Ethan Blue Lecture: The Deportation Express: A History of America (and beyond) through Forced Removal

Date / Time

February 24, 2022

6:00 pm - 7:30 pm


Ethan Blue, senior lecturer in history at the University of Western Australia.

Thursday, February 24, 6–7:30 p.m., via Zoom.

Meeting ID: 883 5078 3192
Passcode: zGcnBSa9

“The Deportation Express: A History of America (and beyond) through Forced Removal”

The United States, celebrated as a nation of immigrants and the land of the free, has developed the most extensive system of imprisonment and deportation that the world has ever known. “The Deportation Express: (University of California Press, 2021) is the first history of American deportation trains: a network of prison railroad cars repurposed by the Immigration Bureau to link jails, hospitals, asylums, and workhouses across the country and allow forced removal with terrifying efficiency. With this book, and in this presentation, historian Ethan Blue uncovers the origins of the deportation train and finds the roots of the current moment, as immigrant restriction and mass deportation once again play critical and troubling roles in contemporary politics and legislation.

A century ago, deportation trains made constant circuits around the nation, gathering so-called “undesirable aliens”— migrants disdained for their poverty, political radicalism, criminal conviction, or mental illness — and conveyed them to ports for exile overseas. Previous deportation procedures had been violent, expensive, and relatively ad hoc, but the railroad industrialized the expulsion of the undesirable. Trains provided a powerful technology to divide “citizens” from “aliens” and displace people in unprecedented numbers. Drawing on the lives of migrants and the agents who expelled them, The Deportation Express is history told from aboard a deportation train. By following the lives of selected individuals caught within the deportation regime, this book dramatically reveals how the forces of state exclusion accompanied epic immigration in early 20th-century America. These are the stories of people who traveled from around the globe, only to be locked up and cast out, deported through systems that bound the United States together, and in turn, pulled the world apart. Their journey would be followed by millions more in the years to come.

Ethan Blue was raised on Coast Miwok land in Northern California and currently lives on unceded Whadjuk Noongar boodja in Western Australia. He is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Western Australia, with research interests at the intersection of critical prison studies and histories of immigration, racial capitalism, and settler colonialism.

Blue’s monographs and edited volumes include the sole-authored “Doing Time in the Depression: Everyday Life in Texas and California Prisons (New York University Press, 2012), the co-authored “Engineering and War” (Morgan and Claypool, 2014), and the special issue of “Radical History Review: Punishment and Death: The Need for Radical Analysis” (2006).  His most recent book is “The Deportation Special: A History of America through Forced Removal” (University of California Press, 2021).

Blue’s writings have appeared in numerous edited volumes and scholarly journals, including Pacific Historical Review; Journal of Social History; Law, Culture, and the Humanities; Humanities Research; Journal of American Ethnic History; Bad Subjects; National Identities; Leonardo, and Settler Colonial Studies.

Sponsored by two Institute for the Humanities Working Groups: Race and US Empire Working Group, and Global Migration Working Group.

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