The movement of people, ideas and things, and the desire of migrants to preserve and share memories whilst adapting to the demands of receiving societies and building new futures are timely themes, but not new ones. The challenge for an arts and humanities research programme on diasporas, migration and identities was to develop our historical and cultural knowledge about these endemic processes and how they are practised and represented, and to break new ground in how we study, theorise and model them.
Notwithstanding the work already undertaken, particularly within the social sciences, there is an urgent need to develop research on the cultural aspects of diasporas, migration and identities. Such aspects whether relating to traditions, languages, religions, literature, material culture, the visual or performing arts have often been neglected in public discourse in the UK which has tended to focus on the perceived problems associated with migrants and asylum seekers vis-à-vis national security, community order and cohesion, racism, social exclusion and inclusion. Yet fear and ignorance of the cultures of others are often what fuel animosity, rivalry and a lack of understanding about people who are different from us, leading directly or indirectly to these very problems. High quality and well disseminated research on the role, modes and stages of migration in human history, on the transnational and cross-cultural interconnections that contribute to the formation of subjectivity and identity, and on the representation and performance of these interconnections and points of contact will make a significant contribution to public understanding about diasporas and migration. It will contribute to the presentation of these processes as continuous and dynamic opportunities that extend us beyond the confines of peer group and nation and not merely as difficult social problems that hamper us in pursuing our local and national priorities.
This £5.5 million trans-disciplinary programme ran for five years from the beginning of 2005 to the end of 2009. As the first autonomous research programme run by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the aim was to maximise the participation of scholars from a wide range of arts and humanities disciplines in researching, reflecting upon and discussing diasporas, migration and identities. To this end several different schemes were initiated to fund small and large research projects, workshops and networks, conferences and seminars (for postgraduates as well as established scholars). Interdisciplinary engagement and collaborations with partners in the public sector, the cultural sector and the wider community were encouraged, as was the imaginative dissemination of the research.