Episode 0 - Welcome to Migration Nation

In this inaugural episode, Brian & Lyman introduce Migration Nation, a new podcast about the history of American migration. Meet your hosts and learn a little about the adventure(s) to come as the series gets underway.



LYMAN: What is migration? Why do people move? What makes a person look around themselves and decide to abandon everything, striking out for unfamiliar territory? Here at Migration Nation, we’ll explore these questions throughout American history.
I’m Lyman Stone...
BRIAN: And I’m Brian Hudson, and this is the inaugural episode of Migration Nation, a Podcast about migration in American history. Lyman’s an economist, I’m a social studies teacher, and our aim in this Podcast is to tell the story of American migration.
[Reflection on the nature of migration, how it’s talked about today, how we want to define our terms, etc.
Build up to describing what Migration Nation will be.
Basically, we can reuse some of the old stuff, but break it up into more of a back-and-forth. What follows up to the transition is my cursory attempt to do just that.]
L: Stories of migration define American history, filling it with tales of hope, endurance, and destiny. Yet few of us know how these stories really fit into American history, and even fewer can offer any details of what actually happened on the Oregon Trail, or the Trail of Tears.
B: As a teacher, I am trying to rectify that. [laughter] History is full of these people-movements. Like our ancestors who embarked on them, these migrations may have names that we remember, but we do not recognize their faces, do not know their experiences, and have not heard their stories.
L: Yeah, many of us may know a story here or there, or have a dim idea from grade school that some migration occurred, but have little clear idea of what it all meant, what price our ancestors paid, and how their choices shaped our nation.
B: I really think that’s part of a wider tendency many of us have to generalize most history to the point of vague meaninglessness. I honestly don’t know what people mean when they talk about a “Nation of Immigrants.” People have moved around this continent for millennia
L: Heck, people have moved around every continent!
B: Touche! But it doesn’t seem like migration is as big a deal for every country’s sense of self as in the United States.
L: No, I mean for us migration is practically a national faith. We’re so devoted to this mobile image of ourselves that serious historians use the invention of the rocking chair as, no joke, a meaningful indicator of American foot-looseness. Whatever it means to be a “Nation of Immigrants,” the sheer popularity of that label shows that movement, mobility, migration is embedded deep in our national DNA.
B: But for all the rhetoric, we tend to know very little about the historical record. Even as a history teacher, my knowledge coming into this is fairly sparse. I don’t think many Americans today can tell you with any clarity why Utah is Mormon or why North Dakota is full of Norwegian.
L: Oh no, the specifics absolutely are lost to most people.
B: But not just the specifics! How many Americans can string together a meaningful narrative of migration, explaining how it has risen, fallen, changed, stayed the same over the years? I doubt very many. All we really know is that it happened, somehow, and it was important.
L: Which really brings us to why we’re doing this Podcast. Migration Nation will be an exploration of the history of migration in America from the nation’s founding to the present day, using detailed historical stories and the best available data, illuminating forgotten or misunderstood moments from American history and connecting them to the things we today believe about our shared heritage.
B: Every couple of weeks, Lyman and I will explore a time in American history when significant populations were pushed or pulled to pull up stakes and participate in one of the most fundamental of human rights: movement.
L: Those movements may have been prompted by a pioneer spirit, forced relocation effort, or even the promise of riches--opportunity and opportunism.
B: Our ultimate goal is not to make you an expert on demography or even American history for that matter. What we hope is to help us all see how we got to where we are: quite literally, in terms of physical location, but also in terms of how our nation came to see itself in the terms it does.
L: The American Migrant is a diverse but significant tradition. Let’s not forget where we came from. But before we talk about where we all came from, we should introduce ourselves.


L: So because I’m an international trade economist at the US Department of Agriculture, and because I just think that migration stories are interesting enough to be worth taking the time to understand, I tend to care a lot about data. Anyone who’s read my migration blog is familiar with my love for exhaustive tables, numerous graphs, color-coded maps, the works. These podcasts will be different.
B: [sarcastically] Thankfully.
L: Hey, is it really good business for you to be defaming my blog on the first episode?
B: Is it really good business to use visuals like graphs, tables, and maps as a selling point for an audio program?
L: ...Fair enough. Oh, and, I should mention here: nothing we say here is endorsed by any branch of the US government, my employer, nor were any taxpayers dollars used in its production. Anyways, as in my migration blog, I will offer some data, which will be made available on the Migration Nation blog alongside other bonus material and visualizations, but that data won’t be the main focus. Rather, the data will help us get a sense of the context and scale of the personal, concrete stories we’ll tell.
B: And because I’m not an economist but am your friend, I know you have a tendency to get bogged down in your numbers. So I feel like a big part of my job is going to be cutting you off and making you get back on topic with, you know, actually talking about things people want to listen to.
L: You can admit to being an innumerate yokel, Brian. It’s okay.
B: Well, because I’m a historian..,
L: Allegedly.
B: Hey! Let’s not have this turn into a History vs. Economics debate. Taking a step away from the raw data and looking at what people were really thinking and doing will enable me to humanize your soulless data. And really, I’ve always enjoyed reading history as a means of identity-formation. Isn’t identity just the stories we tell ourselves about who we are? It’s no different when applied to migration and the national identity: How did we get here, and what does that tell us about who we are today? With a little digging, these narratives of people and places past can reveal incisive, important truths about identity.
L: “A little digging?” Methinks you underestimate the task.
B: Meh. We’ve always been pretty stubborn, so I think it just might work.


B: I think we should also make it clear how what we plan to do here is different from other podcasts that are available out there in the inter-tubes. We have zero listeners so far, but I can already anticipate that our listener demographic will probably be fans of at least one other history podcast that we listen to.
L: I feel like history nerds deciding to do a Podcast is like that scene in How I Met Your Mother where they say every pair guy friends has at one point said“We should buy a bar!” Except, well, here we are doing it. And I have to say, I think our Podcast will be pretty different from other history or economics podcasts.
B: Well sure, although we are certainly inspired by several podcasters who are doing good work, bringing history to the fake Internet airwaves, we like to see ourselves as doing something at least passably different. We aren’t zooming in on one historical event in order to analyze it at a granular level like Dan Carlin’s tour de force Hardcore History or Mike Duncan’s The History of Rome podcast.
L: Which are both great; I’m actually dangerously addicted to Duncan’s Revolutions, and his series style will be consciously emulated in our seasonal breakdowns. We wouldn’t pay homage to our predecessors this way if we didn’t respect their work. It’s just that we don’t think that the up-close, uber-detailed approach would really work the same way for examining migration, which doesn’t lend itself as well to multi-episode narrative arcs. Instead, a story of shifting themes seems to make more sense.
B: On the other hand, we also don’t plan on hopping around all over the place to cover interesting topics like Stuff You Missed In History Class. Rather, here at Migration Nation, we’re focusing on how one pervasive phenomenon has affected and been affected by American history. I guess we’re more like BackStory, in that case.
L: Except that we are taking the chronological approach, unlike BackStory.
B: True. I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that if you like any of those programs, you will probably enjoy what Lyman and I have to offer here. Or if you’ve never listened to those programs, you should check them out.
L: Unless we have a new episode. If we have a new episode, listen to that first! Which, speaking of, this might be a good time to outline our intended schedule. We are currently committed to doing at least one season, running from the American Revolution to the Civil War. We’ll cover topics like the slave trade, the Trail of Tears, the settlement of Texas, Manifest Destiny, Irish and Germany immigration, the Mormons, and more, so we expect somewhere between 10 and 20 episodes in season 1. Given between 1 and 3 weeks between each episode, this should take us the better part of a year.
B: And then we’ll take a break to research the second season, running up to World War One, and hopefully to do more fundraising and monetization. Though of course you can donate at our website any time.
L: So it should be clear that although we do take inspiration from other podcasts, we are trying to do something different with Migration Nation. It’s topical and chronological, but not an ultra-zoomed-in play-by-play of the turning points in history, nor a smattering of unrelated topics of interest. We feel like migration is so often thought of as just some kind of background noise that we want to show it in full color, and show its patterns and variations.
B: Which, honestly this way people lump together all migration is a problem… and admittedly even our title is kind of part of that problem. We’re not just a nation of constant, unabridged migration.
L: The price of a catchy title I guess.
B: What’s new? Yeah, so our title might generalize, but we still hope we can do our part to help show that, for all their similarities, various historical migrations are also distinct from each other in ways that are valuable in explaining in how we got from then to now.


L: So there are a lot of places we could start the story.
B: Please let’s start at the paleoindians crossing the Bering Strait.
L: Actually, I don’t think that’s as crazy as it sounds. There really are histories of American migration that begin with paleoindians crossing the Bering Strait just after the last Ice Age. That approach definitely has its merits, and we will definitely spend some time considering the role of Native American migration and settlement patterns later in this series. But the reality is we know very little about those earliest migrations.
B: There is also the not insignificant complication of Old World diseases largely eradicating those first peoples’ descendents as the most macabre element of the Columbian Exchange. It’s grim, but the fact of the matter is that that creates a sort of disconnect in the larger narrative of migration. Though the American migration story may have some resonance with an ancient heritage of mobility, that disconnect unfortunately means that relatively few Americans today can meaningfully identify as participants in a Native American tradition of migration.
L: Well, we could also start with European discovery.
B: The Columbian exchange, for people!
L: But it’s true! It wasn’t just smallpox and potatoes that shuffled between continents, but people. Native peoples were set on migratory courses by population loss, European invasion, the even things like the introduction of the horse to the Americas.
B: And then came the colonists, the conquistadores, the royal administrators, the priests, all the people arriving with the intention of drawing the New World into the Old World’s web. First in Central and South America, then later North America. But because Colonial migrations were basically defined by relationships with Europe and European choices and decisions, and because their main aim was extraction for the benefit of the European overlords, they’re a little different from later migrations.
L: I certainly don’t view myself as a colonizer and overlord of the native population, and I doubt many other Americans do either, so tying these migrations to modern American identity is fraught with problems. Plus, data sources for the colonial period are comparatively thin, offering me much less data to work with than the period we do intend to discuss. Although I have to say: if we get good feedback from currently planned episodes, I’d be open to a prequel series.
B: You’re right that European settlement efforts feel rather distant to even the most heritage-minded Americans with colonial-era pedigree. I think this is because colonial migrations remain removed from the American imagination and current American identity by one vast rift, one great historic inflection point: the formation of the United States of America.
L: Absolutely right. The Revolution and subsequent formation of a more-or-less united American state may not have led every Georgian or New Yorker at the time to view themselves as an American first and foremost, but certainly for modern Americans the Revolution is a watershed moment in retrospect, the moment when we think we became Americans.
B: So that’s where this story will begin in its first episode: the period immediately following the American Revolution.


B: Well, that’s it for our primer to Migration Nation! Thanks for listening in, and we hope you’ll join us again. If you’d like to contact us with questions, corrections, suggestions, or simply want to share your thoughts with us, we’d love for you to email us at migrationpodcast@gmail.com. If you’d like more information about what we’re doing here, or would like to offer us your support, join us on the web at migrationpodcast.com, where you can find transcripts of our episodes, bonus nerdy materials from Lyman and me, and even a look ahead at episodes we have in the works.
L: But I think we can offer a spoiler here. Our first episode will be about the history of bourbon, so, yeah, stay tuned for that.
B: As two Kentuckians, this topic hits literally and figuratively close to home.
L: We very much look forward to going on this journey with you! Until next time, this is Brian and Lyman, saying “Stay classy, migration nation!”
B: [Groan] Does that really have to be our sign-off?


Music Credits:
Antonin Dvorak - "New World Symphony"
Schoolhouse Rock - "Elbow Room"
Library of Congress American Folklife Center - "The Golden West"
Village People - "Go West"
Doctor Turtle - "Let's Just Get Through Christmas" under CC BY 4.0 licence