Migration Museum to celebrate the role of migrants in the shaping of national identity


"100 Images of Migration" Competition invites you to share your personal story

25 May 2011. It was back in 2003 that Barbara Roche, former Minister for Immigration, first issued a challenge to the cultural sector to back the ideal of a national Migration Museum – an inspiring and moving institution to celebrate the role that migration has played in the national story.  

migration_museum_project.jpgIn 2009, the Migration Museum Working Group, a group of volunteers led by Barbara Roche, secured seed funding from the Baring Foundation to get the project of the first dedicated national Migration Museum off the ground.

Immigration is a perpetual front-page story, much to the fore in all discussions of Britishness. It is a warm political topic with bold implications for our national identity. Above all, it is a gripping story, full of stirring individual tales.

A serious, A-list Museum of Migration would position this story where it belongs: in the mainstream, as a central part of our collective memory.

Britain has thousands of museums dedicated to a variety of themes, but no major, comprehensive Museum of Migration – the US has Ellis Island and Britain needs something similar. A museum which will be an enquiry into who we are, where we came from and where we are going.

A high-profile, symbolic, declarative institution that treats immigration not as a difficult or tiresome subject, but as a major event in its own right, is long overdue.

It would be the natural forum for academic debate about national identity and belonging at all levels. By making a powerful cultural statement it would play a major role in the ongoing national conversation about identity, history and all aspects of Britishness.

The effects of the museum are likely to be the promotion of racial understanding and justice in all parts of society; the museum would support diversity and social cohesion both by promoting and enhancing high quality debate and also through its symbolic resonance.

It would be a showcase for the power of migration, but also an archive and research body – an exhibition space and a think-tank rolled into one. In all these ways it would be a decisive addition to the national landscape.

The plans are for the museum to be, as Ellis Island, a major destination for travellers to Britain, a must-do attraction, as anything less would do a disservice to the subject by subtly relegating it to the margins. It should thus be located in a resonant building, either by converting an existing structure of by encouraging an (immigrant?) architect to create a powerful and lasting symbolic legacy. The docklands area in East London is the most obvious location, but it could also be a focal point for regeneration in cities such as Birmingham, Cardiff, Southampton or Liverpool – places of disembarkation where immigrants have been arriving and settling for centuries.


As fund-raising progresses, the first concrete step towards the making of the Museum’s endowment is the "100 Images of Migration" competition, run in conjunction with the Guardian newspaper.

Do you have a memento or a personal story that you would like to share? Would you like to submit an image that says something about migration in a wider sense? Capture these stories by sending the Migration Museum your image with a short explanation of no more than 100 words explaining what it means to you. Photographs, paintings, collages, or any other kind of images are welcome.  

A selection of winning entries will feature in Guardian Weekend magazine.

The Guardian Weekend magazine will feature a selection of the winning images. The closing date for the competition is 17th June 2011.

Images can be uploaded via the Guardian article or via the Migration Museum Project website .


Immigration is an old story, yet still one waiting to be told: it embraces medieval Jews, European protestants in the 17th century, African slaves escaping the transports, Irish and Italian labourers in the 19th century, Baltic Jews fleeing Tsarist Russia, and the long, 20th century stream of arrivals from Britain’s dwindling overseas empire. The country has been hugely shaped by these commotions. Without migration we would lose Ritz, Schweppes, Brunel and Selfridge. We could lay no claim to Eliot, Conrad, Naipaul or Brendel; and would not have Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Dollond and Aitcheson, Triumph, ICI, Warburg or Rothschild. We would not have pizzas and pastas, curries and spring rolls, kebabs and oxtail soup. And who would we cheer without our thousands of migrant sports stars? Even characters who seem typically British – Winston Churchill (American mother), Audrey Hepburn (nee Eda van Heemstra), and Stephen Fry (Austrian mother) – often turn out to have foreign parentage.

The fruits of this migration are well-known yet easy to overlook. Our own time – the era of cheap transport and quicksilver communications – is accelerating the process and pushing it beyond traditional boundaries. The mothers and fathers of modern Britain’s children are American-Chinese, Welsh-Sikh, Pakistani-Irish, German-Ghanaian, Australian-Somali, Indian- French, Greek-Columbian or Russian-Jamaican. A 21st century British toddler might well have Danish-Iranian or Sri-Lankan-Italian roots. Something new is being created. We aim to build its flagship.

The Museum would tell stories using the full range of modern interactive methods: moving image (newsreel, movies, documentaries); audio (oral history); documentary (letters, papers, records etc); art (paintings, etchings, cartoons); photography, clothes, food, engineering, design, architecture etc. It should capture the emotion of migration through the excitements of travel: boats, trains, planes.

It would contain:

– a permanent exhibition, capturing both the grand sweep of the story and the many individual episodes.

– a gene-reading experience, a DNA fingerprint for tracing ancestry.

– a library or archive for research and reference, for scholars, students, etc.

– A space for temporary exhibitions. This would resemble the West End stage: it would be a platform for regional works which could transfer to the museum.

– A space for other events – plays, concerts, debates, readings, launches, parties etc.

– A travelling roadshow which could take itself to schools, colleges, festivals etc.

– A collection of individual Life Stories. Some would be success stories; some would be hard luck stories; some would be tragedies.


Contact the Migration Museum Project:

Sophie Henderson
Project co-ordinator
Email: [email protected]


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