Seminar “Migrants-Immigrants-Museums”

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.


10:00-10:05. Welcome by Arndís Bergsdóttir, chair of the seminar.

10:05-11:00. Rhiannon Mason, Experiencing Mixed Emotions in the Museum: Empathy and Memory in Visitors’ Responses to Histories of Migration

11:00-11:55. Christopher Whitehead, Museums and an Extroverted Sense of Place

12:00-13:00. Lunch: soup in Háma for seminar guests

13:00-14:00. Susannah Eckersley, From war zone to contact zone? Museums, memories and objects of migration

14:00-14:55. General discussion

14:55-15:00. Closing remarks by Anna Lísa Rúnarsdóttir, Director of Research and Conservation Department at the National Museum of Iceland



 Experiencing Mixed Emotions in the Museum: Empathy and Memory in Visitors’ Responses to Histories of Migration

Professor Rhiannon Mason, Newcastle University

This paper explores visitor responses to museum histories of migration, particularly regarding empathy. We argue that unanticipated, wider memory discourses interplay with the emotional responses expressively invited by the museum display. This raises important questions about the complexity of understanding the museum visit in terms of affective practices. It asks us to consider to what extent different kinds of emotions may come into conflict with, frame, or support, one another. It also alerts us to the importance of attending to the interplay between individual, personal emotional responses to specific displays and those which are connected to broader discourses of identity circulating within certain memory communities. This research was undertaken with: Dr Katherine Lloyd, Glasgow University, Dr Areti Galani, Newcastle University, and Dr Joanne Sayner, Newcastle University

Museums and an Extroverted Sense of Place

Professor Christopher Whitehead, Newcastle University

In 1991 the late Doreen Massey characterized a progressive sense of place, as “not self-closing and defensive, but outward-looking”. Places, in this view, are ever-ongoing social processes rather than fixed entities that require protection from external forces. They are full of mixtures and hybrid cultural forms, and are active points within global flows. In recent decades (culminating, in the, UK, in the 2016 Brexit Referendum), mainstream resentment towards migrants and refugees, or people perceived as such, has been an important element of political discourse and popular disaffection. This has involved a binary opposition between global mobilities and the local places. The global forces that produced the Refugee Crisis are disowned at the local level, where many fear cultural encroachment, change, difference and otherness. This essay brings the theoretical and civil power of Massey’s articulation of an ‘extroverted’ sense of place to bear upon this issue in the context of the social agency of museums. Displays in museums can present long processual views of place, to resist characterizations of once-pure places adulterated by difference; they can complicate the relations between local and global; they can denaturalize the local and show how human and cultural mobilities and mixing have always made place. Bringing together some Masseyan perspectives with new visitor studies undertaken for the EU-funded CoHERE project (‘Critical Heritages: performing and representing identities in Europe’), I explore possibilities for museums that engage with place to act in pursuit of egalitarian civility.

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

Dr Susannah Eckersley, Newcastle University

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).