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Day School – Gender, Memory and Modernity – Abstracts (May 2005)

Posted on May 26, 2005 by Administrator

Thursday, May 26, 2005
Wood Room, Plassey House
University of Limerick

‘Remembering Home, Seeking Belonging,
Experiencing Return’

Dr Yvonne McKenna

IRHSS Post-Doctoral Fellow
Women’s Studies, University of Limerick

Migration is necessarily a destablising process – for the individual migrant, for the sending nation, for the host society. It challenges any sense of the nation or nationality as fixed, immutable and asks that we think more fluidly about related concepts such as belonging and home. It recasts, redefines and reinvents not just the nation but the individual. Depending on how it is viewed, it invites or demands a construction of self. We ask of migrants, are asked as migrants, where are you from? Where it is you belong? In that moment and over time, we might choose or be forced to recast, redefine and reinvent ourselves. Both memory and imagination are key to the process.

In recent years, Irish migration, both ‘in-’ and ‘out-’, has been seized upon in attempts to define and make sense of Ireland and Irishness, though less attention has been given to the experience of returning Irish migrants. This paper draws on the oral history testimonies of Irish women religious living in or returned from England to explore how they articulate a sense of self in relation to their experiences of returning to Ireland temporarily and permanently. Themes of ‘belonging’, ‘contested belonging’ and ‘not belonging’ dominate the accounts, the women’s sense of feeling ‘at home’ in Ireland contingent upon a range of factors both within and outside their control. In particular, this paper highlights the significance of gendered and Irish identity to each of these three experiences and the inter-dynamics between the women’s sense of self as women and as Irish to enabling, facilitating or impeding ‘at homeness’ in Ireland.

‘The role of memory in the experience of
German-speaking exiles in Ireland 1933-45’

Birte Schulz
IRCHSS Postgraduate Scholar
University of Limerick

My talk derives from a larger project, whose aim it is to collect and evaluate oral and written testimonies from the refugees who fled Nazi-Germany between 1933 and 1945 and made their homes in Ireland. It investigates how the imposed exile, i.e. the change of physical location together with the loss of linguistic and cultural community or even family, affected their sense of identity and how they related to their old and new homes.In this context memory in the form of oral testimony or written autobiography plays a vital part as a record of the past and in the re-building of identity. Paul Tillich, for example, whose dialectic model of the experience of exile I am using in the analysis of the written and oral sources, wrote his first autobiographical sketch On the Boundary in 1936 in America, probably as a result of his need to establish his identity in a new country. But memory also undermines this process. Tillich’s concept of the ‘boundary situation’ captures the feeling of many exiles of being torn between their old homes and their lives in their host countries. In his essay Reflections on Exile Edward Said points out that the exile’s existence in the host country is inescapably bound up and at odds with the memory of the life that has been left behind: For an exile, habits of life, expression, or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of these things in another environment. Thus both the new and the old environments are vivid, actual, occurring together contrapuntally. Thus, the exile is cast into the psychological space between home country and host country where he or she is now faced with the task of forging a new identity from the two separate sets of meanings this binary opposition opens up. My study attempts to trace whether this process is marked by the integration of the two plains of reference, by rejection of one in favour of the other or by ambiguity to both, which leaves one with a general feeling of uprootedness.

‘German-speaking Exiles in Ireland:
Writing Family Histories as Case Studies’

Dr Gisela Holfter
Department of Languages and Cultural Studies
University of Limerick

Exile studies are a well-developed research area**. There are several research centres and archives in Germany, Austria, Great Britain and the USA (Frankfurt/M, Leipzig, Hamburg, Berlin, Innsbruck, Graz, Vienna, London and SUNY Albany as well as the Leo Baeck Institutes). For several years a group of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies (Institute of Germanic Studies, London) has been pursuing a project to gather material and assess the lives of exiles in Great Britain (The ‘Oral History Project’). However, in Ireland there has been no systematic research in the area and little primary research with the exiles themselves.

Following the work on John Hennig, regarded as one of the main researchers and founders of Irish-German Studies (G. Holfter, H. Rasche: John Hennig’s Exile in Ireland, Galway: Arlen 2004) I am concentrating at present on researching family histories. In this seminar I will present initial results and difficulties encountered by using the example of two families (Scheyer/Weil and Lewy). Concentrating on these families should help to go beyond the more common biographical approach of looking only at individual famous (male) writers and academics in exile. It is intended to look closely at the situation of women and children in exile – and also to discuss the much more challenging situation regarding source materials about women and children. By closely examining different families with different support-groups and who reached Ireland at different stages, themes and analyses can be drawn out in such a way that general application to the wider class of German-speaking exiles in Ireland can be considered.

**For an overview of the research literature in Exile Studies see: Yearbooks of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies (Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi, since 1999); Jahrbuch Exilforschung, München: Text & Kritik, since 1983; Wolfgang Benz, Flucht aus Deutschland – Zum Exil im 20. Jahrhundert, München: dtv 2001, Evelyn Adunka, Peter Roessler (eds), Die Rezeption des Exils – Geschichte und Perspektiven der österreichischen Exilforschung, Wien: Mandelbaum 2002.