AHA Member Spotlight: Nancy L. Green
Nancy L. Green is directrice d'études (professor) at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. She lives there and has been a member since 1982.
Alma maters: BA, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1972; MA, University of Chicago, 1973; Diplôme d'Études Approfondies, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 1978; PhD, University of Chicago, 1980; Doctorat d'état, Université de Paris-VII, 1996
Fields of interest: migration, comparative, French social, US social
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
I came to Paris to study immigrants and became one!
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
It is Paris. Need I say more? I have been fortunate, since 1985, to do research and teach at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales-with all of the stimulation, delight, and challenges of being abroad.
What projects are you currently working on?
A long-suffering book on gender and migration.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
From Jewish migration history, I became interested in migration history tout court and the necessity of doing and reflecting on comparative history to better understand similarities and difference in experience. As one immigrant once wrote: “I was constantly referring my new world to the old for comparison, and the old to the new for elucidation. I became a student and philosopher [comparativist I would say] by force of circumstances” (Mary Antin, Promised Land, 2d ed. [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969], xxii).
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
François Gueydan de Roussel’s thick file at NARA. It tells the film-worthy story of an American (known as Frank in Texas) who settles in France, the land of his father, marries a local winegrower’s daughter, takes on her father’s name (and particle), takes over the vineyard, and gets accused of making fake wine. Well-connected, he writes incessantly to his American cousins (Louisiana state and US congressmen) and his high-ranking French brother-in-law for help. To no avail. He ends up a refugee in Switzerland, writing increasingly exasperated letters to one and all. He starts out my forthcoming book, The Limits of Transnationalism, as a cautionary tale about the use of networks, and how they can fail.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
I have most recently read a historical sociologist and two historians. Joel Perlmann’s America Classifies the Immigrants is a terrific analysis of statistics, categorizations, and the debates around them, while Todd Shepard’s Sex, France, and Arab Men, 1962–79, focuses on the maze of contradictory representations of one of France’s long-stigmatized minorities. Madeleine Hsu’s The Good Immigrants tells the opposite story and is one of those books that tells you everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask: How the Yellow Peril Became the Model Minority (her subtitle). But, I keep coming back to a novel: Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, for its prose, for the drama, and most recently, for a reflection on rereading. To my surprise, when I read it again for perhaps the third or fourth time, I realized that a rape is at the heart of the story. I had always been fascinated by the story of the “first” class struggle, between the Third Estate and the aristocracy, but I had never before focused on the core of Madame Defarge’s ire: how her peasant sister had been killed by the local noblemen. A lesson in (re)reading.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
Helping understand the present. In these dark times of people continuing to flee terrible situations yet confronting hardening immigration borders, it is crucial to understand migration's past. The history of migration is both depressing and yet can provide some well-needed optimism. Xenophobia has been part and parcel of human interactions as long as mobility has brought different groups into contact. However, for the most part, over the longue durée, migrants settle in and become a diverse group of natives in their own right. If we give them the chance.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
The American Historical Review and the annual meetings, when I can attend them. In the meantime, I read Perspectives literally from cover to cover (I remain a paper person). Being overseas, I find it a wonderful link to the current state of the profession in the US.
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
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