Materiality of Migration Series

Migrant Materialities: From Greek Village to Greektown USA
Kostis Kourelis (Franklin & Marshall College)
Thursday, February 9th at 5:30pm

One quarter of the adult male population in Greece migrated to the United States during the first decades of the twentieth century. Following national bankruptcy in 1893 and military defeat in 1897, this exodus reflects the nation-state’s first demographic crisis (half a million people) matched by the 1922 Asia Minor refugee crisis (1.5 million people). A state of foreignness, or xenitiá, was shaped by the double materialities of the Greek village and the American city, from the place of origin to the place of destination. The Morea Project (1990s) and the Deserted Greek Village Project (2010s) have been surveying houses, schools and churches built on remittances sent from America, which constituted Greece’s greatest national product between the two World Wars. The data from Greece is correlated with a growing body of material from American excavations of twentieth-century coalmines, tenements, and ethnic neighborhoods. We focus on Franklin & Marshall College’s survey of Greektown Philadelphia, an ethnic enclave dismantled by urban renewal in the 1960s and further erased by gentrification in the 1990s. Greek Philadelphia’s unique materialities were shaped by the city’s philhellenic past, on the one hand, and multicultural present, on the other. The Greek migrants occupied the abandoned row houses of Philadelphia’s elites who had financed the Greek War of Independence a century earlier. They shared this colonial-era space with three other marginal groups, an African American community mapped by W. E. D. Dubois in The Philadelphia Negro, a Jewish community fleeing Russian pogroms, and a bohemian community celebrated today as the Gayborhood. More broadly, the talk will advocate for an archaeology of global migration and highlight the urgency for the study of Greek modernity over Greek antiquity.

Is the Mediterranean’s Seabed a Grave? Underwater Relics and the Reach of Relatedness
Naor Ben-Yehoyada (Columbia University)
Thursday, February 23rd at 5:30pm

In one of the most cited references to the waves of Eurobound undocumented migration, Pope Francis called the Mediterranean a massive “grave”. While use of the term picked up over the previous years, the pope’s adoption of the term enshrined it. This paper uses the term as a key to decipher the role of underwater material relics of undocumented migration in the calls to address the ongoing situation. In recent years, the Mediterranean’s seabed – images and imaginations of it – has played an important moralizing role in accounts of European treatment of undocumented migration. At the same time, the use of the term “grave” in reference to the seabed raises several questions. How does the maritime medium shape the ways in which people acknowledge, relate to, attempt to access, or commemorate migrants’ vicissitudes? How does the sea shape our ability to access and understand forced and undocumented migration? In what ways the transnational stretch of the sea materially shape the challenges we face? To address these questions, I focus on the role that material remains of migrants’ voyages – pieces of sunken ships as well as migrants’ personal items – play in claims to relatedness and the obligation they might entail. I examine how Tunisian and Sicilian fishers, UK-based forensic oceanographers, as well as migration-awareness activists and marine biologists in Sicily treat the presence of sunken ships and human remains at the bottom of the Central Mediterranean. I draw on anthropological analyses of the ways in which people claim and contest social relations through interaction with similar material relics (like graves, graveyards, relatives’ remains, and saints’ relics). The archaeological perspective thus contributes to our understanding of the spaces of undocumented migration and interdiction by replacing the regnant scholarly attention to global connectedness across distance with attention to relatedness: how and when people come to see each other as related – in different ways and at different scales – and how they engage material relics to claim such relatedness.

Leave No Trace? Materiality, Temporality, and Visual Culture at the Gateway to Europe
Isabella Alexander (Emory University)
Thursday, April 13th at 5:30pm

Opening with a clip from her latest documentary film, The Burning: An Untold Story from the Other Side of the Migrant Crisis, Dr. Isabella Alexander (Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Emory University) will draw on multiple years of ethnographic research at one of the world’s most trafficked borders to discuss the current migrant and refugee “crisis” from the marginalized perspective of those who remain trapped on the periphery to the E.U. in Morocco’s sprawling forest camps. Morocco lies less than eight miles from Spain, and the colonial-era Spanish enclaves that still exist in northern Morocco make it the only African nation to share land borders with Europe. It is therefore one of the primary crossing points for all African migrants and refugees fleeing political or economic insecurity in their home countries and is central to multilateral debates on border security. “Hrig,” the Moroccan Arabic term for “illegal immigration,” translates to “burning.” It signifies the literal burning of one’s identification papers in order to avoid repatriation if arrested by European authorities, but also the symbolic burning of one’s past in hopes of a better future on foreign soil. Incorporating images from the illicit makeshift encampments that house hundreds of thousands of men, women, and unaccompanied minors who have journeyed from western and central Africa to reach the final border to Europe, this talk will center on the study of materiality in relation to modern migrations. As both a researcher and a documentary filmmaker, Dr. Isabella Alexander will raise critical questions about participation, representation, and the possibilities and limitations of community-filmmaking techniques. How must we adapt the foundational concepts of liminality and belonging in the face of new migrations, and what role can anthropology play in doing so?

Materiality and the Missing Migrant: The Work of the Colibri Center for Human Rights
Chelsea Halstead (Colibrí Center for Human Rights)
Thursday, April 27th at 5:30pm

Chelsea Halstead is the Program Manager for the Colibrí Center for Human Rights and heads Colibrí’s Family Advocacy program, speaking with families to collect information on missing persons and making case matches by comparing reports to forensic data. Chelsea also works to build relationships between Colibrí and various partners across the region.