Refugees in African History

An interview with Marcia Schenck, Professor of Global History at the University of Potsdam, on her newly founded project “Refugees in African History.

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Together with other colleagues, you have founded the H-Net cross-network project “Refugees in African History”. How did you come up with the idea for this network?

At the African Studies Association Conference in Chicago in 2017 I met quite a few colleagues from the U.S. working on African history with a special focus on refugee history, who all seemed to know about one another. The idea came to me that it would be helpful to institutionalize the exchange between scholars that share an interest in the history of refugees in Africa across countries and institutions to benefit from shared knowledge about teaching and research. Since I had just finished my PhD the idea took a backseat in my mind until I applied for the Explorative Workshop “Rethinking Refuge: Processes of Refuge Seeking in Africa and Beyond” at the Forum Transregionale Studien in 2018. The workshop brought together scholars from Africa with scholars from across Europe and the U.S. and allowed us to breach the topic of a sustainable network in the form of an H-Cross-Network Project. The idea widely resonated with those present at the workshop. We were able to establish a core team of editors, Jochen Lingelbach, Keren Weitzberg and myself, and a larger advisory committee right there and then. With this fabulous team, I have been working behind the scenes to make the launch of the Cross-Network Project possible. We are excited to share the new network with all of you.

Why do you think it’s important to investigate refugees and refuge from historical perspectives in this H-Net project?

Public but also academic discourse in non-historical fields often tend to frame refugees as ahistorical subjects and speak of refugee “crises” and menacing “floods” of refugees as unprecedented emergencies. In this context, historicizing the refugee experience is crucial to understanding that refugees are not exceptions but integral to the rise of nation-states. In the African context, we need to accord historical studies of refuge-seeking in Africa importance to counterbalance a myopic European perspective that perceives African migration only in as far as it concerns Europe.

This H-Net Cross-Network Project “Refugees in African history” then offers scholars the opportunity to focus on the history of refugee seeking and to do so looking for connections or comparisons. It links H-Africa with H-Migration and is dedicated to the historical perspective on refuge seeking in Africa as well as to and from the African continent. Together with the great team of editors, Keren Weitzberg (H-Africa), Jochen Lingelbach (H-Migration) and Johanna Wetzel, I maintain the network, which serves as a space to bring together information concerning research, teaching and discussions on refugees in different African history contexts.

Who do you invite to contribute?

We invite everyone to participate who is interested in refugees in African history and wants to contribute to an informed discussion about the topic. The network is open across disciplines and professions, though probably academics are going to find it the most useful as it explicitly shares teaching and research resources, calls for papers and conference announcements and the like. We also feature a quarterly bulletin of recent publications.

So if you are looking to share a conference call or a call for papers, or would like to ask colleagues for fieldwork tips this might be just the place for you. Perhaps you are also  preparing a new course and would like to get inspired by different syllabi. Or you are writing a dissertation and would like to be added to our list of dissertations in the field. In any case, we invite you to take a look at our resources and help us expand them further by sending your input to africanrefugees@mail.h-net.org.


Citation: Refugees in African History – An Interview with Marcia Schenck, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 23.03.2021, http://trafo.hypotheses.org/27435.


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