Author of “The Next Great Migration” Speaks at RPCS
On November 17, Roland Park Country School welcomed investigative journalist and author Sonia Shah as the special guest speaker for this year’s Sarah Crane Cohen Visiting Scholar in Humanities Lecture. Shah’s most recent book,The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move, was a finalist for the 2021 PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award and selected as a best nonfiction book of 2020 by Publishers Weekly. It was also named a best science book of 2020 by Amazon, and a best science and technology book of 2020 by Library Journal.
Shah spent the entire day meeting with our Lower, Middle and Upper School students, where she encouraged us to consider new perspectives on complex, global issues. In her talk to Lower School students, Shah talked about how she researches science, politics and human rights looks for stories that bring different things together, such as how the environment is changing and how people, animals and bugs move around. The girls loved hearing her talk about the goby fish, who can transform their bodies to climb up waterfalls, and how animals are specifically tracked as the move around the world. Shah also spoke about how her interest in journalism began when she wrote for her school newspaper as a young student, and the importance of asking good questions to find a great story.
“Where do animals and people belong?” Shah asked in each student presentation. “And who gets to decide this?” She explored these questions further with the Middle and Upper School and explained how climate change is already driving the migration of both people and animals and how even though the concept of migration is reflexively seen as a crisis, it’s actually a solution – and how we will thrive and survive as a civilization.
In both the evening lecture and Upper and Middle School presentations, Shah explained how, thanks to the study of paleo genetics, we now know that our ancient migration patterns were just as complicated as our present ones. She also shared research that showed how migrants have mobile capital (skills, social capital and education), and can strengthen the health, economy and prosperity of their new communities. They also typically assimilate to local cultures within a generation. Shah argued that we should protect and encourage migration to ensure all species survive for future generations. “We should start to think that migration is central to the human experience.” A book signing followed her evening lecture.
Shah’s other critically acclaimed and prize-winning books on science, human rights and international politics include Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond; The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years; and The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World's Poorest Patients. A former writing fellow of the Nation Institute and the Puffin Foundation, Shah’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, Foreign Affairs, and elsewhere, and she has been featured on current affairs programs around the United States, including several NPR shows, CNN, Al Jazeera and BBC.
This time Shah spent with our community, especially our students, is a true gift of the Crane Lecture. As one of our Middle School faculty members said, “For me as a teacher, the value of students meeting and interacting with professional women who are deeply thinking about the world in an intersectional way (in this case journalism and science) is the most impactful part of the day.”
About the Sarah Crane Cohen Visiting Scholar in the Humanities Lecture
The Sarah Crane Cohen Visiting Scholar in the Humanities Endowment was established in 1993 by the late Charles Crane in memory of his mother. It is intended that the Sarah Crane Cohen Visiting Scholar shall be recognized for his/her accomplishments in any of several fields which comprise “the humanities.” This individual is selected from a culturally diverse background which varies from scholar to scholar.