Biography, Cultural Studies, Historical Studies, Humanities, Life Writing

Migrating People, Migrating Data: Digital Approaches to Migrant Heritage

09.11.18 | Comment?

Global migration is one of the defining characteristics of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Migrants all over the world have left multiple traces in different countries, and this cultural heritage is of growing interest to researchers and to the migrant communities themselves. Cultural heritage institutions, however, have dwindling funds and resources to meet the demand for the heritage of immigrant communities to be protected. In this article we propose that the key to bridging this gap is to be found in new possibilities that are opened up if resources are linked to enable digital exploration of archival records and collections. In particular, we focus on the value of building a composite and distributed resource around migrants’ life courses. If this approach is used and dispersed collections held by heritage institutions can be linked, migrant communities can have access to detailed information about their families and researchers to a wealth of data—serial and qualitative—for sophisticated and innovative research. Not only does the scattered data become more usable and manageable, it becomes more visible and coherent; patterns can be discovered that were not apparent before. We use the Dutch-Australian collaborative project “Migrant: Mobilities and Connection” as an example and case study of this life course–centered methodology and propose that this may develop into a migration heritage template for migrants worldwide.

Conceptualized as a case study on Dutch-Australian mutual cultural heritage, the Migrant: Mobilities and Connection (MMC) project set out to examine the archival, custodial, and digital challenges that researchers face in the quest to discover, collect, and preserve traces from the past and to propose an approach to managing such material. Considerable progress has been made on this study, which takes in a range of histories that the Netherlands shares with Australia, including maritime, military, migration, and mercantile history. Interdisciplinary in its approach, the project is a collaboration among Dutch and Australian historians and literary scholars from Huygens ING (Amsterdam), the Centre for Global Issues at Edith Cowan University (Perth), Western Sydney University Library (Sydney), and the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute (Perth).


Arthur, Paul Longley, Jason Ensor, Marijke van Faassen, Rik Hoekstra, and Nonja Peters. “Migrating People, Migrating Data: Digital Approaches to Migrant Heritage.” Journal of the Japanese Association for Digital Humanities 3, no. 1 (2018): 98–113.

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Paul Arthur is Vice-Chancellor’s Professorial Research Fellow and Chair in Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. He speaks and publishes widely on major challenges and changes facing 21st-century society, from the global impacts of technology on communication, culture and identity