Child in the World seminar: Conflict and Migration in Museums (3 December 2013)

Conflict and Migration in Museums

Is there a danger, when migration becomes a contentious topic of political debate, that museums retreat from dealing with the inevitable conflicts that arise in developing relationships with migrant communities and representing their lives? This seminar, drawing on lessons learnt in the UK, France and Australia, opens up debate on how to use conflict constructively.

Date: 3 Dec 2013
Time: 17.30 – 19.00
Place: V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA

17.30 – 17.50 Museum as Conflict Zone: A ‘social justice’ approach, where the museum is seen as a site for dialogue and debate is being adopted by museums across the world. Undoubtedly such democratic processes create new spheres of conflict and resistance. Citizens, formerly kept quiet under hidden linkages of domination, inevitably become animated. Based upon recent work Object: Working through Conflict in Museums, Dr Bernadette Lynch explores the implications of building relationships with migrant communities with whom embracing conflict becomes a necessity.

17.50 – 18.10 Neo-colonialist representations, silencing and re-appropriations in National Museum of the History of Immigration, France: Dr. Sophia Labadi charts the conflicting processes and decisions at play in the translation of the aims of the Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration, Paris (CNHI) into the museography and interpretation of the collections. She critiques the usages made of this heritage space, particularly its unauthorised occupation by illegal workers for four months from October 2010 to January 2011. The CNHI is the only national museum dedicated to celebrating the positive contributions of migrants to France.

18.10 – 18.30 Migration, politics and museum audience: Representing ‘boat people’ in Australia: Dr Eureka Henrich focuses on the representation of refugees who arrive by boat, a highly politicized issue in Australia. Museums are under pressure to attract a wide audience, develop relationships with migrant communities and present ‘plain facts’ – tasks which may be incompatible with each other and with curators’ desires to challenge dominant representations of migrants. Henrich explores the implications of how curators and others have negotiated these conflicts through reference to Australia’s rich history of migration exhibitions including how children’s objects and drawings have been used to elicit empathy.

18.30 – 19.00 Panel discussion


Dr. Bernadette Lynch lectures and publishes widely, advising internationally on democratic practice and public participation in museums. She has worked on high-profile action research projects across the UK. These include publishing the influential report Whose Cake is it Anyway? on the impact of engagement and participation and heading a museum partnership project/ publication on working through issues of conflict as central to democratic engagement in the cultural sector.

Dr. Sophia Labadi is a Lecturer in Heritage Studies, Director of the Centre for Heritage at the University of Kent and a consultant for international organizations. She previously worked for UNESCO and the 2003 Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention and participated in the strategic planning and drafting of the 2009 UNESCO World Report on Cultural Diversity. Her latest publication is ‘UNESCO, Cultural Heritage and Outstanding Universal Value’ published in 2013 by AltaMira.

Dr Eureka Henrich is an early career historian at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, King’s College, London. Her doctoral research, presently being converted into a book, tracked how migration histories have been exhibited in Australian museums. This covered the period from the establishment of the first museum of migration in the world in Adelaide in 1986 to the present day. Her article, ‘Museums, history and migration in Australia’ was published by History Compass, Oct 2013.

This seminar is part of the AHRC Collaborative Award Programme, The Child in the World: Empire, Diaspora and Global Citizenship involving Queen Mary University of London and the V&A Museum of Childhood.

To book a free place please email: or ring 020 8983 5205

For further details email Eithne Nightingale on