Professor of History, The College of William & Mary
What are you working on?
I'm just about to get the copy edits for a book called, No Man's Land: Jamaican Guestworkers in America and the Global History of Deportable Workers, which will be published by Princeton University Press this coming spring. Here's half the blurb: This book tells the history of the American "H2" guestworker program from World War II to the present. One of the world's longest running programs, the H2 Program has brought hundreds of thousands of mostly Jamaican men to the U.S. to do some of the nation's dirtiest and most dangerous farmwork and to work for some of the its biggest and most powerful agricultural corporations. Most importantly, it gave those few companies the power not just to import workers from abroad but to deport them too. Jamaican guestworkers complainted about their treatment, went on strike, and sued their employers in countless class action lawsuits, but their protests had little impact because they could be repatriated and replaced in a matter of hours.
Based on a vast array of sources from U.S., Jamaican, and English archives, as well as interviews with guestworkers themselves, No Man's Land tells Jamaican guestworkers' stories, while framing their experience in the global history of this fast-growing and perilous form of labor migration. Instead of creating a manageable form of migration, the author concludes, labor importing nations have pitted the world's workers against each other in a race to the bottom, while creating an especially vulnerable class of labor.
What does membership in the AHS provide you?
So far membership in Ag History has gotten me a room in my original dorm! I attended the annual conference at my alma mater, Rollins College, last spring and, since I was too cheap to spring for a hotel room, I opted for the dorm stay. Lo and behold, we were staying in my original dorm, bunk beds and all. Freaky!
What do you think is the next hot topic in agricultural history?
I think the next hot topic is the Bracero Program. There's a whole cottage industry churning out chapters right now. I think we can expect to see some exciting work, especially from scholars using U.S. AND Mexican archives.
What's your favorite historical work on agriculture or rural life?
I think my favorite recent book is Kathleen Mapes' Sweet Tyranny: Migrant Labor, Industrial Agricultural, and Imperial Politics. Who would have thunk beets could be so interesting?