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Flight Paths: Migration, Diaspora and Identity


Module description

Migration is both a global geopolitical phenomenon and a creative process of ‘world-making’ that has prompted writers, chroniclers, artists and filmmakers to draw on the cross-cultural currents generated by movement across borders. In this module we explore literary and cultural constructions of identity formation in the context of migration, asking:

  • What is the relationship between place and identity?
  • How have literary and artistic explorations of migration and settlement helped shape cultural identities?
  • What happens to the politics of culture in the context of migration?

Looking across historical contexts at experiences of migration, exile, diaspora, empire and globalisation, we introduce well-established critical/theoretical paradigms relating to migration - hybridity, ethnicity and memory - as well as newer topics of debate in the humanities such as globalisation, cosmopolitanism and refugee studies.

Following the themes of exodus, settlement, origins, identity and encounter, first we focus on how peoples in and around the islands of the north Atlantic used narratives as a means of authoring and expressing their understanding of their origins and identity in the Middle Ages.

We then take up the central themes in twentieth- and twenty-first-century contexts. Tracing the construction and crossing of borders in the wake of the British Empire, we will explore how first and second generation migrant writers have expressed the experience of migration and homemaking.

Indicative syllabus


  • Exodus: Early Medieval England - Exodus; The Battle of Brunanburh; Bede, Ecclesiastical History
  • Settlement: Iceland - Eyrbyggja saga (The Saga of the People of Eyri)
  • Origins: Anglo-Norman England - Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain
  • Identity: Wales - Y Gododdin and tales from the Mabinogion
  • Encounter: Greenland and North America - The Saga of the Greenlanders; Erik the Red’s Saga


  • Exodus: Andrea Levy, Small Island
  • Settlement: Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners
  • Origins: Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family
  • Identity: Jhumpa Lahiri, The Interpreter of Maladies
  • Encounter: Hari Kunzru, Transmission

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand diaspora and the impact of migration on cultural politics and identity formation
  • analyse how writers and filmmakers represent questions of hybridity, assimilation, cultural memory and ethnicity
  • situate issues related to land, language and relocation in an appropriate cultural and historical context
  • consider the effects of displacement on cultural identity, space and time, and on narrative form
  • critically evaluate different formal approaches to the narration of history, memory and displacement
  • critically engage with evolving theorisations of migration and identity.