BATAVIA – A prestigious award will give Aaron Fogleman of Batavia the time he needs to complete research on his latest book, tentatively titled “Immigrant Voices: European and African Stories of Freedom, Unfreedom, and Identity in the Americas Through Four Centuries.”
The coming book is thought to be unique in its breadth. Fogleman has been working on it for three years in between teaching history at Northern Illinois University and raising three children with his wife.
This spring he became one of three U.S. historians to win a Guggenheim Fellowship, which will allow him to step away from teaching for one year and devote his energies to research and writing.
He said his new book will cover a period in which more than 22 million people migrated to the Americas during four centuries beginning in 1492. Fogleman does not forget that besides Europeans headed here were slaves, indentured servants and convicts. He also unravels gender differences, exploring the very different experience of migration for women.
His project will examine free and unfree migrant hopes, dreams, fears and expectations, as well as the realities they encountered, he stated on his department website.
“I decided to focus on the writings of the migrants themselves,” Fogleman said by phone. “I have approximately 2,000 immigrant letters and narratives and [have] read about a fourth of them. “I’ve read hundreds [of others] before.”
With the bulk of his research already gathered, Fogleman looks forward to working on the project from home.
“I’ve traveled a lot to archives for my other three books,” he said. “It’s really hard to get a fellowship that gives you the time off that you need and allows you to go anywhere you want. You’re supposed to go to a research institute or university and stay half a year or a year. This is the best kind and hardest kind to get. [You] go where you want to go – in my case not going at all – just getting the time.”
A presidential research professor at NIU, Fogleman is already well-known among scholars for his work addressing the themes of transatlantic migration, gender, religion and revolution from 1492 to 1867, according to NIU’s announcement of his award.
Fogleman notes that controversy about migration has existed in this country from the start – not just in today’s headlines. And when it comes to anti-immigrant rhetoric, he said there’s nothing new under the sun.
“[Benjamin] Franklin published an essay in 1755 in which he wrote, much to his regret later, that thousands of German immigrants were swarming into Pennsylvania and surrounding colonies and threatening to overwhelm Colonial culture as he and others knew it,” Fogleman said. “Regardless of whether you’re for or against some kinds of restrictions or not, I would say we’ve been there before and people have argued over these same things. Most people look back with pride at their immigrant heritage. … Immigrants have changed America since the beginning, but they’ve never destroyed America.”
Fogleman’s 2013 work, “Two Troubled Souls,” traces the lives of a married couple who, as missionaries and religious seekers, traveled Europe, the Caribbean and North America during the 18th century, according to NIU. The work received the American Historical Association’s 2014 James A. Rawley Prize, which honors the best book exploring the integration of Atlantic worlds before the 20th century.
“Winning a Guggenheim is one of the highest honors a historian can achieve,” James Schmidt, who chairs the NIU Department of History, stated when NIU announced the news. “We are incredibly proud of Aaron.”
The Guggenheim fellowship is the latest accolade for Fogleman, according to NIU, which noted he has been an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow, Fulbright Honorary Senior Scholar and guest researcher at the Max Planck Institute for History in Gottingen, Germany. He also held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in 2008 and 2009.