Picture of a penguin

Comparative Journeys: Migration, Work, and Family Narratives in the  Oil Company Towns of Patagonia

History 315H-01 (Prof. Borges)
Sociology 230I-01 (Prof. Rose)

Contacts: borges@dickinson.edu / (717) 245-1186 & rose@dickinson.edu / (717) 245-1244


This comparative course examines trans-Atlantic migration, ethnic and labor relations, and community development among various ethnic groups in the oil company towns of Patagonia. The student-faculty immersion team will engage in collaborative ethnographic, oral history, and archival research with faculty and students from the National University of Patagonia “San Juan Bosco” and residents from the company towns of the area of Comodoro Rivadavia. A multi-lingual team will spend two weeks in Patagonia (January 5-22) and then return to Dickinson College to continue comparative research during the spring semester. While the primary focus will be on the area of Comodoro Rivadavia, we will be using Steelton, Pennsylvania as a comparative case study.


Texts (bookstore)

Samuel Baily, Immigrants in the Lands of Promise: Italians in Buenos Aires and New York City, 1870-1914 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998). (Selections)

Valerie Yow, Recording Oral History: A Practical Guide for Social Scientists (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994).

E-Reserves, photocopy reserves, and reference books

John Bodnar, Immigration and Industrialization: Ethnicity in an American Mill Town, 1870-1940 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977). (Selections)

Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux, Patagonia Revisited (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986). (Selections)

Sue Doro, Blue Collar Goodbyes (Watsonville, CA: Papier-Mache Press, 1992). (Selections)

Elizabeth Fee, Linda Shopes, and Linda Zeidman, eds., The Baltimore Book: New Views of Local History (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991).

David Foster et al., Culture and Customs of Argentina (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998). (Selections)

Michael Frisch, Portraits in Steel (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993). (Selections)

—–, A Shared Authority. Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990). (Selections)

W. H. Hudson, Idle Days in Patagonia (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1893). (Selections)

Walter Nugent, Crossings. The Great Transatlantic Migrations, 1870-1914 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992), chaps. 4 and 12.

Karen Olson and Linda Shopes, “Crossing Boundaries, Building Bridges: Doing Oral History Among Working-Class Women and Men,” in Sherna Berger Gluck and Daphne Patai, eds, Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 189-204.

Mary Palevsky, Atomic Fragments: A Daughter’s Questions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). (Guest speaker)

Alessandro Portelli, The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories. Form and Meaning in Oral History (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991).  (Selections)

Studs Terkel, Working. People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974). (Selections)

Susana Torres, “Two Oil Company Towns in Patagonia: European Immigrants, Class, and Ethnicity (1907-1933).” Ph. D. Dissertation, Rutgers University, 1995. (Selections)

Virginia Yans-McLaughlin, “Metaphors of Self in History: Subjectivity, Oral Narrative, and Immigration Studies,” in Immigration Reconsidered: History, Sociology, Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Janet Zandy, ed., Liberating Memory: Our Work and Our Working-class Consciousness (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995). (Selections) (Guest speaker)

Other recommendations tailored to specific student projects.


Patagonia Immersion (January 5-22)

Fr 1/5   Trip to Argentina (departure from JFK)

Background readings: Chatwin and Theroux; Foster et al.; Hudson; Nugent

Sa 1/6  Arrival in Buenos Aires

Trip to Comodoro Rivadavia

Sa 1/6-

Su 1/7  Time with host families

Mo 1/8-

Fr 1/12  Introduction to the area

Lectures by Susana Torres and Sonia Ivanoff

Training workshops

Tours of the city and Km 3

Visit to the Petroleum Museum

Fieldwork and research activities (interviews; archival work)

Sa 1/13-

Su 1/14  Trip to Camarones (penguin colonies), Península Valdés

(UNESCO World Heritage Site –whales, sea lions, elephant

seals, etc.). Puerto Madryn, and Puerto Pirámides

Mo 1/15-

Fr 1/9  Continuation of fieldwork and research (interviews; archival work)

Tours of Km 20 (Astra), Km 27 (Diadema), and Km 8 (Petroquímica)

Sa 1/20-

Su 1/21 Stay in Buenos Aires

Visits to La Boca, Plaza de Mayo, Puerto Madero, San Telmo,

Recoleta, and other areas of interest

Su  1/21 Return trip to the U.S.

Mo 1/22  Arrival in New York (JFK)

Trip to Carlisle

At Dickinson (January 24-April 25)

Th 1/ 25  No class the 1st Thursday back

Tu 1/30  Process Materials – Tapes – Master List

Transcriptions and Translation

Establish Working groups/Individual Projects

We 1/31 Tour of Steelton (12:45 – 5pm)


Read: Bodnar

Th 2/1  Small Group Workshops

Sign Up for Times

Preliminary Proposal Ideas Due

Su 2/4  Church Service in Steelton (optional)

Tu 2/6  History, Immigration, Self and Society

Read: Yans-McLaughlin (E-Reserves)

Th 2/8  “Labor Wars”

Artifacts, Oral Histories and Video Documentation and Production

Multi-Ethnic Considerations in Coal Mining Camps

Guest speaker: Mary Palevsky

Tu 2/13 Video Documentation and Production

Th 2/15  Production Workshops

Adobe Photoshop

Avid Camera

Web Page Design

Bring materials that you want to work on with you to the workshop

Bosler Basement

Fr 2/16 1st Oral History/Transcript/Translation Packet Due by noon in Denny 219C

(Hard and disk copy either in WordPerfect or Word) – we’ll put them up on Coureseinfo for everyone to access

Mo 2/19  Immigration, Labor & Ethnic Relations in Comparative Perspective

Guest Lecturers: Prof. Barone on Steelton and Prof. Torres on Patagonia

2-4 in Dana 110 (optional) – with American Mosaic class

Read: Bodnar

Tu 2/20  Comparative Study of Italians to the U.S. (NYC) and Argentina (B.A.)

Read: Baily

Th 2/22  Discussion of Projects

Research Workshop – Analytical Themes

Tu 2/27  Proposals Due (bring 2 copies of your proposal to class)

Present and Peer Edit Proposals

Th 3/1  Presentation and Representation of Oral History and Photography

Guest speaker: Janet Zandy

Read: Zandy

Tu 3/6  Individual/group Conferences

Th 3/8  Individual/group Conferences

Tu 3/13  Individual/group Conferences

Th 3/15 Workshop Projects – Presentations of Works in Progress

After Spring Break – no class but faculty available for consultation

Fri 4/13  Final Projects Due

Wed 4/25  Presentation to the Community: Americas’ Mosaics Common Hour

Note: Upon return to campus, students will be engaged in independent research that supports the research projects they focused on in Patagonia. We will be making recommendations as to readings and materials that best support those projects.

This year’s CPC Women’s Studies Conference will be held on Saturday March 31 at Franklin and Marshall. We can provide transportation if any of you are interested in working up a proposal for a paper/exhibit/video presentation on some aspect of women in Patagonia. Proposals are due February 14 and may be submitted by email.

Appendix: Research Protocols

Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning. (Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973:5)

Social science must reach the actual experiences and attitudes which constitute the full, live and active social reality beneath the formal organization of social phenomena . . . . A social institution can be fully understood only if we do not limit ourselves to abstract study of its formal organization, but also analyze the way in which it appears in the personal experience of various members of the group and follow the influence it has upon their lives (W.I. Thomas).

Oral history gives history back to people in their own words.  It recognizes the heroism of ordinary people going about their daily lives, and gives voice to their experience.  It brings history into and out of the community.  And in giving people a past, it also helps them towards a future of their own making (Paul Thompson).

Documentation, Consent, & Archiving of Interviews/Oral Histories

1) At the beginning of your interview: once the video recording equipment is set up and running, introduce yourself and the project, the name of the person(s) whom you are interviewing, place and date.  You will then want to ask the person(s) to state their name and their willingness to participate in the interview.

Sample: Just testing – I am Susan Rose and today, Jan. 14th, 2001 I am interviewing Susana Torres in her home in Comodoro Rivadavia. Susana, is it ok for me to ask you a few questions about what it was like growing up in Km 5? about immigration to this region and what it was like working in the oil fields? (Response) Yes? Great – could you please state your name and that you are willing to be interviewed? Thanks. Ok, let me start by asking you….

(This also gives you the opportunity to check the equipment, and make sure the sound and picture are coming through clearly.)

2) At the end of your interview: be sure to thank the person for their time and being willing to speak with you. Ask if they are willing to sign the consent form, and have them do so. And take a photo of them! And if possible, an additional one of you and them!

If you have the scanner and people are willing to let you scan in their photographs, you may want to do so as you go along, taking notes about each photograph and positioning the video camera to get a decent still shot. We can talk about logistics here.

3) After the interview:

  • Be sure to label your tape(s) with your name, the person’s name whom you interviewed, and date. Use standard form:
    S Rose interv of Susana Torres, CR, 1/14/01.
    * If there is more than one tape, write 1 of 2 on first tape, 2 of 2 on second tape….
  • Take notes as soon as possible afterwards. You may want to focus on quick summary, major points of highlights of interview, and your comments.

Fieldwork Journals

As part of the research process, you should keep 3 separate journals that will enable you to keep track of and analyze your research as you proceed.

The raw data file should contain actual observations – thick descriptions; interviews; questionnaires; and/or content analysis.

The methodological log should document how the research process is going, how your role as researcher is evolving, and what questions and techniques you tried and how people responded to you/them; that is, what was successful? unsuccessful? Are you on-schedule or off-schedule and why? The log should also list questions that you may want to address through subsequent interviews, observations, or possibly questionnaires.

The analytical journal provides you with the opportunity to ponder, question, and ultimately, organize your findings. Emerging patterns or themes in your research should be addressed: what themes/categories are emerging? What hypotheses are you formulating? What evidence supports/challenges/negates a specific hypothesis? How are your research questions related to other important aspects of the organization/subject you are studying? What variables are interrelated and how? Entries should be made once the research is underway and analytical themes begin to emerge.

I have found it useful to note a theme at the top of an index card or piece of paper, and then go back and excerpt quotations from the interviews/transcripts that are relevant. For example, in interviews with immigrants one may begin to recognize certain concepts or metaphors being used – say that of “rootlessness” or “stranger” or “resilience.”

“I felt like a stranger, one who lived here but was not from here” (Borges, SR1:1).

“I feel like a tree in this country, a tree without roots. But when the wind blows, I have to appear as strong as the other trees (Andreson, SR3:12).

While the first quotation clearly goes under the category of “Stranger,” the second quotation may fit under all three categories. In the end you may collapse categories or expand them – it will be an iterative process. As you continue interviewing, you may find that certain patterns emerge and you may want to address these directly in your interviews. For example, you may say to someone, “I’ve noticed from a number of the interviews I’ve done that people often speak of restlessness, of feeling like they’ve never really put down roots here” – does that describe your experience at all? or “have you ever feel that way or not?

The challenge here is to move deeper into your interviews, to recognize if patterns are emerging, and to explore them without asking leading questions. One way is to present a range of responses. For example, you’ve found from your interviews that: “some people have said they felt right at home here; others say they have never felt at home here – that they feel they just don’t have any roots here.” What has your experience been?

Establishing Rapport: Finally, and most importantly, you will want to establish a comfortable rapport with people. This means really listening to what people have to say to you; enjoying the interview-conversation; and appreciating the gift you are being given by the historians who are willing to share with you their story and their lives, as well as their time and energy. The more natural and comfortable you can be, the more comfortable they will be. So keep in mind these tips, but in the end, relax and with both humility and self-assuredness, be yourself-in-conversation-with-another who has much to share.

Reflecting: Which of course, also means thinking about who you are in interaction with an other!

The inter/view engages students in a dialogue – in an exchange between two subjects. It as, as Portelli describes it a “mutual sighting” (1991:31). This we’ll talk about later!

Note: We may ask to see your journals in order to best advise you with regard to your research. They will be essential to conducting and writing up the research and will provide the raw material for our discussions and workshops.


  1. Taken from the transcript of an interview with Andreson; SR3 stands for Susan Rose, interview #3 (consecutively numbered); page 12.
  2. In the tradition of oral history work, interviewees or narrators are considered to be the experts, the  “historians.” Interviewers are considered the “students,” who through asking, listening, recording, and analyzing both similarities and differences, consistencies and contradictions across people’s testimonies, can learn much about people’s lives and how they interact with larger social forces.

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