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14.00  The Museum of Immigration and Diversity at 19 Princelet Street in Spitalfields: Multi-Vocality in the Interpretation of the Migration Experience and Heritage

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Migration is no longer, in the phrase coined by French historian Gérard Noiriel, a “non lieu de mémoire.” Public sites increasingly harbour the memories of migrants in their diversity and specificity, making audible and visible versions of the past that had been occluded or simply neglected. By remembering and redeeming the memories of immigrants long forgotten and suppressed (un “oubli volontaire” – a voluntary oversight), you empower them. 

If the integration of migration history and cultural diversity in museum spaces and narratives is an increasingly notable feature of the international museum landscape, it also raises a lot of questions such as: Do museums promote an interpretation of their collections in a way that makes local immigrant communities feel concerned? How to exhibit immigration so as to develop participatory methodologies with the local immigrant communities? 

The Museum of Immigration and Diversity at 19 Princelet Street in Spitalfields, one of the most multicultural areas in London, is installed in an unrestored building dating from the Huguenot occupation of the area. Due to the fragility of the building, however, the museum is only open to the general public for a few days each year, but their programs and visits for schools run all year.

This museum presents an exhibition, “Suitcases and Sanctuary,” made by students from schools in the area that explores the refugee experience in Spitalfields, from French Huguenot, Irish, Jewish, Afro-Caribbean, Somali, and Bangladeshi viewpoints. What is interesting about this project is that everything that is exhibited is co-curated with the local immigrant communities and schools, and most of what is exhibited comes from programs developed with migrants, refugees, and cross-cultural people that aim to redefine the significances of memory and heritage regarding their own experiences.

This paper will present an analysis of this intriguing project that promotes multi-vocality in the interpretation of the migration experience and heritage.

Andrea Delaplace


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