SMU faculty to help lead immigration history conference at Dallas’ Old Red Museum Sept. 19, 2015

Caroline Brettell

SMU faculty to help lead immigration history conference at Dallas’ Old Red Museum Sept. 19, 2015

Immigrants going through San Angelo, Texas - early photograph, Lawrence T. Jones III Texas Photography Collection

A photo by M.C. Ragsdale ca. 1885-90 of immigrants passing through San Angelo, Texas. From the Lawrence T. Jones III Texas Photography Collection, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

The challenging task of teaching a controversial subject to middle- and high-school students will be the focus of an upcoming immigration conference featuring several University faculty members.

SMU and the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture are partnering with Humanities Texas and the Texas Historical Commission to present a conference on the history of U.S. immigration from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015 at the museum.

“Issues surrounding immigration are at the forefront of public discourse these days,” said Zac Harmon, executive director of the Old Red Museum. “Statistics and beliefs are strongly held but are often mistaken for facts. This conference will provide documented, factual information for teachers, politicians and other citizens who really want to understand the issue. We are grateful to the Philip R. Jonsson Foundation for sponsoring this first of what we hope will become an annual conference.”

Conference participants can choose to hear two of six speakers scheduled during the morning session. Lunch and a keynote address by Margaret Spellings, president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center and former secretary of education (2005-09), will follow.

Afternoon breakout sessions will provide teachers with lesson plans, materials and strategies to help them make history come alive for students of all grade levels. Teachers attending both sessions can earn six Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits.

Topics and speakers include:

  • “D/FW Becoming an Immigrant Gateway” – Caroline Brettell, University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Ruth Collins Altshuler Director of SMU’s Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute
  • “Gone To Texas: Immigration to the Lone Star State in the 19th Century” – Gregg Cantrell, Emma and Ralph Lowe Chair of Texas History, TCU
  • “Immigration and the Changing Face of America” – Neil Foley, Robert and Nancy Dedman Chair in History, Dedman College
  • “Visualizing the Changing Landscape of U.S. Immigration” – Kyle Walker, assistant professor of population and urban geography, TCU
  • “Managing Migration in an Era of Globalization” – James F. Hollifield, Ora Nixon Arnold Professor of International Political Economy and director of SMU’s Tower Center for Political Studies
  • “Immigration and the Changing Demography of Liberal Democracies” – Gary Freeman, professor of government, University of Texas-Austin

Registration, which includes a continental breakfast, lunch, parking, materials and access to the exhibit area, is $25 and can be completed online at For information, contact Shannon Page at the Old Red Museum, 214-757-1927.

Written by Kenny Ryan

September 2, 2015|Calendar Highlights, For the Record, News|

$5 million gift will establish Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute

Dallas Hall and Dedman College gateway monument at SMUA new $5 million gift from the Dedman family and The Dedman Foundation will create the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

The new institute will bring together faculty and students from the humanities, sciences and social sciences for collaborative research and other programs. The Institute’s projects will also reach beyond Dedman College to the broader University and the Dallas-Fort Worth region.

Unlike interdisciplinary centers at other universities, the Institute will engage undergraduates as well as graduate students and faculty.

“SMU has benefited from the Dedman family’s extraordinary vision and support for more than five decades,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Few other families have had such a wide-ranging impact on the University’s development. Their major gifts have supported areas from humanities and sciences to law and lifetime sports. As we celebrate the University’s Centennial, this latest gift will help SMU continue to move forward among the nation’s leading universities.”

The institute will host annual seminars bringing together faculty, graduate and undergraduate students and members of the community to discuss global issues. Informal research clusters will create collaborative groups of faculty and students from across the University to expand and enrich the interdisciplinary culture on campus. Interdisciplinary faculty appointments will develop new programming and curricular offerings, and a digital humanities lab will provide state-of-the-art computing technologies and interactive space for scholars to pursue interdisciplinary research.

Institute seminars and research clusters will generate capstone courses, a vital component of the new University Curriculum. In addition to deepening and broadening course selection, the Institute will allow Dedman College to offer students more opportunities for engaged learning beyond the classroom.

“Addressing the complex challenges of our interconnected world requires the knowledge and perspectives of more than one discipline,” said Dedman College Dean William Tsutsui. “The Institute is a perfect fit for a college that spans departments from philosophy to physics. By creating opportunities for substantive collaboration across the disciplines, the Institute will open new vistas for research and help prepare students for real-world challenges requiring multiple perspectives.”

Caroline BrettellDedman College will appoint Caroline Brettell, University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, as the first director of the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute. Brettell has conducted research on international migration in Portugal, France and the United States, and for the last decade has studied new immigration in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. In addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters, she also is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of 14 books.

> Read the full story from SMU News

May 22, 2012|For the Record, News|

Series explores ‘the concept of home’ with El Norte screening April 4

A film poster from Gregory Nava's 'El Norte'SMU’s 2012 “Migration Matters” series continues Wednesday, April 4, with a film classic that raises important issues concerning U.S. immigration. A screening of El Norte, featuring commentary by SMU Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Caroline Brettell, is scheduled for 6:30-8:30 p.m. in SMU’s McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall.

The Academy Award-nominated 1983 documentary, directed by Gregory Nava, focuses on two Guatemala Mayan peasants, a brother and sister, who flee their country because of political persecution and head north (el norte). The film traces their journey, border-crossing experiences and subsequent life in the U.S. as undocumented immigrants.

“It raises poignant questions about the concept of home and touches on a host of issues important to understanding U.S. immigration,” Brettell says.

For more information about this event or others in the series, contact “Migration Matters” coordinator Jayson Sae-Saue, Department of English, Dedman College, 214-768-4369.

Shirin Tavakoli contributed to this report.

> Find the full “Migration Matters” schedule at the SMU News website

April 4, 2012|Calendar Highlights, News|

Research Spotlight: Immigrants and American identity in North Texas

Who belongs in America?

EFE: “La inmigracion es una amenaza para los ciudadanos de Farmers Branch”

Immigration has sparked a raging national debate about that question – including in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, Texas, the first U.S. city to adopt an ordinance requiring renters to prove they are legal residents.

Contrary to what many believe, however, race isn’t the only driving reason that many white, middle-class people feel threatened by immigrants, according to a new analysis by Caroline Brettell, University Distinguished Professor in Anthropology, and Faith Nibbs a doctoral candidate in anthropology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

White, middle-class people also perceive immigrants who are settling in their suburban communities as a threat to their class status and to their very identity as Americans, say the researchers. With cultures and traditions different from white suburbanites, they are viewed as an assault on long-standing symbols of American nationality – including middle-class values and tastes, and the perception that Americans are patriotic and law-abiding, they add.

“For many whites, American identity is wrapped up with being suburban and middle class, and when they see immigrants changing their communities and potentially threatening their class status, they react with anti-immigrant legislation,” Brettell says.

Caroline Brettell
Faith Nibbs

The anthropologists base their conclusion on a close analysis of Farmers Branch, a suburb of almost 28,000 people that made news in 2006 as the first U.S. city to adopt an ordinance requiring that apartment managers document tenants as legal residents. The researchers looked at newspaper articles and blogs, conducted a lengthy interview with a key City Council member, carried out background historical research and analyzed U.S. Census data.

The research has been accepted for publication in the journal International Migration in an article titled “Immigrant Suburban Settlement and the ‘Threat’ to Middle Class Status and Identity: The Case of Farmers Branch, Texas.”

New immigrants to the United States are settling in major gateway cities like Dallas and making their homes directly in middle-class suburbs, say Brettell and Nibbs. These suburbs – once called the “bourgeois utopia” where middle-class values triumph – are populated by white people who decades before fled the central cities to escape poor housing, deteriorating schools, and racial and ethnic diversity, the researchers say.

But when immigrants and white suburbs mix, the result can be explosive, as in the case of Farmers Branch. Whites view their hometown changing. And the changes feel very foreign to them – new religious institutions, ethnic strip-shopping malls, signs in languages other than English, and bilingual programs for education, health care and law-enforcement programs.

The historic roots of Farmers Branch lie in a land grant designed to draw “free and white” inhabitants to the area in the 1850s, say the researchers. Farmers Branch grew to 17,500 by 1970, and at that time there were 320 Hispanic surnames in the city. By 2000, however, the Hispanic population had grown to more than one-third of the total. By 2008, Hispanics were the largest demographic group, with 46.7 percent of the population.

Brettell and Nibbs say that white suburbanites have also invoked the “Rule of Law” in Farmers Branch and elsewhere.

“As the formulation of laws and their enforcement are disproportionately unavailable to ethnic minorities, and completely inaccessible to undocumented immigrants, the principle of Rule of Law has become a convenient weapon for the Farmers Branch middle class in their fight for status and the status quo,” say Brettell and Nibbs in the article. “Add to this a bit of the legacy of Texas frontier mentality and patriotism and you have a line drawn in the sand by those who stand for the Rule of Law as something absolutely fundamental to American identity and hence perceive illegal immigrants as a threat to that identity.”

In that way, the “Rule of Law” is a tool to exclude unauthorized immigrants and attempt to legislate a certain quality of life, such as English-only communication, as well as proof of citizenship to rent a dwelling, apply for food stamps or get school financial aid, say the researchers.

“Everyone is looking at race but not at class in the study of immigrants, and particularly in anti-immigrant backlash,” Brettell says. “We add to this literature the analysis of ‘Rule of Law’ as a newly rhetorical device that excludes illegal immigrants. Our article offers a new way of looking at this issue.”

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

October 13, 2010|Research|
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