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Conference “Refugees, Citizenship, and Belonging: Towards a History of the Present” (Madison, 20-21 September 2019)

Over the past five years, the denunciation of refugees and the assertion that they pose a mortal threat to the nation have become increasingly mainstream political tactics. The so-called “caravan” of refugees from Central America was central to President Trump’s rhetoric during the recent Congressional elections. Last June, Italy’s populist government denied a rescue boat with more than 600 migrants permission to dock in its ports. In neighboring Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz made an opposition to refugees the center of his political strategy. Kurz’s stance lies in stark contrast to that of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. But Merkel’s decision to welcome refugees from Syria in 2015 is often seen as a fatal political (if not moral) error.

The current focus on refugees, and the familiar claim that we are experiencing a “refugee crisis” is clearly a response to geo-political events. But it is also a moment in our discursive history. As such, the present situation calls for a historicization of the major terms and concepts of our political debate. How have the experience of immigration and international integration shaped our understanding of national identity? How have different countries constructed their histories in response to changing times? What understandings of citizenship and belonging have encouraged politicians and commentators to identify refugees as a dire threat? How and with what consequences have different political parties shaped their policy and rhetoric on refugees? In asking these question we follow the lead of Rita Chin in her recent book, The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe: A History. There she shows how changing understandings of religion, culture, and liberalism have contributed to the perception that multiculturalism in Europe had failed. As for Chin, our turn to the past is also an opening to the future. In understanding how our current debate is informed by its history, we can better see our way beyond the apparent impasses of today. In working out the intertwined cultural histories of refugees, citizenship, and the nation, perhaps with Homi K. Bhabha we can imagine new forms of belonging that do not posit the refugee as an enemy.

The seventh annual Dean Hopper Conference of Fall 2019 (20-21st September) will examine these and related questions, placing the current “refugee crisis” in cultural, historical and political context. We invite papers engaging with the intellectual and cultural history of the “refugee,” and related topics like home, statelessness, and extraterritoriality, both from historians and other scholars and from activists working in the field. Submissions from graduate students, postdocs, and early-career faculty are encouraged.

Keynote Speakers:

Please send abstracts to by April 15, 2019: The conference organizers welcome individual abstracts of no more than 250 words, and panel proposals of not more than 750 words. Papers may be on any region and topic related to “The Refugee Crisis,” but we especially welcome reflections on the following themes:

Contact Email:

For details please visit website.


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