Tracing Immigrant Communities’ History

America is a nation of immigrants. We’ve all heard it, and for most of the population, it’s true. Tracking down one’s heritage is practically a national pastime, trying to find out which ancestor walked through Ellis Island from where. Sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe are very popular. But for some communities, like my own Pakistani heritage, this can be difficult, for a variety of reasons. Our communities are often young in the United States; for example, my parents were the first people in my family to come here, just two years before I was born. There just isn’t much history to look up.

I thought about this, and had an idea. What if, rather than looking at the history of a single family, we looked at the history of an entire community of immigrants? This could start out with a site for one group; for example, Pakistanis in Texas. The site could then display relevant information: perhaps a map of where Pakistanis ended up, a graph showing the change in immigration numbers over time, or a short entry of the first recorded immigrant in that group. There could be a section for users to submit their own stories, with a short text, image, or video of them or their parents coming to America for the first time.

The Humanities Truck’s COVID-19 Project provides a good idea of what the map could look like.

This project could be useful for a variety of people. Members of the community themselves may want to learn more about their history, or they may want to contribute and let others know about their community. Many immigrants are proud of their journey, and want to share their experiences. Other people who want to learn about the diverse nature of the United States could also benefit from this project. Researchers could also potentially use the site as a source of data. In addition, if the project does well, it could be expanded to other states or immigrant groups, broadening the reach of the project.

To source this project, census records and immigration records would likely be the primary sources, as these are usually the most reliable sources of information on immigrants. However, the communities themselves would also be excellent sources. Many immigrant communities have their own newspapers or magazines that could be of great use. In addition, users themselves could also submit their own contributions. In terms of technical work, mapping programs could be used to display information about the communities’ locations. Digital text analysis could help trawl through massive loads of immigration records.

However, there are some challenges in this idea. Number one is privacy. Since many of these immigrant communities are relatively new, showing information like immigrant’s names could affect people right now. For that reason, it would be best to anonymize the data, saying, for example, that 110 Pakistanis entered Texas this year instead of having their names. If a user wants to volunteer their story with their name, some kind of release form would probably be needed. Scale is also a big question. Even with digital text analysis, there are a lot of records to go through, and a smaller scale may be necessary, depending on the resources available to the project.

Imperialism for Fun?

Many video games allow their players to explore history by taking control of an empire. The player must manage their empire, balancing war, culture, science, and funds, among other things. Some games, like the Civilization series, start at the dawn of agriculture, allowing players to experience the entirety of history. Others, like the Europa Universalis, Victoria, and Total War series, start and end at specified dates, aiming to capture specific periods. Although there are many games in this genre, known as “strategy” or “grand strategy”, these series are some of the most renowned in the field. For my print project, I will analyze how these series depict imperialism from 1444 (the start date of Europa Universalis IV) to 1936 (the end date of Victoria II).

The specific games I will be looking at are the most modern entries in each series that takes place during this time period. This will be Europa Universalis IV (2013), Victoria II (2010), Civilization VI (2016), and Empire: Total War (2009). Each game either takes place during or includes the era of European imperialism. I will explore different aspects of imperialism and how these games handle these aspects. Examples may include reasons behind colonialism, the depictions of indigenous people, and how the process of colonialism occurs, among others. These games also have in-game text that gives context to the action, such as biographies of important figures and descriptions of technologies. I will look at this text as well, since it provides the best approximation for how the game itself views these topics. One source I am currently unsure about is out-of-game information, such as interviews with game designers. This could provide valuable insight into how these games are meant to depict these topics. However, developers’ intentions and how the game actually plays out often differ, and for the average player, the games’ depictions are usually more prevalent. Depending on what I find, and if it can fit in, it might be an interesting topic to see how developers’ intentions played out in the final product.

Even the cover might show some things about these games. No points for guessing which continent gets the most love in this game.

Other topics I may explore include the change over time in these games. Three of these games are sequels, and all of those have significant changes from the first entries in their series. This has come with different depictions of imperialism and associated topics. The games themselves have also changed over time, through updates. These can reflect changing views on imperialism and treatment of indigenous cultures, such as Civilization’s recent update on how “barbarian” cultures are handled. If it is appropriate, I can present possibilities of how these games may better show these topics. I am also interested in doing research into how these games affect public perception of these topics. There are popular public forums for these games, on which I would be able to create polls. Although these polls would not be scientific surveys, they may provide some information on what players know about topics like imperialism, and how they feel the games relate to those topics.

Games are a very interactive medium for history. Although education is not the first goal for most of them, they can still provide some information that players did not know. By studying the depiction of imperialism in these games, I hope to learn whether the information these games provide is accurate, or whether it is even trying to be accurate. Colonialism and imperialism are still touchy topics today, and I am interested to see how they intersect with entertainment.

Intro- Shaan Budhwani

Hello, everyone! I’m Shaan Budhwani, and I’m in my second semester of the Public History MA program. I’m originally from Houston, Texas, where I did my undergrad at the University of Houston, but I’m really excited to be here in DC! My schoolwork has been all over the place; I’ve written historiographical papers on Islamic Spain and Muslims in the United States, as well as done an oral history project on Norse pagans in Houston. I also taught geography for two years back home, as well! For my personal interests, I enjoy reading and writing. (Fiction, that is. The thousands of pages of readings from classes, maybe a little less.) I also like video games and love traveling, so this pandemic has been good for one, less so for the other.

The last trip I was able to go on before the Dark Times

I’m really excited for the public history program, and I liked where my first semester went! I’m primarily interested in archival studies, and my eventual career goal is to work in either an archive, but I always like to keep my options open, and I’d be just as happy in a museum, the National Park Service, or wherever else I end up. Here at American, I hope to refine my public history skills, especially with archival skills. Being in DC, with all the museums and archives, was also very important to me to connect with the world of public history. Learning how to make those connections is probably just as important as what we actually learn in the classes.

I’m very interested to see what’s in store for us in this class, as well. Already, some of the tools like Historypin look really interesting and useful! I’m particularly interested in digital archival, as these kinds of online archives have been a lifesaver in online learning. I’m also interested in interactive digital history, like video games, and how we might be able to use these to get people more engaged in history. I’m looking forward to our big project, since I’ve always learned best by doing, and already have lots of ideas in my head. Here’s to a great semester!