Immigration Studies: Making Anthropology a relevant field toady.

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Anthropology is field that studies humans, human culture, and societies. Anthropologists often discuss and study immigration trends; this is particularly relevant today considering the Syrian refugee crisis. This project is meant to establish how Anthropology determines immigration trends and the data Anthropologists gather that allows them to make distinctions.

Importance of Studying Immigration in Anthropology

Anthropology Teaching Assistant Andrew Webster, who is a graduate student under Doctor Stephen Brighton at the University of Maryland, says,

Anthropologists are critical in understanding and providing a deeper meaner to immigration. The professionals in this field can help to provide knowledge of  past human movements to explain the current situation in places like Syria. The American Anthropological Association statement from 2011 clearly explains the importance of immigration in this field. The statement reads, “American anthropology has a long history of scientific interest in and professional concern for immigrant populations.” Immigration is widely studied by American anthropologists due to the fact that many of us are descended from immigrants. The statement on the website also states. “A century of anthropological research on immigration and host society responses to immigration shows that immigration tends to be driven by economic deprivation and political persecution, that first generation immigrants are frequently stereotyped in inaccurate and demeaning ways, that scapegoating of immigrants escalates in times of economic contraction (the degree of scapegoating being roughly proportionate to the degree of economic contraction), and that anti-immigrant campaigns tend to be premised on erroneous factual claims and predictions.” Ultimately, since America is a nation of immigrants. it is understandable that Anthropologists want to study it.

Using Anthropology to Study the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Webster also says.

Making use of anthropology to study modern issues like the Syrian refugee crisis can help to provide a deeper meaning to the event itself. This is because by examining past historical trends on immigration and looking at American immigration history, one can see the initial reluctance of people to accept immigrants. Since our country is ultimately a country of immigrants, it is easy to study immigration culturally as well as archaeologically.

Anthropologists Also Study Immigration Through the Use of Material Culture

On this matter Webster explains,

Webster’s example of the medicine bottles illustrates that material culture is significant in providing context to immigration studies.  Webster uses his work with Dr. Stephan Brighton to explain how ultimately the acceptance rate of Irish immigrants is reflected in the material culture found on Irish sites, including medicine bottles. Ultimately, as Irish immigrants gained acceptance in their communities, the medicine bottles shifted from over the counter bottles to bottles prescribed by a physician. Not only does material culture reflect immigrants’ acceptance in society, it can also be a direct reflection of the culture of these specific people. The material culture found about a certain immigrant group helps to provide valuable information about the people and their role in society.

American Immigration Trends Explained by Anthropology

Andrew Webster concludes by saying,

Seeing as this country was first occupied by immigrants shortly after its discovery, it is only natural that our immigration trends can be very explanatory. Below is a chart of immigration waves, with three major peeks showing the number of immigrants and the countries of origin.

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As you can see, the first major immigration spike occurred in 1851-1860 with a majority of those arriving coming from Europe.  Those coming from Europe at this time were arriving from Northern and Western Europe. The second major immigration spike occurred between 1901-1910 with a majority still coming from Europe.  This European wave was concentrated in Southern and Eastern Europe with some coming from Asia and the Americas. The final wave peaked between 1991 and 2000 with a small portion coming from Europe, some coming from Asia, a majority coming from the Americas, and some immigrants coming from Africa and Oceania.

The previous immigration trends and the acceptance of these immigrants can be used to help analyze our current immigrant crisis. The Syrian refugee crisis is a hot topic in the news today and has raised many questions about American policy. According to an article on CNN, over half of the states in this country are not willing to accept Syrian immigrants. This goes against the federal trend since, “Only 1,500 Syrian refugees have been accepted into the United States since 2011, but the Obama administration announced in September that 10,000 Syrians will be allowed entry next year.” While initially many states are rejecting Syrian refugees, in the future most likely these states will accept them. This is proven in Webster’s earlier example of the Irish and has reigned true for many other immigrant groups, like the Chinese who were vehemently rejected from this country by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

The Reciprocal Relationship of Anthropology and Immigration Studies

As proven through discussions with Teaching Assistant Andrew Webster and other research, anthropology plays a crucial role in understanding the current immigrations issues faced by Syrian refugees. By studying the material culture of past immigrants, and by studying previous immigration trends, one can understand that the issues faced by Syrians is nothing new.  While the reason that the Syrians need to come to the United States is different from past immigration trends, the reluctance of Americans to accept them is not new. Anthropology is important in explaining this and many other current issues.  The immigration issue quells many criticisms about anthropology not being current.  Clearly research done by anthropologists can explain modern issues.


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