What does it mean to be a person without a country? The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution enshrined the long-held principle that birth in the United States conferred citizenship. But efforts are now underway – by some members of Congress and by some state legislators – to challenge that concept of American citizenship as a birthright. France has deported hundreds of Roma on the grounds that they have no right to stay as citizens of the European Union. Two weeks ago India and Bangladesh announced that they intend to address the stateless condition of some 50,000 Biharis on their border. In the October 24th Washington History Seminar, Linda K. Kerber examined these developments in the context of the history of statelessness in the 20th century, focusing on the evolution of the sixty-year-old UN convention on refugees and stateless persons, a document the United States has not signed.
A past President of the American Historical Association, Kerber is the May Brodbeck Professor of History at the University of Iowa. In her writing and teaching she has emphasized the history of citizenship, gender, and authority. Her books include No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (1998).
A webcast of Kerber’s seminar is available at Statelessness in 20th Century America.
The Washington History Seminar is a joint venture of the National History Center and the Wilson Center, with assistance from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.