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This roundtable was convened on 5 July 2022 and built on five years of collaborative work in Cambodia and ongoing collaborations within the Centre de Reflexion sur l’Action et les Savoirs Humanitaires (CRASH) at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) between Bertrand Taithe, Mickaël le Paih and Fabrice Weissman. The central question raised in this discussion relates to two profoundly intermeshed issues for humanitarian practitioners and organisations: the use of history for humanitarian organisations, and the need for them to preserve and maintain archives.
This article explores some of the challenges, learnings, reflections and opportunities involved in collaborating with grassroots artist collectives in conflict-affected places in academic settings. Using as a case study the collaborative production of the animated short film ‘Colombia’s Broken Peace’, as part of a wider international research project, I reflect on our experiences in co-producing this piece by drawing out lessons that might be relevant for others interested in undertaking similar inter-disciplinary work. In doing so, I aim to re-frame notions of ‘impact’ and ‘capacity building’ in conflict research to a more complex picture of mutual learning and knowledge exchange.
International humanitarian actors, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies, often focus on gender norm change when conducting gender analysis among refugees and internally displaced persons. Dominant humanitarian narratives about gender in research reports, assessments and technical guidance reveal an underlying belief that displacement is causative – an external, intervening force. In such analysis, colonial and neoliberal ideologies may influence how refugees’ lives are represented, resulting in depictions of lack of modernity, tradition and culture as overarching (yet ill-defined) forces, and women and girls as vulnerable by default. Such analysis is frequently ahistorical, presented without analysis of the pre-displacement situation. This paper explores and challenges humanitarian narratives about gender norm change during displacement. It is based on feminist ethnographic research in Jordan with Syrian women and men as well as interviews with humanitarian workers. The paper demonstrates that assumptions about lack of empowerment of Syrian women and men may be misguided, identifying both subtle and more overt forms of Syrian women’s and men’s resistance’ to expected norms. It urges humanitarian actors to use ‘resistance’ as an alternative to analysing ‘change’, recognise heterogeneity within populations, resist ‘rapid’ data collection, challenge paternalistic and colonial stereotypes, and reflect complexity in analysis.
The planispheric astrolabe is one of the most exquisite and alluring scientific instruments ever produced. At once an analog astronomical computer and an observing instrument that is finely decorated, the astrolabe enjoyed its heyday in the premodern Mediterranean, in areas under the influence of Islamic cultures. Knowledge of the instrument eventually reached Europe through the Maghreb and the Iberian Peninsula, giving rise to its widespread use, which peaked during the sixteenth century. Long regarded as a key witness to the mathematical science of plotting courses on land as on sea, in recent years the astrolabe has been increasingly approached as an artifact that bridges cultures and testifies to the movements of people, knowledge, and goods across early modern Europe. The chapter presents a brief historiography of the astrolabe in order to reflect on its public exhibition over recent decades. This reflection is based on the daily curatorial practices of a major collection at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Such displays of the astrolabe help to makes early modern patterns of migrations conceivable – and visible today.
On October 25, 2016, French anti-riot police evicted thousands of migrants who had settled in an abandoned landfill adjacent to the port of Calais. Hundreds of makeshift houses and tents of the so-called “Calais jungle” were bulldozed or burned while the police forced migrants to board buses that would take them to asylum centers scattered across the French countryside. In the meantime, British authorities started the construction of the “Great Wall,” a one-kilometer long and four-meter high anti-intrusion barrier alongside the highway that leads to the port of Calais. Domicides and infrastructures intended to segregate migrants from French citizens are not new to the region. This chapter argues that present racialized patterns of mobility and the infrastructure enabling the segregation of people upon citizenship regimes in the Calais region were established long ago, when the French state managed the first wave of non-European migration in the region during World War I. The chapter first explores how thousands of Chinese indentured workers who toiled for the French and British army in northern France between 1917 and 1920 were deterred from settling in this region. Police brutality, racial segregation, and criminalization of solidarity are some of the practices established to deter nonwhite people from settling in the Calais region. From this historical perspective, the chapter then explores the institutionalized racism that structures current anti-immigration policies (in France and in the UK) and the proliferation of deterrence infrastructure in the Calais region.
Calais has become a theater of struggle for Kurds and East Africans crossing Europe in search of freer lives. Since c. 2000, writers and artists have been witness to migrants in transit across the Channel. They represent people under siege: thousands blockaded, both intra muros, and in the surrounding zone where English sovereign territory has been re-established in France. This chapter composes a cultural history of this deadlock. It defines Calais as an enclave: land enclosed within another larger, dominant territory; a political situation that exerts pressure on all those inhabiting the area. Extra-territoriality is the premodern principle introduced to construct this account of Calais-enclave, and through which the chapter investigates three dialectics that condition daily life: inside/outside; stasis/movement; have-plenty/have-not. Fiction is the chosen tool for interpreting Calais-enclave. Froissart and his 1346 chronicle accounts for its mise-en-place, when the port town was besieged during the Hundred Year Wars between English and French sovereigns. Deschamps, the poet, represents a second perspective on the enclave: the laborers whose fields are burned. The chapter juxtaposes these earliest fictions with contemporary ones: Froissart with Emmanuel Carrère, whose Letter to a Calaisian woman narrates the predicament of today’s inhabitants; Deschamps with Patrick Chamoiseau whose Brother migrants makes poetic declarations on behalf of those migrating towards Europe, including those in the Calais Jungle. By examining these works together, the chapter argues for the vital function of fiction in undoing the nationalistic frameworks visited upon Calais-enclave.
Cornered is a video installation about contemporary migrants making attempts, most often failed, to cross the border from Morocco to the Spanish cities of Melilla and Ceuta, the only European enclaves on Africa’s mainland. The chapter describes the intent and focus of the installation. It further explains the process of creating the artwork; from background research on migration across Spain’s southern border, to technical details of the wooden sculpture, the experimental film, and the video mapping.
Among the many dramatic events that have recently attracted world attention has been the attempted migration across or around the Mediterranean of millions of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Relatively few of these migrants – and even fewer Europeans – know of a singular precedent for this mass mobility: one that moved in the opposite direction, and which involved the forcible transfer from Spain to North Africa of tens of thousands of suspected Muslims. The expulsion in 1609–14 of the so-called Moriscos – that is, individuals of Islamic ancestry who had been baptized as Catholics – was a highly controversial measure, whose explicit goal was to purge from the Spanish empire the remaining descendants of the North Africans who had conquered the Iberian peninsula in the early eighth century and then resided there as Muslims to the 1520s. The cultural memory of the expulsion of the early modern Moriscos is the subject of this chapter. Their story and the reasons why, after a long period of coexistence, they were expelled, offers lessons from the past, as well as some thoughts for the present.
This image-rich piece presents the small experimental installation, “In Transit: Arts and Migration Around Europe,” from the Nasher Museum of Art, 2018: the collective work of faculty and students at Duke University. Traversing many time-periods, from the early thirteenth century to the current-day, the objects propose different ways that migration may be represented and expressed across various cultures around Europe. Through multiple perspectives, “In Transit” broadens our understanding of the history of migration by juxtaposing present-day artworks with those of early modern cultures. It extends the maps and its usual routes, from the ideological East–West axis, to that of the global South northwards. The “In Transit” works, made with paper, textiles, metal, and digital pixels, present artworks that are an integral part of people’s everyday actions: a painting of Abraham Cresques’s 137–80 Catalan Atlas next to Pedro Lasch’s video installation, Sing Along or Karaoke Anthem (2015); Jacques Callot’s etchings of the Bohemians (c. 1650) juxtaposed with Annette Messager’s woolen weaving of Two Replicants Together (2016). Together they materialize the lives of those who leave their homes – whatever their reasons – to flee persecution, to overcome economic hardship, to pursue a better life for themselves and their families. As a whole, the installation shows how artists respond to the movement of people over centuries, capturing the dilemmas of displaced individuals that are often their own. It creates new profiles of migrants.
The introduction lays out the central argument of the volume, which has three main strands: 1) those named most often by others as “migrants” do not represent a sudden, unprecedented crisis but are part of a long line of people who have come from “elsewhere” to participate in European life; 2) this long-running circulation of men, women, and children has always been accompanied by the movement of inventive ideas; 3) displaced and dispossessed peoples have shaped European culture in a major way over many centuries. To make its point, the volume conceputalizes “migrants” in a new way, paying special attention to the existence of premodern migrants. It offers three groups of case studies, organized by language – Spanish, Italian, and French – which examine the growing and changing ensemble of representations in speech, writing, visual arts, and other objects that people create in search of a sense of self.