Paul Vădan, Post-Doctoral Researcher

What does joining the Migrants and Membership Regimes project mean to you? 

I am personally attached to the topic of this project, being a migrant myself. I was born and raised in the Transylvanian city of Cluj-Napoca, in Romania, and at the age of seventeen I emigrated with my parents to Canada. We settled in Montreal, Quebec, where I had the wonderful opportunity to follow my passion for the study of ancient history at McGill University. I have experienced first-hand the benefits and opportunities that migration can offer, despite the occasional difficulties adapting to a new world, and I believe that my experience helps me better understand the complex global phenomenon of migration.

How do your research interests contribute to the goal of the project?

I have always been interested to know why people make the choices they make, particularly in dangerous and uncertain circumstances. With this question in mind, I pursued my doctoral studies in Classics at the University of Chicago, exploring how ancient decision-makers formulated and applied conceptions of risk when dealing with socio-political crises. As part of Migrants and Membership Regimes, I analyze the complex social dynamics between host communities and foreigners, with an eye to questions of agency and fragility. For instance, I want to learn more about how perceptions of the foreign body problematize issues of citizenship and the egalitarian ethos in Mediterranean poleis. At the same time, I am curious to learn how foreigners confronted their own fragility while abroad, and what kinds of initiatives they took to mitigate personal potential dangers.

How do you hope to recreate ancient human experience?

It is true that the traces ancient individuals left behind are extremely fragmentary or in some cases completely missing. This inescapable problem makes it particularly difficult to recover individual stories. But the written records and archaeological remains can reveal to us interesting historical patterns and literary trends that tell us much about ancient attitudes towards migrants and foreigners. We get glimpses, if you will, of behavior and decisions that, taken together, tell us much about how the ancient Mediterranean was shaped, both synchronically and diachronically, by migration. And it is in these specific moments in time, within greater historical forces, that we sometimes get lucky and recover faint echoes of an ancient person’s hopes and fears.

What do you hope your work will communicate to modern audiences? 

Above all, I hope to elicit a heightened sense of empathy in the general public towards migrants. My work puts front and center the difficulties and physical dangers that even free fellow Greeks could encounter while travelling to neighboring communities, in no small part because of a Greek obsession with status and kinship that operated on exclusion. Ancient Greek hierarchies of violence rendered those whom adult male citizens considered inferior, like women, foreigners, and especially slaves, in a very precarious and physically vulnerable position. We find many instances in the ancient records of disturbing depictions of unwarranted and unpunished violence against people kept vulnerable to emotional, physical and even sexual abuse by a poliadic system that prioritizes and protects the adult male citizen. Today’s global challenges demand that we consider to what extent our own political societies are abusive to others, and what patterns of behavior and perception we want to generate for future generations with respect to human dignity and corporeal integrity.