“According to UNHCR, the number of forcibly displaced people both within countries and across borders as a result of persecution, conflict, or generalized violence has grown by over 50 per cent in the last 10 years; there were 43.3 million forcibly displaced people in 2009, and the figure was 70.8 million by the end of 2018 (UNHCR, 2019). Today 1 out of every 108 people in the world is displaced.” (Source)
Friends, I have good news. In the 2020-21 academic year, I will serve as a co-coordinator for the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Rackham Graduate School Interdisciplinary Workshop on Migration and Displacement. My journey towards migration research entails a longwinded and winding narration of mistakes, backtracks, and personal reflection.
As my research moved from examining the social and cultural forms of religious and anti-religious expression in nineteenth-century France and among French intellectuals to the in-and-out migration of Central Asians to Paris from the late nineteenth-century to the Postwar era, I became more aware of the pressing need of scholarly engagement with questions of asylum, policy, race and radicalization, and the politics of displacement and population movement across Europe.
Perhaps I made a mistake not getting a Master’s degree before I applied for Ph.D. programs in history. Perhaps I made a mistake in not taking substantial time off after I got my Bachelor’s degree. Perhaps, even, I should have considered more lucrative career options — in translation work, public relations, marketing, etc. Nevertheless, here I stand, I can do no other: in the fall of 2020, I will begin my third year in the History Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, working with Prof. Joshua Cole, author most recently of Lethal Provocation: The Constantine Murders and the Politics of French Algeria (2019, Cornell University Press). With the fall, “hell year” will commence: the year of my cohort’s preliminary examinations (elsewhere called comprehensive exams, or “comps”).
Usually, each doctoral student is tasked with devising three extensive “lists.” Each “list” relates to a “field,” wherein the student in question works closely with a professor to hone a list of 100-800 (yes it does vary this widely) books and articles to be read and commented upon over the year. At Michigan, a fourth “field” technically exists, but students have the option of “coursing off” this list; i.e., taking two graduate level seminar courses in a particular subject area—this is done to avoid being examined in this fourth field.
My friend and former colleague, Katherine Spearing, is a seminary graduate with experience in ministry and churches in the U.S. and Central America. She invited me to speak on her podcast, “Uncertain,” about spiritual and sexual abuse in the church.
Click here to visit the episode web page to learn more about resources mentioned in the podcast.
Toward an Integrative System of Information Management
I am sitting at my desk in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Some allege that summer has begun, but I’ve paid no mind to whispers that threaten the threads of tenacity remaining in my psyche to finish seminar papers, take language courses, do research, and prepare for the third year of a Ph.D. program in history at the University of Michigan. With two years behind me, I have a virtual ocean of books, articles, conference papers, dissertations, and lectures to read and review before my comprehensive exams at the end of the 2021 academic year. To my left, an unkempt pile of assiduously documented and extensive book notes brushes against my 2014 laptop—ancient now, according to Apple. With corners fraying, the pages of yellow legal paper are well worn—some are tattered.
There’s a certain sinking feeling that arrives in the neighborhood south of the breastbone that brings you back to the sluggish, thoroughgoingly banal task of being alive. Though, I wonder, is it being alive? If not something like being alive, perhaps living? Certainly not “existing.” The task of “existing” doesn’t make very much sense in the twenty-first century.