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Campus News


New Center to Examine the New America

By Tom Ventsias


Illustration of a site

Illustration by Brian G. Payne

For a bird’s–eye view on the “remaking” of American society, one need only walk down the hallway of any academic building on campus, says Ira Berlin, distinguished university professor of history.

The diversity at Maryland—with thousands of international students and faculty—mirrors the resurgence of an immigrant society in the United States, where the latest census shows these “new Americans” make up a large part of the decade’s population growth.

Berlin and Professor Julie Greene will examine this phenomenon in the Center for the History of the New America, a new initiative, based in the College of Arts and Humanities. It seeks to greatly expand the scholarly and popular understanding of the nation’s immigrant past, which, says Berlin, is directly related to the contemporary immigrant experience and America’s future as a nation of nations.

“Understanding the United States as a nation of immigrants is critical to any appreciation of the new America,” he says.

Berlin says the center hopes to bring in scholars, students and policymakers from around the world interested in how a resurgence of American immigration interconnects with the underlying currents of global social change.

Closer to home, an array of immigrants in Prince George’s County—with large communities from El Salvador, Nigeria, the Philippines and Ethiopia, to name but a few—offers ample opportunity to gather a rich library of oral histories and other data. The center intends to have a reciprocal relationship with these communities, says Greene, offering a repository for their cultural history that can be accessed by future generations.

She also expects the center to draw strong interest from across the university, with proposed new classes and graduate fellowships attracting not only history majors, but also enticing students and faculty from anthropology, public health, economics and more to get involved.

“History has always been a dialogue between the social sciences and humanities,” she says. “But looking at how Americans relate to one another, and how society should function in a way that treats everyone with respect and dignity, is especially important today.”

A campuswide forum is planned for later this semester to gather input from the university community on projects that the new center might undertake.