Journeys and travel seem to characterise our age. Often we think of travel as an ambition, a pleasure or something that we look forward to. Over the last few months, however, we have been reminded, again and again, how travel and journeys can be forced by the worst of situations – situations that leave people with no homes, no belongings and little hope.
The first session of our conference has thought about travel and migration. Amy Levin has spoken about the current refugee crisis and explored the responses of museums. Rhiannon Mason spoke about how Tyneside Museums in the North East of England have approached issues of migration in their displays and exhibitions.
So what is the role of museums here? How can a museum respond to a current issue of migration? What role can museums play in creating welcoming communities and in addressing hostile attitudes often experienced by new communities?
For me, the opportunities for museums are rich and many. They help us make sense of our world(s), whether that be a (once) familiar world that we feel is changing around us, or a new world where we are taking our first footsteps. They can tell positive stories of migration and integration. They can actively engage with, and welcome new arrivals and support their integration. They can help us understand how our lives can be enriched through encounters with other people and cultures. They can support the fight against prejudice, intolerance and discrimination.
Most importantly, perhaps, museums can remind us that migration is not really the story of our ‘global contemporary’, but an age-old tale in which we are all protagonists and all continue to have a role to play: a role to build, fair, tolerant, welcoming, helpful and just societies.