a community of South African exiles in Dar in mid-1960. But there he ran into further trouble. Boetie’s exilic narration of an irregular route to protection offers a fascinating entrée into the earliest moments of refugee mobilities in decolonializing Africa. Reproducing a timeworn tradition in intellectual circles, Boetie’s politically-charged poetry and journalism first attracted the attention of the authorities, resulting in the targeted harassment that forced him to flee. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of South Africans sought exile in independent African states and beyond, in Europe or North America, because of unrelenting persecution that intensified dramatically after the Sharpeville Massacre of 21 March 1960. Boetie’s experience underlines the perils surrounding apartheid’s exilic geographies and draws attention to the notion of refuge in an epoch of dramatic change in refugee status determination. Boetie threw himself at the mercy of, variously, exiled South Africans, nationalist Tanganyikans, and Britons, whom he believed to be committed to humanitarian action; or, alternatively, somewhat interested in his potential as a writer. But as the 1951 Refugee Convention had not yet been extended beyond Europe, and Tanganyika was only to win independence in 1961, Boetie was inadequately shielded by prevailing interpretations of international refugee mandates. This paper explores late colonial African mobilities and European responses to the first wave of refugees in decolonizing Africa with a view to making sense of, generally, this interstitial episode, and specifically, why Boetie’s protection claim failed to gain traction. A discussion of black writers who took flight in the wake of Sharpeville provides important context for understanding why and how many fled. Boetie’s poetry and journalism is more fragmentary, but evidence about the apartheid state’s unrelentingly pursuit of black intellectuals and the broader category of “requests for help,” petitions, and other begging letters, substantiates his fears.
  • "On Sanctuary: Rethinking the Relationship between Refugees, Citizens and the State"
    Laura Madokoro, McGill University
    The question of how to date the refugee experience is central to how we understand the history of mobility, movement and protection. This paper addresses the question of the refugee category by considering the history of sanctuary practices in North America. Although scholars generally look to legal definitions of refugees and related state policies to understand the history of the refugee category, this paper suggests that by considering the history of sanctuary practices as advanced by non-state actors we can identify a different genealogy for contemporary categories of refugeehood and exile, along with an alternative timeline for significant turning points.
  • "The Persecution Standard and Asylum Advocacy in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s"
    Yael Schacher, University of Texas at Austin
    While most American refugee advocates and organizations were focused on relief oversees and resettlement of vetted refugees from there in the two decades after World War II, attorney Edith Lowenstein spent the 1950s and 1960s addressing the persecution claims of “aliens already here” in the United States, especially those in temporary and illegal statuses, as the lawyer handling individual casework for the Common Council of American Unity. This paper will discuss how Lowenstein used obscure and understudied provisions of existing American immigration law—the adjustment provisions of the Displaced Persons, Refugee Relief, and Refugee Escapee Acts, as well as the provision suspending deportation on persecution grounds—to push at the boundaries of an American persecution standard defined by Cold War geopolitics, economic nationalism, racist biases, and security concerns. The cases, especially those on behalf of students and seamen, reveal that Lowenstein used two major strategies: one that might be termed “Cold War immigrant rights” and another that was more radical and holistic, challenging the constructed distinction between economic and political migrants and the attempt to deport those with meritorious claims simply because they were in illegal status or made their way to the United States on their own. Lowenstein had mixed success with the INS and in court—but her advocacy did lead to the incorporation of a more expansive definition of persecution into the 1965 immigration act. This paper contributes to a longer, prehistory of asylum and asylum advocacy in the United States, one that predates the advent of the contemporary American asylum system in 1980.
  • "Assets of War: The Making of Vietnamese Refugees and their Strategic Military Uses during the Second Indochina War, 1961-1975"
    Sam Vong, University of Texas at Austin
    Long before the mass evacuation of political evacuees from the collapsing South Vietnam government in April 1975, millions of internally displaced Vietnamese in urban and rural areas posed a major political and social problem for the U.S.-backed Government of Vietnam. By 1969, there were more than 1.3 million people registered as "refugees" within South Vietnam. Despite not crossing an international border, internally displaced people were referred to as "refugees," and they represented both a liability and an asset for a government struggling to establish its legitimacy and stability. This paper examines how the U.S. and South Vietnam governments tackled the issue of internal displacements, and how refugee populations were purposely and strategically generated and transformed into "assets of war."