Human beings are migrant by nature. Homo Erectus, the predecessor of Homo Sapiens, is believed to have migrated in groups through territories that today make up part of the African continent. During millennia, the human desire to set off in search of improved living conditions has persisted. In order to explore the complex processes of human migration, UFSM has joined forces with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to establish a UNESCO Chair on Humanities and Borders and Migrations. The chair was officially inaugurated at the UFSM Graduate Program in History (PPGH) in March 2019.
WHAT IS A CHAIR?
Unesco is one of several organizations that work with initiatives to create chairs in higher education. UNESCO defines their chairs as projects involving a team at a university or a higher education or research institution who partner with UNESCO in order to advance knowledge and practice in an area that is a priority for both the institution and UNESCO. According to UNESCO, the chair program aims to provide “training through the exchange of knowledge and the spirit of solidarity established between developing countries.” Created 27 years ago, today it engages more than 700 institutions around the world. In Brazil alone, there are already 29 chairs. Chair activities, such as seminars, disciplines, courses and research groups, are developed around a central thematic axis. The chair brings together researchers with common themes, which may be from different areas or working through different courses of action. In the case of the Chair on Borders and Migrations, professors from a number of areas besides History are part of the team, including International Relations, Linguistics, Geography, Philosophy, Anthropology and Law
The theme of borders and migrations offers a wide array of research directions. “It’s an issue that goes back to prehistoric times and spans the whole of South America. But it also relates to current affairs and understanding how the world reacts to it,” says Dr. André Luis Ramos Soares, coordinator of the Chair and professor at the PPGH. In addition, talking about the subject in Santa Maria means recovering the history of settlement of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, constituted partially from migrations from the neighboring Platina Basin. In this sense, UFSM is located in a strategic region. However, it goes far beyond being a geographical question alone, so much so that the group’s research on the subject has drawn the attention of scholars from around the world.
The Chair’s proposed activities synched with research already underway at the PPGH. “Besides being one of our research lines, the theme Borders and Migrations is also the basis of our network in the Associación de Universidades Grupo Montevideo (AUGM).” UFSM has been a part of AUGM’s History, Regions and Borders Committee since 2003, which “has become a reference in research on the subject,” says Dr. Maria Medianeira Padoin, vice-coordinator of the UNESCO Chair and the UFSM representative on the committee. About 18 universities are part of the AUGM group, which develops a number of initiatives, including exchange programs for professors and students, PhD supervision, joint publications and mini-courses. “The connections and experiences provided by integration with AUGM served as a basis for the PPGH to present the proposal for the Unesco Chair,” says Dr. Medianeira Padoin.
In 2016, UFSM held the I International Congress on History, also sponsored by the PPGH, which was a leap towards the internationalization of its research. Several speakers from European and Latin American countries were present, including Luiz Oosterbeek, professor at the Instituto Politécnico de Tomar (IPT), in Portugal, and secretary of the UNESCO International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences. The professors of the PPGH already knew Luiz from other international meetings, but it was during the Congress at UFSM that articulation to create a Chair in Humanities began. “We were encouraged even more at this moment in which the area is going through a process of discredit,” says Dr. Soares.
PARTNERSHIPSTo expand the Chair’s production of knowledge, UFSM has established partnerships with several universities abroad: Instituto Politécnico de Tomar, in Portugal; Universidad de Extremadura, in Spain; Universidad de La República, in Uruguay; Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Universidad Nacional de la Plata and Universidad Nacional del Litoral, in Argentina; Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, in Bolivia; and Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, in Brazil.
What changes with the creation of the chair?
When the proposal for the UNESCO Chair was submitted, the professors elaborated a two-year plan. Much of it expanded on actions already being developed by the PPGH. “The difference is that now we have a wider reach and this will allow us to raise funds from other sources, including through international calls for proposals. But the goal remains the same: to hold academic discussions in an attempt to solve specific problems,” reiterates Dr. Soares. The expansion also opens up opportunities for joint publications with international partners. While there is a focus on researching migration processes, the coordinators emphasize that this does not rule out more practical actions, such as extension projects. One example is an initiative to create the UFSM Geopark in the Quarta Colônia region near Santa Maria.
In March 2019, professors linked to the Chair, together with the President of UFSM, Dr. Paulo Afonso Burmann, were present at the IV Apheleia International Seminar, in Mação, Portugal. At the event, future actions were presented and UFSM and IPT signed a contract to formalize cooperation between the Borders and Migration Chair and the Unesco Chair on Humanities and Territorial Management in the 21st Century, a new Chair inaugurated at IPT in 2018. The Unesco Chair on Borders and Migrations officially began its work at UFSM in November 2019.
Reporter: Taisa Medeiros;
Graphic Design and Illustration: Yasmin Faccin.