From the Executive Director.
Earlier in the month, I attended the regional NERWHA Symposium on "Race & Racism: Challenges for World History Teaching and Research." Not only are these affiliate meetings rich in content and observations, they act as crossroads where WHA members, governance and staff connect. As insightful as the learning moments are for me, sharing moments with members is just as important. Some of the attendees I met at the NERWHA conference were not WHA members--yet. They were curious high school students encouraged by their teacher to take part in the day. Many of these students are planning to submit an essay for the WHA "World Historian Student Essay Competition." Our office has members to thank for the huge rise in submissions for our awards. As a result, the awards are quickly becoming more valued, competitive and reputable.
Donations have also increased. We truly appreciate the generosity of our members who have participated in the Giving Tuesday campaign and have showed sustained interest in our awards. We encourage even more of you to consider giving to the WHA to help this trend grow. It directly benefits the recipients of our awards, committee work as well as new services we can offer our membership base.
While I remain excited about our progress as an association, I am particularly thrilled by the scholarly work that world historians have produced and its capacity to reshape our understanding of the past. The borders theme for this World History Bulletin encompasses my favorite portions of history--that of immigration, especially of the mass movements of people that occurred in the 19th & 20th Centuries. This theme, indeed, strikes a personal chord. On December 23, 1916 a ship called the Roma arrived with European immigrants in the port of Providence, Rhode Island. Between 1870 and 1900, immigration to the USA brought in 63,840 Portuguese, a number that swelled to 158,881 between 1900 and 1920. This ship carried one such family from Madeira Island--the Gouveia family. One of their daughters, Mary, whose married name later became Coelho, would become my maternal grandmother. They followed the same path as other families from Portugal as they made their way to the gateway for the Portuguese community in America, New Bedford, MA. A whopping 80% of the Portuguese who immigrated to the U.S. settled in New Bedford during this time. Family members who met the minimum age requirement were quickly set up in the factories.
My grandmother's family arrived before the iron whip of US anti-immigration laws changed that landscape for decades. One such piece of legislation was named the Johnson-Reed Act and became law in 1924. This quota system greatly decreased immigrants from select countries, Portugal being only one example. As a direct result, the numbers dropped drastically from almost 90,000 Portuguese immigrants in the 1910s to only 30,000 in the 1920s and then under 11,000 during the following two decades.
Like other immigrants, they quickly acquired fast money by pooling together wages and built a stone house on a quiet plot of land bordering a river that followed the water's path to Martha's Vineyard and the Atlantic. The china cabinet in my grandmother's house covered a secret that was only revealed to me as an adult. During prohibition, my great-grandfather kept a side job as a bootlegger. As a young adult, my grandmother found herself trapped by the knowledge that the police were rushing to the house for evidence of her father's business, so she quickly destroyed it by breaking the remaining whiskey bottles. Those bottles were normally hidden in a passage behind the china cabinet.
The assimilation process took decades. Most of the Portuguese were barely educated, lived a life of manual labor and wrestled with the language barrier. Although the discrimination was not always as overt as the one experienced by African Americans, Chinese or the Cape Verdeans (who are half Portuguese and half African), it existed. Battles and bickering between the French Canadians and Portuguese in Southeastern Massachusetts became part of the landscape. The word "greenhorn" held a specific meaning in this region--a Portuguese immigrant. It would be decades before I realized that the term was a generic term for newcomers and not meant only for the Portuguese.
Many of the immigrants I have known personally were resilient. While immigrant stereotypes lived on and especially harsh stories would be printed in the local paper, those were not the anecdotes I heard firsthand. Visits to my grandmother's cottage by the river included learning about the old country through her eyes. Ultimately, she retained her European roots, but also held views that were typically American. She shared a moment about her visit to the old country that could today be analyzed as feminist, but to her was simply a matter of basic respect. During her trip to Portugal in the 1970s, a male Lisbon airport official ignorantly laughed off the idea that my grandmother drove a car. She told me, "I took out my license and said see right here!" Salazar's authoritarian government had hindered any social progress in the old country, but my grandmother encountered such opportunities in her new country.
As my story illustrates, crossing borders has been fruitful for the development of new ideas and for the reshaping of cultures. The immigration of Europeans to the new world has created similar yet different societies that in turn transformed the old world. World history as a discipline emphasizes these transcultural and transnational connections and it seems fitting that the WHA, whose headquarters are in Boston, would have its conference on the other side of the Atlantic this year. We are now two months away from the 25th WHA Annual Conference in Ghent, Belgium. Efforts for this conference are coming together and as always, the sessions are varied. From where I sit, those of us registered have many precious days to anticipate in Belgium and our office is grateful for such an involved co-sponsor in Ghent University.
Outside my window, the Northeastern University Campus basks in the sun-drenched spring day and flowers are in bloom all over the campus. I am eagerly anticipating the 26th Annual WHA Conference here at our headquarters. Ideas are taking shape, hotel blocks are secured and the modern, technology-equipped rooms at Northeastern are ready to be filled with curious WHA members. The icing on the cake is undoubtedly the great city of Boston, which boasts an exhaustive list of popular historical sites as well as hidden gems. Our programming will no doubt take this into consideration to create a well-rounded experience for all attendees.
Our office objectives have not changed--to serve the WHA effectively, which includes feedback from our members. Feel free to contact me with comments and suggestions. We can be reached at 617373-6818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Administrative Coordinator/Executive Director
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|Publication:||World History Bulletin|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
|Previous Article:||Editor's Note.|
|Next Article:||Letter from the President of the World History Association: Richard Warner, Wabash College.|