Now to answer these questions we need to leave aside any kind
of metaphor of a laboratory, history as a science where we can
simply take these factors and work them out. We also need to
leave behind, at least temporarily, the large explanatory powers
what I sometimes call the "izations," which I hate
to discourage because I know that those of you who are teaching
any of the tests that your students have to take whether it's
the AP or other standardized history tests, if they don't know
the "izations" they are going to be in trouble: industrialization,
urbanization, modernization, proliteritization, bureaucratization,
whatever other words people have come up with. Because what these
terms do, I think they make us lose sight of the migrants as
actors and they subsume their experiences into these kind of
large historical processes.
Now there's two ways to do this. The first would be comparatively,
which would mean to look for common elements in the migration
experience, to look at these different sets of letters. And actually
this helps you to integrate this topic into the "izations"
that your students are going to have to understand for their
tests, because you are looking for the common elements in the
experience, you are looking for the common elements in the experience
of urbanization, how people actually lived through each of these
large processes in general and the letters are great for doing
The second way of doing that-I think these are complementary,
they're not mutually exclusive-is to take a deep analysis of
one group; in other words, so if you have a student who wants,
says "I want to look at Polish immigration," or in
this case the Great Migration and here the answers tell us
the people we are studying. We are unlikely to discern general
principals about human behavior because we're not asking what
is typical; what we're doing is we're asking what's particular.
What makes this group of people different from other groups
people--another group of people? We're not saying, "Tell
me what's typical about black southerners," because during
this period only about five percent of black southerners left
and went to the North, so the people that we are studying in
fact are weird. And if we say, "Well, what's a typical
then we're not going to find the people who are migrating. One
of the interesting questions that you can ask is what is the
between them and the other ninety-five percent.
[Female voice] Only five percent?
Yeah, sure, because only about, between 1916 and 1919, about
five hundred thousand. No, I'm sorry, it's not five percent
I'm trying to think, is it about five percent; I'm trying to
remember what the popular black--well yeah, five hundred thousand
ten million for the first period and then another million later.
[Female voice] And if you took the whole, from either _______,
[2nd female voice] ______ if you took the whole of the period
that's ________ the Great Migration
Right, well then you've got a lot more. Because, well I don't
know because the population changes over time so you would need
the kind of statistics that could track population change; you'd
probably [track] half of all people migrating
at a transformation in the location of the black population.
for this period, when people are commenting on the huge phenomenon
between 1916 and 1919, it's five hundred thousand people out
about ten million. And then another million in the 1920s, and
then the forties, fifties and sixties is where the numbers get