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Migrations: A Global, Interdisciplinary, Multispecies Examination

Listen to lectures from the public seminar series for any person, any subject, anywhere.

The series was also available for course credit, offered in the Cornell course roster as DSOC 4940.

Migrations is one of the key challenges of the contemporary moment. Our world is increasingly in motion. The unprecedented pace, scale, and complexity of movement on our planet—of humans, plants, animals, cultural messages and artifacts, resources, pathogens, and more—present a diverse suite of challenges and opportunities that play out across local, regional, national, and international scales.

In this interdisciplinary series of webinars, we approached migrations as multispecies phenomena emerging from dynamic socio-ecological systems, as well as driving changes in those same systems. This broad-ranging series spanned multiple academic units and brought together researchers and research projects with different perspectives, disciplinary approaches, spatiotemporal scales, and socioecological contexts.

As part of the Global Grand Challenges initiative on Migrations, the weekly webinar in fall 2020 provided a sample of the wide range of migrations work happening at Cornell. 

Seminar Speakers and Topics

Chinese Migrations to Monsoon Asia: The Long Historical View

  • Eric Tagliacozzo, John Stambaugh Professor of History
  • September 9, 2020

Chinese migrants and travelers have been traveling to the countries of the Southern Oceans (the "Nanyang", in Chinese) for at least two millennia, and probably longer. We have only scattered records of their passing for the first thousand years of these voyages, but then the documents start to get better, and we can outline the passage of enormous numbers of people, migrating to new lives in the "South Seas." This talk traced those histories, looking at the warp and weft of Chinese migrations over two thousand years.

Immigration Policy and Worker Precarity

  • Shannon Gleeson, Associate Professor, Labor Relations, Law, and History at the ILR School
  • View the Gleeson lecture (September 16, 2020)

The current era of immigration policy reflects a tradition of virulent racism and xenophobia. Gleeson and Griffith’s research examines the function of these policies in the workplace, and how they impact not only the eight million undocumented immigrant workers in the United States, but also documented guestworkers, and other temporary categories of migrants.

Migration as Resistance: The Underground Railroad

  • Gerard Aching, Professor of Africana and Romance Studies and Co-Principal Investigator with the Rural Humanities Initiative
  • View the Aching lecture (September 23, 2020)

In addition to the expropriation of lands that belonged to native communities, one of the most consequential outcomes of settler colonialism in the Americas was the invention, speciation, and treatment of enslaved people of African ancestry as subhuman. As a clandestine network of perilous migration routes, the Underground Railroad provided the enslaved with the opportunity to reject their categorization as "human property" and transition to the enjoyment of freedom that recognized them as fully human. This presentation examined the Underground Railroad as a form of migration that, in challenging the dehumanization of the enslaved, impacted the politics of a United States on the brink of civil war.

Farmworkers, Vulnerability, and Moral Economies of Care/Work

  • Mary Jo Dudley, Director of the Cornell Farmworker Program and Chair, Farmworker Committee, Finger Lakes Community and Migrant Health
  • September 30, 2020

This presentation highlighted global flows of workers from Central America and the Caribbean to sustain agricultural production in the U.S. Based on interviews with farmworkers, we examined their motivations for leaving home, their experience in the U.S., long-term goals and structural challenges. We explored the particular health vulnerabilities of immigrant workers under COVID-19, and strategies to maintain communication with and support for building capacity among this population.

Conceptualizing Migrant Farmworker Rights in Asia

  • Beth Lyon, Clinical Professor and Founder, Farmworker’s Legal Assistance Clinic at Cornell Law School
  • Pranoto Iskandar, Founding Director, Institute for Migrant Rights; Doctoral Research Fellow, McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, Montréal
  • View the Lyon and Iskandar lecture (October 7, 2020)

The food industry has a long history of driving and shaping low wage labor migration regimes, and around the world agriculture is often a site for large undocumented workforces, exploitative visa arrangements, and a disproportionate share of human trafficking as compared with other industries. Agricultural labor migration schemes have long permitted overcrowded housing and dangerous working conditions, allowing employer retaliation to trigger deportation of workers who speak up about dangerous conditions. Workers and allies in Asia have turned to labor organizing, trade policy, and the United Nations to address these concerns.

Immigration, Healthcare, and the Coronavirus Crisis

  • Gunisha Kaur, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology and Medical Director, Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights
  • Steve Yale-Loehr, Professor of Immigration Law Practice at Cornell Law School and Co-Director, Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic
  • View the Kaur and Yale-Loehr lecture (October 14, 2020) 

Einaudi Center Migrations faculty fellows Gunisha Kaur and Steve Yale-Loehr will discuss how the coronavirus crisis is affecting immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, including new healthcare, public benefits, and detention policies these populations face. They will also share from their ongoing project, "Advancing the health of refugee and immigrant populations by increasing knowledge of legal rights through digital tools."

Migrations and One Health: Human, Animal, and Environmental Interactions and Emerging Diseases

  • Gen Meredith, Associate Director, Cornell University Master of Public Health program
  • View the Meredith lecture (October 21, 2020)

Cornell Public Health faculty convened a series of working meetings with students and researchers from Cornell peer institutions to explore the conditions that allow for emerging communicable diseases. Grounded in One Health and Planetary Health paradigms (how humans interact with, influence, and are influenced by our natural environments, including the health of animals), the team used outbreak case studies of the past and present to understand root causes, and to develop shared recommendations and action plans for the future that consider intersecting factors such as wildlife trade and management, food system drivers and consequences, cultural norms, public health and regulatory systems, and multi-national systems strengthening opportunities.

The Ecology of State-Building: Moving Capitals in Indonesia

  • Wendy M. Erb, Visiting Scientist and American Association of University Women Postdoctoral Fellow with the Center for Conservation Bioacoustics, Lab of Ornithology
  • View the Erb lecture (October 28, 2020)

Indonesia will be among the first nations to initiate a climate-based migration: transitioning its rapidly sinking, flood-prone capital from densely-populated Java to Borneo, one of the richest and most imperiled cultural and biodiversity hotspots on Earth. The new capital will be situated across a vast landscape where indigenous and migrant communities and corporations collectively practice subsistence, commercial, and extractive land uses and livelihoods across a shared landscape that also holds key endangered species habitat. This historic migration will spur rapid, wide-ranging, and intersecting effects on the surrounding social, economic, political, and ecological landscape. 

Climate Change and Oceanic Migrations

  • Aaron Rice, Principal Ecologist, Bioacoustics Research Program, Laboratory of Ornithology
  • Michelle Fournet, Postdoctoral Associate, Bioacoustics Research Program, Laboratory of Ornithology
  • View the Rice/Fournet lecture (November 11, 2020)

Aaron Rice and Michelle Fournet shared work from an ongoing project in which they analyzed acoustic survey data in a biocultural study to pinpoint how bowhead whale seasonal migration patterns are linked to climate change and how recent changes affect Alaskan Arctic whale hunters.

Migration, Climate Change, and Human Adaptation

  • Filiz Garip, Professor of Sociology and
  • Nancy Chau, Professor, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
  • View the Garip/Chau lecture (December 2, 2020)

Mexico-U.S. migration flow is the largest sustained movement of people between any two nations. Existing work focuses on income differentials between the two countries as the main reason underlying migration. Our work shows climate change, bilateral trade, and border enforcement policies to be critical – and underappreciated – factors in guiding people’s movements.