This symposium provides an opportunity to reflect upon the tension between different representations of migrants in the public arena – from so-called ‘medical tourists’ and ‘problem’ populations, to immigrant ancestors and national founders, to affluent global citizens and international students. It asks: what part do historical perspectives play in these representations? Can we talk about a ‘public history of immigration’ within Britain or elsewhere? If so, what might it look like? In other words, where do we encounter historical narratives of migration beyond the academy, how are they constructed and who do they seek to represent?
Given the current context of escalating far-right movements across Europe, and tighter restrictions upon migrant movements in other regions, this symposium is particularly interested in locating and analysing national narratives of migration, their narrators and their audiences. If Britain and France are ‘nations of immigrants’, to be placed alongside settler societies like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, can immigrants be seen as founders and pioneers rather than interlopers and outsiders? Who might these narratives appeal to, and whom might they alienate?