The U.K.'s First Migration Museum Wants to Remind Visitors of a Not-So-Distance Past

Sarah Shearman, Pacific Standard
July 11, 2017
"Immigration has long been a crucial issue for Britain—the island nation has a centuries-long, complex history with migrants. Recently, the topic has divided the nation politically: Before Britons headed to the polls last month for a general election, it was one of the biggest issues discussed on doorsteps nationwide. Concern about immigration's impact on jobs, houses, and services, was the driving force behind why the country voted to leave the European Union by a majority of 52 percent last year, some pundits have argued.

Nevertheless, there remains a gap in the nation's education and cultural sector when it comes to the topic of people movement. While other migrant hubs, like New York City and Paris, have museums dedicated to the study and history of immigration, the United Kingdom has been missing a similar institution for most of its history. That is, until the The Migration Museum opened in the city in late April. Though it's currently based in a temporary arts space, the museum is seeking a permanent location.

The museum is the brainchild of the Migration Museum Project, an organization that stages exhibits and workshops across Britain to boost understanding around people movement. Immigration has not been completely neglected by the country's cultural sector—19 Princelet Street, the Museum of London Docklands, the Huguenot Museum in Rochester, and the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool also examine migration—but no pre-existing museum looks at "the long story" of migration in the U.K., says Sophie Henderson, an immigration lawyer and director of the Migration Museum. "And not just the story of immigration, but emigration, because over hundreds of years it's very much been a two-way story of people coming and going.""

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