Blog Post

How Can a Collaborative Online Syllabus Address the Historical Roots of Contemporary Issues?: The #ImmigrationSyllabus, Part I

Throughout my doctoral studies in history at Emory University, I have become increasingly committed to educating current and future policy makers about immigration concerns.  Given recent events surrounding global refugee crises, immigration restrictions, and the resulting frustrations among historians who recognize these patterns in other historical contexts, I began to develop a hypothetical required reading list about immigration issues in history to circulate among policy makers in Washington, D.C. Shortly after posting my request for suggested ‘mandatory’ readings on social media, I was flooded with recommendations from my contacts. Their breadth of knowledge about scholarly and educational materials related to migration concerns undoubtedly helped to broaden mine.  

One of my undergraduate colleagues at Rutgers, now Dr. Evan Taparata, revealed that he and numerous other scholars had collaborated at the University of Minnesota to develop the #ImmigrationSyllabus website about immigration concerns in history. As I read through the online resource, I realized that these scholars had already achieved many of my own objectives. Evan generously offered his time to speak with me about some of the goals and processes that underlined this initiative. My objective for this blog post is to highlight the development of the #ImmigrationSyllabus. A follow-up blog post will explore the numerous ways in which scholars, educators, and policy makers have applied the syllabus in their own work.

Launched in January of 2017, the #ImmigrationSyllabus site is designed as one strategy to combat outright racism and xenophobia in political discourse by connecting history with the contemporary moment.  Those collaborating on the #ImmigrationSyllabus initially envisioned the project to be accessible online. Inspired by similar public engagement initiatives, such as the #BlackLivesMatter syllabus and the #FergusonSyllabus, the group of scholars, all experts of immigration concerns, developed a schema for the overall project. They planned a 15-week syllabus, designed for scholars, educators, policy makers, writers, artists, and citizens alike. Contributors focused on specific sections of the syllabus, organized chronologically and thematically, based on their areas of expertise.  All themes include probing questions, such as “How does inequality, the freedom to move, and access to citizenship have its roots in the colonial period?” and “How does immigration impact gender and family relations?”   In addition to select primary source materials, the contributors integrated digital scholarship projects, including Emory’s own Transatlantic Slave Trade Database. When I asked about their decision to include these projects, Evan indicated that they  sought to “take advantage of as wide array of materials as [they] could, including multimedia.”

Evan made sure to highlight that the core group ‘crowdsourced’ to other experts to enhance this project. For example, they circulated the draft syllabus among members of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS), and those who provided input became consultants to the project. Core group members worked with the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing and eLearning Support Initiative to create and publish the WordPress site.  The #ImmigrationSyllabus, therefore, demonstrates the impressive educational outcomes that can result from collaborating with on-campus digital experts and using available resources.  Evan also noted that nearly all of the communication about the initiative took place via email and conference calls, since the contributors were scattered across the US and beyond. This fact highlights how technological and digital resources can foster extensive collaboration by overcoming logistical barriers.

Following its 2017 launch, the #ImmigrationSyllabus has proven to become a valuable and useful resource for those interested in contemporary immigration concerns and their historical roots.  Stay tuned for my next blog post, in which I’ll address different ways that the project has gained visibility and been applied in the US and internationally.


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