OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Cindy Hahamovitch

Portrait of Cindy  Hahamovitch

Cindy Hahamovitch is the B. Phinizy Spalding Distinguished Professor in History at the University of Georgia, where she teaches U.S., labor, and immigration history. She is the author of The Fruits of Their Labor: Atlantic Coast Farmworkers and the Making of Migrant Poverty, 1870-1945 (1997) and No Man's Land: Jamaican Guestworkers in America and the Global History of Deportable Labor (2013), which won the OAH James A. Rawley Prize, the OAH Merle Curti Social History Award, and the Philip Taft Labor History Book Award. Her work focuses on human trafficking in labor around the globe, migrant farmworkers in the United States, and the rising use of deportable labor in the United States and abroad. She has lectured in Australia, Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and Scotland, and at a wide range of American universities. A Fulbright fellow, she has also held fellowships at the National Humanities Center and Yale University's Program in Agrarian Studies. She is the vice president of LAWCHA, the Labor and Working Class History Association, a past president of the Southern Labor Studies Association, and for 12 years was the reviews editor for Labor: Studies in Working-Class History.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

If you gathered the 200 million guestworkers around the world and all the family members they support into one “migration nation,” writes Jason Parle of the New York Times, they would add up to at least a half a billion people, or the third largest nation on the planet. The remittance income they generate is equally astounding. Worldwide, labor migrants sent home an estimated $300 billion in 2006, nearly three times the world's foreign-aid budgets combined. This talk is about the history of the USA’s H-2 Guestworker Program, the second oldest temporary labor migration program in the world and the program that is at the center of the current immigration reform debate. Its focus will be the World War II origins of the program, when one in six Jamaican men worked in the fields in the U.S. It explains how a model program declined so rapidly into the exploitative, Jim Crow-like system it remains today.
The last attempt at "comprehensive immigration reform," which culminated in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, was as controversial and complicated as it is today. Then, as now, growers' demand for "guestworkers" was at the center of the debate over how to "fix" the nation's immigration problem. This talk explains how the 1986 fix helped get us where we are now.
Think your great-grandma came to the U.S. legally? Chances are, there weren't any laws to break. Until the late nineteenth century, to the extent that there were immigration restrictions they tended to be restrictions on leaving not entering. Immigration restrictions began in the United States and Australia, and spread around the world. This talk is about the global history of who gets barred and why.