As the world’s media focusses on Sicily and the unfolding human tragedy that is the migrants and refugee crisis, a group of academics have gathered together in Sicily under the auspices of the EU FP7 MEMOLA project. The project seeks to understand the historical processes of cultural change that occurred a millennium ago yet have left a very tangible legacy in the form of landscape, language, people and culture that contributes to our sense of Europeaness.
The project is historical in its focus but with a strong commitment to public engagement. The academics from across Europe (Spain, Britain, Ireland, Albania, and Italy) are conscious that the historical processes that they investigate have human mobility at their centre and it is such processes that have shaped Europe into the tolerant and diverse continent that is its today. From this perspective it is timely to remind ourselves that the migratory events that are unfolding at the moment are part of long established and episodic set of processes that should be considered normal yet nonetheless perilous and dreadful in human terms.
As an academic group we recognise the ethical basis of our work and seek to draw attention to the bi-directional connections across time that have served to enrich and diversify Europe. The events of recent days have shocked and stunned many European citizens with some considering them extraordinary events with grave implications for the economy and culture of Europe. Our historical studies should therefore serve to normalise migratory events while reminding us of our rich and diverse heritage. The horrors that unfold kilometres away from where we meet to discuss distant events draw our attention to the dire human experiences that comprise more abstract historical processes. Our work should therefore caution against concerns that promote an isolationist view of Europe and instead they can help us to recognise the historical precedents for this week’s event while reminding us of the human character of those involved, something that history too often forgets.