Call for Papers: "With Italy in their baggage"

Migration, circulations and Italianness in the 19th-21st centuries Paris Musée National de l’Histoire de l’Immigration/Italian Cultural Institute

15-17 June 2017 

International Conference

Since the end of the 19th century, Italian emigration to the rest of the world has become one of the most important migratory movements in contemporary history. Twenty-six million Italians left the Peninsula during the hundred years between the 1860s and the 1960s. More recently, since the beginning of the 2000s, a new wave of more skilled migrants has emerged. In Italy itself, as well as in countries of destination, this migration has proved to be a rich source for historical researchers, and especially on the conditions in which migrants departed and were welcomed, as can be seen in the impressive two-volume Storia dell’emigrazione italiana (Bevilacqua, De Clementi, Franzina, 2002): Partenza and Arrivi. Furthermore, researchers have analysed successive Italian governments' attitudes towards their overseas 'colonies' (Choate, 2008) and the socio-economic impact of emigration on regions of origin (Douki, 1996). Immigration has often been observed from a continental (notably between Europe and the Americas) and national perspective. This research has also highlighted forms of integration, sometimes through comparative studies covering New York and Buenos Aires (Baily, 1999), or Paris and New York (Rainhorn, 2005). Studies on Little Italies, in the Americas and elsewhere (Blanc-Chaléard, Bechelloni, Deschamps, Dreyfus, Vial 2007), have analysed the territorial and social dimensions and thus allowed us to extend our knowledge of 'migratory chains' (MacDonald 1964) with their dual localization. Research into Italian emigration has necessarily led to examining the interaction of local, regional and national perspectives (Franzina, 2014).

Studies of diasporas (Ramirez, Pozzetta 1992; Tomasi 1994; Gabaccia 2000) and transnational communities (Tirabassi 2005, Waldinger 2006), together with research on returns (Wyman 1996), have generated renewed interest in moving on from the dichotomy of emigration/immigration by taking a more global approach, now as in the past, and exploring the entire 'migratory space' (Simon 2008) and 'circular territory' (Tarrius 1994), both of which are well covered in the recent volume on Migrazioni published by Storia d’Italia (Corti, Sanfilippo 2009).

This new transnational and global approach to migration also invites us to challenge the paradigm of integration. Drawing on ethnic studies, North-American historical research has gone so far as to distinguish between political identity and cultural identity, without placing these two concepts in opposition to each other. More generally, the maintenance and development of new forms of Italianness, in its broadest interpretation as a way "of being or feeling Italian" (Enciclopedia Treccani), have also been highlighted and debated in the social sciences.

In order to extend the potential of these studies, it seems appropriate to expand our reflexion and encourage further discussions on the interaction between the circulation of Italians around the world and their relationship with Italy from a cultural, rather than a political, perspective.

To be held concurrently with the Ciao Italia! exhibition at the National Museum of Immigration in Paris, the International Conference on "With Italy in their baggage. Migration, circulation and Italianness in the 19th-20th centuries" will bring together researchers from a wide range of disciplines.

The debates will focus, on the one hand, on the maintenance, transformation and affirmation of Italian culture during or following migration. This approach will not be restricted to integration and settlement, which cannot be ignored, but rather will re-examine these phenomena from a different angle. In other words, the objective is to understand how migration affects Italianness: what do migrants retain of their Italian culture, customs, identity (or identities) during and at the end of their voyage? How do return travel and material and cultural links with the family or country of origin contribute to the maintenance, transformation or reinforcement of migrants' identity? What are the institutions and social structures that contribute to the construction of these links? How are these links transmitted and how do they change over time?

In addition, and inversely, the conference debates will question the ways in which migration has challenged Italianness in Italy: how does migrant behaviour influence Italy's national history? in particular, how does it influence the construction and nature of a citizenship and the possible role of localism when strengthened by links with Italians overseas? There is also the question of the vectors and resources that enable an interchange between Italians living overseas and the history of their country of origin.

By bringing together in a single event, the study of Italians, their practices and cultures in Italy and in their adopted country over the last two centuries, and the different migratory routes taken by these men and women, this conference will seek to strengthen the global and cultural history of Italian migration. It will, as a result, emphasize its specificities, and indeed its similarities, through compared with other national migratory flows.

Proposals for papers should respect this general approach while reflecting specifically on one of the following themes:

- Journey(s): the complexity of journeys by Italians (one-way/two-way, multiple journeys, multi-phased migration) and pauses within the voyage (waiting periods, transit). The main focus will be on the journey’s form, duration, and rhythm and on the question of Italianness (networks, migratory links, mobilization of various resources in difficult times).

  • -  Baggage(s): baggage carried by Italians, whether physical or metaphorical (carried 'within'); choice of objects, fear of loss through theft or disappearance during the journey, and also the absence of baggage.

  • -  Paper(s): identity papers, letters, family archives, newspapers, autobiographies, money, etc., paper and papers as evidence of links between migrants and their families and between migrants in different countries, and as evidence of migration as a way of helping future generations.

  • -  Words: the Italian language for constructing identity and as a resource for Italianness. Papers will specifically address the question of language, its evolution, its loss over one or more generations, and efforts to maintain it. Songs and literature, whether or not they focus on themes of migration, can be seen as manifestations of Italian culture that contribute to the deployment of a global culture beyond the national frontier.

  • -  Gesture(s): review of cultural customs relating to transfers and exchanges, influences shared by migrants' culture of origin and that of their country of destination. Papers can cover areas as diverse as agriculture, sport, religion, cuisine, professional skills, etc.

  • -  Institutions: there will be particular emphasis on the role of institutions in the development, maintenance and reinforcement of Italianness during migration. The role of consulates, the church, and associations could be discussed from this perspective.

  • -  Time scales: during the period between 1870 and today, the rhythms, destinations and modalities of Italian migration evolved massively. To what extent has what we call Italianness been transformed during this period? Have certain political periods (Risorgimento, fascism, Years of Lead, the Berlusconi years, etc.) played a particular role? How does the memory of Italian migration contribute today to the creation of a specific form of Italianness and, if so, which form? How is it handed down within the family, whether the family remains united or is scattered through migration? What is the role of gender in this transmission, or in its non-transmission?

    Proposals for papers should be no longer than 1500 characters (including spaces) and must be sent to recherche.immigration@palais-portedoree.fr by 20 December 2016 at the latest, together with a short CV for the author.

    Speakers will have a maximum of 20 minutes for their presentations which can be given in French, English or Italian. 

Download the Call for Papers in PDF in ENGLISH, FRENCH, and ITALIAN

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