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Yet Another SAR Alumnus, Jason de León, Wins the MacArthur “Genius” Award

Oct 18, 2017

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has named Jason De León, a 2013-2014 Weatherhead scholar at the School for Advanced Research, as one of this year’s MacArthur Fellows. He is the seventh SAR alumnus to receive this honor.

Dr. De León, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, wrote his first book, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (University of California Press, 2015), while in residence at SAR. The book chronicles the harrowing experience of migrants attempting to cross the US border from Mexico, a shocking number of whom lose their lives in the process.

Jason De León

One of the book’s innovative features is De León’s use of ethnographic, archaeological, forensic, and visual resources to shed light on the human cost of US government efforts to control the movement of undocumented workers and their families. Dr. De León directs the Undocumented Migration Project, a long-term study of clandestine migration between northern Mexico and southern Arizona. As a MacArthur Fellow, he will receive a $625,000 stipend to be used however he sees fit over the next five years.

In a statement issued by the University of Michigan, Dr. De León is quoted as saying, “I think this award is both an important recognition of the work itself and it makes a case that archeology can be a useful tool to study poorly understood social phenomena such as undocumented migration. This award was given to me in name, but I have many collaborators who worked on this project and who made this award possible, including a lot of University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students.”

Dr. De León will use the MacArthur award to continue his research in the Southwestern border region, one goal of which is to help authorities develop improved techniques for identifying the remains of migrants who die during border crossings.

An interview of Dr. De León by National Public Radio is available here.

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