“Environments of Exile: Refugees, Nature, and Representations”       Biennial Conference of the North American Society for Exile Studies     Supported by Jewish Studies at Queen’s University, Kingston/Ontario

September 23-25, 2021, Online

Forced migration always takes place within cultural, social, and political environments, but also within specific natural environments: natural disasters and conservation efforts trigger migration. At the same time, escape also takes place in nature – for example, when people hide in forests, flee across unguarded ‘green’ borders, or cannot reach safety behind oceans or mountains. But migration brings people also into different climates they are not familiar with. These considerations affect survival in different ways because specific knowledge about nature and the environment influences flight and exile too: both about the conditions of survival in nature during flight (shelter, food, health) and also the possibilities of arrival and integration during exile, for example through specific knowledge about nature in agriculture, mining, or forestry. Consequently, exiles and refugees had an impact on the environment if their knowledge about nature was not ignored or subdued. Furthermore, natural spaces, especially at borders, were places of resistance to persecution and oppression; here, nature became a political space where knowledge circulation took place, and relief was organized. Finally, exile and environment are also related to the transformation or conservation of identity. These processes can be reconstructed, for example, in memories as well as in artistic representations about environments of exile.

The Biennial Conference of the North American Society for Exile Studies “Environments of Exile: Refugees, Nature, and Representations” follows recent debates about the human right to landscape (Egoz/Mahkzoumi/Pungetti 2011) and approaches in the Environmental History of Modern Migrations (Amiero/Tucker 2017) by extending them to historical perspectives on forced migration: to spatialities and temporalities of environment in contexts of escape and exile in the first half of the 20th century and, in particular, the flight from Nazi-occupied Europe – the Belgian refugee family on their bikes fleeing the German invasion in 1940 in the header of this website are an example for this global refugee movement. Nevertheless, papers dealing with other refugee movements or comparative perspectives are part of the conference program too.

The conference is organized by Swen Steinberg (Queen’s University, Kingston – German Historical Institute Washington, DC with its Pacific Regional Office at the University of California, Berkeley) and Helga Schreckenberger (University of Vermont, Burlington – President of the North American Society for Exile Studies). This event is supported by Jewish Studies at Queen’s University, Kingston/Ontario


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