“History Lives in People.”

A Nation of Immigrants? Migration and Identity in Conversation—with Professor Erika Lee


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The Centre for U.S. in the World Studies held its launch event on Wednesday, November 29,2023. We were delighted to host Professor Erika Lee of Harvard University for “A Nation of Immigrants? Migration and Identity”, a conversation between Professor Lee and members of the Centre on issues relating to race, immigration, and xenophobia in the American past and present. Professor Lee is the author of books on Chinese immigration and Asian American history, and, most recently, America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States.

Questions posed to Professor Lee focused on issues relating to identity and autoethnography and how they affect our work as scholars; the different sources that have informed her work and the way that migrant testimonies, oral histories, and political cartoons have enabled her to tell a range of different histories that complicate and challenge long-standing national narratives; and the way that her work on immigration and xenophobia maps onto contemporary debates about those subjects in a Transatlantic context. 


In her responses, Professor Lee offered a series of fascinating insights that drew on her own research trajectory and experience and the different ways that debates over identity, place, and positionality have informed her work. In particular, she spoke about the way that questions around race, representation, and archives have affected the stories that the United States tells about itself as a nation and how those historical examples have intersected with contemporary political debates over immigration and identity. These examples ranged from the incredibly personal, such as finding her own grandparents’ wedding photo in the U.S. National Archives, to cartoons published in magazines in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to the protests that emerged in the wake of the Trump administration’s announcement of a travel ban on Muslims and Refugees in 2017. In a particularly powerful example of the work that she does, Professor Lee introduced us to a project she set up at the University of Minnesota—the Immigrant Stories Project that is part of the Immigration History Research Center, and which collates immigrants’ own digital stories about their experiences. She played a video by her former student, Thiago Oliveira Heilman, about his and his family’s lives since they arrived in the United States from Brazil in the 1990s. As a young undocumented Dreamer who attained the right to stay and study at University in the United States under President Obama’s 2012 executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Thiago’s story resonated strongly with the undergraduate students in our audience. 

It was a real privilege to host Professor Lee for the Centre’s inaugural event and explore the significance of America’s immigration history for understanding the here and now and to put contemporary debates over race and xenophobia into their larger context.


The Centre runs a variety of events and forums that are free and open to all unless otherwise specified. These aim to build upon a history of engagement between Nottingham and the United States.

They include:

  • “History of Now” sessions with undergraduate students that explore topics of contemporary importance
  • cross-faculty events addressing pressing issues from a wide-ranging and multi-disciplinary perspective
  • research workshops to develop member’s work-in-progress
  • public engagement sessions with schools and educational practitioners
  • field-focused conversations that debate and critique the latest interventions in U.S. and the World Studies.