Tag Archives: North West Migrants Forum

Diverse Perspectives on a Global Conflict: Migrant Voices and Living Legacies of WWI 

In this latest Blog Post, Philip McDermott  talks through an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project on ‘Diverse Perspectives on a Global Conflict: Migrant Voices and Living Legacies of WW1’.

Via the Living Legacies WW1 Engagement Centre, Philip has worked closely with migrant communities in Northern Ireland on questions of identity. Their partner on this project was the North West Migrants Forum in Derry,

Bacadine from Guyana with her panel
Bacadine from Guyana with her panel

In 2016, I was fortunate enough to engage in a conversation with Lilian Seenoi, Director of the North West Migrants Forum in Derry~Londonderry. Lilian noted, “Understanding a place and its history is vital for any migrant but we also need to look closely at the difference and, most importantly, the similarities in our experiences”. This interaction led to a joint project between Ulster University and the North West Migrants Forum funded under the Living Legacies 1914-1918 Engagement Centre to explore this very perspective through the story of World War One.     

Participants at the Intercultural Dialogue Day in teh Millennium Forum Derry, March 2018
Participants at the Intercultural Dialogue Day in the Millennium Forum Derry, March 2018

The resulting project, “Diverse Perspectives on a Global Conflict: Migrant Voices and Living Legacies of World War One”, sought to provide a platform for the wider storytelling of WW1 from the perspective of migrants living in Northern Ireland. At the same time the project aimed to provide a means through which to broaden the debate on WW1 in this region, a story which has often been framed amidst competing narratives of Britishness and Irishness – thus hiding global elements of the story.

Boy reading panel (photo Gerry Temple)
Boy reading panel (photo Gerry Temple)

 Through the North West Migrant Forum’s membership participants from Poland, Romania, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Italy, Guyana, Cameroon, Congo, China and South Africa approached the project in order to prepare a panel exhibition telling their countries’ experiences of the conflict. Individuals attended a number of workshops and, with the help of a history/heritage facilitator, drafted a short text about the story of WW1 in their country, whilst reflecting on its contemporary legacy.  

Whilst some participants were acutely aware of the impact of WWI on their own country, others were surprised when they uncovered how deeply their region had been involved. Whilst some places actively ‘remembered’ others consciously ‘forgot’ – as later stories of independence had become the most prominent acts of commemoration.            

Hope from South Africa reads her panel with her son. Intercultural Dialogue Day March 2018
Hope from South Africa reads her panel with her son. Intercultural Dialogue Day March 2018

In Summer and Autumn 2017 the participants continued to work with the project team to acquire images for the exhibition which will tour Northern Ireland in 2018. The first launch event was held at the Millennium Forum in Derry~Londonderry as part of the intercultural festival and attracted more than 400 participants. Following this, the exhibition will be on display at Ulster University before touring locations in Northern Ireland.  

Participants discuss the impact of World War One and Prepare their Panels May 2017
Participants discuss the impact of World War One and Prepare their Panels May 2017

In reflecting on the memory of WWI one participant noted the resonance of the project for a post-conflict region like Northern Ireland. She said:  “We must remember the events that helped shape today’s world. How can we understand the present if we do not know the past? Especially in a place like Northern Ireland. If we remember our shared past our children can learn about the price for division.” 

Participant Feza from Democratic Republic of Congo with her Panel (photo Gerry Temple)
Participant Feza from Democratic Republic of Congo with her Panel (photo Gerry Temple)

Commenting on the project Lilian Seenoi noted “through this project our members have in some instances revisited histories they were aware of, whilst others have engaged with these sad stories for the first time. Projects like this are important in so many ways in that they show community organisations like ours how subjects like history and social science can help us in our own aims of promoting positive dialogue between migrants and the wider population”. 

“Diverse Perspectives of a Global Conflict” will next be on display at the Belfast Campus of Ulster University from 5th-9th November. Ulster’s heritage research cluster will also host a special event on  7th November (17:30) in the foyer of the Belfast Campus to mark the exhibition and the launch of “Heritage After Conflict: Northern Ireland” (Routledge), edited by Professor Elizabeth Crooke from Living Legacies and Dr Tom Maguire. Speakers will include Paul Mullan the head of Heritage Lottery Fund, Northern Ireland.

The exhibition will then begin a tour with the Northern Ireland Library Service starting in Omagh, County Tyrone, on 19th November.

Dr Philip McDermott  is a lecturer in Sociology at Ulster University. He continues to work closely with migrant communities in Northern Ireland and welcomes comments, via the Blog. 

Participants at Workshop at North West Migrants Forum in Derry - May 2017
Participants at Workshop at North West Migrants Forum in Derry – May 2017

Photos of Millennium Forum Showcase Event are attributed to Gerry Temple.

Exhibition Entrance
Exhibition Entrance