2023 Symposium

Migrants, Environmental Knowledge, and Consumer Society

September 27-28, 2023 at the GHI’s Pacific Office located at the University of California, Berkeley. 

Convened by Professor Axel Schäfer (Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz) and Dr. Atiba Pertilla (German Historical Institute Washington)

The symposium is part of the GHI’s research focus on the nexus of migration and knowledge studies (please see migrantknowledge.org). It will explore migration and migrant knowledge in relationship to the search for a post-consumerist society beyond the wastefulness of mass consumer culture, the cult of economic growth, and the nature-human divide. The Berkeley symposium has two main aims: on the one hand, we want to unpack the historical relationship between migration, growth economies, and consumer culture. On the other hand, we want to learn from the often unrecognized (or “submerged”) knowledge of migrants as part of the search for more climate-resilient and sustainable development practices. Topics of interest include: 

  • The historical connection between both forced and voluntary human migration and the rise of mass consumer societies. 
  • The environmental movement and migration. 
  • The environmental knowledge and activism of migrant populations. 
  • The cognitive, affective, aesthetic, and material means by which the “knowledge economies” of consumer societies might preserve, recover, and incorporate migrant environmental knowledge into the creation of a post-consumerist society.

2023 Symposium Schedule

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

223 Philosophy Hall

5 – 6:30 p.m.

Keynote Lecture

Kathleen Brosnan (University of Oklahoma):
Selling Wine Country, Hiding Wine Work   

Introduction & Moderation: Axel Schäfer (Mainz University)

Names matter. In the world of wine, names matter. Marketing depends on the place of production, or the appellation. And in the premium sector, the winery label – often bearing the landowner’s moniker – carries great weight with consumers. In California, vignerons have sold to oenophiles an elaborate mythology of entrepreneurship and presented the Napa Valley as a rural idyll that could be captured in a goblet or a weekend visit. The industry celebrated terroir and a European historicity that belied the contributions of the migrants and others who provided essential labor. From Chinese immigrants in the nineteenth century to Mexican and Mexican American workers in the decades following World War II, vineyard crews toiled under a forced anonymity. Yet it is these laborers who often knew nature most intimately through racially segregated workscapes. They experienced it daily through their senses and with their bodies, often paying a physical price for the wines that consumers enjoyed.

6:30 – 8 p.m.



Thursday, September 28, 2023

223 Philosophy Hall

9 – 11 a.m.

Panel 1

Chair: Rebecca Herman (UC Berkeley)

Marco Armiero (Autonomous University of Barcelona):
Migrations in Environmental History: A Methodological Proposal at the Intersection of Environmental Humanities and Political Ecology

In 2017, Marco Armiero and Richard Tucker edited the volume Environmental History of Modern Migrations (Routledge), a collection of eleven chapters exploring the intertwined histories of migrants and the environment. The volume was the result of a long-lasting work Dr. Armiero began in 2005 when he started to research the environmental history of Italian emigrants in the United States. In this paper, he will present the theoretical framework he proposed in the 2017 volume, based on what he called three approaches or styles: the assertive (how migrants changed the environment), the constructivist (how they perceived the environment), and the embodied (how the environment intertwined with migrants body). Building upon his theoretical proposal, Dr. Armiero will explore how environmental humanities and political ecology can contribute to the environmental history of modern migrations. 

Colin Fisher (University of San Diego):
The Great Black Migration and Nostalgia for African Nature  

In previous research, Colin Fisher explored migrant nostalgia for the landscape of distant homelands and the importance of such memories for the articulation of village, ethnic, regional, and national identities in the diaspora. In this paper, Dr. Fisher focuses on memories of homeland nature following an internal migration: the Great Black Migration from the American South to Chicago during and after World War I. Given nostalgia for rural Germany, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Mexico among late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century migrants to industrial Chicago, one might expect Black southerners in Chicago to remember the rural south with some fondness, and this was indeed the case in some cases. But the history of southern slavery, sharecropping, and racial violence made southern pastoralism a highly fraught project, so instead working-class Black Chicagoans often looked farther back in time and romanticized the landscape of a distant African homeland that very few of them had ever visited. To explore Black Chicagoans’ romanticism for Africa, Dr. Fisher explores the Chicago chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), a Pan-African political organization led by the Jamaican Marcus Garvey that attracted hundreds of thousands of members on four continents during the 1920s. 

Mary E. Mendoza (Penn State University):
Building a Carceral Divide: Racial Exclusion and Environmental Control at the U.S.-Mexico Border

The U.S.-Mexico border is a critical site for understanding the ways in which the nation-state has marked space and to regulated movement. Over the course of the twentieth century, government officials on both sides of the border transformed the boundary line from an open range to an increasingly rigid, segmented wall meant to control the dynamic flow of both human and non-human nature. As the border control apparatus grew, so too did the human need and desire to cross it. As fences extended in length and height, rhetorical reasons for building those fences shifted from controlling the nature of non-human organisms like bugs and cattle crossing the boundary, to protecting the environment from the invasion of human migrants. Conservationists claimed these migrants destroyed important ecosystems as they crossed the terrain of the American southwest. In this presentation, Dr. Mendoza argues that the shift from controlling nature to protecting it played a critical role in the exclusion of migrants, resulting in the increase in border enforcement tactics that led to more violent outcomes for many, transforming the borderlands—and the United States itself—into a carceral landscape for undocumented people. In short, environmental rhetoric and protection movements worked against human rights and social justice movements, revealing that environmental conservation movements, when not carefully considered, can have serious consequences for migrant populations. 

11 – 11:15 a.m.


11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.

Panel 2

Chair: Atiba Pertilla (GHI Washington)

Jeannie Shinozuka (Washington State University):
Biotic Borders: Globalization & Asian Biological Invasions, 1910s-2023

Asian giant hornets and spotted lanternflys emerge from a longer history of desire for Asian exotics and the attending anti-Asian racism directed against foreign plant and insect immigrants. This talk focuses on the Asian giant “murder” hornet and the spotted lanternfly, placing them within an historical context of desire for Asian exotics and the fear of foreign species invasions that began in the United States in the late nineteenth century. These fears at the turn of the twentieth century, which included the (Asian) San Jose scale and chestnut blight, led to plant quarantine and other forms of regulation against foreign plant immigrants from Asia in particular. Mass media hysteria over the presence of Asian giant hornets in the Pacific Northwest and spotted lanternflys in the East is tied to this early history. However, in the twenty first century, the rapid spread of the spotted lanternfly in the East reflects changes in globalization and the rise of China. Many citizen-scientists have responded by publicizing squishing and crushing of spotted lanternflys. The current response to Asian biological invasions thus invokes familiar racialized responses from the turn of the twentieth century in an era of a changing climate.

Daniele Valisena (University of Liège):
The Wild Around the Corner. Italian Immigrants’ Feral Ecologies in New York City, Paris, and Naples during the Great European Migration (1880-1920)         

On December 1, 1919, Sam Fenunella, an Italian immigrant living in Brooklyn, NYC, was facing a trial at Kings County courthouse. He was contested several minor crimes, all of which concerned his grazing animals freely roaming around Flatbush area. “Goat is goat –– said to a stupefied judge Mr. Fenunella –– and they do want to eat. My pair just strayed off to the hospital and filled up. That’s all”. Although goats eating grass in a city hospital yard seemed natural for Fenunella, it was radically unnatural for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle journalists who reported the news as well as for most of their readers. The moral and physical hygiene of proper NYC citizens was threatened by such behavior, which also challenged property laws and the axiom of modern cities as places where non-human dwellers are either pets or pests. 

With this presentation, Dr. Valisena illustrates migrants’ multispecies ecologies in New York City, Paris, and Naples during the age of Mass Migration. From their liminal urban settlements, migrants develop original ecological interpretations of their environments in alliance with various non-human actors such as gardening in empty lots, collecting waste, bones, and rags, hunting birds and hares in parks, gathering spontaneous herbs on the sidewalks, keeping chickens, sheep, and goats in their yards, and then letting them roam around freely. 

Building upon a vast series of newspaper articles, court records, oral history sources, migrants’ autobiographies, scientific and medical studies on urban hygiene, and migration surveys and reports produced by the U.S., French, and Italian Governments, Dr. Valisena shows the ways in which migrants forged multispecies alliances with various non-human subjects, thus performing a different kind of modern urbanism. Additionally, this research highlights the historical process through which modern urban planning, emerging ideas about urban hygiene, and new racist, gendered, and classist politics of space eradicated a century-long history of multispecies co-existence in urban environments in the Global North.  

12:45 – 2 p.m.


2 – 3:30 p.m.

Panel 3

Chair: Nino Vallen (GHI Washington, Pacific Office Berkeley)

Anja-Maria Bassimir (Mainz University):
Extending Knowledge and Profitability? U.S. Agricultural Extension, Migrants, and the Environment

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Extension Service came into being in early 20th Century to translate new scientific findings into practical uses for farmers. As such the Extension Service had an ambiguous attitude towards the environment, trying to ensure through land management advice both an adequate profit in the present and long-term use. Formalized by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, in the context of the World Wars progressive-era “wise-use” guidelines were at times suspended to encourage maximum production. The state of Maine is one example were extension agents promoted potatoes as a cash crop to such an extent that, during both World Wars, agents felt the need to reintroduce and reemphasize diversified agriculture and self-sufficiency to counter poverty and malnutrition of rural populations. In the process, special agents were sent to a group of peoples, identified in the sources as the “French people of Aroostook.” Located in the northernmost part of Maine (and the United States), the St. John’s Valley is part of what had been a contested borderland region. With the international boundary between the United States and Canada only drawn in 1842, the region remained culturally and economically oriented towards New Brunswick until the introduction of the railroad in the 1890s. Consisting of Acadian settler, French immigrants and French-Canadian immigrants who had mostly lived in the valley for generations, this group of people was identified by extension agents by their use of a foreign language, French, and singled out for special services. Their food habits and agricultural practices can be understood as migrant environmental knowledge. While these practices could have been mapped neatly onto USDA ideas of balanced diets and diversified agriculture, agents predominantly saw “a group of people who needs education in raising food, making clothing and in spending money.” This paper looks at environmental and agricultural practices of the “French people of Aroostook” as seen through the USDA Extension Service’s lens of scientific knowledge and profitability.  

Gilberto Mazzoli (University of Konstanz):
Portable Natures: Agriculture and the Italian Experience in North American Cities between urban resilient practices and agricultural diplomacy. 1880-1940.

During the Age of Mass Migration more than four million Italians reached the United States. The experience of Italians in US cities has been widely explored: however, the study of how migrants adjusted in relation to nature and food production is a relatively recent concern. Due to a mixture of racism and fear of political radicalism, Italians were deemed to be undesirable immigrants in East Coast cities and American authorities had long perceived Italian immigrants as unclean, unhealthy and carriers of diseases. As a flipside to this narrative, Italians were also believed to possess a ‘natural’ talent for agriculture, which encouraged Italian diplomats and politicians to propose the establishment of agricultural colonies in the southern United States. In rural areas Italians could profit from their agricultural skills and finally turn into ‘desirable immigrants’. This talk explores the Italian migration to the US through the lens of environmental history, with a focus on urban agriculture in its manifold aspects: gardening as a resilient migrants’ practice and its relationship with the US urban spaces, and gardening as a tool used by diplomats and authorities to manage migratory flows.

3:30 – 4 p.m.


4 – 6 p.m.


Chairs: Atiba Pertilla & Axel Schäfer

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern (Syracuse University):
Migration and Agrarian Knowledge: Farming Across Borders       

Bettina Stoetzer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology):
Ecologies of Migration, Race, and Urban Nature in Berlin

Carl Zimring (Pratt Institute):
Migrants and Dirty Work: A Discard Studies Approach to the History of Scrap Recycling in America      

7 – 9 p.m.

Conference Dinner

Gather Restaurant

2023 Participants, Chairs, and Organizers

Conference Chairs

Atiba Pertilla

Atiba Pertilla is research fellow and digital editor at the German Historical Institute in Washington. He is currently working on a history of the financial practices of immigrants in the United States in the years between the Civil War and the Great Depression.

Axel Schäfer

Axel Schäfer is Professor of U.S. History at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. In his current research he examines the relationship between the politics of mass consumption and immigration in the twentieth-century. He is also interested in how modern democratic societies, whose functioning is tied to economic growth policies and global resource depletion, can manage the transition to a post-consumerist age. Prof. Schäfer is the author of three monographs, which focus on religion and politics and on transatlantic social thought: Piety and Public Funding: Evangelicals and the State in Modern America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012); Countercultural Conservatives: American Evangelicalism from the Postwar Revival to the New Christian Right (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011); and American Progressives and German Social Reform, 1875-1920: Social Ethics, Moral Control, and the Regulatory State in a Transatlantic Context (Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000).

Conference Participants

Marco Armiero

Marco Armiero is Icrea Research Professor at the Institut d’Història de la Ciència (IHC), Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. Between 2019 and 2023 he was the president of the European Society for Environmental History. He has worked on the nationalization of nature, migrations and environment, and environmental justice. In 2017 he co-edited with Richard Tucker the volume Environmental History of Modern Migration (Routledge). Among his most recent publications: Wasteocene. Stories from the Global Dump (Cambridge UP 2021), translated in several languages, and Mussolini’s Nature (MIT 2023) with Roberta Biasillo e Wilko Graf von Hardenberg. With his research, he has contributed to bridging environmental humanities and political ecology.

Anja-Maria Bassimir

Dr. Anja-Maria Bassimir is an assistant professor and postdoc researcher at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz. After studying history and religious studies in the US and Tübingen, she earned her PhD in Münster. She has been working in Mainz since 2013, first in the DFG Research Group UnDoing Differences on a project on religious periodical studies and since 2021 in the CRC Human Categorization on a project on food policy and the welfare state. Her book, Evangelical News: Politics, Gender, and Bioethics in Conservative Christian Magazines of the 1970s and 1980s, was published by Alabama University Press in 2022.

Kathleen Brosnan

Kathleen Brosnan is the Travis Chair of Modern American History at the University of Oklahoma; member of the Board of Directors of the International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations; founder and board member of the Women’s Environmental History Network; and past president of the American Society for Environmental History. She received her J.D. from the University of Illinois and Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago in 1999. In addition to numerous articles and book chapters, Brosnan has authored or edited seven books in U.S. or comparative environmental history. Her recent books include Mapping Nature Across the Americas (2021); The Greater Plains: Rethinking a Region’s Environmental Histories (2021); City of Lake and Prairie: Chicago’s Environmental History (2020). Brosnan has received grants from the NEH and NSF, among others. Her current book project is an environmental history of the Napa Valley wine industry.

Colin Fisher

Colin Fisher is a professor of history at the University of San Diego. He is the author of Urban Green: Nature, Recreation, and the Working Class in Industrial Chicago (University of North Carolina Press, 2015) and articles that address the intersection of working-class, African American, and migration history and environmental history.

Rebecca Herman

Rebecca Herman is a historian of the Americas concerned with the social, political, and environmental history of the twentieth century. Her first book, Cooperating with the Colossus, was published by Oxford University Press in 2022. The book reconstructs a contentious U.S. military basing project advanced in Latin America during World War II that incited conflicts across the region – over labor rights, racial discrimination, sex, and criminal jurisdiction – that belied the wartime rhetoric of fraternal cooperation in a fight for democracy. Professor Herman’s newer work takes her fascination with sovereignty and cooperation into the realm of environmental governance. She is currently working on a book about Antarctica in the 1970s and 80s, when Argentine and Chilean military governments attempted to colonize the Antarctic peninsula with civilian settlements in an effort to shore up their long-held claims to sovereignty over a place naturally uninhabited by humans. Herman’s book-in-progress reconstructs that history as one component of a broader global struggle over Antarctica, including a critique from leading countries in the Non-Aligned Movement who insisted that Antarctica belonged to the “global commons,” like the deep seabeds and outer space, and a rising environmental movement that fought to declare the Antarctic a protected World Park. By bringing the high politics of Antarctic governance together with the intimate stories of the people who executed it, Herman aims to write a book that renders complicated matters of environmental governance and global inequality intelligible and compelling to a broad readership. She is interested, more broadly, in environmental politics on the global stage. Her article, “Greenpeace Goes South,” about Greenpeace International’s first office in the Global South (in Buenos Aires), is due out in Environmental History in January 2024. 

Gilberto Mazzoli

Gilberto Mazzoli is a PhD candidate Modern History at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. His dissertation, titled “Portable Natures. Environmental Visions, Urban Practices, Migratory Flows. Agriculture and the Italian Experience in North American Cities. 1880-1940”, explores the Italian migration to the US through the lens of environmental history, with a focus on urban agriculture in its manifold aspects: gardening as a resilient migrants’ practice and its relationship with the US urban spaces, and gardening as a tool used by diplomats and authorities to manage migratory flows. He has been visiting fellow at the European Institute of the Columbia University, NYC, in 2019, and PhD Fellow at the IEG Leibniz Institute for European History in Mainz, Germany in 2022. He is currently post-doctoral researcher in North-American Environmental History at the University of Konstanz, Germany, working on the ERC project “Off the Road: The Environmental Aesthetics of Early Automobility”.

Mary E. Mendoza

Mary E. Mendoza is an Assistant Professor of History and Latino/a Studies at Penn State University, and she received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in 2015. Her current book project, Unnatural Border: Race and Environment across the U.S.-Mexico Divide, explores the intersections between the natural and built environments along the U.S.-Mexico border. She is also co-editing an anthology on race and environment titled, Not Just Green, Not Just White: Race, Justice, and Environmental History due out in 2024. She has received major grants and fellowships from U.S. National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, the Huntington Library, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern is an Associate Professor of Food Studies at Syracuse University. Dr. Minkoff-Zern’s research and teaching broadly explores the interactions between food and racial justice, labor movements, and transnational environmental and agricultural policy. Her current work looks at labor across the food chain, exploring at the intersections between social movements in United States food systems and labor organizing. In addition to her monograph, The New American Farmer: Immigration, Race, and the Struggle for Sustainability (MIT Press), she has also published in journals such as Geoforum, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Food, Culture, and Society, Antipode, Agriculture and Human Values, and Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, among others. She earned a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of California, Berkeley.

Jeannie N. Shinozuka

Jeannie N. Shinozuka is Assistant Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies at Washington State University, where she will also hold the Arnold and Atsuko Craft Professorship. Her book, Biotic Borders: Transpacific Plant and Insect Migration and the Rise of Anti-Asian Racism in America, 1890–1950, published in 2022 by the University of Chicago Press, received honorable mention for the Frederick Jackson Turner Award from the Organization of American Historians.

Bettina Stoetzer

Bettina Stoetzer is Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT. Her research focuses on the intersections of ecology, globalization, and social justice in the US and Germany. Her most recent book, Ruderal City: Ecologies of Migration, Race, and Urban Nature (Duke University Press, December 2022), draws on ethnographic fieldwork with immigrant and refugee communities, as well as ecologists and nature enthusiasts in Berlin to illustrate that human-environment relations have become a key register through which urban citizenship is articulated in contemporary Europe. Bettina received her M.A. in Sociology, Anthropology and Media Studies from the University of Goettingen and completed her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of California Santa Cruz in 2011. Before coming to MIT, she was a Harper Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago. Bettina is also the author of a book on feminism and anti-racism, titled InDifferenzen: Feministische Theorie in der Antirassistischen Kritik (InDifferences: Feminist Theory in Antiracist Criticism, argument, 2004), and she co-edited Shock and Awe. War on Words together with Bregje van Eekelen, Jennifer Gonzalez, and Anna Tsing (New Pacific Press, 2004). Bettina is currently working on a new project on wildlife mobility, climate change, and border politics in the US and Germany.

Daniele Valisena

Daniele Valisena (1986), Ph.D. in history of science, technology, and the environment. Since October 2021, Dr. Valisena works as a post-doctoral researcher in environmental history at the University of Liège, Belgium, and as a part-time lecturer in history of migration and the environment at NYU Florence. His background is in modern history, but his scholarly work touches on history of science and technology, oral history, environmental humanities, STS, and political ecology. Through his research, Dr. Valisena focuses on the interplay between migration and environmental history, also touching upon themes such as walking as a method, ruderality and more-than-human storying, post-industrialization, urban political ecology, and critical heritage studies. His ongoing research explores the links between zootechnics, Italian colonialism, and Fascist politics of science and nature.

Nino Vallen

Nino Vallen is a historian of Latin America and the Pacific World. He joined the GHI’s Pacific Office at UC Berkeley as a research fellow in Latin American History in 2022. He studied history at Radboud University Nijmegen and received his PhD from the Institute for Latin American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin (2016), where he also worked as a research associate and lecturer (2014–22). He was a fellow of the International Research Training Group “Between Spaces” (2011-2013) and the Slicher van Bath De Jong Fund (CEDLA, Amsterdam, 2014). A colonial historian by training, his first monograph Being the Heart of the World: The Pacific and the Fashioning of the Self in New Spain, 1513–1641 (Forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, 2023) studies mobilities in the early modern Spanish Pacific and their impact on the fashioning of new notions of self and other in New Spain. In his current research project, he explores the role of the Chinese migrant worker in the stories that people in South America told in disputes about the exploitation of natural resources during the second half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries.

Carl Zimring

Carl Zimring, Professor of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute, is an environmental historian interested in how attitudes concerning waste shape society, culture, institutions, and inequalities. He is the author of several books that focus on aspects of the histories of technology and the environment, with particular attention to discards and the systems that create, classify, and manage discards.

2023 Logistics & Directions

Travel Reimbursements

Please submit your receipts for reimbursement here. Please make sure to send in your receipts no later than 30 days after the workshop. GHI will reimburse the following expenses: economy flights up to the cap indicated in your acceptance letter; train tickets (coach) and other forms of public transit.


Our workshop Hotel, the Hotel Shattuck Plaza is conveniently located in the heart of Downtown Berkeley, an easy 10 – 15 minute walk to our workshop venue. Please note that internet access and breakfast are complimentary. You are responsible for any other charges beyond room & tax which are paid for directly by the GHI. If you have requested any additional nights, please make sure to charge those to own credit card.

Airport Transportation

The best and cheapest way to get from the airport to Berkeley is the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). Trains leave airport every 3 – 15 minutes. The BART station is located in the International Terminal. It’s a short walk from Terminal 3 (United Airlines) and a slightly longer walk from Terminal 1 (other domestic airlines). You can also take the free AirTrain from all terminals directly to the BART station. International passengers should turn right when leaving customs, walk to the escalator and go up to the departures level. Walk straight ahead and turn left at the art exhibit and you’ll see the station entrance.

You may board any train leaving the airport: the Richmond train will take you directly to Berkeley; if you board a Pittsburg/Bay Point train, you will need to exit at the 19th St / Oakland Station to change to a Richmond train which will wait across the platform. Exit the Downtown Berkeley station, take the main escalator up to Shattuck Avenue. The Hotel Shattuck Plaza is located at the intersection of Shattuck Avenue & Allston Street.

A one-way ticket from SFO to Berkeley costs $10.70. All BART stations have automatic ticket vending machines that accept cash and credit cards. You can either purchase a plastic clipper card at the station for $3, or you can add a clipper card to phone without any extra charge. You can use clipper to pay for BART, the bus and all other public transportation in the Bay Area.  


The workshop meeting rooms are located in Philosophy Hall.

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