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Stories of Immigration within the Archives

One Student’s Quest to Discover the Unknown
April 18, 2016

One of the hot-button topics that the media talks about on a weekly, if not daily, basis is immigration. Coupled with that is migration. These two subjects, one dealing with the reasons people leave a location and the other dealing with the experiences after arrival, have garnered the attention of many history students. One of those students in Kent Weber, a fifth-year graduate student at the University of Minnesota. He studies how immigration control in the form of the Chinese exclusion law played a central part in American colonial island projects at the turn of the twentieth century in Hawai’i and Cuba. 

Over the past summer, Kent visited three different archives. Two were branches of the U.S. National Archives and the other was the Latin American and Caribbean Collection at the University of Florida. While traveling to various archives can get quite expensive, especially if they are in different countries, some smaller collections offer travel grants to students whose project would be assisted by using their collections. Kent received the Asian American Studies Graduate Student Travel Award and the Latin American and Caribbean Collection Library Travel Grant to help offset some of his expenses

Archival procedure can be daunting, and every archive has its own way of doing things, whether that is a thorough security screening or just walking into a library that houses the collection you need. Once you gain access to the material, you may find just what you need or find something surprising. In Kent’s case the sifting through of voluminous government records was both beneficial and time-consuming. He found what he was searching for, as well as a few surprises along the way. One of his main challenges going forward, since it can be quite challenging to track individuals over time and space, is adding the personal stories of immigrants to his project.

If you’d like to follow Kent on his journey, you can follow him on Twitter: @Kent_Hist