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‘We are here because you were there’: migration and the metropole

Invasion, flood, wave, horde: while migration has been a fundamental part of British experience for centuries, particularly in the context of imperial emigration, inward population movements have almost always triggered hostile rhetoric in the metopole. Yet in the modern period alone, British culture has been transformed by successive migrations from colonial, colonized and post-colonial spaces, as well as migrants from Europe and the rest of the world.

Required Readings:

  • Wendy Webster, ‘The Empire Comes Home: Commonwealth Migration to Britain’, in Andrew Thompson (ed.), Britain’s Experience of Empire in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 122-160. E-Book.
  • AND have a look at this new website: 100 Voices that Made the BBC: People, Nation, Empire

NEWSFLASH: the BBC has just made a really influential historical documentary, The Colony' available for viewing: catch it now, while it is up! The Colony

Discussion Questions:

  • Does the arrival of the Empire Windrush mark a moment of discontinuity in Britain's migration story, or of continuity?
  • Compare responses to migrants from Europe and Ireland with those from Britain's former colonies and Dominions. What rationales for inclusion and exclusion were applied to these different groups, and by whom?

Background Reading:

*Rob Waters, ‘Thinking Black: Peter Fryer’s Staying Power and the Politics of Writing Black British History in the 1980s’, History Workshop Journal 82 (Autumn 2016), 104-120 – Really essential reading for ALL students researching post-War British immigration history, offering a critical reflection on the ways in which historians first wrote about this moment.

Elizabeth Buettner, '"We don't grow Coffee and Bananas in Clapham Junction, you know!': Imperial Britons Back Home', in Robert Bickers, ed., Settlers and Expatriates: Britons Over the Seas (Oxford: OUP, 2010), 302-328.

Kathy Burrell, Moving Stories: Narratives of Nation and Migration among Europeans in Post-war Britain (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006). Very useful for comparisons between postcolonial and European migrants.

Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 1970s Britain (London; Hutchinson and Co., 1982).

Enda Delaney, The Irish in Post-War Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Enda Delaney, Demography, State and Society: Irish Migration to Britain, 1921-1971 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000);

Randall Hansen, Citizenship and Immigration in Post-war Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) -- but read critically: this is a book with a strong historiographical and political agenda.

Joanna Herbert, The British Ugandan Asian diaspora: multiple and contested belongings. Global Networks, 12 (2012): 296–313. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0374.2012.00353.x

Mary Hickman, ‘Reconstructing deconstructing “race”: British political discourses about the Irish in Britain’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 21 (1998), 288-307.

Colin Holmes, John Bull’s Island: Immigration and British Society, 1871-1971 (London: Macmillan, 1988), especially 209-272

Anthony Kirk-Greene, ‘Decolonization: The Ultimate Diaspora’, Journal of Contemporary History 36, no. 1 (2001): 133-51. Article on the return of British civil servants from the empire as the ultimate diaspora: what do you think?

Krishnan Kumar, 'Empire, Nation and National Identities', in Andrew Thompson (ed.), Britain’s Experience of Empire in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 298-329.

Tony Kushner, ‘Anti-semitism and Austerity: the August 1947 Riots in Britain’, in Panikos Panayi (ed.), Racial Violence in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (London: Leicester University Press, 1996).

Tony Kushner, We Europeans? Mass Observation, 'Race' and British Identity in the Twentieth Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004).

Tony Kushner and Katharine Knox, Refugees in an Age of Genocide: Global, National and Local Perspectives during the Twentieth Century (London: Frank Cass, 1999)

Kathleen Paul, ‘“British Subjects” and “British Stock”: Labour's Postwar Imperialism.’ Journal of British Studies 34, no. 2 (1995): 233–76. doi: 10.1086/386075

Kathleen Paul, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997) -- but read critically: like Hansen, this is a book with a strong agenda.

Louise Ryan and Wendy Webster (eds), Gendering Migration: Masculinity, Femininity, and Ethnicity in Post-War Britain (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).

Bill Schwarz, ‘“The Only White Man in There”: The Re-Racialisation of England, 1956-1968’, Race and Class, 38 (1996) 65-78.

Wendy Webster, ‘The Empire Comes Home: Commonwealth Migration to Britain’ in Andrew Thompson (ed.), Britain’s Experience of Empire in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 122-160.

*Amrit Wilson, Dreams, Questions, Struggles: South Asian Women in Britain (London: Pluto Press, 2006) E-book. Another really importat work, capturing often silenced voices.

See also the selection of primary sources collected here:

The Colony clips

AND: Dr Sadiah Qureshi at the University of Birmingham has also compiled and generously shared a brilliant list of memoirs of Black and Asian British people. I have extracted these (below) as directly related to our module the books below. Enjoy!


Akala, Race and Class in the Rooms of Empire (London: Two Roads, 2018).

Mulk Raj Anand, Conversations in Bloomsbury (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

Zia Chaudhry, Just Your Average Muslim (Guildford, Surrey: Grosvenor House Publishing, 2013).

Nirad C. Chaudhuri, A Passage to England (London: Readers Union, 1960).

Anita Desai, Bye-Bye, Blackbird (Delhi, Hind Pocket Books, 1971).

Buchi Emecheta, Head above Water (Oxford: Heinemann, 1994).

Buchi Emecheta, Second-Class Citizen (Oxford: Heinemann, 1994).

Isaac Gordon, Going with the Work Is (London: Hackney Reading Centreprise, 1979).

Colin Grant, Bageye at the Wheel: A 1970s Childhood in Suburbia (London: Vintage, 2013).

Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger: A Life between Two Islands (London: Allen Lane, 2017).

Afua Hirsch, Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging (London: Vintage Digital, 2018).

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, Love in a Headscarf: Muslim Woman Seeks the One (London: Aurum, 2009).

Doreen Lawrence with Margaret Busby, And Still I Rise (London: Faber & Faber, 2011).

Sarfraz Manzoor, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock ‘n’ Roll (London: Bloomsbury, 2007).

Ernext Marke, In Troubled Waters: Memoirs of My Seventy Years in England (London: Karia, 1986).

Claude McKay, A Long Way from Home (1937), new edition edited by Gene Andrew Jarrett (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2007).

The Motherland Calls: African Caribbean Experiences (London: Ethnic Communities Oral History Project, 1992).

Trilokya Nath Mukharji, A Visit to Europe (Calcutta: W. Newman, 1889).

Martin Noble, Jamaica Airmen: A Black Airman in Britain 1943 and After (London: New Beacon, 1984).

Sathnam Sanghera, The Boy with the Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton (London: Viking, 2012.

Suresh Singh, A Modest Living: Memoirs of a Cockney Sikh (London: Spitalfields Life Books, 2018). To be released October 2018.

Ursula Sharma, Rampal and his Family (London: Collins, 1971).

Louise Shore, Pure Running: A Love Story (London: Hackney Reading Centreprise, c1982).

Nikesh Shukla, ed., The Good Immigrant (London: Unbound, 2017).

Paul Stephenson and Lilleith Morrison, Memoirs of a Black Englishman (Bristol, Tangent books, 2011).

Darshan S. Tatla, ‘A passage to England: oral tradition and popular culture among early Punjabi settlers in Britain’, Oral History 30 (2002): 61-72, has information on early Punjabi poetry.

Charlotte Williams, Sugar and Slate (Aberystwyth: Planet, 2002). Pauline Wiltshire, Living and Winning (London: Centreprise, 1985).