McMahon earns NEH funding to study Ukrainian refugee resettlement

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McMahon earns NEH funding to study Ukrainian refugee resettlement

Patrice McMahon
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
National Endowment for the Humanities funding is helping Patrice McMahon, professor of political science, expand her study of the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

New funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities will enable University of Nebraska–Lincoln scholar Patrice McMahon to study the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees in Poland and the grassroots humanitarianism that made it possible.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the European Union estimates that 4.2 million Ukrainians have settled as refugees throughout Europe, with 960,000 in Poland. The country also served as a major hub for resettlement, as 3.5 million Ukrainians who fled did so through the Polish border.

McMahon and an international team of scholars will study the motivations, practices and limitations of grassroots humanitarianism through the project “Ordinary People: Poland’s Response to Ukraine and Future of Humanitarianism.”

“I am shocked and delighted by this NEH grant,” McMahon, professor of political science, said. “And I am excited to work with my colleagues from UNL and in Poland on this interdisciplinary project that looks at why and how people and community organizations helped receive and integrate refugees. There are few topics as important as the fate of vulnerable people fleeing war.”

Scholars will use ethnography, textual analysis, and experiential and embodied learning to examine the causes, effects and meanings of humanitarianism. The project will also involve local participants in an art-based workshop, with the goal of exploring their feelings on aid, national identity and culture.

McMahon, an expert in Central European studies and international relations, will lead a team that includes scholars from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland and the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences. Also joining her on the project is Nick Monk, director of the Center for Transformative Teaching at Nebraska.

The interdisciplinary project aims to:

  • provide opportunities for Polish and Ukrainian citizens to reflect on the motivations of grassroots aid and its impact on individuals and society;

  • produce and advance knowledge on why individuals choose to become humanitarians, how motivations shape reception and integration activities, and how this bottom-up activism affects Polish society and cultural identity; and

  • brainstorm ways to distribute information and best practices to improve grassroots aid, while sharing refugee stories and experiences.

McMahon was also named an International Affairs Fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations for the 2024-25 academic year. She will work with the Community of Democracies as an adviser on projects related to activism, humanitarianism and Ukraine. The Community of Democracies, headquartered in Warsaw, Poland, is a global coalition of states supporting adherence to democratic values and standards, as enshrined in the Warsaw Declaration.

McMahon is a previous 2022-23 Fulbright Scholar, having completed teaching and research at Adam Mickiewicz University.

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