While studying the scholarly literature on immigration in post–World War II Switzerland, the personal dedication in a 1964 dissertation about the “assimilation of foreign workers” caught my attention: “In memory of my paternal grandmother Antonietta Zanolli-Recati, who in 1905 moved with her family from Belluno to Zurich, the land of Pestalozzi.”1 This dedication interests me because it points to the ambiguity of “migrant knowledge,” a concept that has been introduced only recently to academic debates at the intersection of the histories of migration and knowledge.2 The case of Satuila Zanolli, the author of this dedication and the study it accompanied, invites a closer look at the interrelation of two different aspects of the broader problem of migration and knowledge formation: (1) knowledge possessed by the migrants themselves, that is, migrant knowledge in the truest sense of the term, and (2) knowledge about the phenomenon of migration, that is, migration knowledge.3
I never thought Plato and I shared a common scholarly interest. My research on the millions of eastern Europeans who emigrated to the United States (ancestors of the subjects of Bruce Springsteen songs) at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries seemed far removed from what I had once thought were the lofty realms of the the history of knowledge. Even so, armed with two thinkers, Max Weber and Michel Foucault, as well as reams of bureaucratic sources, I started to think about my research in terms of state knowledge in the surveillance and control of migration.1 But what about the everyday experiences of people in transit, experiences as banal as changing trains, which didn’t exactly gel with ideas from the great minds of civilization? Inspectors at Ellis Island didn’t scribble down treatises on free will, yet knowledge must have played a role in everyday experiences . . .
Panel Series at the 40th Annual Conference of the German Studies Association in San Diego, September 29 – October 2, 2016
This panel series focused on a field of research that is emerging at the intersection of the history of knowledge and the history of migration.1 This dynamic field, as series organizer Simone Lässig emphasized in her opening remarks, offers potential not only for historians but also for scholars from other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Up to this point, the historiographies of migration and of knowledge have not had much to say to each other. State, NGO, and academic actors have produced knowledge about migration and migrants, and the production of this knowledge is sometimes studied. We know little, however, about how knowledge was used, produced, and mediated by the migrants themselves. We can fill this gap, we can shed new light on migrants as actors, Lässig argued, by linking the two research fields. In this way, we can learn how migrants acted as bearers, translators, and producers of knowledge in their old and new homelands. It is also possible to investigate how and the degree to which migrants were able to convert the knowledge they brought with them into usable cultural capital in new social, economic, and cultural contexts.