The Go-Betweens: Youth, Migration, and Knowledge Transfer

AHA Session 163
Central European History Society 8
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Murray Hill West (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Simone Lässig, German Historical Institute Washington
Swen Steinberg, Queen’s University at Kingston

Session Abstract

Knowledge is a matter for grown-ups, or so scholarship in the history of knowledge would seem to suggest. Children and adolescents have scarcely figured in the rapidly growing literature on the history of knowledge, be it as subjects of adult study or as knowledge actors in their own right. The proposed session seeks not only to address this research lacuna but also to open new avenues of inquiry by focusing on two distinctive yet highly diverse groups: first, young people who migrated to new knowledge cultures and, second, children and adolescents who didn’t migrate but were confronted with “migrated” knowledge from abroad that often became hegemonic within their own cultures.

Working at the intersection of knowledge, migration, colonial history and youth studies, the session participants aim to demonstrate that studying young people in transnational, colonial and migration-related contexts can reveal unrecognized but socially relevant processes of knowledge formation and underappreciated connections among producers and translators of knowledge. The four papers will shed new light on these connections by considering young people in different settings of migration and knowledge circulation. The session will demonstrate the value of employing a broad understanding of knowledge that extends beyond formally educated actors and academically sanctioned knowledge orders.

Recent scholarship has built important foundations for such a knowledge-centered inquiry, but it also points to desiderata. Historians of education and historians of migration have so far focused on concepts like assimilation and cultural conflict, and they have usually viewed young people as passive receivers of a hegemonic knowledge transmitted to them. The organizers and participants of this session, which brings together scholars from the history of the Americas, European history, and global history, propose another perspective. They argue that we can productively apprehend young people as historical actors who were able to translate between cultures and produce new knowledge in processes of migration and cultural translation. Because of their grounding in multiple cultures, young migrants often became important go-betweens, as young people did in colonial and post-colonial contexts. The panelists argue that young people modified migrated knowledge and turned knowledge produced for and conveyed to them into new and often subversive bodies of knowledge co-created by them.

Two of four papers will explore the knowledge young migrants produced in transnational settings. Simone Laqua-O’Donnell presents a case study on missionary families before World War I. Emily Marker considers students from Africa in France after 1945. The other two papers will reflect on situations where knowledge rather than young people migrated: Protestant mission schools in British colonies in Sub-Sahara Africa (Elisabeth Engel) and German schools in Chile (Glenn Penny). In his comment, Swen Steinberg will consider the points of intersection of these four case studies from a theoretical perspective and on the constellation of young people, knowledge, and migration as a promising field of historical investigation.

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