Allgemein Blogroll Tiny Desk Conferences

4th Tiny Desk Conference

On April 20, we gathered for the fourth Tiny Desk Conference. This time we discussed a draft paper by Milinda Banerjee on “The Partition of India, Bengali ‘New Jews’, and Refugee Democracy: Situating Refugee Political Thought in Global Intellectual History.”

Christoph Rass opened the conference and introduced Milinda Banerjee. Milinda holds a Ph.D. from Heidelberg University and has been a lecturer in Modern History at the University of St. Andrews since 2019, where he is also Programme Director for the MLitt in Global Social and Political Thought. His research focuses on the History of Modern Political Thought and Political Theory, post-1700. In particular, he has specialized in the intersections of Indian/South Asian and global intellectual history and global political theory, as well as in political and economic theology.

In his article, Milinda argues that ‘refugee political thought’ should be understood as an autonomous category which needs to be centre-staged in global intellectual history. He concretizes this by studying Bengali Hindu refugees who migrated from Muslim-majority eastern Bengal – after the Partition of British India in 1947, part of Pakistan, and, after 1971, the sovereign state of Bangladesh – to the Hindu-majority Indian state of West Bengal, and occasionally their descendants as well. By studying the transnational horizons of Bengali refugees, from the late 1940s to today, Milinda posits them as part of modern global intellectual history.

After a short introduction by Milinda to his work, Albert Manke took over the moderation of the discussion. Starting from Milinda’s article, we also discussed broader issues, especially intellectual history. It was noted that subaltern studies have so far not looked sufficiently through an intersectional lens; Milinda’s essay, meanwhile, manages to connect “social history experiences” with intellectual history. The question arose which sources are actually “allowed” in intellectual history and how to make sources that are usually used by social history useful for intellectual history. Milinda’s essay shows very vividly how productive this extended understanding of sources can be.

Furthermore, we discussed the perspective on the refugee as a historical figure, which allows bringing decolonizing and postcolonial perspectives into a dialogue. The question was asked how Milinda’s particular approach could be situated (or situates itself) within the general field of ‘intellectual history’ as a discipline and field of research. Is the social and cultural history perspective widening the boundaries of intellectual history? Related to this, we discussed the “refugee thinker” as a historical subject form. But who actually counts as a refugee? Does this also apply to the immediate descendants and the following generations? And what about female intellectuals? Using the example of Bengali refugees and their descendants, who connected their experiences with those of refugees elsewhere in the world, for example as “new Jews”, the connection of belief structure/spirituality and political thought was debated.

With regard to intellectual history, the question was raised how the field is actually defined, which parameters are decisive, and to what extent institutionalization differs in comparison to other fields of history. The focus so far is still strongly on Europe and the US (or their tradition). Why isn’t there actually more migrant intellectual history and especially globally? Exemplary for this demand it was pointed out that the founder of the Partido Comunista Mexicano (PCM), Manabendra Nath Roy, a global intellectual in the literal sense, was Bengali.

We have deliberated different methodological approaches to intellectual history as well as the lines of tradition, especially in the second half of the 20th century, the significance of certain concepts, their translations, and the possibilities of global intellectual history. A special role for intellectual history was played by the classification of texts as political or religious and how these categories differ with respect to political thought in Europe or Asia and especially India. There have been a number of works that have done de facto intellectual history in India, for example, but have not been understood as such by the West. While in Europe the tradition of political thought has long focused very much on the state (as in the classics, from Machiavelli, Hobbes, etc.), there are calls to write intellectual history more from the perspective of the oppressed, not only the subaltern but also those thinkers that Western scholars have so far overlooked. And for this, the “refugee thinker” is a very fitting and fruitful category. Milinda has not only laid a very important foundation for this new approach to intellectual history but with his essay has presented a model that other historians can follow.

P.S. Milinda’s article has been accepted for publication by Itinario: Milinda Banerjee, “The Partition of India, Bengali ‘New Jews’, and Refugee Democracy: Indian Refugee Political Discourse in Global Intellectual History”, in a special issue, edited by Kerstin von Lingen and Milinda Banerjee, “Forced Migration and Refugee Resettlement in the Long 1940s: A Connected and Global History”, forthcoming in Itinerario, 46:2 (2022).


A new volume on South Asian Migrations in Global History has been published

Neilesh Bose (University of Victoria) has edited South Asian Migrations in Global History: Labor, Law, and Wayward Lives, published with Bloomsbury in 2020. From the press:

“This collection explores how South Asian migrations in modern history have shaped key aspects of globalization since the 1830s. Including original research from colonial India, Fiji, Mexico, South Africa, North America and the Middle East, the essays explore indentured labour and its legacies, law as a site of regulation and historical biography.
Including recent scholarship on the legacy of issues such as consent, sovereignty and skilled/unskilled labour distinctions from the history of indentured labour migrations, this volume brings together a range of historical changes that can only be understood by studying South Asian migrants within a globalized world system.
Centering south Asian migrations as a site of analysis in global history, the contributors offer a lens into the ongoing regulation of labourers after the abolition of slavery that intersect with histories in the Global North and Global South. The use of historical biography showcases experiences from below, and showcases a world history outside empire and nation.”

Blogroll Tiny Desk Conferences

3rd Tiny Desk Conference

The Translations of Migration Group came together for its 3rd Tiny Desk Conference on March 9th 2021. We discussed source material/documents from Dr. Levke Harders research on applications/petitions for citizenship from France and Denmark during the 19th century – looking for individual and bureaucratic translations of belonging, mobility and migrants as ‘translated beings’.

Christoph Rass opened the meeting and introduced Levke Harders. Levke is an assistant professor at the Department of History at Bielefeld University. Her research interests include migration(s) history, gender history and theory, biographical studies, history of science, theories and methods of historical scholarship, European history in the 19th and 20th centuries, and US history in the 20th century (you can find her CV here and a list of her publications here).

After the introduction, Levke presented her source material in a short input and explained her broader research questions (we had read the source material beforehand, which Levke kindly translated from French into English). In her research project “Narratives of Foreignness and Belonging: Migration as a Discursive Process in Western European Border Regions (1815-1871)”, she explores European migration in the nineteenth century and asks: Who was mobile and why? How did the state, local communities, and residents deal with migration? What strategies did migrants use to be included? Levke does not focus first on the overarching structures, but on the individual practices of the actors on the local and regional level. Her hypothesis is that questions of belonging involve a continuous process of negotiation between different administrative bodies, and also between authorities and individuals. Therefore, she examines historical records from France and northern Europe in order to study the diversity of migration processes, the range of people who migrated, and their different strategies of making a new home. Her sources include about 1,000 petitions for settlement and naturalization from the Danish duchies of Schleswig and Holstein as well as from Alsace, France (departments Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin). The historical records contain correspondence between different administrative bodies, applicants’ letters (in the duchies, less so in Alsace), and sometimes letters of recommendation.

In our third Tiny Desk Conference, Levke discussed her questions using Simon Altschul as a case study. Altschul was a Bavarian entrepeneur who was born in 1812 in Ingenheim, a village in the French district of Wissembourg. After the congress of Vienna (1814-15), Ingenheim became part of the kingdom of Bavaria and Altschul served in its army as a Bavarian subject. In 1844, at the age of 32, he moved about twelve miles south, where he settled in the small town of Wissembourg in France; the town had the same name as the arrondissement of his birthplace. Altschul was born under French sovereignty and traveled only a short distance from Bavaria to France, as one of many borderlands people with a similar story. After crossing the state border, however, he was legally an alien, and his application for permanent residency in France set administrative debates and practices in motion. Altschul applied for naturalization as early as 1844, and tried to resume the process in 1849, 1851, and 1855. State officials discussed his repeated petitions for more than thirteen years, spanning four different political regimes, until the French state finally issued his naturalization decree.

The source examples we discussed were administrative letters discussing Altschul’s petition, arguing against or in favor of his naturalization. In particular, we discussed the different levels of translation that could be discerned in the sources. In the process, questions arose that problematized our perspective as historians as well as Altschul’s agency. For example, we asked ourselves what do we actually “see” in the sources? We don’t really “hear” Altschul “talk” but we can hear the echoes of what he said – through layers of translations – as how he argued to the bureaucracy that he was a good and acceptable Frenchman (i.e. his own transformation throughout this process of petitioning). This has raised methodological questions, in particular how to deal with the relationship between the oral and the written in migration history. Another idea was to conceptualize these petition letters as performative speech acts and to use literary methods to analyze them first as texts within a particular ‘genre’ or format (the format being a ‘petition for naturalization’). The discussion continued to unfold and we wondered whether one can discern a larger framework of migration (including naturalization and citizenship) in the sources. Likewise, what role did religion and being Jewish play for Altschul specifically, but also Jewishness in general, in the historical context, that is, as a cultural factor? What contemporary stereotypes might have been significant? What contemporary stereotypes might have been significant? It was suggested that in addition to “hard” administrative literature, “soft” literature should also be included in the analysis, such as literary texts, in order to shed light on these cultural factors. This brought us more generally to questions about the importance of categories and narrative strategies. How do the speaking subjects make themselves heard to the bureaucracy?

The different layers of translations, we summed up towards the end of our discussion, are only partially recognizable for us today. There are blind spots. In addition to analyzing historical contexts and concepts (such as the meaning of borderlands), we can differentiate the source analysis and approach the agency of actors. In each case, we can be aware that there are different levels of translation in the processes, from oral to written, from the petitioner to submitter, from individual to bureaucracy, within the bureaucracy, or from one language to another. Even if we can’t hear the voice of Simon Altschul himself, with the help of interdisciplinary methods we can try to amplify the echo.

Levke also maintains her own hypotheses-blog, which is really very interesting and recommendable: “Migration and Belonging”.
And just now Routledge has published the edited volume „Migrations and Border Processes. Practices and Politics of Belonging and Exclusion in Europe from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century


Virtual Seminar: Americas, translated place: Amereida y la traducción (latino)americana

This virtual seminar explores an innovative way of embarking on a journey of refining the translation of the poem Amereida, a seminal 1967 text about America (that is, South America in all its cultural and linguistic diversity) from Spanish to English through a collaborative approach. A made-up word of America and Eneida (Aeneid), Amereida is the aesthetic product and poelitical statement of an international group of poets, arquitects, artists, and philosophers who traveled South America from Tierra del Fuego to Bolivia in 1965 where they declared Santa Cruz as the poetic capital of America.

I found the project interesting for our group because its initiators propose to discuss questions about translation that touch several disciplines, envisioning a multidimensional pan-American quest for translating identiy and belonging against the background of coloniality and the decolonization of knowledge and practices. They also provide valuable references and upload the materials after each session.

The seminar is organized in eight sessions with all in Spanish except (so far) the fourth being in English, starting on March 23.

Sesión 1 (March 23, 2021): Américas, Américas traducidas [Americas, translated Americas]
Sesión 2 (April 27, 2021): Traducir la Historia en América [Translating History in America]
Sesión 3 (May 25, 2021): Tradición traductora y cuestión identitaria en la traducción de Amereida [Tradition of translation and the identity question while translating Amereida]
Sesión 4 (June 29, 2021): Amereida as an early decolonial effort
Sesión 5 (August 24, 2021): La traducción americana: Continentalidad y curso planetario [The American Translation: Continentality and the course of the planets]
Sesión 6 (September 28, 2021): El mapa invertido [The inverted map]
Sesión 7 (October 26, 2021): Traducción(es) desde nuestra(s) América(s) / Traducción(es) desde Abya Yala / Traducción(es) desde Amereida [Translation(s) from our America(s) / Translation(s) from Abya Yala / Translation(s) from Amereida]
Sesión 8 (November 23, 2021): El oficio de la arquitectura y la palabra poética: Amereida, Ciudad Abierta, Travesías por América [The work of architecture and the poetic word: Amereida, Open City, Journeys across America]

More information:
Free registration:

Adriana Massidda (
Virginia Mattioli (
Manuel Florencio Sanfuentes Vio (
Maxwell Woods (

Blogroll Tiny Desk Conferences

2nd Tiny Desk Conference

The research group Translations of Migration reconvened January 26th 2021 for its 2nd Tiny Desk Conference. This time, essential texts by Doris Bachmann-Medick (The transnational Turn, 2009) and Paul F. Bandia (Translocation. Translation, Migration, and the Relocation of Cultures) were up for debate and discussion.

In our second session, we got some “outside help” to start our conversation. Two texts, “Translocation. Translation, Migration, and the Relocation of Cultures” (2014) by Paul F. Bandia and “The transnational Turn” (2009) by Doris Bachmann-Medick were discussed. This was very productive in that it allowed us to think about different concepts and terms, for example Bandia’s idea of migrants as “translated beings”, which had the advantage of tying together migration, transculturation, and translation. A recurring question during our conversation was that of power relations, and here again especially colonial ones. Who are actually the decisive actors in the process of translations of migration? And this brought us to the sources. Often these powerful actors are individual bureaucrats or entire bureaucracies. Here, in addition to linguistic translation, the importance of different cultural brokers and other middle men must be considered. With regard to the role and agency of the migrants themselves, questions about the possibilities of negotiation were raised, as well as the consideration of how, for example, their different (and sometimes subversive) forms of resistence can be made more visible. Even though the discussion gradually detached from the two texts, we asked ourselves how they could be situated in the different academic fields and what role they actually play. And of course we talked about the applicability of various concepts to one’s own scholarly practice. An interesting idea that was brought into the discussion towards the end was: shouldn’t we rather understand translation as a whole as practice? – We will certainly take up this thread in the coming session, when we will discuss the multi-layered forms of translation using the example of concrete source material that Levke Harders will present (-and translate!).


Conference: The translation of Letters and Ideas in Cuba’s Republic

Our colleague Albert Manke just pointed out this interesting conference hosted by the University of Connecticut’s Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages: The translation of Letters and Ideas in Cuba’s Republic, taking place online from March 3rd to 5th 2021. Talks correspond with many questions our group discusses as well.

Blogroll Tiny Desk Conferences

1st Tiny Desk Conference

On December 8th, the Translations of Migration Group hosted its 1st Tiny Desk Conference as an forum to discuss interdisciplinary perspectives on the transfer and translation of concepts and the construction/production of migration. To kick off, Julie Wise and Christoph Rass presented an article draft on migration between Mexico and the USA during the interwar years.

After a first working session on October 27, where the Research Group met for the first time to exchange more general ideas about “translations of migration”, corresponding terms, concepts, and some essential approaches, we could finally start our first “real” Tiny Desk Conference on December 8.
Based on an article draft by Julie Weise and Christoph Rass, “Migrating Concepts: The Transatlantic Origins of the Bracero Program, 1919-42,” we discussed basic terminology, concepts, and methods. After briefly introducing their work, Julie and Christoph “gaged” themselves for the first 30 minutes and let the group discuss, before they joined the conversation. We circulated a few leading questions in advance, such as how the concept of translation was employed, who actually does the translating, or whether there were still gaps in the argumentation, etc.
Our research group has the advantage of bringing together scholars from different countries and disciplines, and thus very different perspectives. And that then also became apparent in the discussion, which Fredy moderated: the different academic and professional cultures of the participants became visible. In particular, the pair of terms “translations of migration” was discussed and it was considered whether further conceptualizations might be helpful or not (such as “traveling knowledge” or “migration of meaning”). Not only do we as a research group partially translate our own work – we converse in English, but not all of us are native speakers – but historically this practice has also existed. One particularly exciting phenomenon was observing the role of linguistic translation and how this in turn should be considered in the context of power relations and migration. Alternative historical approaches were also discussed, how to make the (sometimes missing) perspective of migrants visible (subaltern perspectives) and which agency migrants could have at all in different historical settings etc. – in short: we got an exciting impression, not only of the multi-layeredness and complexity of the phenomenon of migration, but, and this was important, how fruitful the concept of translation can be for the study of migration – and this makes us want to do more.