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Doing Refugee History

Refugee history is a flourishing subfield, with strong connections to other disciplines and beyond academia. But where should it go next? Taking stock of the field globally, this series will rethink the chronology of refugee history, highlight major themes for future research, and critically reflect on key methodological challenges.

Usually Wednesdays, 14:00 (UK time)
Anne Irfan (University of Oxford), Laura Madokoro (Carleton University) and Benjamin Thomas White (University of Glasgow).

About the Seminar

Refugee history has developed as a flourishing subfield in recent years. This partnership seminar will use the shift online precipitated by the pandemic as an opportunity to do three things: take stock of the field, globally; strengthen connections between historians, researchers in other disciplines, and organizations led by and supporting refugees; and open up a field that remains too centred in the global north to knowledge production from the global south.

In the global north, historians of refugees (who include historians of refugee background) tend to be grouped together by region: north America, western Europe, Australasia. Within each, research tends to focus on those zones from which past and present refugee movements into those regions have originated. And in important ways, their research is shaped by contemporary refugee policies, even when it relates to much earlier periods. This partnership seminar will build connections that span these regional clusters, and interrogate the acknowledged or unacknowledged constraints of contemporary policy. 

Our regular academic seminar will create cross-disciplinary dialogue by inviting discussants from other disciplines such as anthropology, geography, and law. In the first half of 2021 we will explore the times of refugee history, looking at longer continuities beyond the emergence of the modern legal category of refugee in the years around the first world war. In the second half of 2021 we will ask what key themes refugee history should explore as the field continues to develop. And in 2022 we will consider the methods we use to do refugee history, and the challenges they pose.

Over the course of the seminar series, three ‘then and now’ workshops will give historians the chance to learn from organizations led by and supporting refugees, and create a forum for practitioners to reflect on their work in historical perspective. 

Throughout the course of the series we will work to open global-north knowledge production about refugee history to the global south, where most refugees reside. Critical views from the south will allow us to trace deficits in global north scholarship on refugee history—including a lack of knowledge of relevant languages, ignorance of existing archives, and a kind of ‘methodological determinism’ born of the focus on the activities of states, international organizations, or humanitarian agencies based in the north—and explore how present-day displacements within and beyond state borders are entangled in colonial histories.

The series is supported by the online platform

Contact the seminar convenors via email

Image credit: Pyotr Nikolayevich Gruzinsky (1837-1892), The highlanders leave the village as Russian troops approach
Source: Wikimedia Commons 


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