black and white image of refugees near tents

Image source: Refugee camp in Caucasus, 1920, Wikimedia Commons.

Instructor: Professor Laura Modokoro

Introduction: Over the past few years, news headlines have regularly been filled with stories of refugee movements and forced migration, and the related subjects of asylum, exile and humanitarian responsibility. From the civil war in Syria, to the persecution of Rohingya refugees, and the movement of Central American migrants to the United States and Canada, the subject of refugees has regularly been foregrounded in social, political and cultural commentaries. And yet, the historical circumstances that lead to forced displacement, and the nature of the international community’s responses, are often ignored. Using a combination of historical texts, fictional works, films and documentaries, this course explores the history of forced migration and refugees to consider the contingencies that have shaped understandings of who is a refugee, what constitutes a refugee experience and the actual movement of people.

Class Format: This is a full year course, which gives students a chance to really immerse themselves in the historical study of forced migration and refugees. We will meet twice a week in 1.5 hour blocks. The course is divided into three sections: refugees in history, refugees in film and refugees in fiction that combine lectures with in-class discussions, group work, reflections and analytical essays. There is also a dedicated archival and oral history component.

Aim and Goals: This class is expressly designed to provide building blocks for the study of history at the undergraduate level while enabling student engagement with contemporary discussions about forced migration and refugees from a grounded, historically-informed perspective. The course aims to incorporate student interests while at the same time elaborating how historical events and contingencies shape current discussions of migration, refugeehood and humanitarianism.

 Assessment: As one of the goals of the course is to develop critical reading and writing skills, as well as provide students with a solid basis of empirical knowledge, the assessment consists of participation in small group activities, writing exercises including written reflections and a final research product (which might take the form of a paper, podcast or some other research communication).

Readings and Source Materials: There is no textbook for this course. Instead, readings and primary sources will be provided online via MacOdrum Library or cuLearn. Reference materials will also be made available at the library.

Questions: Please contact me at with any questions or concerns about the course.