"Stories of Migration" Reading List

Stack of books
Compiled by Librarian Lynora Williams

In the exhibition Stories of Migration: Contemporary Artists Interpret Diaspora, forty-four artists use needle and thread to relate experiences of migration and diaspora. Much of the world’s richest literature also captures the heartbreak and hopes of migrants and displaced people from the nineteenth century until today. And as the scale of human migration surpasses any level the planet has ever known, scholarship on displacement has become ever more abundant.

Lynora Williams, librarian at the museum's Arthur D. Jenkins Library, has compiled this eclectic sampling of fiction, nonfiction, maps, and online resources capturing the facts and feelings of the immigrant experience. All of the textile titles are available in the museum's library; the majority of the other resources can be found through GW Libraries.

Textile Stories

Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural History of Islamic Textiles by Thomas T. Allsen

Japanese Immigrant Clothing in Hawaii 1885-1941 by Barbara F. Kawakami: Through costume, the story of immigrant plantation workers in Hawaii.

Stories of Migration: Contemporary Artists Interpret Diaspora by The Textile Museum: Catalog from the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum’s 2016 exhibition of the same name.

Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert: This acclaimed work of political economy focuses primarily on trade but does not ignore the human dislocation caused by the quest for cotton.


Call it Sleep by Henry Roth: The coming of age story of the son of Jewish immigrants in New York City—now considered a classic.

The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim: A Washington, D.C., author’s multigenerational epic of a Korean family between the World Wars.

Charming Billy by Alice McDermott: After migration, the pull of the old country, Ireland, and the construction of new lives in New York.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh: The first in Ghosh’s trilogy featuring a Baltimore sailor and a large cast of voluntary and involuntary migrants in caught up in the opium trade.

How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu: Set partly in Peoria, Illinois, this novel describes the painful path of a son of Ethiopian immigrants trying to understand his parents.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: An awkward, bumbling New Jersey teenager copes with his Dominican family’s foibles and his own desires.


Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future by Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron, and Meera Balarajan

Migrants to the Metropolis: The Rise of Immigrant Gateway Cities edited by Marie Price and Lisa Benton-Short: The chapters in this collection, edited by two professors in GW's Diaspora Program, touch on the movement of migrants to cities from Washington, D.C., to Sidney.

The State of the World’s Refugees 2012: In Search of Solidarity by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: An award-winning account of the experiences of African Americans who migrated from the Deep South to the North in the mid-twentieth century.


Trail of Tears: Official Map and Guide for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail by the National Park Service 

People on the Move: An Atlas of Migration by Russell King

International Migrant Population by Origin and Population by the Washington, D.C.: Migration Policy Institute: An interactive map depicting immigrant and emigrant populations by country of origin and destination.  


Forced Migration Review: This free quarterly magazine is published in four languages by the Oxford University Refugee Studies Centre.

The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World: An online exhibition mounted by the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Black Culture. 

Children’s Books About the Refugee/Immigrant Experience: From the Bridging Refugee Youth and Children's Services' information clearinghouse, a helpful booklist for younger readers.