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Second-year English Ph.D. student Jeremy Gallion said, “So much of the current media on the border is about the optics of it." Credit: Ritin Pachnanda

The English department will offer a new Junior Research Seminar entitled “U.S. Border Narratives” in Spring 2020. 

This course will be taught by fourth-year English Ph.D. student Jeremy Gallion and will focus on the experiences of those who live on and cross the United States-Mexico border, as well as borders that are socially constructed in communities. Students will examine the current political implications surrounding immigration, the history of the U.S.- Mexico border since its creation in 1848, and the future of borders and migration policy, Gallion said.  

English majors are required to take a Junior Research Seminar to learn about research methods in the humanities. These courses are taught by graduate students and are based on the graduate students' own research interests, English Undergraduate Chair Josephine Park said. 

“I can't imagine a more important topic today than the U.S. border narratives,” Park said. 

Gallion said he will take a multimedia approach to teaching the material — students will analyze narrative texts and also engage with visual and sonic artifacts. In one syllabus unit called “Listening to the Borderlands,” the class will explore auditory artifacts such as oral testimonials, musical folk tales, and podcasts. Gallion said he hopes this unique approach will expose students to images of the border that are different than those often portrayed in the mainstream media. 

“So much of the current media on the border is about the optics of it,” Gallion said. “It’s images of walls or it’s images of desert passages and it hides the fact that there are millions of people who live along the U.S. border and have lived along that border since its creation [in] 1848.”

Gallion added that a significant portion of the course will focus on labor migrants’ narratives, including Chicanx and Latinx laborers as well as U.S. citizens who migrate across the border for agricultural work. 

Gallion grew up in Las Vegas, and his family is from south Texas. He said his exposure to border narratives at a young age inspired his interest in the history, politics, and economy of the region. Gallion hopes to combine his research in these areas with his personal experiences to help students understand the border and its tensions. 

All of the artifacts studied throughout the course of the semester will have political implications based on the time period and circumstances under which they were created, Gallion added. He stressed the importance of the seminar due to the current lack of specific classes, particularly in the humanities, that focus on immigration narratives in a nuanced way. 

“It’s understudied here at Penn,” Gallion said. “It's important to engage with the current political moment, learn a little more than what the media presents to us, and understand that this is not a new or exceptional issue by any means. This political moment is laden with a very intense and complex history, and I don't think students here get an opportunity to explore that.”