Writing the history of migrations
  • Interview with Nancy Green — Directrice d’études — EHESS (CRH)
Claire Zalc — Directrice de recherche — CNRS (CRH)
Blind spots in French history have often been brought to light by historians from abroad. The pioneering works of Nancy Green, a researcher from the United States, altered the way migration was studied in France. Should we talk of identity categories other than class, such as ethnicity or religion for example? How are we to account for the perspective of the country of origin, in the wake of groundbreaking research by Abdelmalek Sayad? What can we learn from analyzing migrations in a more complex manner, including its transnational dimensions? These topics are addressed in this interview conducted by Claire Zalc, herself a historian of immigration, working for the past twenty years in the path opened up by Nancy Green. This provides Nancy with an opportunity to present her work on the migration of Jews, women, and elites, and to discuss her own personal and family experience of immigration.
A life in research
Interview published on 09-16-2018
Last modified on 10-25-2022
Original language: English Lire la version French
  • Biography
  • Bibliography of Nancy Green
  • Interview’s bibliography

Nancy Green is a historian specializing in migration, and director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS). She was born and studied in Chicago, before coming to France for her PhD, about Jewish immigrant tailors in Paris (in the Sentier district) in the decade before the First World War.

Conducting her career in France whilst regularly travelling back to her country of origin has led her to build up a comparative history of France and the United States. She has introduced many English-language studies to France through her seminar at the EHESS, which has been running for nearly 30 years now.

Her works envisage migrations other than as a single trajectory from point A to point B, thus decentering the dominant perspective in the literature, which tends to focus on the receiving country. It brings into question the simplistic view prevalent in the USA, that sees France as a xenophobic and unwelcoming country in comparison to the supposedly more welcoming United States. Nancy Green has also highlighted shortcomings in French historiography. For instance, when she arrived in France, immigrants were broadly neglected as a topic of study in the social sciences. Equally, her work on American elites in Paris has filled in another blind spot. Nancy Green has also contributed to the deployment of a feminist perspective in this field of analysis, through her work on immigrant women and on gendered aspects of immigration legislation.

Her latest works partake in the debate about the limitations to “transnationalism”, a concept she was involved in disseminating in France.

Limits of Transnationalism, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, on press (2019).

(with Roger Waldinger), A century of Transnationalism: Immigrants and Their Homeland Connections, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 2016.

Les Américains de Paris: hommes d’affaires, comtesses et jeunes oisifs, 1880-1941, Paris, Belin, 2014.

(with Marie Poinsot), Histoire de l’immigration et question coloniale en France, Paris, La Documentation Française, 2008.

“La Migration des élites: nouveau concept, anciennes pratiques ?”, Cahiers du Centre de Recherches Historiques, n° 41, April 2008, p. 107-116.

(with François Weil), Citoyenneté et émigration: les politiques du départ, Paris, Éditions de l'EHESS, 2006.

Repenser les migrations, Paris, PUF, 2002.

“Religion et ethnicité: de la comparaison spatiale et temporelle”, Annales Histoire et Sciences Sociales, vol. 57, n° 1, January-February 2002, p. 127-144.

Du Sentier à la 7e Avenue: la Confection et les immigrés, Paris-New York 1880-1980, Paris, Le Seuil, 1998.

Et ils peuplèrent l'Amérique, Paris, Gallimard, 1994.

Michel Agier, Aux bords du monde, les réfugiés, Paris, Flammarion, 2002.

Howard Aldrich, Roger Waldinger, Robin Ward, Ethnic Entrepreneurs: Immigrant Business in Industrial Society, Newbury Park, CA, Sage, 1990.

Donna Gabaccia, Katharine M. Donato, Gender and Migration: From the Slavery Era to the Global Age, New York, Russell Sage Foundation, 2015.

Nina Glick Schiller, Linda Basch, Cristina Szanton-Blanc, Transnationalism: A New Analytic Framework for Understanding Migration, Annals of the New-York Academy of Science, vol. 645, n° 1, July 1992.

Paula Hyman, Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women, Washington, University of Washington Press, 1995.

Mirjana Morokvasic, “Birds of Passage are also Women...”, The International Migration Review, vol. 18, n°4, 1984, p. 886-907.

Michael Piore, Birds of Passage: Migrant Labor and Industrial Societies, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Abdelmalek Sayad, La Double absence. Des illusions de l'émigré aux souffrances de l'immigré, Paris, Le Seuil, 1999.

Laurent Vidal, Alain Musset (eds.), Les Territoires de l’attente: migrations et mobilités dans les Amériques (XIXe-XXIe siècle), Rennes, PUR, 2015.

Patrick Weil, La France et ses étrangers: L'aventure d'une politique d'immigration,1938-1991, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1991.

David H. Weinberg, Les Juifs à Paris de 1933 à 1939, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1974.

Claire Zalc, Dénaturalisés. Les retraits de nationalité sous Vichy, Paris, Le Seuil, 2016.