The complex heritage of displacement: the long view of mediterranean ‘flight’

The complex heritage of displacement: the long view of mediterranean ‘flight’

Here in Cambridge we have the immense privilege of being able on occasion to step out of the mele of immediate  political and socio-economic pressures and take something of a ‘long view’ on some of the burning questions of contemporary times.

Such an opportunity opened up last month when the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research curated a day sympopsium on ‘The Heritage of Displacement : Forced Migration In The Mediterranean Through History’.

Across history the current site of extreme EU anxiety with hundreds of thousands now seeking entry into Europe via the Mediterranean fleeing warfare and poverty, has seen large human movement, frequently in clusters of activity.  In the Byzantine Empire there was a well-articulated slave trade mobilized through the Mediterranean, a period of slavery which extracted African populations in to Europe and the Byzantine Empire through Sicily, the expulsion of Jews from Spain triggered evacuation of that population through the Mediterranean, the persecution of gypsies across North Africa and the Southern Mediterranean; forced movements of Armenians; political migration of ‘city’ exiles from Greece, a whole range of ecological circumstances which had forced people from their homes and settled living, the threat of famine, severe cooling in Neolithic times, as well as more recent challenges of global warming.

LAMPEDUSA-photos-by-Vik-Muniz_5 2 Forced migration has the meaning embedded in its description – people leave their homes when their homes no longer let them stay. As Warsan Shire reminds us

No one leaves home unless

Home is the mouth of a shark

You only run for the border

When you see the whole city running as well

Your neighbors running faster than youboats with Africans

Breathe bloody in their throats

The boy you went to school with

Who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factoryMigranti Revignano fived day exposition 2015

Is holding a gun bigger than his body

You only leave home

When home won’t let you stay[1]

All these  ‘new comers’ who arrived, precipitously, unannounced, unbidden, brought their cultures in to the societies which for some they had chosen, others that they clung to and sought to find a safe place in which to integrate. And through this messy process precipitated by terror, dread, brutality, and flight, created heritage which are now celebrated in museums across Europe. Museums curate the  symbols of interconnections which lie inexorably between history, objects, people and memories. The Mediterranean sea bed however curates many thousands now of lost lives since the onset of the most recent pressure of movement started to arise after the blighting of hopes for liberal regime change after the suppression of the Arab Spring of 2010.

When people are forced to move they seek and find ways to express their love, sorrow, hope and despair in the midst of the fluidity and indeterminacy of movement. Forced travellers have and continue to be on a journey of searching to find a place to call theirs, and in doing so they have been making heritage by the very process of moving – however desperate the circumstances.

Disturbing and truthful images in Museo Atlantico, in Lanzarote, from British Artist British artist Jason deCaires Taylor
Lampedusa Cross – constructed from wooden fishing boats used in the Mediterranean crossings – commissioned by the Anglican Centre in Rome

The art and the art like detritus of safety harnesses, clothes and shoes, or the capsized fishing vessels and now inflatables, which has emerged from the  2014-2015  mass migration across from North Africa to Lampedusa on Sicily’s southern archipelago, is one of the instances of new images which have already started to populate our museums and places of public worship and reflection.  British artist They are a sign of the continuing sense making, and space making work which is deeply human, and reaches out to connect with settled humanity as others are forced to flee.

[1] Conversations about Home – Telling my mother how to give birth. Mouthmark series No 10  2011  Warsan Shire.

Thanks to our guest blogger Ekin Deniz Horzum, University of Glasgow, UK – PhD in Law who is one of our Associate Research Students working with CCARHT.  Ekin  attended this conference held in Cambridge University on May 13th 2016.  Ekin is hoping to be present at the CCARHT #SummerSchool August 2016 where we shall be exploring more about Migration , enslavement and contemporary themes of Human Trafficking in its Global as well as Mediterranean setting.
If you are a Student working in the field of migration, the history of Slavery or on aspects of Human Trafficking and would like to be part of our Associate Internship programme or post material to be considered for our blog – do be in contact –