From war zone to contact zone? Museums, memories and objects of migration.



Seminar “Migrants-Immigrants-Museums” National Museum of Iceland

Open Lecture by Dr Susannah Eckersley, Newcastle University

Migration and migrants have got extensive attention in the recent decades. Economic, social and cultural impact of mobility on individuals and groups has been global, effectively challenging ideas, places, communities and knowledge production. The influence of mobility on the museum work will be discussed on the seminar with three invited speakers from Newcastle University and the editors of the book “Museums, Migration and Identity in Europe: Peoples, Places and Identities” (Routledge, 2015) – Rhiannon Masson, Christopher Whitehead and Susannah Eckersley. The seminar is organized by Mobilities and Transnational Iceland (project of excellence supported by Rannís) in cooperation with National Museum of Iceland.

From war zone to contact zone? Museums, memories and objects of migration.

While museums internationally attempt to address the contemporary migration and refugee crisis, the German response has not only been unique politically, but arguably has unique roots in Germany’s own difficult history and the collective, social memory of historical migrations both within and into Germany. The relationship between Germany’s history of responding to refugee and migration crises (for example: Vertreibung, the post-WWII displacement of Germans; Cold War era refugees from the GDR; repatriation of Spätaussiedler) and the German political reaction to the contemporary situation in Europe has been acknowledged, however its impact on museum representations has not yet been analysed. This talk places the ways in which German museums respond to both Vertreibung and contemporary migration in parallel with the changing nature of memory narratives around migration. This analysis is rooted in empirical research in German museums undertaken by the author, exploring migration-related projects focusing on dialogue, such as ‘Multaka – Treffpunkt Museum’ in Berlin, as well as visitor responses to museums relating to historical migration and border change such as the Schlesisches Museum zu Görlitz. It examines how museums and their audiences face the emotional shadow of these experiences, particularly in connection with material traces of that past, linking theories of traumatic memory (Hirsch and Spitzer 2006, Rothberg 2009) with material culture theories (Kopytoff 1986, Hodder 1987) and the contested notion of the museum as contact zone (Pratt 1991, Clifford 1997, Boast 2011, Schorch 2013).