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Cultural Migration
What else do we want to know?

Research into the migration of humans and the continuing evolution of culture opens up vast areas of potential inquiry for students and helps them re-imagine world history in terms of the incessant movements of people, culture and ideas. The research area is a broad one, so topics should be selected and developed in ways that best use students' talents and abilities. Whether they are researching well-known events of world history or focusing on a little-known individual from a small community, students should be careful to place their topics into historical perspective, determine the significance of their topics in history, and show development over time.

Studies should include an investigation into available primary and secondary research. Primary sources are materials directly related to a topic by time or participation. These materials include letters, speeches, diaries, newspaper articles from the time, oral history interviews, documents, photographs, artifacts or anything else that provides firsthand accounts about a person or event. An interview with an expert (a professor of Colonial American history, for example) is not a primary source. Secondary sources are usually published books or articles by authors who base their interpretation on primary sources.

Research topics in this area range from local to world history. Regardless of the topics chosen, students must be careful to consider the significance of their topics in history. In addition to presenting a description of their research, it is crucial that students examine their topic's influence on history and draw conclusions about the ways in which their topic had an impact on the course of events and on individuals, communities, nations or the world.

To understand the historical importance of their topics, students must ask questions of time and place, cause and effect, change over time, and significance. They must ask not only when did events happen but also why did they happen. What factors contributed to their development? What was the lasting influence on history? How did this topic change the course of events? What effect did it have on a community, society, nation or the world? Students can focus their work on the broad theme of "Migration in History." The theme encourages investigation of the many large-scale movements of groups of people and their values, movements that have initiated cultural changes all over the globe and throughout human history.

The United States is, of course, a "nation of immigrants," and for more than 30 years, scholars of immigration history have been busy documenting the experiences of U.S. immigrants from all over the globe, from Puritans and Pilgrims to Irish to Japanese to Mexicans. The collaboartive work of this research area asked students to simply look around their communities. Who lives there, and where did they--or their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents--come from? Are people of common ancestry still tied to one another in their daily life? Do they live in particular neighborhoods, have their own celebrations, or participate in ethnic organizations? It is hoped that they can draw on these fascinating studies, but more important develop their own research topics.

Immigrants, children and grandchildren of immigrants are excellent sources for stories of migration and cultural exchange. Why and how did they come to the United States? What cultural traditions did they bring with them? What new challenges faced them in the United States? How did their presence reshape the community or larger region to which they moved?

Students might interview a recent immigrant from Latin America and examine that person's role in history. Or they might look at the response of the communities or particular institutions in the immigrants' new homes. For example, students might develop an exhibit on the Catholic church's relationship to immigrants in a particular community, as the church has served many shifting populations of immigrants during the various waves of immigration.

Focusing on an older neighborhood in the eastern United States, students might write a research paper that explores the reasons for the development of two separate Catholic churches in close proximity to each other, one serving an Italian immigrant population, and the other serving a Polish immigrant population. Or students might develop a media presentation that examines Ellis Island as a symbol for American immigrants.

The Statue of Liberty is another important American symbol that is seen in many corners of the globe as a representation of democracy. As the theme title suggests, ideas migrate as well as people. Sometimes ideas spread casually from group to group as new people arrived in a place, as when Europeans in the New World began incorporating potatoes into their diet. A crop originally cultivated by Native Americans, the potato eventually would have dramatic consequences for agriculture and nutrition in Europe, Africa and Asia.

In other cases, people spread those ideas deliberately, as missionaries from a variety of religions have done throughout history. In Indonesia, where migrants and missionaries crossed paths throughout history, the island of Java alone houses some of the most famous Buddhist and Hindu monuments in the world, while the population of nearby Sulawesi is divided into practicing Christians and practicing Muslims. These religions zones are direct products of the migration of ideas to Indonesia at various points in history. Students interested in religion and history might ask: Why and how were religious principals and practices adopted by people who came in contact with missionaries from various religions? Did the new ideas complement or challenge older cultural patterns? And how did ideas travel? An exhibit might be developed that explores the influence of the printing press on the spread of political ideas.

Important movements of people and ideas took place inside national borders, too. For example, millions of people have moved around the United States. Though Americans all have their individual stories of why they moved from New York to Texas or from a small town in Georgia to Atlanta, observers of history can find patterns in when and why people moved. For example the Guided Researc of this online project explores African Americans migration from the South after the Civil War, the Exodusters. Migration also occured from the South to the North during and after World War I that historians have called this period "The Great Migration." Many of these same migrants had already moved from a rural area in the South to a Southern urban center. A third wave of African-American migration to the North occurred during and after World War II.

Technological change spurred new means of migration and even migratory lifestyles. "Streetcar suburbs" began developing in the 1920s, and suburban migration escalated dramatically in the 1950s, with the increased use of the automobile. What motivated these large movements of people? What pushed them out of their old homes? Economic distress? Racial prejudice? What pulled them to their eventual destinations? The stories of relatives and friends? The promise of jobs? Better schools for their children? What happened to the communities they left behind? Students might create a performance that examines how a rural community responded to the out-migration of many of its young people to colleges or jobs in the cities. Or they might do research for a paper that looks at an older ethnic neighborhood in a city whose younger and better-educated population has moved to the suburbs.

We have many stories of immigration to the United States and movement around the country to achieve a better life. Yet many migrants were only temporary residents--or at least planned to be only temporary residents--of their new locale: 18th- and 19th-century French fur traders in Canada and the northern United States, Chinese builders of the transcontinental railroad, and Japanese agricultural workers on the West Coast of the United States. Many of these groups were "sojourners," temporary migrants who eventually returned to their home countries, undoubtedly bringing with them new ideas. Why did some of them stay and some of them leave? How did those who stayed build new families and communities, since most of these sojourner populations were all male? Students might develop a performance that dramatizes the experience of a "picture bride," a Japanese woman who came to the United States by invitation from an unknown husband who had chosen her based on her photograph.

Migration of people and ideas fostered all kinds of creativity as cultures adapted to each other and people learned new ways of doing things. Examples of the exchange of useful ideas learned from such cultural exchange are: colonists learning new agricultural techniques from American Indians, and African-American slaves creating the Gullah language to communicate with each other across language barriers.

Yet it is important to remember that migration could cause remarkable disruption, for migrants and for the people who encountered a new culture in their community. Imagine the mixed feelings a "picture bride" might have about traveling across the ocean to marry. The collected diaries of 19th-century American women who traveled west reveal their deep connections to the homes they left behind; many even brought along seeds to plant familiar flowers in their new residence.

Migration could also present enormous challenges for people displaced by the arrival of the migrants. The coming of Europeans to the United States and of Jews to Israel had dramatic effects on indigenous American Indians and Palestinians. Similarly, many of the world's migrants did not leave their homes voluntarily. The African slave trade provides a remarkable example of massive forced migration, large-scale movement of people that was not only tragic for millions of slaves and their descendants but also caused significant damage to communities along the west coast of Africa. Sometimes governments sponsored the forced movement of people. Thousands of Chinese young people from cities were ordered by their government to go live in rural areas during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Closer to home, the famous Trail of Tears of the 1830s provides just one example of U.S. government and state governments' "Indian removal" policies.

Students should ponder what kinds of forces in history caused people to migrate. In addition to economic changes, military conflicts often led to large-scale migrations of people. War refugees are another example of involuntary migrants. The Cajuns of Louisiana came to that state as a result of the French and Indian War in Canada in the mid-18th century. The Vietnam and Cambodian wars of the 1960s and '70s created many refugees who moved temporarily to Thailand; many later moved to the United States. Students might examine the experiences of Jews who left Germany, Austria or France during the years of Nazi occupation. The temporary movement of armies into one part of the world could also lead to other kinds of migration.

Religious or political convictions also motivated people to leave their homes in search of individual freedoms. Puritans came to the northeastern United States in order to practice their religion. Jews throughout the world were pushed out of some regions and looked hopefully to other regions in order to keep their religious traditions alive. Other migrants moved across the globe in pursuit of knowledge or adventure. Marco Polo's well-documented trip to China in the 13th century would provide a fascinating example of the role of the individual engaged in cultural exchange.

Historical forces also changed the ways in which people and ideas moved. The migration of ideas was often directly linked to the arrival of new people from another culture. But as communications technology developed, various media could carry cultural ideas from place to place. For example, the game of baseball initially migrated to Latin America in the mid-19th century via North American business people and U.S. Marines. But by the 1920s, baseball was also spread throughout many Latin-American countries through the new medium of radio.

Similarly, in the latter half of the 20th century, Hollywood movies were seen by audiences across the globe. Along with those movies came American music, shopping malls and fast food--cultural influences that had dramatic effects on some societies, especially since the ideas associated with a youth-oriented "consumer society" went hand in hand with these American cultural institutions. In the other direction, the superstar Beatles--migrants from England--popularized key concepts of Eastern religions in the United States based on their travels.

Students may develop papers for publication in the Pathfinder Student publication area.

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