Erin Royston Battat

Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts


Spring 2009: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow

‘Ain’t Got No Home’: Race and American Migration Narratives in the Depression Era

Project Description

‘Ain’t Got No Home’: Race and American Migration Narratives in the Depression Era

The saga of the displaced southerner who migrated to the North and West fascinated Americans during the 1930s and 1940s, appearing in a variety of texts, from fiction and music to the mass media.

Taking a novel comparative approach, ‘Ain’t Got No Home’ examines how these texts revised American national identity and participated in a broad social movement that linked economic injustice and racial discrimination.T hese Depression-era texts reject the American success story, calling into question its myths of progress.  They imagine a new national story that encompasses, however tenuously, both black and white Americans. 

Asserting a connection between migration and consciousness, moreover, these migration narratives show how geographic displacement prompts a radical politics and poetics.  Many of these texts are sites of dissent that advance the aims of the working-class and African American social struggles in the aesthetic realm, imagining interracial alliances that counter the historical reality of race relations.  Examining the “long civil-rights movement” and its economic dimensions through the lens of culture, ‘Ain’t Got No Home’ probes the link between literary forms and social change.

During my tenure at the Du Bois Institute, I will also be conducting preliminary research on a second book project that explores one of the most profound injustices in American society in the past century—its prison system.  This project asks the questions, how do cultural narratives in the United States make the incarceration of millions of people seem to be necessary and inevitable, and what narratives work against this culture of coercion? 

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