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9: Populations in Motion: constructing and controlling 'refugees'

This seminar takes up some of the overarching theoretic questions broached by our consideration of DPs and DP camps to consider the larger issue of refugees, displacement, and 'refugeeness' in the postwar world. Again, we return to the indeterminate location of 'home': who decided its whereabouts and what 'rootedness' and 'homelessness' meant for those left adrift from-- or actively fleeing-- their prewar places of residence.

Our primary sources this week alert us to the tricky question of determining refugee status and assigning labels. These were political and moral judgments with powerful material consequences for the treatment of individuals and groups who found themselves placed into hierarchical categories: statuses that almost invariably connoted authority figures' perceptions of displaced peoples' 'deservingness'. In this session we will explore the politics of naming, and also consider the self-understandings of humanitarian relief workers-- issues still very pertinent in twenty-first century refugee crises.

Seminar slidesLink opens in a new window.

Seminar questions:

  • why and how do the labels attached to, and differentiating between, displaced people matter? Was it 'better' to be deemed a Displaced Person than a Refugee in postwar Germany?
  • what are the most striking features of the advice Francesca Wilson offers to would-be or practising relief workers?
  • how do ideas of nation, race/ethnicity, class and gender structure Wilson's perceptions of 'self' and 'other' as they played out in refugee/DP camps?
  • to what extent was UNRRA's postwar mission a humanitarian venture? What makes 'helping others to help themselves' a problematic mantra?
  • in what ways was the postwar refugee regime bound up with questions of empire?

Required reading:

Primary sources: ‘SHAEF Administrative Memorandum No. 39, Displaced Persons and Refugees in Germany,’ Appendix B in Malcolm J Proudfoot, European Refugees: 1939-52 (Faber and Faber, 1957), 445-69

Francesca M Wilson, Advice to Relief Workers Based on Personal Experience in the Field (John Murray and Friends Relief Service, 1945)

Secondary sources:

Pamela Ballinger, 'Entangled or "Extruded" Histories?: Displacement, National Refugees, and Repatriation after the Second World War', Journal of Refugee Studies 25 (2012): 366-86

Silvia Salvatici, '"Help the People to Help Themselves": UNRRA Relief Workers and European Displaced Persons', Journal of Refugee Studies 25 (2012): 428-51

Supplementary reading:

Primary source database: Post-War Europe: Refugees, Exile and Resettlement, 1945-1950 (Wiener Library and The National Archive, Digital Database via library)

Andrew F Barshay, The Gods Left First: The Captivity and Repatriation of Japanese POWs in Northeast Asia, 1945-1956 (University of California Press, 2013) e-book

Peter Gatrell, The Unsettling of Europe: The Great Migration, 1945 to the Present (Penguin, 2019)

Sharif Gemie & Louise Rees, 'Representing and Reconstructing Identities in the Postwar World: Refugees, UNRRA, and Fred Zinnemann's The Search (1948),' International Review of Social History, 56, iii (2011): 441-73

Laure Humbert, 'Picturing Displaced Persons (DPs), Exhibiting French Prestige? Photographs of Humanitarian Aid for European DPs in French-occupied Germany, c. 1945-1952,' Journal of War and Culture Studies 15, 2 (2022)

Howard Kahm, 'Between Empire and Nation: A Micro-Historical Approach to Japanese Repatriation and the Korean Economy During the US Occupation of Korea, 1945-6', Journal of Contemporary History (online first, September 2014)

Liisa Malkki, ‘Refugees and Exile: From “Refugee Studies” to the National Order of Things,’ Annual Review of Anthropology 24 (1995): 495-523

Rana Mitter, 'Relocation and Dislocation: Civilian, Refugee, and Military Movement as Factors in the Disintegration of Postwar China, 1945-49', Itinerario 46 (2022): 193–213

Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Borderline Japan: Foreigners and Frontier Controls in the Postwar Era (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Meredith Oyen, 'The Right of Return: Chinese Displaced Persons and the International Refugee Organization, 1947-56', Modern Asian Studies 49, 2 (2015): 546-571

Jessica Reinisch, '"We Shall Rebuild Anew a Powerful Nation": UNRRA, Internationalism and National Reconstruction of Poland,’ Journal of Contemporary History 43, 3 (2008): 451-76

Jessica Reinisch and Elizabeth White (eds), The Disentanglement of Populations: Migration, Explusion, and Displacement in Postwar Europe, 1944-49 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) e-book

Tom Sampson, 'Anglo-Jewish Humanitarianism and the Jewish Relief Unit, 1943-1950,' German History 40, 2 (June 2022): 220-38

Lori Watt, When Empire Comes Home: Repatriation and Reintegration in Postwar Japan (Harvard UP, 2009)

Tara Zahra, '"A Human Treasure": Europe's Displaced Children Between Nationalism and Internationalism,' Past and Present (2011), Supplement 6, 332-50

Tara Zahra, The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe’s Families after World War II (Harvard University Press, 2011) e-book

Suggested viewing:

The Search (dir. Fred Zinnemann, 1948)