Background to the project
Bangla Stories arises out of a three year Arts and Humanities Council funded London School of Economics/University of Cambridge research project on 'the Bengal diaspora'. The project takes a multidisciplinary and comparative approach to understanding the broad historical shifts around migration of Muslims from and within the Bengal delta region in the period since 1947. The research team brought together an historian, a sociologist, an anthropologist and a development studies researcher to explore the ways in which the experience of migration both shapes, and is shaped by, the interaction between large scale historic events and small scale individual, familial and community choices, networks and resources. The project compared the experiences of migrants within the Delta region itself, who moved across the India/Bangladesh border, and those (much fewer) who migrated to the United Kingdom. We focused specifically on the experiences of Muslims, since these form the largest proportion of Bengali migrants to the UK.
The project focused on eight sites – four in India/Bangladesh and four in the United Kingdom. Through this comparative analysis within countries as well as internationally, we hoped to understand more about patterns of settlement within particular nation-state borders and regimes, and examine how communities take shape in different regional and local settings. The project employed a mixture of methods, including historical archive work, visual methods, in-depth and life history interviews and participant observation. We collected over 180 life histories of migrants - men and women of all ages and backgrounds, who had moved at different times and under very different circumstances. The aim was to collect the stories of those ordinary individuals who often remain invisible and unheard in broad conceptual and policy oriented discourses around migration, and through them to shed light on migration 'from below'.
The richness of this material, and its significance in countering taken-for-granted and dehumanising assumptions around the role and impact of migration in the contemporary world, led the project team to seek ways of disseminating these stories to a broader audience. We were particularly keen to reach out to a younger audience – young people whose lives are perhaps at one remove from the direct experience of migration but whose communities and own multicultural lives are intricately bound up with these histories and struggles. We were fortunate to be able to draw on the experience and expertise of Runnymede in bringing these fascinating stories to life here.