Academic journal article Refuge

Displacements of Memory

Academic journal article Refuge

Displacements of Memory

Article excerpt


The experiences of refugees--their "voices" and memories-have routinely been excluded from the historical record. With rare exceptions, refugees are absent from mainstream history: although specific episodes of forced migration may be carefully recorded and even celebrated in national histories, most refugee movements are ignored and their participants silenced. This article examines the practice of exclusion and its implications for historical research and for the study of forced migration. It considers experiences of refugees from the early modern era until the twenty-first century, mobilizing examples from Europe, the Americas, and South Asia, and offering comparative observations. It examines relationships between forced migrants and institutions of the nation-state, and the meanings of exclusion within ideologies of national belonging. It considers remedial measures and their implications for current efforts to ensure refugee voices are heard and understood.


Les experiences des refugies--leurs <> et leurs souvenirs--ont ete exclues defacon systematique des chroniques et temoignages historiques. Sauf quelques rares exceptions, les refugies sont absents de l'histoire conventionnelle. Bien que des instances specifiques de migrations forcees soient soigneusement documentees et meme commemorees dans le cadre des histoires nationales, la majorite des mouvements de refugies sont ignores et leurs participants sont reduits au silence. Cet article examine la pratique de l'exclusion et ses implications pour la recherche historique, ainsi que pour l'etude de la migration forcee. Il considere les experiences des refugies depuis les debuts de l'ere moderne jusquau XXIe siecle, en rassemblant des cas provenant de l'Europe, des Ameriques et de l'Asie du Sud, et offrant des observations comparatives. Il sepenche sur les liens entre les migrants forces et les institutions de l'etat-nation, ainsi que sur la signification de l'exclusion dans le contexte des ideologies d'appartenance nationale. Il etudie des mesures de reparation et leurs implications pour les initiatives actuelles visant a garantir que les voix des refugies sont entendues et comprises.

"Collective Amnesia"

For centuries refugees have been associated with processes of enormous importance to the modern world order. Their experiences have rarely been of interest to archivists and professional historians, however, with the result that refugee voices are largely absent from mainstream history. What explains this striking deficit--and what measures might be taken to enable a different approach?

Emergence of the nation-state in the early modern era was closely associated with major episodes of forced migration in Europe. The term refugie was coined during this period, and refugees, often referred to as "exiles," were widely dispersed across the new states. (1) As the nation-state became the dominant form of socio-political organization worldwide, forced migration became more general: by the twentieth century, refugee movements were on such a scale that influential states collaborated to produce the first formal measures to recognize and manage mass displacement. (2) The refugee experience was nonetheless seldom viewed as a matter of intrinsic interest, and refugees were largely absent from the historical record. Tony Kushner and Katherine Knox describe a "general silence on refugee questions in the discipline [history]." (3) They continue, "If their [refugees'] presence is one of 'the hallmarks of our time,' then modern and contemporary historians have hardly noticed it." (4)

The practice of exclusion has been evident, even in relation to major episodes of forced migration. For example, in 1914 some 250,000 Belgian refugees arrived in Britain, fleeing German military offensives at the start of the First World War. Their migration involved the largest refugee movement in British history, but for almost a century it was "forgotten. …

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