Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
Unit of AssessmentHistory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Demography
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Summary of the impact
The `Bangla Stories' website is one of several outcomes of an ambitious,
collaborative, inter-disciplinary research project on the Bengal diaspora,
led by Dr Joya Chatterji of the Faculty of History and funded by the AHRC.
`Bangla Stories' encourages young people, in particular school children
at Key Stage 3, to think about the history of migration and the experience
of migrants. It stimulates classroom discussion about how and why people
moved to Britain, survived, adapted and integrated there while remaining
embedded in networks of community which often span the globe.
The website is the product of an effective ongoing collaboration between
academics, think-tanks, schools, community organisers and civil society
Chatterji has had two periods of research in Cambridge, 1989-2000 (as
research fellow and college lecturer at Trinity College) and 2007-13 (as
University Lecturer and Reader). Her research in the first phase
underpinned the project, and the particular work on the Bengal diaspora
and `Bangla Stories' was conducted almost entirely in the second.
Chatterji's work on the consequences of the partition of India (3B)
revealed fascinating patterns of movement, clustering and settlement among
the millions displaced by it in 1947. It suggested that migration from the
subcontinent to the west (mainly Britain) was part of the same process
which stimulated the `forced' movement of refugees across the borders of
new South Asian states.
To better understand these processes and the connections between them,
while at the LSE Chatterji put together a team of academics, and in 2006
they were awarded a large, three-year AHRC grant. Besides Chatterji (PI),
the team included Dr Claire Alexander and two post-doctoral research
assistants. In 2006-7 they began preliminary research. In October 2007,
the leadership of the project moved with Chatterji to Cambridge. Two more
ad hoc research assistants were appointed between 2007-9, to assist with
research in Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively.
The team chose to focus on Bengali Muslims, building on Chatterji's
research on identity formation among this group (3A). Through a
combination of macro-historical and micro-level empirical research at
eight different sites in India, Bangladesh and Britain between 2007 and
2009, the project explored the complex factors that shaped their patterns
of movement, settlement and identity-formation.
Among many exciting findings, the research enabled Chatterji to develop a
new concept in migration studies, that of 'mobility capital'. She defines
this as a `package' of goods possessed by migrants, made up, in varying
proportions, of economic, cultural and social capital.
Besides personal (or familial) histories of mobility, the migrants also
had other assets, which proved more decisive in determining whether they
chose to move, or to stay on. The migrants — whether classified as
`refugees or `economic migrants' — all had 1) transferable skills, 2)
moveable assets, and 3) good health. 4) Moreover, they had few obligations
— whether religious or familial — for the day-to-day care of other
The last two elements of this `bundle' proved, counter-intuitively, most
decisive in determining whether an individual joined the flow of refugees,
or stuck her ground and stayed on. In addition, the precise mix of
elements of their personal `bundle' proved extremely significant in
shaping individual migrants' choices of destination, their patterns of
settlement (3C) and self-identification (3D). This
research challenges the conventional notion that there is a clear
distinction between 'forced' migrants and economic migrants — all studied
in this project straddled this divide. Having moved within contexts of
nation formation, ethnic and religious discrimination and violence, they
can be seen as classic 'refugees'. But in fact all moved in grooves or
along networks created by older forms of 'economic' mobility (3C).
The research also underlined the extent to which migrants experience and
perform their identity differently in different settings, revealing the
local and affective dimensions of community formation (3D). The
international comparisons revealed how different circumstances of
migration and arrival both opened up opportunities and constrained choice
for migrants. While the wealthiest migrants settled in the west have
gained greater agency as a consequence of their 'transnational'
lifestyles, this experience has not always been shared by all refugees,
nor by stayers on in South Asia (3E). For stayers-on,
discrimination against minorities (legal, cultural and socio-economic) has
meant that many were immobilized in locations where their rights and
choices were severely limited (3F).
References to the research
(A) Joya Chatterji, 'The Bengali Muslim; a contradiction in terms?', Comparative
Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 16 (1997).
(B) Joya Chatterji, The spoils of partition. Bengal and India
1947-1967 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
(C) Joya Chatterji, `Dispositions and destinations: Refugee agency and
"mobility capital" in the Bengal diaspora, 1947-2007', Comparative
Studies in Society and History 55 (2013), 273-304.
(D) Joya Chatterji, `Migration myths and the mechanics of assimilation:
Two community histories from Bengal', Studies in the Humanities and
the Social Sciences (Special Issue, February, 2013).
(E) Joya Chatterji, `South Asian histories of citizenship, 1946-1972', Historical
Journal 55 (2012), 1049-71.
(F) Joya Chatterji, `The nation state and the management of migration:
Rethinking the "post-colonial" immigration order', in J. Chatterji and D.
Washbrook (eds) The Handbook of the South Asian Diaspora (London:
All of the above have undergone peer review.
GRANTS AND RESEACH FUNDING:
• Joya Chatterji: Principal Investigator, 2006-09, Arts and Humanities
Research Council, Major Research Project on `Diasporas, Migration and
Identities'. Amount: £619,386. Project title: `The Bengal diaspora.
Bengali Muslim settlers in South Asia and Britain: a comparative and
• Joya Chatterji: Investigator, 1999-2000, John D and Catherine T
MacArthur Foundation Research and Writing Award. Amount: US$50,000.
Project title: `Exodus from the east. Bengali refugees in India'.
Details of the impact
From the outset, the Bengal diaspora project was conceived as a new way
of conducting cutting-edge research in partnership with the subjects of
that research. This produced a sense of widely-shared ownership of the
project, which in turn, propelled its impact and benefits along several
The 'Bangla Stories' website is a key example of this. Developed in 2009
as a unique partnership between Chatterji, the Bengal diaspora team, the
Runnymede Trust, the LSE's Heif4 Knowledge Transfer fund and the
Swadhinata Trust (a Bengali heritage organisation), the website was
designed to disseminate the research findings outside academia, and to
engage with schools and community groups. The LSE's Heif4 fund also
supported the project as Alexander was then based there; she has since
moved to Manchester University.
'Bangla Stories' brought the history of migration into British classrooms
through the personal perspective of eight individuals, whose life
histories provide an intimate portrait of their experience of
displacement. It enables young people of different backgrounds to
understand the flow of history and movement that shapes their world.
Bangla Stories' key beneficiaries are 11-15-year-olds, mainly from
migrant backgrounds. It provides them (and their teachers) with basic
information and training in research and digital media skills to
investigate the histories of their families and communities. By giving
them the tools and incentive to `interview' their parents and grandparents
about their experiences of migration, it encourages dialogue across
generations and fosters a better understanding between them. This helps
ease some of the deep tensions that often characterise relations between
`first generation' migrants and their British-born children.
Although focused on Bengali Muslim communities, the website and
accompanying educational resource pack have provided an exemplary template
of how to engage young people of all backgrounds in history at Key Stage
"The Bengal Diaspora research has had an enormous impact on young
people from a broad range of ethnic backgrounds right across the UK. The
project led to the development of the Banglastories website (www.banglastories.org)
the aim of which was to bring these stories of migration, history,
movement and identity outside the academy and into the classrooms of the
next generation of British schoolchildren." (5A) Dr Debbie
Weekes-Bernard, Senior Research & Policy Analyst, Education, Runnymede
The Runnymede Trust, Alexander and Chatterji have gained substantial
follow-on funds from the AHRC to `roll out' the project at four schools
across Britain, to train pupils to do their own historical research into
community stories of migration and belonging: Cardiff High School, Cathays
High School (Cardiff), Parkwood Academy (Sheffield) and Judgemeadow
Community College (Leicester) (5B). One teacher at Cathays
described the impact of the project on her students as `a life changing
experience for them in that it has ignited a real passion for research
and has raised the aspirations of these young people' (5C).
Cardiff High School (where one Welsh pupil charted his family's history
back to 1809!) embedded Bangla Stories into its Year 7 history curriculum
in September 2012. In Leicester, parents' associations working with Somali
children have used the website and a community development consultant
commented on the impact of the research training that `the opportunity
for the young people to research and make short films and recordings
about their histories offered an opportunity for bolstering pride,
self-esteem and consequently confidence in their right to belong and
participate in the city' (5D). In Sheffield, the work of
pupils who engaged with the project will be archived in the Sheffield
Archives (5F), and it is intended to archive the Welsh pupils'
projects at the Cardiff Story Museum and the St Fagan's National History
Museum. The project has been praised by the Chair of the North
Hertfordshire Interfaith Forum for `addressing difficult history in a
powerful and innovative way'; it is, he writes, `extremely bold
and innovative to address [the missing history of the Asian diaspora] by
getting children to engage in their own family migratory history',
and he considers it `a very good model for enhancing community
self-understanding through the history curriculum' (5G).
The website to date has logged over 50,085 `Absolute Unique Visitors'. It
has attracted approximately 1,600 new visitors per month. 10% of them have
returned to the site at least once. 1,908 people have visited the site
over 200 times. 19.7% of the site's visitors are from the UK, many are in
schools. The site has had 2,502 visits to the page `For teachers'. 17% of
unique visitors are from South Asia — India (7.6%) and Bangladesh (9.1%) —
demonstrating the links the project has forged between UK's research
community and civil society in South Asia. The remaining visitors are from
the United States (5.7%), Italy, the UAE, Canada, Germany, Finland,
Singapore and Australia, demonstrating the global reach of the project's
research and disseminating strategies for its results. `The
Banglastories site told the stories of less well known Bengali
communities across Britain and also provide a unique comparative
dimension, telling the stories of those migrants who remained in South
Asia. The work was thus global in its reach, as well as telling more
national and local stories, and this can be seen from the global
audiences for the website.' (Swadhinata Trust, 5E)
The significance of the website is illustrated by the willingness of the
academic journal Ethic and Racial Studies and the Runnymede Trust
to fund its launch in December 2009. Baroness Uddin hosted an event to
launch the site and associated education pack at the House of Lords
(2012). This event was attended by a class from Mulberry School, Tower
Hamlets, community activists and the media and received widespread
coverage from BBC Asian Network, the BBC World Service, and four Bengali
TV channels (Channel S, Channel I, ATN Bangla, NTV). Articles on the
website appeared in Eastern Eye (July 2010) and the Runnymede Bulletin
(3,000 online subscribers, including government departments and `third
sector' organisations). Significantly, `Bangla Stories' has been selected
as a `Curators' Choice' of the British Library for long-term preservation
in the UK Web Archive.
Chatterji is also a member of the Brick Lane Circle, which promotes the
understanding of migration to London's East End, and has spoken about her
work at this forum as well as others in the UK and in South Asia (e.g.
`Network Bangla', a community networking organisation in the UK; the
Community Development Organisation, Dinajpur, Bangladesh; Nijeri Kori, a
`self-help' community organization in Bangladesh). In these ways she has
helped build enduring links between Britain's research community and civil
society, not only within Britain itself, but also in South Asia (5F).
One of the key benefits of her work to the United Kingdom has been that it
seeks new ways to engage with a region of ever-increasing global
importance, as highlighted in a recent AHRC report on `high-impact
research' relating to India that profiled `Bangla Stories' (5A).
Sources to corroborate the impact
(A) From the AHRC website: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/News-and-
(B) Making British Histories: Diversity and National Curriculum,
Runnymede Trust, available at
(C) Email from History teacher at Cathays High School, Cardiff, 22 Nov.
(D) Letter from Development Consultant at Race Equality Coalition,
(E) Letter from the Manager of the Swadhinata Trust
(F) Letter from the Secretary of the Brick Lane Circle, 19 Sep. 2013
(G) Letter from the Chair of the North Hertfordshire Interfaith Forum