Refugees project description

SSHRC-funded research project 2011-2014

Stories of Homeland, Violence, and Migration: Memories and Histories of Refugees in Manitoba, 1945 to the Present

Alexander Freund, University of Winnipeg


Migrants inCanadaand around the world have drawn on memories of their homelands to make sense of the changing world around them. Violence, wars, dictatorships, oppressive regimes, and displacements of people, however, have made it ever-more difficult for refugees, exiles, expellees, and other forced as well as voluntary migrants to maintain or re-create the stable identities that allow them to contribute to their new communities. Under such trying circumstances, memories of homeland, violence, and migration have become both a burden that continually reminds migrants of the social injustices and human rights violations that have disrupted their lives and a means for crafting strategies of survival and integration.

While sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, and other scholars have developed rich research on forced migration, historians have largely ignored the history of refugees from wars and persecution in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America in the 20th and 21st centuries. Canadian immigration historians have studied several refugee groups in the mid-20th century, but focused on policy and social workers and, geographically, onToronto,Montreal, andVancouver. This research lacuna is particularly pronounced in the case of western Canada.

This project re-considers Canadian history from the 1940s to the present through the lens of refugees’ experiences, memories, and stories of homeland, violence, and migration. These three topoi–homeland, violence, migration–allow us to explore refugees’ victimization, their resistance, and their cultural creativity. Historians of forced migration have identified this “threefold process of violence, resistance, and creativity” (Rediker et al. 2007) as constitutive elements in forced migration history. This project collects refugees’ life stories as well as family interviews, documents their testimonies, and analyzes how refugees, individually and collectively, remember and narrate their experiences. It asks how refugees have made sense of their experiences and how their memories of victimization and resistance shaped their integration and community building inCanada.More broadly, this project asks about refugees’ use of history and memory for building meaningful lives in the present.

Specifically, this project develops three case studies set in Manitoba. Firstly, European postwar displaced persons’ oral histories, recorded since the 1970s, and follow-up interviews with some of these narrators as well as their children and grandchildren illuminate the long history of refugees inManitoba. Secondly, a community oral history project that records life stories of Salvadoran refugees (and their children), who came toManitobain the 1970s-1980s, sheds light on the increasing intake of non-European refugees at that time. Thirdly, a community oral history project in Winnipeg’s inner city records stories of the most recent refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Burma as well as stories of their neighbours, i.e. postwar immigrants, Aboriginals, and other Canadian-born.Close community contacts for all three projects exist. Additional archival research helps contextualize the refugees’ stories and document society’s responses and memories of these refugee groups.

The great diversity of refugees and their settlement patterns in Manitoba provides excellent opportunities for research into diverse group experiences across three generations and in rural, suburban, and inner city spaces. The final outcome includes three trained student researchers, three trained community members, two books, articles on method, and a publicly archived collection of 60 oral histories.


The project’s first objective is to document, through oral history, the experiencesof refugees who came to Manitoba from the 1940s to the early 2000s. The second objective is to analyze their life stories in order to understand how their memories of homeland, violence, and migration have shaped their attempts to maintain or re-create stable identities that allow them to contribute to their new communities. The third objective is to write refugees into Manitoban and Canadian history by writing and publishing their history in the form of an academic study (book one) and a collection of life stories (book two). The fourth objective is to train both students and members of the refugee communities in oral history theory and practice. This training is guided by the ethical and methodological principles of “sharing authority” and participatory action research. Next to “giving back” to the communities that are the subject of this research project, this kind of training and research seeks to build capacities and mobilize knowledge in the refugee communities. The fifth objective is to create an archive of refugee life stories that may be used for follow-up research and that will serve historians, sociologists, anthropologists, linguists, other researchers, documentary makers, journalists, and policy makers as material for future projects. The oral histories may also be used to develop primary, secondary, and post-secondary curricular teaching materials, especially in schools in Manitoba, where thousands of refugee youth struggle in school (Stewart forthcoming 2011).


The 20th century has been called the “century of refugees” and, with 36 million refugees worldwide and 230,000 in Canada in 2009, the early 21st century offers no sign of abatement. Despite a long history of refugee movements, historians have long ignored the history of refugees and other forced migrants (Harzig et al. 2009; Knox/Kushner 1999; Kushner 2006). Migration historians focused instead on the Transatlantic mass migrations (1820s-1930s)and left the study of Hitler’s refugees to scholars of exile, and the study of more recent refugees from wars and persecution in Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia to psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists. This lack of historical research has been largely replicated in the case of Canadian immigration historiography, which, next to studies of policy (Abella/Troper 2000; Dirks 1977; Whitaker 1987) and social workers (Iacovetta 2006; Showler 2006) and case studies of mid-20th century refugees (Aun 1985; Danys 1986; Epp 2000; Farges 2008; Keyserlingk 1993; Luciuk 2000; Maeder 2007; Puckhaber 2002; Werner 2007) has produced few studies of the recent refugee movements since the 1970s. Research has focused on the major immigrant-receiving cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver). This research lacuna is particularly pronounced in the case of western Canada. The most recent synthesis of prairie immigration history found no substantial body of historical research on refugees (Friesen/Loewen 2009).

Nevertheless, historians have developed methodologies and theories for the study of refugees that inform this project. Among oral historians studying recent refugees (Scott 1989; Grouev 2000), the most important project currently underway in Canadais the Montreal Life Stories project atConcordiaUniversity’s Oral History Centre. It records 1,000 “life stories of Montrealers displaced by war, genocide and other human rights violations” (Montreal 2010).

Historians of forced migration have developed useful categories of analysis. Rediker at al. (2007) argue that the history of forced migration “was essentially threefold, featuring a thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectic. It is a history of captivity, cruelty, torture, terror, and death, which in turn created a history of resistance and, finally, emerging from the two, a history of cultural creativity.” Focusing on the voyage experiences of “slaves, indentured servants, transported convicts, and coerced migrants of all kinds,” their analysis of the “threefold process of violence, resistance, and creativity” serves as a useful framework for developing questions about refugees’ experiences. Refugees often experienced diverse forms of incarceration, torture, and persecution before making their way toCanada. Rather than seeing this triad of experiences as a linear, chronological sequence, however, it makes more sense to understand these experiences as potentially happening simultaneously, working on each other throughout a refugee’s life trajectory. For political refugees, creativity and resistance often stood at the beginning of their experience which then led to their brutalization by the state and their flight to a safe haven which may not turn out to be a safe haven after all (Stewart 2010). Thus, a younger member of the Salvadoran community ofWinnipegreported in a private conversation that after he tried to help poor peasants with legal problems, his life was threatened and his family moved him toWinnipeg. The real trauma occurred only later, however, when he found out that one of his siblings had been brutally victimized by his own oppressors and had had to flee the country as well. InCanada, he has continued his human rights activism. Creativity, resistance, and violence can thus be useful categories of analysis if we understand them as continually interacting with each other. They help us avoid casting refugees simply and only as victims (Malkki 1996).

The topoi of home, violence, and migration provide avenues to explore this triad of violence, resistance, and creativity. Home or homeland is a central notion in immigration historiography (O’Donnell et al. 2005). Often remembered with nostalgia, the old homeland is neither always positive nor ever fixed. Migrants’ relationship to “home” changes over time (Feldman 2006) and “home” can be a source of ethnic conflict (Huttunen 2005). Memories of lost homes and forced migrations unites members of a group, but also breaks down this group into smaller groups with local and regional connections. Generation – the difference between those who lived through experiences of war and persecution and those who came after – similarly diversify memories of home (Faulenbach 2008). The new homeland is similarly complex. Werner (2007) develops the concept of “imagined home” to explain why Soviet-German refugees in 1950sWinnipegintegrated more easily than Soviet-German refugees in 1970sGermany. The former imaginedCanadaas a foreign place to which they had to adapt; the latter imagined “coming home” toGermanyand were disappointed that it was no longer “their” home. More recent refugees struggle with finding homes (Carter/Osborne 2009) and even their children struggle with making home in Winnipeg (Hebert et al. 2008). “Home” pulls the refugee in two directions. Homeland can stir memories of violence, displacement, and loss; homeland can also generate hope and creative engagement in building neighbourhoods and communities. Home is therefore a central category for analyzing refugees’ stories of belonging and exclusion.

Violence is another critical category of analysis. Epp (1997) demonstrats the concept’s power in the case of Mennonite women’s experiences and memories of rape in the wake of the Second World War while Mukhina (2005) has shown Soviet German women’s experiences of violence in the war and postwar period. The concept will not be restricted to war and persecution experiences, but also applied to domestic experiences and relations with society at large (e.g., ethnic/racial, class, and gender discrimination inCanada). The concept of migration connects the stories of home and violence and allows interviewees to tell stories of change vis-à-vis stories of home and violence that may tend to be chronologically fixed. Memories of homeland, violence, and migration are gendered (Chamberlain 1997; Epp 1997; Hamilton 2006; Mukhina 2005). This will be taken into account in this project, by interviewing both women and men (Indra 1989) and analyzing the gendering of their oral histories (Gluck 2006; Gluck/Patai 1991).

My previous research program focused on German and Jewish migrants, including displaced persons and refugees, in post-World War Two North America. Most of this research has been based on oral histories. While initially investigating gendered identity constructions of female immigrants (Freund 1994; 1998) and an analysis of decision making processes of emigrants (Freund 2004a), more recently I have focused on the role of memory and history in migrants’ identity constructions and integration processes (Freund 2002a; 2002b;2004b;2004c; 2006a; 2006b; 2008; 2009c). One of the most surprising findings of this research is that even in the case of apparent “success stories” of integration such as those of postwar German immigrants, their memories of war and flight and the way in which they are remembered in Canadian society have remained roadblocks to full integration. In some cases, German-Canadian identity has even hindered the second and third generations to feel fully at home inCanada. It is this surprising finding that was one of the initial motivations for this new project: If even postwar Northwest European (white, Christian) immigrants continue to struggle with integration because of their war memories, what then is happening with more recent, and especially non-white and non-Christian, refugees? And is there anything we can learn from the earlier immigrants that can help the more recent arrivals? Throughout my research, oral history has been my main research method and, in order to improve it, I have continuously tackled methodological and theoretical problems in oral history (Freund 2009a; 2009b;Freund/Quilici 1996).

We know very little about the history of refugees in Canada, especially those refugees who have arrived since the late 1970s, when Canada began to accept an increasing number of non-European refugees (Kelley/Trebilcock 1998), and who, while they are changing our cities, struggle with poverty and exclusion (Ghorayshi 2010; Grant/Sweetman 2004; Ray/Preston 2009). What had been their experiences of war and persecution in their homelands? What had been their migration experiences? What were their experiences of settlement inCanada? This project re-considers Canadian history from the 1940s to the present through the lens of refugees’ experiences, memories, and stories of homeland, violence, and migration. The project collects refugees’ life stories and family interviews to document their experiences of war, violence, and persecution, of multiple migrations and sometimes dangerous voyages, and their attempts to rebuild their lives inManitoba. No such history of refugees inManitobaexists so far. This project analyzes how refugees, individually and collectively, remember and narrate their experiences. It asks how refugees have made sense of their experiences and how their memories of victimization and resistance shaped their integration and community building inCanada.

The theoretical framework is motivated by questions about the “diaspora” and migration of memories (Huyssen 2003) and based on new research in memory studies (Winter 2001). Following Nora (1996‑98), historians have analyzed discourses, monuments, and other “sites of memory” to describe collective, often national, memories (e.g. Vance 1997). Oral historians, dealing with memory since the 1960s (Thompson 2000), have taken a different route. Influenced by recent social psychology (Bar-On 1995; Rosenthal 1998; Welzer 2008), cognitive psychology (Bruner 1990, 1996; Polkinghorne 1988), and neurological sciences (Schacter 1997a, 1997b), oral historians have moved from a metaphoric to a psychological understanding of social memory (Cubitt 2007; Green 2008).

This study uses the concept of “communicative memory” as described by Halbwachs (1992), developed by Jan Assmann (1995, 2005), and elaborated by HaraldWelzer (2008; Welzer et al. 2002). Communicative memory is the “short-term” memory of societies that spans the memories of experiences of the living generations. This is a period of around 90 years. Thus, the communicative memory of World War One is currently passing into the more fixed “cultural memory.” Communicative memory is constructed narratively and transmitted orally and informally. Communicative memory is not simply transferred from one generation to the next, but rather continually negotiated and constructed, often through family stories that mention the historical past only en passant. Informal communicative memories may function as counter-memories to official, dominant, or hegemonic collective memories (Popular Memory Group 2006), but they also show to what extent domineering collective memories become filters of individual experiences (Thomson 1990). Thus, communicative memory allows us to analyze both individual and collective memory as well as their multiple intersections and interactions. Yet, the concept of communicative memory must be tested in the case of refugees. Oral history interviews with recent Kazakhstan-German immigrants toManitoba as well as with Russian-Germans inSiberia evidenced remarkable breaks in the transmission of memories of violence. Although born in the 1940s and 1950s, for example, the immigrants toManitoba do not remember their parents’ experiences of war and forced deportation in theSoviet Union (Freund 2010). This project investigates how and to what degree the communicative memory concept is useful to study intergenerational memory of refugees (Loizos 2007).

Stories of violence are sometimes stories of trauma. To better understand how traumatic experiences are worked through memory and storytelling, this project draws on trauma studies (LaCapra 2003;Rogers 1994; Rogers et al. 1999). The concept of trauma helps us understand the dynamics of interviewing, remembering, forgetting, and storytelling. “Postmemory” (Hirsch 1997) is a useful concept to understand how subsequent generations live with their parents’ and grandparents’ memories of trauma. The project draws on narrative psychology to explore the narrative construction of meaning in the wake of traumatic experiences (Crossley 2000; Losi et al. 2001). The project is sensitive to the academic narrative conventions that shape refugee narratives, as psychosocial work on the war in Kosovo showed, through a “rigid and limiting constellation” of aggressor–victim–rescuer (Losi, 2001; Wilcke 2006). Thus, the project pays attention to the historical and individual specificity of traumatic experience (Malkki 2007).

For the interview analysis, transcripts are encoded (Atlas.ti qualitative data analysis software) and indexed via keywords that correspond with the major topoi and concepts of this project. The analysis is informed by oral historians’ development of narrative analysis that uses people’s stories about the past, present, and future (e.g. hopes) to explain how they understand and use history to construct their individual and collective identities (Anderson 2001; Ashplant 1998; Chamberlain 2006; Grele 1985a; Plato 2009a; Passerini 1979; Portelli 1998, 2003; Tonkin 1992; Maynes 2008). The researcher’s role in the storytelling is also analyzed (Eastmond 2007).


This project collects, records and analyzes refugees’ stories. Specifically, this project develops three case studies set inManitoba(Gold 1992). The first case study will be an analysis of European postwar displaced persons’ oral histories, recorded since the 1970s (fully digitized and transcribed and in my possession), and of follow-up interviews to be conducted with ten of these narrators as well as with their children and grandchildren. These trans-generational interviews will illuminate the long history of refugees inManitobaand the ways in which experiences are remembered and forgotten. The second case study is a community oral history project that records twenty life stories of Salvadoran refugees (and their children), who came to Manitoba in the 1970s-1980s. This case study sheds light onCanada’s increasing intake of non-European refugees from the late 1970s onward. Members of the Salvadoran refugee community have expressed great interest in and enthusiasm for such a project. The third case study is a community oral history project inWinnipeg’s inner city neighbourhood of Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews. It records twenty stories of recent refugees fromSomalia,Ethiopia,Sudan,Afghanistan, andBurmaas well as stories of their neighbours, i.e. postwar immigrants, Aboriginals, and other Canadian-born.The leadership of the Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews Community Association is enthusiastic about this project and has been cooperating since spring 2010. Interviewees in the two community projects will be recruited through the snowball system, with the help of community leaders, and through letters-to-the-editor in community newspapers. They will be selected on the basis of the diversity of their experiences. Additional archival research helps contextualize the refugees’ stories and document society’s responses and memories of these refugee groups.

Refugees usually share stories of home, violence, and migration – if at all – in small private circles of family and friends, and only orally (Keppler 2008). As we know from many oral history projects with Holocaust survivors, Nazi slave workers, refugees, and others with difficult and traumatic experiences, oral history interviews are sometimes the first time that painful memories are shared and made public. Interviews will be conducted with individuals and with families. It is expected that unpublished documents such as diaries, memoirs, letters, and emails may be provided by interviewees for contextual information. For the postwar migrations, federal and provincial government files are accessible while for more recent migrations, refugee aid organizations inManitobaprovide access to further information (the organization Manitoba Refugee Sponsors agreed to give access to anonymous case files and stories of refugees).

The major research method of this project is oral history, particularly the life-story and family interview methods. Following Portelli (1991a), oral history is understood as “an event in itself.” This event changes the interviewee and interviewer, because together they construct a meaningful story about the interviewee’s life. Furthermore, this event that can be analyzed “to recover not only the material surface of what happened, but also the narrator’s attitude toward events, the subjectivity, imagination, and desire that each individual invests in the relationship with history.” The interview method used is a three-phase life story approach, developed by von Plato for a Europe-wide oral history project with former Nazi slave workers (Plato 2000, 2009a, 2009b, 2010). It allows interviewees (in phase one) to tell their life stories as extensively and unhindered as possible (with no or minimal intervention by the interviewer). After asking clarifying questions (phase two), the interviewer asks questions about themes that were not developed in the life story (phase three). Such life stories vary in time from one hour to dozens of hours, but the average length is around three hours. This hermeneutic interviewing method generates an overarching life story as well as an abundance of stories about specific events, places, people, and experiences. If interviewees possess photographs and other documents they are willing to share, interviews will include an additional session devoted to these documents. In these photo interviews, the documents are digitally captured and archived (pending consent by third parties depicted in the pictures) (Freund/Thomson forthcoming 2011).

It is important to emphasize that oral history goes beyond storytelling. The method’s basic assumption is that people’s stories may differ from their experiences (Grele 1985b; Portelli 1991b); experience, memory, and story are not mutually exclusive concepts but are entangled, continually generating and reshaping each other (Cubitt 2007). Experiences may be eclipsed by public or published narratives that come to be remembered as one’s own experiences (Figes 2008; Plato 2000) or they are molded by narrative conventions that (government and non-government) agencies expect. Refugees go through several stages of recounting of experiences, from first reception at refugee camps to screening interviews by asylum-granting countries (Bakewell 2008; Lacroix 2004; Malkki 1992; Polzer 2008) but are seldom given a secure space to develop their stories in full. Careful questioning (not interrogation), anonymity, and data ownership create safe spaces for refugees to reveal their experiences beyond and underneath their “public” stories.

Oral stories are remembered (Welzer 2008) and told (McMahan 2006) in the context of the interview and must thus be interpreted. Interviews are “conversational narratives” (Grele 1985b) in which interviewer and interviewee share authority in the construction of memory (Frisch 1990). Thus, interviews are not just expressions of memory, but collaborative constructions of individual and collective memory.

The second interview form is the family interview, pioneered by Bar-On (1995) and Rosenthal (1998) and developed further by Welzer et al. (2002). All three are social psychologists who interviewed German families about the Nazi past and showed that such interviews about difficult, painful, even taboo events are possible and generate rich data. In family interviews, members of two or more generations together talk about their history. The interviewer intervenes by suggesting concrete topics (e.g. refugee camp experiences) and introducing documents (photographs, maps). Family interviews are conducted after individual interviews with family members. Thus, family experiences (and family photographs) can be introduced as topics of discussion (with previous consent by interviewees). Both individual and family interviews provide insights into the construction of collective memory (Freund 2009).

Interviews are recorded on professional digital audio recorders and with professional wireless clip-on microphones; sound will be monitored through headphones. This insistence on professional quality audio recording ensures archival and broadcast quality. It is anticipated that most interviews will be conducted in English, but some may be conducted, with the help of translators, in other languages. All interviews will be transcribed. Researchers will be trained in all aspects of oral history methodology (interviewing, processing). All interviewees will receive copies of their oral histories (CDs and transcripts).

Several ethical considerations shape the research methodology beyond the Tri-Council research ethics procedures. Researchers working with vulnerable communities acknowledge that ethical considerations encompass more than the obligation to do no harm; to give back is just as important (Borofsky 2005). Oral historians have long acknowledged the importance of sharing authority in the interview process (Frisch 1990) and, more recently, also in other aspects of oral history, such as research design (Hecht 1998; High 2008; 2009). This has been reinforced by the model of participatory action research (Cooper 2005; Sutherland/Cheng 2009), which this project uses as one of its guidelines to give back to the communities. Thus, in the case of the two community projects, this project seeks to do more than give a forum for the narrators’ voices ‑ it seeks to give communities skills to speak for themselves. Through extensive collaboration and training in oral history workshops for community members and through community members’ integration as project researchers, this project, in cooperation with theUniversityofWinnipeg’s Oral History Centre, seeks to build capacities and mobilize knowledge in the refugee communities. Guidance here will be sought particularly from Concordia’s Oral History Centre, which has gained much experience in its CURA-funded research project on “life stories of Montrealers displaced by war, genocide and other human rights violations” (Montreal 2010).

Communication of Results

Results will be presented at the meetings of the Canadian Ethnic Studies Association, the Canadian Historical Association, and the International Oral History Association and at other conferences as opportunities arise. The main publications emerging from this project are two books (an academic study of the refugees’ memories and a collection of refugee testimonies). I will encourage researchers to publish articles, websites, and other forms of communication based on the research data. I plan to publish methodological articles on oral history (project design; the family interview method; analysis of translated interviews; oral history as participatory action research) and theoretical articles on communicative memory and memory migration. Articles will be submitted to Oral History (UK), BIOS (Germany), Oral History Review (USA), and Oral History Forum d’histoireorale (Canada) and other journals. Research results will be disseminated through my Chair’s and the Oral History Centre’s public lecture series and websites. The oral histories will be deposited at Manitoba archives for the use of researchers, policy-makers, educators, journalists, and the general public.

Student Training

Since 2003, I have trained and directed two graduate students and three undergraduate students in oral history, life history, and photo interview techniques. In addition, I have trained two undergraduate students in transcribing and summarizing interviews. Altogether, the students collected 80 interviews for the project “Culture and Diversity on the Prairies” and 50 interviews for the project “Encounters.” More recently, I twice taught a third year course on oral history and am currently teaching an Honours/Graduate Seminar on History and Memory. In 2009, I trained twelve students for a Filipino immigrant community oral history project inWinnipeg. I gave workshops(Master Classes) on “Memory, History, Trauma and the Practice of Oral History” and “Life Story Interviewing” at the 2008 and 2010 International Oral History Conferences.

I will draw on this experience to train three graduate and undergraduate students in the theory and practice of oral history, a method they will use to conduct interviews for this project and which they may also use in their graduate research projects or other professional fields such as education, social work, and journalism. I will also train three members of refugee communities. They will work with me and the student researchers in conducting and processing the interviews for this project. Ideally, student researchers will also come from the refugee communities; a goal that is feasible considering the number of refugees among theUniversityofWinnipeg’s student population. Contacts in all three refugee communities at the centre of this project have been well established. Over the last eight years, since my own immigration toCanada, I have established close contacts amongManitoba’s former displaced persons from postwarEurope. Over the last two years, I have established close contacts with the Salvadoran refugee community, who have expressed a great interest in an oral history project with their community. Together with my colleague and co-director of theUniversityofWinnipeg’s Oral History Centre, I have established close contacts with the Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews Community Association inWinnipeg’s inner city. They too have expressed an eager interest in a community oral history project. Collaborative work on project design began in the spring of 2010. Community researchers will be selected with the help of community leaders and on the basis of their qualifications. From the very beginning, collaboration and cooperation with the communities will form the bedrock of the research projects (Schneider 2002).

Preparation for all researchers will be to read the project proposal as well as relevant secondary literature on the history of refugees and forced migrations. They will then attend a series of workshops and continuous meetings and debriefings throughout the three-year research project. The project proposal will also be made available to the communities and their input sought (see below under workshops).

Year One: In a preliminary one-week workshop (#1), researchers will meet to get to know each other and discuss their understanding of the project. They will learn about basic research methods (important for the community researchers) and ethics (including confidentiality); student researchers partner with community researchers. The last day will include a public session that brings members of diverse refugee communities together, introduces the project and the researchers to the community, and seeks for community feedback.

In preparation for sub-project number one (postwar refugees), researchers will conduct research (3 months) on already existing oral histories with displaced persons and other postwar refugees in Manitoba as well as archival and other primary sources on the history of refugees in Manitoba. They will write extensive notes, meet every two to three weeks to share their findings, and, at the end of the first six months of Year One of the project, they will write extensive reports on their findings.

At the beginning of the second half of Year One, researchers will take a three-week introductory workshop (#2) at theUniversityofWinnipeg’s Oral History Centre. In week one, researchers will learn the basics of oral history, be introduced to the recording equipment, and conduct practice interviews. In week two, the practice interviews will be evaluated and researchers will be introduced to the family/group interview method. In week three, researchers will be introduced to ethics and work with potentially traumatized people. This part will be conducted in cooperation with Klinic Student Health Services, Aurora Family Therapy Centre (both linked to theUniversityofWinnipeg), Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s new Refugee Health Clinic, andConcordiaUniversity’s Oral History Centre, which has gained much experience in interviewing refugees and other traumatized people inMontreal(Montreal 2010). Parts of this workshop, such as hands-on equipment instruction, will be open to interested members of the refugee communities. This is done in part to establish personal connections and build trust, and is done in part to begin a broader process of skill transfer that reaches beyond the training of the members of the research team.

This introduction to oral history and interviewing refugees will be followed up with regular debriefing sessions, especially during periods of interviewing, at the Oral History Centre where researchers will share experiences. A therapeutic counsellor will be present at these meetings. Researchers will also be able to provide interviewees with contact information for counsellors.

In the second half of Year One, researchers will conduct life-story interviews with postwar refugees who had been previously interviewed for other projects from the 1970s to the 1990s. They will also interview their children and grandchildren and conduct family group interviews. Altogether, they will conduct 20 interviews. Researchers will conduct interviews in teams or by themselves, depending on what they and their interviewees feel more comfortable with. Before beginning to transcribe the interviews, researchers will take a two-day workshop (#3) on transcribing as an exercise in deep listening and narrative analysis (this part will again be open to interested members of the refugee communities). They will also be introduced to Atlas.ti qualitative data analysis software, which they will use to code the transcripts.

In a concluding two-day workshop (#4) at the end of Year One, researchers will present summary reports of their interviews, research and discuss implications of their findings for the two community oral history projects (sub-project number two on Salvadoran refugees, sub-project number three on Daniel McIntyre community). The second day of this workshop will be open to the public and summary reports be made accessible.

In Years Two and Three, researchers will conduct research on the history of the Salvadoran refugee community inManitobaas well as on the history of the Daniel McIntyre neighbourhood. They will conduct 20 interviews in each community. Over the course of the whole project, each researcher will conduct 10-20 interviews (life story and family interviews), depending on whether they conduct them with another researcher or by themselves. As in Year One, researchers will meet regularly for debriefings and to share their research findings. Researchers will write research summaries at the end of each half year which will be made accessible to the refugee communities. At the end of Years Two and Three, there will be three-day workshops (#5, #6) to discuss and share research findings, again with one day set aside for broader community consultations. At the end of Year Three, there will also be a major public event, bringing the three refugee communities, other refugee and migrant communities as well as the wider public together for a presentation of the research.

At the end of their research, the researchers will each write a 15,000 word report on their research findings. The reports will be structured on the basis of experience, memory, and storytelling as well as homeland, violence, and migration as the guiding concepts. These reports will be published, either online or in a print publication. Throughout the project, research will be shared among the research team through a secure online server. Researchers will be encouraged to publish their findings in the form of articles, websites, exhibits, etc. Student researchers will be allowed to use the research data for their M.A. theses or Ph.D. dissertations.

Previous and Ongoing Research Results

My long-term research program since 1993 has followed two interconnected strands of inquiry: first, the history of German migrations worldwide with a focus on refugee and labour migration to North America during the 1940s and 1950s; second, the theory and practice of oral history as a central method of historical inquiry. In my early work (Freund 1994, 1998, Freund/Quilici 1995, 1996), I explored the narrative construction of identity in oral histories with German immigrant women in postwarVancouver. The current project similarly asks questions about identity construction through storytelling, but comes at it with a much more sophisticated methodological and theoretical apparatus.

I refined and expanded my research in my doctoral work (Freund 2004a), where I explained, through a deep analysis of life story interviews and a broad range of archival sources, how migrants come to the decision to migrate. The case study was the history of German refugee and labour migration to North America andAustraliafrom the mid-1940s to the early 1960s. One third of these migrants were German refugees fromGermany’s former eastern territories and fromEastern Europe. The current project is linked to the doctoral work through both attention to migrations in the wake of political upheaval, state violence, war, flight, expulsion, and poverty, and attention to oral history as a research method. Much of this work as well as my later work atColumbiaUniversityinforms my understanding and practice of oral history and will inform the training of researchers.

In my post-doctoral project, I investigated how German immigrants in postwarNorth Americawere confronted with the Third Reich, World War Two, and the Holocaust (Freund 2002b). I was particularly interested in the immigrants’ personal encounters and relations, but also investigated confrontations with diverse media such as war movies and press reports. I also interviewed German and Jewish North Americans about their relations with each other in the shadow of the Shoah (Freund 2006a). This project showed me that it is possible and rewarding to interview people about topics that are commonly perceived as difficult, traumatic, or taboo. Furthermore, in this project I began to use the concept of collective memory to study migrants’ experiences (Freund 2004b). At the same time I took a closer look at the nexus of individual storytelling and social discourses to find out how apparently authentic experiences, autonomous memories, and unique stories are deeply shaped by publicly available and dominant “plots” and master narratives (Freund 2004c). I then investigated in greater detail how migrants negotiate the collective memories of their countries of origin and destination; I demonstrated that German-Canadians have failed to integrate their “German” war memories into the Canadian collective memory of the Second World War (Freund 2006b). Taking a broader approach, I explored how German migrants’ encounters with the Nazi past created and shaped German diasporic experiences if not a diasporic identity. I argued that German migrant’s external and internal (mostly negative, distancing) identification with the Nazi past constituted a connection – albeit a negative one – to the old homeland (Freund 2008).

More recently, I have worked on methodological problems in oral history (Freund 2009a; 2009b; Freund/Thomson forthcoming 2011). Most relevant to the current project is an article about a three-generational family interview (Freund 2009c). This research will guide the current project’s approach to family interviews.



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 Alexander Freund: “Stories of Homeland, Violence, and Migration.” SSHRC 2011-2014 (2011_07_10)


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