Alison Garden on Colum McCann and the literature of diaspora

The last seminar speaker of this semester’s series was Alison Garden from the Literature, Languages and Cultures School at the University of Edinburgh. Alison’s paper was entitled ‘Migrating texts: Colum McCann and the literature of diaspora’ and was based on Alison’s recently handed in PhD thesis.


Alison’s paper was fascinating for many reasons. As a doctoral student whose thesis focus has just altered, I found Alison’s explanation of the changing focus of her research, from a survey of McCann’s works to a wider interaction with themes of migration and Irishness in McCann’s works (due to publications on a similar topic), useful and reassuring. The paper explored a number of themes, but the main ones were the race (or racism) and the Irish; and McCann’s use of migration and movement in his works. The ‘Green and Black’ – comparing, contrasting, and connecting tropes of Irish American and African American literature and history, which appear in both diasporic historiography and McCann’s books, were particularly interesting, and a theme that was picked up on a lot in the Q&A session.

The turnout for this seminar was particularly good, and Alison’s paper struck an excellent compromise between literature and history – appealing to the very mixed audience. This mix was reflected in the questions which ranged in subject from the Draft Riots and interracial violence, to the privilege of “migrant writers”, and short-stories as social capital.

Thank you to Alison, and all our speakers this semester – it’s been an eye-opening and fascinating series (even if I do say so myself).

We shall be reconvening in January – please keep an eye on this page for our upcoming speakers, and if you would like to speak in next semester’s series, there is still time to get in touch!

Fayaz Alibhai on the Shi‛a of Edinburgh

Slightly late, but here is the summary of Fayaz’s paper from 11th November – thank you to Fayaz for sharing his research with us.

Fayaz’s paper addressed a small Muslim Shi‘a group in Edinburgh, which that does not have its own mosque, and their growing confidence as expressed in their annual Muharram observances and specifically the climax of the observances, the Ashura parade, when Shi‘a Muslims worldwide remember the martyrdom of Muhammad’s grandson, Husayn ibn Ali at Karbala and commemorated in a parade which involves the beating of the chest as an act of lamentation.

The Edinburgh Shi‘a are made up of migrants from Iran and the sub-continent and as such are themselves split amongst Urdu and Farsi speaking adherents. Despite having been in Edinburgh for some time it was only in 2011 that they first felt sufficiently confident enough to conduct an Ashura parade which congregates at Great Junction Street in Leith. Since that time the parade has changed most notably with the introduction of signs. Signs in 2012 were carried in the procession while by 2013 they were in English and faced out from the procession with messages such as ‘Fight Terrorism through Justice’.

The confidence to parade hints at both a willingness to engage with the wider community and a perceived need to do so.


The final seminar of this semester’s series shall be on Tuesday 25th November at 1pm – Alison Garden will be speaking on Colum McCann and the literature of diaspora.

Tuesday 25th November – Alison Garden on Colum McCann and the literature of diaspora

Next Tuesday (25th November) we have the pleasure of hosting Alison Garden. Alison will be speaking on Migrating Texts: Colum McCann and the literature of diaspora.

Please join us for the final seminar of this semester, at 1pm in room G14. All are welcome.

We also still have our call for papers open, so please get in touch if you would like to speak at our seminar next semester.

Ching-An Chang on the settlement of Syrian businessmen in Turkey

Co-organiser of the diaspora seminar series Iain reports back on this week’s seminar by Ching-An Chang:

The Settlement of Syrian Businessmen in Turkey

As a result of the civil war in Syria a number of Syrian businessmen have crossed the border into Turkey for a number of reasons including security. Not all are necessarily opposed to the regime although of the businessmen Ching-an has interviewed as a part of his study only one (out of thirty-one interviewees) was from the side of the pro-Syrian regime camp.

The business diaspora in Turkey do not necessarily involve themselves in the same businesses they were/are involved in in Syria. However they all have a desire to return to their homeland upon resolution of the civil war. They have been given Turkish government support for their business activities although local Turks are less welcoming towards what they see as unwelcome competition, prompting a number of businessmen to have their businesses fronted by Turks.

Ching-an also noted that within Syria there is a symbiotic State-Business relationship, which involves the state in activities to limit the size of Syrian businesses. The state’s involvement in the private business sector has also left it with a legacy of mistrust. As a result even outside Syria, the business diaspora evidence a level of mistrust amongst themselves as a result Syrian business networking within Turkey is weak. Finally there is no real desire amongst the community to take a leadership role other than providing aid through humanitarian groups. Ching-an described this as a ‘hiding and waiting’ strategy.

On a personal level I found this fascinating as he’s in at the start of an evolving process, for instance as events evolve in Syria, there is a possibility that this group could become more cohesive and start to take a leadership role amongst the Syrian’s displaced thus far … who knows. Whatever the eventual outcome, this is a fascinating and evolving diaspora.

Please join us on 11th November at 1pm for Fayaz Alibhai on the Shi’a of Edinburgh. The seminar will be in room G14 of the William Robertson Wing – Doorway 4, Old Medical School, University of Edinburgh.