Call for papers: Tales of Transit: Narrative Migrant Spaces in Transatlantic Perspective, 1830-1954

Posted on 2009/10/28


Tales of Transit: Narrative Migrant Spaces in Transatlantic Perspective, 1830-1954
International Conference   Felix Archive
Antwerp, Belgium    10-13 June, 2010

Keynote speakers: Adam Walaszek (Jagiellonian University Krakow), Matthew Frye Jacobson (Yale University), Nancy K. Miller (City University of New York)
Werner Sollors (Harvard University) TBC

Organizing Institutions
University College Ghent – Faculty of Translation Studies
Ghent University Association Research Group on Literature in Translation
Institute of Jewish Studies, University of Antwerp
Leuven Research Group on Literary Relations and Postnational Identities
Lessius University College Department of Applied Language Studies
Roosevelt Study Center, Middelburg
Red Star Line Museum, Antwerp

Call for papers

The period between 1830 and 1940 witnessed the most dramatic population
movement in recorded history. Motivated by economic, religious and
political upheavals, millions of migrants left their familiar homes in
search of a better life, whereby the Atlantic functioned as one of the
central thoroughfares. Many of these travelers left testimonies of their
journeys, whether in written or oral form. Traditionally such narratives
have been approached within the framework of either the source or the
receiving societies, and consequently most research energy has been
invested in the ways migrants managed or failed to adapt to new
conditions, how they reconciled the often conflicting impressions of the
new culture with the one they were born into. Studies of this kind often
start from a preset agenda regarding the nature or development of a
specific culture. In reaction to such restricted national or subnational
perspectives, recent approaches in migration research and literary and
cultural studies address no longer just the starting or end points of
migration movements but also the diverse trajectories before and after
the journey, as well as the role of corporations and agencies involved
in oceanic travel. The aim of Tales of Transit is to bring together
these new insights and methodologies and confront them with the rich but
underexplored archive of transatlantic migrant narratives.

Transit places – docks, hotels, railway coaches, inspection offices,
dormitories, churches, ship’s decks, etc. – normally figure only
marginally in migrant narratives. They are mentioned in passing, as a
prelude or even in counterpoint to the new life that waits after the
journey. Precisely because of this, these peripatetic places (both in a
literal and a figurative sense) can help us to challenge received
notions about migration as a form of one-way traffic whereby supposedly
nothing is lost or gained along the way, and to reconceptualize it as a
multicausal process. In view of the opening of the Red Star Line/People
on the Move museum in Antwerp, Tales of Transit takes the city as its
starting point to rethink transatlantic migration. We encourage
contributions offering comparative perspectives on migrants traveling
through well-known as well as lesser known ports in Europe, Africa and
the Americas. The focus may be broadened to include mainland cities
functioning as nodal points for migration flows or border crossing
points on the frontier between states or regions. Overall, the stress
lies on how such liminal spaces are narrated or visualized: How vital
are these sites or loci for the narrative? Do they affirm or rather
subvert the migrants’ aspirations and hopes? Does the perspective shift
in accordance with the medium or audience expectations and, if so, in
what ways?

Within the framework sketched out above, we have selected a number of
subtopics, one or more of which can form the basis of paper or panel

Language and Translation
Whether transmitted through writing or not, migrant narratives are
inevitably subject to, or involved in translation. To convey his or her
story, the migrant has to choose a language: either that of the home
culture or that of the adoptive country, or else, something in between.
How do such translation processes contribute to the construction of an
«authentic» account? What if there are several mother or father tongues
to choose from? Does that mean there is more than one «original»
narrative? Or could it be there is none (as with fake translations)? How
common are self-translations and how are they different from or similar
to other translations? What, finally, is the status of retranslations?

Migration as Business
Migration is never a matter of individual stories of tragedy or success
alone, but also constitutes a flourishing business. Comparative research
on the competition between ocean lines and intermediary agencies for the
recruitment of migrants is still in its infancy. In what ways did such
corporations play a role in preselecting the trajectories of migrants?
Did the agents of these companies differentiate along ethnic, religious
and/or linguistic lines? What was the impact of steamship lobbies on
national and international immigration legislation? How important were
aid organizations and charities? Do touristic routes overlap with
migration routes, and, if so, in what ways do these economies obstruct
or facilitate each other?

Iconography of Migration
Passing migrants do not often leave a lasting imprint on the cultural
life of a nation or community, yet traces survive in most transit
places. The advertisements by which companies used to lure migrants
constitute a visual culture in its own right, the stereotypes and
counterstereotypes circulating in the local press another.
Paradoxically, even while serving as instruments of transnational
displacement, ocean lines at the same time constitute emblems of
national pride. How do (sub-)national literatures of the period
1830-1940 represent migrants? What role do museums and monuments play in
the construction or subversion of stock images about migrants in transit
places? To what extent do for instance cartoons and other more or less
popular art forms serve to set off «good» from «bad» or «new» from «old»

Archiving Testimonies
Migrant narratives are almost by definition difficult to locate in
library collections. An important heuristic question is how we can gain
access to the migrant narratives that are dispersed all over the globe.
This also involves broader issues of visibility and belonging. Should
there be a kind of Schengen Convention or Free Trade Agreement for
migrant testimonies? Should collections cut across ethnic, national,
linguistic and other faultlines, or should they preserve them?
Institutionalizing the migrant heritage may always appear paradoxical,
as such initiatives tend to pin down what is not directly localizable.
Given that successful migrant groups tend to dissolve themselves, what
would be a viable policy toward the preservation and memorialization of
migrant narratives?

Paper proposals in English of no more 300 words can be submitted to <>  or
<>  by November 15, 2009.
The academic committee will evaluate the abstracts and send out notifications of acceptance by the end of November. Each participant will be given 20 minutes to present, followed by 10 minutes of discussion. A selection of papers will be published in the conference proceedings.