Tina Shull

Associate Professor and Director of Public History 

at UNC Charlotte

Post-1960 US & World History • Race, Empire, Immigration

Abolition and Carceral StudiesClimate Migration

Public and Digital Humanities

I (she/her) am a public historian of race, empire, immigration enforcement, and climate migration in the modern US and the World.

Trained in interdisciplinary archival, oral history, digital humanities, social science, and participatory research methods, I hold a PhD in History from UC Irvine, a Master’s in Humanities and Social Thought from NYU, and a BA in History from UCLA. My first book was published in 2022 by UNC Press, Detention Empire: Reagan's War on Immigrants and the Seeds of Resistance. It explores the rise of migrant detention in the early 1980s as a form of counterinsurgency.

I am the creator of the digital history projects IMM Print, Climate Refugee Stories, and Climate Inequality CLT, and lead curator of the Climates of Inequality: Charlotte museum exhibit. In 2016, I was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship from the Open Society Foundations for my work in immigration detention storytelling. Climate Refugee Stories has been awarded grants from NC Humanities, National Geographic Documenting Human Migrations, and the University of California Critical Refugee Studies Collective. In 2018-20, I was a post-doctoral fellow in Global American Studies at Harvard University where I taught in the Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights unit.  

Detention Empire Book Talk

BOOK:  Detention Empire

UNC Press, Justice, Power, and Politics series, 2022

Honorable Mention, First Book Award
Immigration and Ethnic History Society

The early 1980s marked a critical turning point for the rise of modern mass incarceration in the United States. The Mariel Cuban migration of 1980, alongside increasing arrivals of Haitian and Central American asylum-seekers, galvanized new modes of covert warfare in the Reagan administration's globalized War on Drugs. Drawing on critical refugee studies, community archives, and newly available government documents, Shull demonstrates how migrant detention operates as a form of counterinsurgency at the intersections of US war-making and domestic carceral trends, laying the foundations of new forms of carceral and imperial expansion.

Yet Reagan's war on immigrants also sowed seeds of mass resistance. Detention Empire also shows how migrants resisted state repression through hunger strikes, prison uprisings, caravans, and the Sanctuary movement. As the United States remains committed to shoring up its borders in an era of unprecedented migration and climate crisis, these histories take on new urgency.

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Climate Refugee

Climate Refugee Stories is a multimedia narrative, archiving, and education project that uplifts the stories of people around the world who have been displaced by direct or indirect impacts of climate change, and documents the ways communities are resilient in the face of overlapping crises–including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Climates of Inequality

In partnership with UNC Charlotte’s Public History program and the Charlotte Teachers Institute, Climates of Inequality is on display at the Levine Museum of the New South from May to September 2023. Within the traveling exhibit of multimedia stories from across North and South America, a featured exhibit, Climate Refugees in the City of Creeks, explores histories of environmental change, displacement, and migration in Charlotte. Showcasing voices and artwork of students, teachers, and community members, it highlights Charlotte’s contributions to the environmental justice movement, from the first Earth Day in 1970 to today.

Detention Empire



Digital History

Contact: Tina.Shull@charlotte.edu