IASFM WG: Archiving and Documentation

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Conference Panel

Title of the Panel

Documentation, Preservation and Researching the History of Forced Migration and Refugee History: Ethical and methodological developments


Panel Author:  Hashem, R.

Co-authors:  Dudman, P., Khan, A. W., Lauren, B., Sharma, S.

Panel Abstract: 

Documentation, Preservation and Researching the History of Forced Migration and Refugee HistoryThis panel seeks to examine some ethical and methodological considerations for documentation and preservation of refugee voices and history of forced migration. We recognise that there is a need to work on how knowledge in the field of forced migration is created/ produced and maintained. The panel will also address the growing critique of the divide between the knowledge of experts and migrants/ refugees. We would like to link the proposed panel into the conference theme 9, “Researching forced migration: engagements, methodologies and ethics.” This means that we are looking forward to papers which would cover ethical and methodological developments in relation to collating, researching, archiving and documenting testimonies of refugees and migrants for the purposes of constructing and documentation of social and political history of forced migration. It will conclude with a rationale for the creation of the IASFM Working Group for Archiving and Documenting the History of Refugees and Forced Migration.

The papers in this panel will cover the below and more issues as relevant to the conference theme:

  • How do/can we document oral history of refugees and migrants without breaching confidentiality and sensibility of data?
  • How important is engagement with local refugee and migrants communities for documentation of history of forced migration?
  • Which ways could community archives, oral histories and digitalised archives of (refugee and migrants) promote the preservation of history of forced migration?
  • What is the significance of diverse narrative methodology in understanding and researching history of forced migration?
  • What are the best practices for collating and archiving refugee and migrants’ testimonies, and how do we deal with major challenges in doing research in the field of forced migration?
  • What are the high standards of collection care and long-term preservation of `refugee archives’, and how this could be maintained?

In addition to the above, the panellists will address ethical and methodological issues, including who can/should do refugee research, who can be researched, whose voices should be heard and preserved in archives in the field of forced migration and refugee studies, how can we adequately document and preserve history of forced migration and refugees.

Structure of the Panel: 

The panel is divided into three parts:  a) Papers and presentations by four panellists, b) Response by panel author to the presented paper, and c) Open discussion and comments by the forum

Individual abstracts and titles of papers:

Amadu Wurie Khan, The ‘Self’, Ethics & ‘Voice’ in Migration Research: a reflective critique of ‘insider’ ethnography Social science literature has acknowledged the benefits of using researchers with ‘insider’ status to research vulnerable and ‘hidden’ groups in society such as forced migrants. Some of the benefits of ‘insider’ ethnography include building trust, bridging cultural understanding, easy access to diverse voices and its empowerment potential (Bloch 1999; Jacobsen and Landau 2003; Hynes 2003; Kosygina 2005; Dona 2007). However, as an asylum seeker academic, I encountered some unexpected limitations emanating from my ‘insider’ status that are worth sharing with the wider academic/research community. The limitations have implications for methodological considerations relating to ‘insider’ ethnography, research ethics and the ‘ethical representation’ of ‘voice’ and life stories in refugee research. These methodological concerns have been overlooked in the literature.

The paper will therefore reflect on my research experience in two capacities, as an ‘interviewee’ and a ‘researcher’ with a refugee background. It will consider the benefits and challenges derived from being an ‘insider’ in relation to access and recruitment of interviewees, data protection, consent and anonymity, knowledge production and ‘voice’, and ‘positionality’. In addition, it will consider the ways in which researchers could compound the liminal social status, marginalisation and disempowerment of asylum seekers/refugees during the research process. This reflective critique will suggest that, for many forced migrants, participating in research provide a space and mechanism for claims making, resistance and empowerment.
Amadu Wurie Khan, International Commission on Survivor Centered Disaster Recovery

Shailja Sharma, Ethical Issues in Collecting Oral Histories of the 1947 Partition

Though oral histories and their archives are an accepted mode of historical inquiry in academic and non-academic settings, this practice raises questions around survivor’s trauma, confidentiality vs. public memory, and a researcher’s ethical imperative to “do no harm”. Unlike material archives, where artifacts and documents are historical legacies, oral histories often implicate living people. More importantly, in the context of Partition history, events and memories involve a degree of violence and uprooting. While working to collect oral histories for 1947 Archive, an organization based in Berkeley, California, the process of asking subjects to revisit old and private memories is a fraught one. They often get upset, emotional, cry or need to take a break from the recording. Sometimes, they can’t go on. In addition to traumatic memory, there is often a generation or a gender gap between the recorder and the interview subject.  Keeping in mind that the need for oral testimonies is so crucial, particularly as this generation from 1947 is dying out so rapidly, what are the best practices around collecting oral history? My paper will address the pros and cons of this exercise.

Shailja Sharma, DePaul University, Chicago

Paul Dudman. Refugee Voices and Living Narratives: Reflections, Challenges and Opportunities for (Re-) Constructing, Documenting, and Preserving Refugee and Migrant Testimonies within the Archive

How welcoming have traditional Archives been in documenting and preserving the living narratives of those who have needed to flee from their homeland to start a new life abroad and how has this been reflected in our national history and public opinion?  Archives are the backbone of history and how has the legacy of migration been documented within these collections and how can a Working Group for the Preservation of Refugee Archives help to record and document the living narratives of those who experience the migration journey?

The aim of this paper will be to reflect on the work we undertake at the Refugee Archives at UEL to make our collections accessible, especially in light of current migration issues.  It will highlight the importance of civic engagement and outreach project for forming new partnerships between academics, activists, students and community groups.  It will also consider the interaction between oral histories and the more traditional materials located with our Refugee Archive collections, focusing especially on how oral histories can contribute to documenting, preserving and making accessible the genuine voices and testimonies of refugees.

Paul V. Dudman, Archivist for the Refugee Archives at the University of East London.

Brittany Lauren Wheeler . Historical Components of Archival Ethics and Methodologies

This year’s IASFM conference takes place at an institute of ethnography and cultural anthropology. As such, this paper considers the extant archive as a frequent institutional asset with anthropological or other disciplinary legacies. It is the extant archive to which much future archival material will be added; its historical content used both as an argument for new focus, and as the basis for certain material being highlighted for further public or professional access (including digitally). Before we can address questions such as whether a divide between ‘expert’ and ‘migrant’ knowledge persists in the documentation, preservation and research connected to the archive, for instance, we must come to terms with the vestiges of similar and dissimilar historic inequities that informed the creation of archives in their first instance. Such an investigation may provide some assistance in framing the ethical and methodological questions we can ask to help us build better archives concerning forced migration events, refugees, and also post-refugee lives. Ultimately this paper hopes to comment upon the temporality of archives as we consider the representation of lives impacted by forced migration: During what time frame is material “pertinent” to forced migration events and refugee lives, and when might this pertinence end? When is it appropriate for those directly involved as opposed to those not directly involved in migration events to collect, organize, and comment upon archival material? What temporally-informed methodologies might we consider as we continue to build or re-fashion archives?

As an additional note to what has been stated above, the impetus for the abstract is the anthropological museum archive concerning indigenous people. For instance, material on their restricted movements and livelihoods on reservations, often tied to the dispersal of their material culture. While the ultimate focus of this paper is not just museum, this would come into play to some degree in the discussion.

Brittany Lauren Wheeler, Emerging Scholars and Practitioners on Migration Issues (ESPMI).

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