About the Project

Together with the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the American Anthropological Association has developed a public education initiative, World on the Move: 250,000 Years of Human Migration™, to change the public conversation about an important, yet difficult topic—migration and displacement. Through the development of the traveling exhibition and the learning resources on this website, we aim to help visitors recognize that migration is a shared human experience that connects us all.

Why migration and displacement?

While the public conversation around migration and displacement often frames today’s migrations as historically unprecedented or as culturally or economical harmful, in fact, movement is not new: there is evidence of population movement for as long as we have traces of humans on the planet. At the same time, the public understanding of migration reflects the particulars of our current historical moment. Much is made of “illegal” or “undocumented” immigrants, for example, but the very idea that migrants ought to have official documentation is itself a recent invention. By presenting case studies from throughout human history and from the world, World on the Move helps visitors distinguish what is really new about contemporary migration from what has remained constant over many tens of thousands of years.

Overall, our long-term goals for both the traveling exhibition and this website are that visitors will:

  • Recognize that migration is a shared human experience.
  • Appreciate the complexity and diversity of migration stories.
  • Feel safe to discuss issues surrounding migration.
  • Share migration stories with family members, neighbors, and friends.
  • Feel proud of their family’s migration stories.
  • Gain greater empathy towards migrants in their communities and elsewhere.

Why anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of what makes us human. Anthropologists take a broad approach to understanding the many different aspects of the human experience; from how humans used to live (archaeology), what makes up our biological bodies and genetics (biological anthropology), how we navigate the world and make meaning (cultural anthropology), and how we communicate (linguistic anthropology). Using these perspectives, we present the topic of migration and displacement as a facet of human history that has shaped and continues to shape the world.

Why the American Anthropological Association and its partners?

After the success of its first traveling exhibition, website, and publications on Race: Are We So Different?, the American Anthropological Association sought to bring the same lens of science, history, and lived experience to migration and displacement. Collaborating on content creation is the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Adept at promoting greater understandings of cultural heritage and affecting policies and practices at the local, national, and international levels, they have shaped the content of the exhibit to be accessible to a wide audience. The exhibition was designed by Smithsonian Exhibitions, and fabricated by Ravenswood Studios. Through the coordination efforts of the American Library Association’s Public Programs Office, World on the Move can meet communities where they are in a space that encourages exploration and conversation.