“I Am Interested in Learning More About the Knowledge Migrants Convey Through Their Often Silenced or Neglected Voices” – Interview with Albert Manke

Albert Manke | Picture by: Britta Frenz

We regularly introduce scholars that work in the project by letting them answer three short questions. Today, we talk to Albert Manke who is a Research Fellow at the Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute Washington, based at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a historian of Latin American and Global History, specializing in transpacific and inter-American entanglements and the history of the Cold War with a focus on Cuba, Mexico, the Philippines, and the United States. His first book, El Pueblo Cubano en Armas (2014, published in German) shows how different sectors of the Cuban society mobilized to defend the Cuban revolution of 1959. Following his subsequent research on Asian migrant groups in the Americas and on the Cold War on a more global scale, he has published articles and co-edited volumes on transnational engagements across the Pacific and the Atlantic – between Asia, the Americas, and Europe. His current research project looks at Chinese migrant networks in the Americas and places their strategies to cope with exclusion on center stage.

What will you be working on while being involved with the “Knowledge Unbound” project and what did you work on before?

As a historian of Latin American and Global History, I am specializing in transpacific and inter-American entanglements with a regional focus on Cuba, Mexico, the United States, and the Philippines. My current research analyzes “Transpacific and Inter-American Strategies of Overseas Chinese during the Exclusion Era: Formal and Informal Networks in the Americas and Beyond.” I am interested in migrant networks, exclusion and coping strategies of migrants, particularly looking at Chinese diasporic networks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. These dynamics of exclusion and resistance seem as precursors to similar dynamics we can witness today. This fits perfectly in the overall topic of our project’s submodule “Interaction and Knowledge in the Pacific Region: Entanglements and Disentanglements,” which connects researchers in Washington, Berkeley, Moscow, Tokyo, Singapore, and Beijing. Before that, my research was primarily following agency-centered histories of resistance and social movements in the Americas and also focused on ethnicity and migrants’ agency during the Cold War.

What role does the concept of “knowledge” play in your own research?

On the one hand, I am interested in learning more about the knowledge migrants convey through their often silenced or neglected voices, cultural artifacts, or documents. On the other hand, it seems paramount to connect and intertwine these cultural knowledge systems with more visible documents and often dominant discourses of policy-makers, institutions and other stakeholders in the so-called receiving societies. This look at knowledge that is being produced about migrants by others often serves to highlight derogatory adscriptions. It ultimately provides us with a whole set of intersecting markers that frame and shape how interactions around the migrants’ experience evolve. In the end, the knowledge about discriminatory practices and assumptions in the past can and should help us identify and hopefully prevent similar errors in the present and the future.

Have there been any surprising moments in your research recently?

For sure. Just recently, there was a very illuminating moment when I read a New York Times article that stated anti-Chinese sentiment is spreading at the same pace as the coronavirus. According to that article, in many Asian countries visitors and customers from China are currently not welcome, sometimes even being labeled as “bioterrorists.” Also in the United States, Canada, and Europe there have been multiple incidences of xenophobia that have even affected other people of Asian descent. This reminds us of how fragile supposedly progressive worldviews can be when one scratches the surface. It also underscores the need for further research of current and past tendencies of the intertwined dynamics of exclusion, xenophobia, and migration. This is what my research is also trying to contribute to.


Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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