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AU Launches New Initiative on North American Integration

By Gregg Sangillo

The new initiative will facilitate research collaboration across academic institutions.

The new initiative will facilitate research collaboration across academic institutions.

The late Robert Pastor was committed to understanding both the current reality, and future promise, of North American integration. He served on the National Security Council under President Jimmy Carter before eventually becoming an American University professor. He died of cancer in 2014, but a Pastor fund for North America will help AU carry on his legacy through academic scholarship.

AU’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) and the School of International Service (SIS) have partnered to launch the Robert A. Pastor North America Research Initiative. It’s a new effort to promote and disseminate cutting edge research on North American integration.

Eric Hershberg, the director of CLALS, explains the group’s raison d'être. “It’s our sense that the future of North America as a region is sufficiently important. It needs to be the focus of the highest quality scholarship,” he says. “We want to be the catalysts for the emergence of a prominent and influential field of social science that will analyze the dynamics of integration and the obstacles to integration.”

A Generation of Scholars

The program will support a group of scholars studying regional issues of import to Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. Hershberg states that there’s an emerging generation of scholars already conducting innovative research in this field, and the initiative will facilitate collaboration across academic institutions.

“If we could connect people in a network, we believe we can really push the frontiers of scholarship,” he says.

The plan is to bring together those scholars to meet several times a year, for the next three to five years. “We will continually be on the lookout for exciting new currents of work, and we’ll try to engage those,” he adds.

On October 27-28, they will host a workshop with roughly a dozen junior scholars.

Collaborate and Connect

Technology allows early planning to be conducted virtually, and connections among researchers transcend geographic location. One key person involved is Tom Long, now teaching at University of Reading in the United Kingdom. A specialist on U.S.-Latin American relations, he earned his Ph.D. from AU and was one of Pastor’s students.

This nascent initiative has already opened communication with North American policymakers, diplomats and former ambassadors. AU will co-sponsor a public panel at the Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington, D.C. on October 27.

“We will keep this very much as a scholarly initiative,” Hershberg says. “But at the same time, we are always thinking about, ‘How do we translate the findings of the best quality scholarship, in ways that are accessible and usable to stakeholders in society?’”

Walls and Bridges

This is an opportune time to be examining North America. With the ascent of Donald Trump, the 2016 election season has featured heated debates about NAFTA, U.S.-Mexican relations, and regional immigration.

CLALS, SIS, and affiliate scholars could offer new ways of looking at some contentious issues. Immigration, Hershberg argues, is better thought of as population flows.

“That can involve both the sorts of immigration we typically focus on, but it can also look at things like the circulation of scientists and engineers,” he says. “That connects to a broad set of issues, which we think are very important, around economic innovation and technological change.”

Skepticism about integration can give way to xenophobia, which Hershberg says exists in all three countries. But those views, he argues, do not reflect the overall sentiment in North America.

“These are societies in which the citizenry, overall, is enthusiastic about greater degrees of integration and cooperation,” explains Hershberg. “In that sense, you can look at this as an opportunity.”

The new North America research initiative is not an advocacy organization. Yet affiliate scholars can certainly extend this debate beyond sound bites to a more substantive, informed discussion about the region.

“I think we want to provide the tools that can enable the public, and decision-makers, to better understand how processes of integration can be productive. And the ways in which they pose challenges that need to be taken seriously,” he says. “What we want to do is illuminate.”