Student Research on Mobility Studies

By Katherine Holt

As a Latin Americanist who teaches classes on regional history and culture, themes of diaspora and mobility are central to my courses.

This spring 2017, students in my History 201: Latin American & the United States completed two course modules connected to the Challenging Borders collaboration.  History 201 The Craft of History rubric courses are writing-intensive seminars that emphasize the critical skills of the historian—including the analysis of primary sources, historiography, historical research and writing, and historical argument—but welcome students from a wide array of majors.  Increasingly, I have my students do more digital projects as a way to share their research and analysis with a wider audience.  This helps them think carefully about information literacy, as well as raising the bar for the quality of their writing.  It also lets us contribute to the content gap in well-researched, reliable online coverage of topics about race, gender, and immigration.

For one of our modules, students investigated their choice of research questions related to class themes, and created an annotated bibliography.  Students have shared some of these annotations to the Challenging Borders Mobility Studies Zotero library.

Another module focused on our joint analysis of a canonical secondary study of U.S. immigration policy.  One of the first books we read for class was Mae Ngai‘s  Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton UP).  Dr. Ngai’s award-winning book examines the history of twentieth century U.S. immigration law.  She details the debates behind the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924‘s attempts to limit the growing influx of Southern and Eastern Europeans, and then looks at how these immigration restrictions created new categories of racial difference.  Later chapters look at how immigration officials applied these policies to colonial subjects like Filipinos, Mexican agricultural workers not covered by the quota system, and Asians ineligible for citizenship.  Pedagogically, the book provided an invaluable historical overview of the construction of race and national identity, while at the same time reinforcing close reading and analysis of secondary sources.

Despite all the scholarly recognition Ngai received for the book, it did not have a Wikipedia page.  I decided to create a new page to facilitate student critical analysis, and the diffusion of our overview of this important work to a wider public. This also let us contribute to our campus Feminist Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon.

Working in teams, students divided up responsibilities for leading classroom discussions of book chapters.  They then wrote up a brief synopsis of their assigned sections, following Wikipedia guidelines for tone, use of evidence, and content.

We finished our work on the page in early March.  Only recently have we received some feedback from the broader Wikipedia community, making some (very fair) critiques that the article would benefit from additional citations and a broader secondary source base.  A contributor removed my students’ timelines earlier this month, noting that “book articles typically do not contain this.”  I’m going to write my students to see how they respond to the wider Wikipedia’s critiques and changes.





Student Reflections – National Bird

Reflection assignment for Wooster’s class on Globalization and Contemporary China. By Catherine Lockwood. 

Sonia Kennebeck’s National Bird (2016) discusses the negative effects of American drone strikes on Afghani people. The documentary focuses on three people that work in the Air Force, intelligence systems, and drone surveillance systems and that speak against the government for killing innocent people during drone strikes. The first person to be interviewed has post-traumatic stress disorder from her experience in the Air Force. Her job was to decide which people classified as terrorists they should attack in Afghanistan. While she received training to identify the right people, she also knew that she could never be completely sure who she was killing. She is particularly traumatized by the civilians she killed and the amount of death she was forced to see. Despite her clear long-lasting effects of directing drone strikes, the job was aimed at younger people between the ages of 18 to 24 just like her.

The Air Force is advertised to the public as a method of helping other countries defend themselves and protecting the United States from receiving more terrorist attacks. In fact, the government hides a great deal of information from the public on how they attack Afghani people and the anxiety it brings to people who work for the Air Force. The government does not provide help to people who fly drones because they do not consider them to have seen combat. Because of the lack of aid given to Air Force soldiers and the hidden information to the public, many people in Afghanistan die without reason. The United States government denies its citizens freedom of speech by limiting the American people in their ability to speak out about corrupt warfare that needs to be known to save humanity.


Student Reflections on National Bird

Reflection assignment for Wooster’s class on Globalization and Contemporary China. By Brenton Kalinowski.

The documentary film National Bird, by Sonia Kennebeck, examines a few different perspectives on the use of drones by the US government in situations of war. These perspectives are the consequences for whistleblowers in the government, the trauma that can result from operating drones, and the on the ground results and inaccuracies of drone strikes. The film was very successful in providing this information and telling the stories of those involved without telling the viewer what to think, but rather allowing them to make their own conclusions. While I personally find great issue with the use of drone strikes, I support the way that the film did not clearly push a political stance and take an overly subjective approach of its own. I felt that the overall effect this left was to strengthen the legitimacy of the stories and images. In reality I am sure that Kennebeck views drones strikes negatively and her film is a way of spreading a political point. Not forcing this political point on viewers was simply an effective way of creating a more powerful documentary.

Returning to the three perspectives the film showed. The aftermath of strikes and how targets are sometimes wrongly chosen was the most troubling part to watch. One specific example given was a caravan of innocent civilians who were bombed by a drone traveling home from a funeral, resulting in the deaths of men women and children. The transcript of the drone operators and their superiors is particularly disturbing. They talk about the people in a very dehumanizing manner and seem to be trying to find excuses to fire. Even though they see children, they talk back and forth about how a 12-year-old with a gun can be dangerous. As if that is enough reason to kill them. One woman who they interview for the film, a former drone operator, describes the lengthy training that she had to go through to be able to identity women and children as well as weapons. This shows that collateral damage is not actually accidental, but rather, it comes from a lack of concern from some drone operators. I believe that the distance drones create from the operators and the people they kill creates a desensitizing effect. I hope that people speaking out, as some have done in this film, will place pressure on the government.