Immigration and its effects – on both newcomers and the society they’re entering – are at the forefront of many Americans’ thoughts these days. Wingate University history and political science professor Steven Hyland is no exception. His attention, however, is focused not only on current U.S. events but also on what happened in Argentina during the first half of the 20th century.
Hyland will spend the first four months of next year in Buenos Aires, teaching and researching as a two-time Fulbright Scholar. His first scholarship took him to Syria as a graduate student. This go-round, he has years of classroom experience under his belt and a book due out later this year.
He’s in the research stage of a second one, a project that “follows a motley crew of hell-raisers, spies, ne’er-do-wells, and people committed to radical change in order to create a better world,” Hyland says.
More formally, his research explores itinerant anti-imperial and nationalist radical political activists in Buenos Aires between 1916 and 1966.
“The city of Buenos Aires connects or feeds into a circuit of cities in the broader Atlantic world that these sort of activists come in and come out of,” Hyland explains. “And what I’m interested in are the different sorts of characters that come in and out of the city of Buenos Aires but at the same time have an influence on domestic political life in Argentina in that 50-year period.”
The project builds on his first book, More Argentine Than You: Arabic-Speaking Immigrants in Argentina, which examines groups of Christians, Muslims and Jews and how they created a sense of community in the diaspora.
“It looks at the different strategies, individual and collective, in terms of integration – social integration, labor integration, economic integration, political integration – and at the same time, how, over successive generations, these communities move from being viewed as and viewing themselves as an immigrant community to viewing themselves as Argentines from a particularly ethnic group,” Hyland says.
He’s been able to trace this journey, in part because of the vibrant press produced during that time period.
“I look at a province in northern Argentina, where in the 1920s alone they had probably a dozen different Arabic-language periodicals,” Hyland says. “They explore these issues – what does it mean to be a Syrian or a Lebanese abroad? What does it mean to be a 20-something Muslim woman in Tucuman, Argentina? They wrestle with these questions. A lot of their concerns, then, are the same ones that we have today: How do I create an environment where my child can be successful? What about the school my kids are going to go to?”
From Irish gun-runners to Algerian and Catalan exiles, Hyland now wants a closer look at various movements and how they influenced Argentine domestic politics. He’ll also teach a course at Universidad Nacional De La Plata and looks forward to his time in what he calls “a country filled with generous people.”
He’s visited Argentina often and spent 13 months there in 2006-2007.
“It’s important, if you are going to be a scholar of Latin America, that you have a greater familiarity with it,” Hyland says. “As much as I love to read, it can’t replace the in-country experience, working in the actual archives, getting your hands on materials produced by the actors themselves.”
He said studying abroad also creates empathy, as it offers the chance to experience the “wonders and pitfalls, limitations and opportunities of any given society.” And, it forces scholars to practice their foreign-language skills. “All that is very important for when you bring it back and bring it into the classroom,” Hyland says.
More broadly, he said one of the biggest contributions of his project is that it illustrates the importance of host communities understanding how immigrants view themselves as belonging to the host society.
“Considering the current climate here in the contemporary United States, it’s a very useful lesson,” he adds.
Hyland has taught in WU’s Department of History and Political Science since 2011.
Feb. 3, 2017