Daniel Morales, Ph.D.
Dr. Morales' research focuses on the social and economic history of migration between Latin America and the United States.
Daniel Morales, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of History where he teaches courses in public history, Latinx history, immigration and United States history. He is from Azusa, Calif., and earned his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University in 2016 and B.A. from the University of Chicago in 2008.
When teaching issues of politics and nation, race and ethnicity, he emphasizes the importance of critical thinking and seeking understanding of difficult sociopolitical issues in our time. His research focuses on the social and economic history of migration between Latin America and the United States. His upcoming book examines the creation of a transnational political economy of migrant labor across Mexico and the United States in the twentieth century.
Q&A with Dr. Morales
Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about your educational journey?
I am from Azusa, a city outside of Los Angeles, California. My family is from Mexico and my parents only received an elementary education. Growing up, school was very important in my household. It was one of the reasons [my parents] came to the US. I went to the University of Chicago for undergrad. I loved history so I began to study that, then the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program (MMUF) steered me toward graduate school. I went to Columbia in New York City for my M.A and Ph.D. After that, I was a visiting scholar at the American Academy of Arts and Science, and most recently a professor at James Madison University before coming here.
When did you first fall in love with your field of study? What made you decide to work in academia?
I was supposed to do something practical that made money, but economics at UChicago was all about using math to make money in finance; there was no enjoyment in it. I had always liked history, but never considered it a practical future. After I grew to dislike economics, I ended up switching my major to history. I was planning on going to law school but my MMUF advisor at Chicago insisted I look into graduate school and offered me a scholarship to go.
Can you explain the focus of your research?
I joined protests as an undergrad for immigrant rights, and that work, which I still do, drew me to the field of migration study. My work on the history and politics of Mexican immigration to the US. economics (my original major) never left me; it is still a major part of how I explain the forces that drive people to leave home.
What attracted you to VCU? What are you most excited about in regards to VCU and Richmond?
The city and its diversity were a major part of the reason I wanted to live here. I believe the purpose of public higher education is to bring mobility to those who have traditionally been left out. VCU does that better than many other institutions.
Can you talk a little about your teaching philosophy? What do you most like about teaching?
I've never liked that question because it’s so broad and intangible. Learning happens when you run into new ideas, arguments, philosophies you had not seen before and perspectives that challenge you. It’s important to discuss and debate them with those around you. That back and forth discussion is the heart of teaching in a university setting.
Can you tell us either a quirky fact about yourself or some of your hobbies?
I'm a twin. My brother also majored in history. Now he is a civil rights and immigration lawyer for the Northwest Justice Project in Washington State. We co-wrote an article recently on sanctuary cities. His perspective from the ground is always illuminating.