Conference Report: Recasting European and Canadian History: National Consciousness, Migration, Multicultural Lives

Article excerpt

**********

The conference, (1) "Recasting European and Canadian History: National Consciousness, Migration, Multicultural Lives," was organized under the auspices of the Association for Canadian Studies in German-Speaking Countries in Bremen, May 18-21, 2000. Its aim was to present an interdisciplinary approach to multicultural lifeworlds in Europe and Canada across centuries. More than sixty scholars met (1) to recast European history from the nation-centred paradigm developed in the 19th century to a long-range perspective of cultural interaction; (2) to discuss changes of ethnic composition and migration since the 1960s; and (3) to present options for multiple identities and multicultural policies in the 21st century. From the perspective of Germany, a country where long-term immigrants and their children are still perceived in terms of "foreigners," Canada's historical reconstruction from the duality of the British and the French founding nations to a multicultural self-understanding provides a model. However, keyno te speaker Dirk Hoerder warned that the opposition between "homogeneous" nation-states and "pluralistic" immigration countries is misleading. Since memories of the past are always constructed and selective, national master narratives can only be diversified by remembering individual trajectories and stories: "Emphasis on human agency and human rights with men-- and women-- made structure-processes writes the many-cultured actors back into our history."

National or Multiple Consciousness: Regions and Diasporas, Class and Gender in the Past

The first session concentrated on "The Construction of National Consciousness out of Regions, Empires, Social Groups." Fikret Adanir and Michael John outlined the dynamics of assimilation and intercultural agency in the Ottoman and the Habsburg Empires. Though the ethnic mosaic was evident, assimilationist policies assured the supremacy of the dominant groups. For the Canadian citizenship regime until 1945, however, the recognition of regional differences and identities was crucial (Jane Jenson). While place-sensitive citizenship is one of the less repressive strategies of building an overarching national consciousness, as pointed out by commentator Thomas Faist, the apparent absence of a British supra-nationalism in Canada remains intriguing.

If nation-states managed to incorporate dissimilar regions, they often excluded non-territorial peoples (Wim Willems and Leo Lucassen on Gypsies), religious minorities (Albert Lichtblau on Jews) and working-class diasporas (Adam Walaszek on Polish and Italian migrant workers, PeterLion the Chinese diaspora), as the papers presented in the second session, "People Outside and Inside," demonstrated. Albert Lichtblau's examination of the Jewish case in Austria pointed out that immigrants and peoples without a state do not only become marginalised, they constitute the nation's alter-ego. Constructed as homogeneous groups, they enable the perception of homogeneity of those included in the nation. For commentator David Feldman, this raised the question not only of the contingency of ethnic identities but also of the role of scholarship for the politics of identity.

Shifting the focus from the arbitrariness of "Who forms the nation?", the third session discussed "Exclusion by Gender and Class." Four papers demonstrated the complex relationships between gatekeepers of national boundaries and labour movements (Stefan Berger), family norms (Sarah van Walsum), sexual morality (Franca Iacovetta), and the absence of "steady families" (Adele Perry). The discussion focused on the visions of containment and contamination, i.e. specifying and localising pathological elements as a means to guarantee the ideals of purity and "law and order." Commentator Angela de Silva demonstrated that when analysing the intrusion of the state in the private realm of its subjects -- particularly of those considered alien and detrimental to the nation -- double standards for insiders and outsiders become obvious in all historical periods. …