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'Migration and integration policies for the future only work with knowledge from the past.'

An inclusive society in which everyone has equal access to health and wealth is the focus of the new Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre on the Governance of Migration and Diversity. Professor of Migration History, Marlou Schrover, also works at the new centre. ‘It is important to add a historical perspective to today’s migration issues.’

Schrover: ‘As a historian I often hear students, policymakers and migration experts say that we are living in an era of migration. But migration is not a recent phenomenon that goes back ten years or to the 1990s when Yugoslavia split apart; it goes back hundreds of years. I think it is useful to look at the past and realise that events are not as new as we think.

‘It is important to see that new policies are very similar to ones from the past, but that they are often developed without looking back. So I think as historians we should show how people dealt with issues in the past and apply this knowledge to current events. Personally, I find it important to add a historical perspective to migration issues so that you change the crisis rhetoric that is often used in this context.’

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How did the idea of the LDE Research Centre on the Governance of Migration and Diversity arise?

‘The idea that Leiden University, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam should establish a joint research centre arose ten years ago. But we decided it would be better to start with joint teaching to see whether this collaboration would prove fruitful. This gave us the opportunity to get to know each other better and learn more about the research activities at the other universities and how the different disciplines could benefit from one another. We also learned a lot from the students, such as how they deal with different theories and methods. Starting with teaching rather than a research centre – the opposite of what most LDE centres do – turned out to be a fast and effective learning curve.

‘In the beginning it was exciting to see how the collaboration would take shape and whether students are actually interested in a  master’s programme on this topic. The programme has now been running for five years and is somewhat of a success. One of the things I like most is the walking tour on Welcome Day. It’s a fun opportunity for students and professors to get know one another. I find out more about their backgrounds and where they come from.

‘I also really like the field trips like the one to the Red Star Line in Antwerp or the mosque in Leiden. It is interesting to see how students prepare for these and how they interact with professionals. This creates a different dynamic from in academia.’

Why has the Faculty of Humanities at Leiden University joined the centre?

‘At Leiden University we have over 180 staff members who are working in the field of migration and are connected to the Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminars (LIMS). A large number of people are also doing migration research at the Institute for History, but many do not know which colleagues are conducting migration research outside Leiden University and how their research can be relevant to others.

‘Research fields are still rather separate, so the LDE centre gives us the opportunity to bring researchers together. I think there are many more connections than people see and one of the challenges is to help them realise that these interactions are very useful to everyone involved.’

This article was previously published in the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus online magazine

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