An OHS Special Interest Group


Human migration is an inherent part of our modern world. Can we as oral historians play a part in giving a voice to those seeking refuge, and in doing so, help to challenge the existing media and political discourses associated with them?


How should we document the current refugee and migration crisis? Refugee and migration narratives polarise opinion both in our politics, our media discourse, and amongst public opinion. How do we document, preserve and make accessible these complex interplays of narrative; and by attempting to so, are we in danger of neglecting the very voices of the refugees and migrants themselves? Given the complexity of terminology within this field, and for the purposes of the Special Interest Group, the term `migration’ will be used to incorporate issues around both forced migration and voluntary migration. The Migration Special Interest Group (MSIG) will aim to focus on all aspects of the migration experience, incorporating voluntary and internal migration, forced migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

How can we give a voice back to the voiceless and how can we approach trying to preserve their narratives and testimonies within an archival context? Archives are the backbone of our nation’s history: how has the legacy of migration been documented within these collections? Has our national history adversely impacted upon public perception of refugees by not allowing their voices to be heard? Indeed, “Why have historians ignored most refugee movements and `silenced’ those involved? Can refugees be re-installed on the historical record?” (Marfleet, 2007, p. 136).

Human migration is an inherent part of our modern world and we believe that oral history can play a very important role in helping to document and preserve these important oral history testimonies. Can we as oral historians play a part in giving a voice to those seeking refuge, and in doing so, help to challenge the existing media and political discourses associated with them? Can oral histories also enable the development of more rounded and inclusive archival collections, by not limiting them to the more readily available traditional forms of documentary record?

What is the Migration Special Interest Group, (MSIG)?

MSIG seeks to bring together Oral History Society members who are working within the fields of refugee and migration studies, or who are interested in the issues and practice involved, to gather and share knowledge, to explore these and related questions, and to formulate an Oral History Society response that can be useful for the wider oral history community.

MSIG’s purpose is to

  • Bring together members of the Oral History Society with an interest in issues related to migration, both forced and voluntary.

As a new undertaking, the group’s purpose beyond that first exchange will emerge from the group, but some or all of the following are likely to be useful:

  • Community engagement and the sharing of knowledge through events (workshops, seminars, webinars), working papers, and the Web (website, social media).
  • Enhancing networking opportunities for the exchange of information between academics, students, researchers, practitioners and members of the public, including opportunities for virtual and physical networking and advice. To collaborate with other networks, both nationally and internationally, to help connect with the international migration issues as recorded through oral history
  • Raising awareness and promotion of the value, relevance and importance of “refugee archives” for education, research, heritage and community engagement.
  • To create a social media presence for the facilitation of the exchange of ideas and information about oral history projects related to migration issues. Providing access to news, online content and funding opportunities. Collate information about existing oral history projects in the UK that relate to refugee and migration issues, initially through social media and, depending on resources, potentially through the creation of a report or a dedicated website.
  • To establish a database of existing UK projects that seek to engage with issues related to refugee and migration issues (depending on resources within the group).

For more information or to Join the Group, please contact the conveners, Paul Dudman (Lead convener) and Sarah Lowry.

Related posts

MSIG on Twitter

The Lead Convener, Paul Dudman, is an archivist, based at the University of East London.  Paul has been responsible for the Refugee Council Archive at UEL since 2002 and has over a decade’s experience working within higher education archives. He has been involved with the Campaign for Voluntary Sector Archives and is a co-convener of the IASFM (International Association for the Study of Forced Migration) Working Group on for the Archiving and Documentation of the History of Forced Migration. Paul is currently working on two civic engagement projects to create an online portal for mental health practitioners and to work with performing arts students at UEL to create participatory performance pieces based upon narratives found in the archival collections. Paul is interested in the role of archives in helping to support the collection and preservation of first-hand life histories and testimonies both for their importance for allowing often marginalised voices to be heard, and for their ability to support refugee advocacy. On behalf of the Refugee Archives at UEL, Paul has been undertaking civic engagement and outreach work to raise awareness of the importance of refugee archives and to encourage the use of oral history in documenting life histories of refugees. Paul is a member of a range of professional and associated bodies including the Archives and Records Association, the Oral History Society, the International Council on Archives, the British Records Association and the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration.

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