HSTCMP 270 A: Race, Religion, and Migration in Global Context

Spring 2022
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm / CMU 226
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
JEW ST 270 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Race, Religion, and Migration In Global Context

HSTCMP 270  / JEW ST 270

Spring 2022

Tu/Th 10:30 am-12:20 pm

CMU 226

Note: FIRST And Second CLASS ON ZOOM: https://washington.zoom.us/j/94335831453



Professor Devin Naar                                           

Email: denaar@uw.edu                                       

Office hours TBA         


Photo du film America, America - Photo 4 sur 8 - AlloCiné

Scene from Elia Kazan's America! America! (1963)


 “No Asiatic, Negro, or any person born in the Turkish Empire,

 nor any lineal descendant of such person, shall be eligible for membership in the Club”

~ By-Laws of the Blue Ridge Club, Seattle, Washington, April 21, 1941.


“Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that

the immigrants were American history.”

~ Oscar Handlin, The Uprooted: The Epic story of the Great Migrations that made

the American people, 1952 winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history.


Course Description


Debates about immigration and refugees continue to permeate headlines and social media conversations across the world. From those fleeing the Middle East for Europe and Ukrainians displaced by Russia's invasion, to immigration and asylum as highly contested issues in the United States, people on the move across national boundaries and the impact and meaning of their experiences for societies across the globe remain of utmost significance.

Following the interconnected paths of migration rooted in the eastern Mediterranean region in the 19th and 20th centuries, this course forges a conversation about two major world empires not often considered in dialogue with one another: the Ottoman Empire, which once included much of southeastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East; and the United States, consisting both of its continental formation and overseas possessions. The juxtaposition of the Ottoman Empire and the United States will compel us to address the centrality of religion (in the former) and race (in the latter) as organizing principles of society and how both shaped, and were shaped by, each other as well as emerging conceptions of nationality and citizenship. We will also examine how the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire provoked one of the largest population movements in human history that propelled migration to the United States and also contributed to the crystallization of two entities we often take for granted and view as separate: “Europe” and “the Middle East.”  

Migrants from the eastern Mediterranean lands of the Ottoman Empire offer a dynamic test case through which to think critically about the formation and transformation of race, nation, religion, culture, and identity in a transcontinental and global context. Especially as the first naturalization act passed by U. S. Congress in 1790 declared that only “white persons” would be eligible to become American citizens, those individuals and communities from the part of the world where Europe ends and the Middle East begins came under intense security and sometimes were rejected as prospective members of the American nation on racial grounds. Their whiteness was often deemed liminal at best, not only in relation to appearance but also in accordance with “race science” and eugenics, both mainstream modes of thinking at the time. Through the prism of eastern Mediterranean migrants, we will reflect on W. E. B. Dubois’ famous statement: “The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.”

Not familiar to the broader American public in terms of their languages, cultures, customs, and appearances; stemming from an empire shaped by the tenets of Islam; and targeted for immigration restriction: Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ottoman Empire—reconfigured in ethnic or national terms as Sephardic Jews, Greeks, Armenians, Turks, and Arabs (often known then as “Syrians”)—entered a country mythologized as a place free of persecution where the streets were allegedly paved with gold. Through an exploration of a wide array of sources, including firsthand testimonies, retrospective memoirs, film, music, laws and government documents, newspaper articles, cartoons, and podcasts we will investigate the world these migrants left in Salonica, Istanbul, or Aleppo, and call into question deeply entrenched beliefs about the nature of the United States as a “nation of immigrants.” What challenges did they encounter en route to, and upon arrival in, the co-called new world, whether New York or Seattle? What price did they have to pay if they sought to become “really” American—or “white”? Why did some if not many abandon the “American dream” and return home? What are the echoes of their experiences today in American politics and culture? What links, if any, connect them to Europe or the Middle East? What are the implications of their historical experiences for thinking about the immigration debate today?


Course Goals and Objectives:



  • To become familiar with the intersections and divergences in the histories of the Ottoman Empire and the United States.
  • To understand the changing geographic, political, cultural, religious, and racial criteria that have drawn and redrawn the boundaries between “Europe” and the “Middle East” over the generations.
  • To recognize the ways in which religious categories—Muslims, Christians, and Jews--that organized the Ottoman Empire were transformed into ethnic or national categories in the 19th and 20th centuries due to local, regional, and global factors.
  • To understand the histories of the Ottoman Empire in both the Balkan and Middle Eastern contexts, its political structure and transformation in the 19th and 20th centuries, causes for its dissolution, and motives that stirred migration.
  • To think critically about the concept of the United States as a “nation of immigrants”
  • To think critically about concepts like “migrant,” “immigrant,” and “emigrant,” and to understand migration as a process of movement in multiple directions.
  • To interrogate the construction and meanings of racial categories in the United States, specifically “whiteness” in its contested legal, social, and cultural contexts, and especially the distinction between “scientific” and “visual” understandings of race.
  • To recognize the ways in which migrants from the eastern Mediterranean, at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle east, challenge(d) American racial definitions
  • To understand the origin and development of immigration restrictions and naturalization exclusions in the United States and the central role that race and racism play.
  • To understand the ways in which migrants from the Ottoman Empire shaped various aspects of American life, including in Seattle.


  • To analyze and interrogate a wide array of sources and identify their perspectives: all sources have “biases.”
  • To recognize that “history” is not a regurgitation of “facts,” but rather that historical narratives emerge through a dynamic process of human interpretation.
  • To empower students to recognize that they can become active “makers” of history through compelling and convincing writing.


  • To bring the past to life and recognize its relevance and power in the present.
  • To think critically about where you stand on the continuum of human history and world geography and to question your perception of that position especially as it relates to the history of migration.


Requirements and Grades:


1. Participation and weekly posts and replies in online Discussion Board: 30 %

A vital set of components of this class will be both in-class participation and our discussion board, a space where we can express our ideas and engage in conversation with each other.  It is also the place where the instructor can gauge your understanding and investment in our subject, and to follow the dialogue that develops among the members of the class. 

You will be responsible for crafting at least TWO weekly posts throughout the course. Please complete the week’s readings, lectures, and other course materials prior to crafting your posts. Each post should be 150-300 words. You must post your response by 5 pm the night before the session on which you will comment

In addition to the three weekly posts, you will also be responsible for at least TWO brief replies of 50-100 words to your classmates’ posts. You may choose to reply to any, and as many, of your classmates’ posts. Please feel free to develop threads and conversations. But your replies will only count toward the minimum of three when you post them during weeks other than the ones for which you are responsible for the longer posts. You must post your reply to your classmates response by the start of the session to which you are responding.

In crafting your posts, please follow these three guidelines:

  • From the week's readings (either primary or secondary sources), select a specific phrase or short passage of no more than a couple of lines that really caught your attention. Please copy or type out that particular phrase or passage at the start of your post.
  • Please describe what struck you about the specific passage you have chosen to highlight. Please read carefully and please make a point. Your point should demonstrate that you’ve done the readings, but please do not spend much time reiterating the material. Assume everyone has else has also done the readings. Instead, reflect critically and thoughtfully on material and make an informed point.
  • Finally, please consider concluding with a question to generate additional responses from your classmates. See some netiquette tips hereLinks to an external site..

2. Midterm: 30 % uploaded onto Canvas: prompt posted on canvas April 28; due May 5 by midnight

The midterm exam will involve: 1) short answer identifications of key terms; 2) analyses of key quotations; and 3) a 750-1000 word essay in which you will draw upon historical evidence from the course to develop a convincing argument about a theme/question of contemporary relevance. You will receive the prompt one week prior to the due date. 

3. Final: 40 % uploaded onto Canvas prompt distributed last day of class, June 2; due June 9 by midnight

The final exam will follow the same format as the midterm and will involve: 1) short answer identifications of key terms; 2) analyses of key quotations; and 3) a 750-1000 word essay in which you will draw upon historical evidence from the course to develop a convincing argument about a theme/question of contemporary relevance. You will receive the prompt one week prior to the due date. 

Late Assignments: Extensions will be granted on a case by case basis. If you need an extension please inform the instructor and/or TA prior to the deadline. Late papers will be penalized.


Course Materials:

All course materials will be accessible in digital format for free with the following exceptions:

  • Elia Kazan, dir., America, America, may be rented or purchased via Amazon for $1.99.
  • “Who Do You Think You Are?” S7, E6, 5/1/2016, may be purchased and viewed on Youtube or Amazon for $2.99.
  • Hari Kandabolu, dir. The Problem with Apu (2017) available HBO Max, AmazonPrime, Hulu



Class Schedule

The course syllabus is a living document; readings may be altered


  1.  3/29 Welcome, Orientation, Framing Questions


2. 3/31: Starting Points: 1492


3.  4/5 Muslims, Christians, Jews between Europe and the Middle East


4. 4/7 Ottoman Modernity and the Black Mediterranean


5.  4/12 “Unmixing of Peoples”: Revolution, War, Genocide, Population "Exchange"

  • Young Turk Revolution (1908) Young Turk Proclamation 1908.pdf
  • Treaty of Lausanne on the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey (1923) Treaty of Lausanne.pdf
  • Reşat Kasaba, “Dreams of Empire, Dreams of Nation,” in Joseph Esherick, et al., Empire to Nation: Historical Perspectives on the Making of the Modern World (Oxford, 2006), 198-225. Kasaba - dreams.pdf
  • Twice a Stranger, 8-minute documentary about the Exchange of Populations 


6. 4/14  Mobility and Migration: from the Ottoman provinces to the cities and beyond

  • Elia Kazan (director), America, America (Warner Bros, 1963) (film) on Amazon $1.99
  • a short except from Elia Kazan's autobiography, pp. 13-24. Kazan, Elia_ A Life.pdf


7. 4/19 Coming to America 


8. 4/21 Visions of America


 9. 4/26  Race, Whiteness, and American Citizenship


10. 4/28 “Race Science” and Immigration Restriction


11. 5/3 The First "Muslim Ban" and what Mormons, Armenians, and Jews have to do with it


12.  5/5 Building New Communities 


13. 5/10 Claiming Columbus


14. 5/12 Radical Politics and Organized Labor

  • Devin E. Naar, "The Rise, Fall, and Erasure of the Ladino Left," article-in-progress for a volume on "radical jewish politics;" your comments and suggestions for me are welcomed! Naar_Ladino Left revised draft 2022-4-18.pdf
  • Kostis Karpozilos, dir., Greek-American Radicals: An Untold Story (documentary, 2013) (62 minutes)
  • Unpublished Investigative Report of the Bureau of Investigation (predecessor of the FBI) into the activities of New York's Sephardic Branch of the Socialist Party and its newspaper, El Proletario, 1918. (note that this is a surveillance document and is full of errors, not least of which is the mistranslation in at least one place of "Sephardic" as "separatist"!). FBI report combined.pdf


15. 5/17 Walking the City of Seattle


16. 5/19 Mediterranean Imprints on the Pacific Northwest


17, 5/24 Post-WWII Restructuring and the Invention of the "Nation of Immigrants"


18. 5/26 Mediterranean Food, Mediterranean Music


19. 5/31 Popular Culture, Representation, and Color Lines Today


20. 6/2 (Im)migration Today

Catalog Description:
Migration of "Middle Easterners" - Jews, Christians, and Muslims - from the Ottoman Empire to the United States in the twentieth century. How their experiences shaped, and were shaped by, the development of racial categories, definitions of citizenship and national belonging, and broader political, religious, and cultural dynamics linking the Mediterranean world to the Americas. Offered: jointly with JEW ST 270.
GE Requirements Met:
Diversity (DIV)
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
July 13, 2024 - 2:59 pm