Bangla Stories: telling community histories about migration and belonging

Lead Research Organisation: London School of Economics & Pol Sci
Department Name: Sociology


The 'Bangla Stories' website was developed in 2009 as a partnership between the research team on the AHRC funded 'Bengal diaspora' project and the Runnymede Trust. The 'Bengal diaspora' was a three year research project exploring the histories and experiences of migration from the Indian state of Bengal in the period after Partition in 1947. This migration was one of the largest of modern times, with an estimated 20 million people - Muslim and Hindu- displaced through Partition and subsequent natural disasters, wars and social and economic hardships. The research combined historical, sociological and anthropological theories and methods to consider why and how people migrated and how they made homes for themselves and their families in new and unfamiliar places. The project focused primarily on Bengali Muslim migrants, about whom less is known, but who accounted for the majority of Bengali migrants to Britain in the post-war years. Working in India, Bangladesh and Britain, the project team collected over 180 life histories of migrants, along with family trees and photographs, which provided a unique and intimate portrait of the experience of migration 'from below'. These stories shed new light on the way in which history and migration is lived, on the resources and experiences of a particular group of migrants in 'the Age of Migration', and on processes of social exclusion and multiculturalism in places of settlement in South Asia and the United Kingdom.

The 'Bangla Stories' website was developed in partnership with the Runnymede Trust, Britain's foremost race equality think tank, as a way of bringing these stories outside the academy and into the classrooms of the next generation of British schoolchildren. The aim was to enable young people, of whatever background, to understand both the broad flow of history and movement which shapes their world, their country, their city and their neighbourhood, and the individual, family and community histories that form part of these events. Told through the personal stories of eight migrants, from India, Bangladesh and Britain, who migrated at different times and for different reasons, the website provides a portal through which to view processes of migration and multiculturalism. Drawing on the established expertise of Runnymede, the website presents complex stories and histories in accessible and engaging ways, providing young people with the interest and the skills to engage with their own family and community histories, and to encourage them to talk to their parents and grandparents about their experiences of migration and of change. Although focused on the Bengali Muslim communities, the website and accompanying educational resource pack provides an exemplary template for engaging with young people in Britain, at Key Stage 3, with broader issues of relevance to a range of curricula, including history, citizenship, geography and English language.

The current project builds on this important and unique resource to 'roll out' the work through school based workshops and community events to encourage young people and local communities to research and narrate their own personal and community histories. Working across the school year, the original research team and Runnymede will conduct workshops disseminating the project findings and community history methods across the country, and opening up constructive dialogue around Britishness, multiculturalism and belonging. The project will also develop the Bangla Stories website to make it more interactive with young people in local communities, and, drawing on Runnymede's groundbreaking Generation 3.0 project, will develop a series of video archives and booklets which tell these local migration histories. We will also engage with policymakers and other academics around the process of dissemination of research, and engaging with national debates around migration and citizenship, as well as educational curricula in an age of migration.

Planned Impact

The Bangla Stories website is a unique partnership between the original AHRC funded project team and the Runnymede Trust, Britain's foremost race equality organisation, and funded by the LSE's Heif4 Knowledge Transfer fund, explicitly designed to disseminate the research findings of the project outside the academy, to engage with community groups, with policymakers and practitioners working on issues of ethnic diversity in the UK, and young people. It has thus sought new ways to maximise impact of this piece of research across a range of audiences. The site was launched in December 2009 at a Runnymede lecture given by award-winning Bengali novelist, Amitav Ghosh at an event attended by over 350 people from a range of sectors, including the media. The finished site and education pack were launched in July 2010 at an event hosted by Baroness Pola Uddin at the House of Lords, and was attended by a class of 30 schoolchildren from Mulberry School, Tower Hamlets, community activists and media. These events received coverage by BBC Asian Network and the World Service, and 4 Bengali TV channels (Channel S, Channel I, ATN Bangla, NTV), and an article was published on the site by Eastern Eye newspaper and in the Runnymede Bulletin, which has a circulation of 3000 online subscribers, including government departments and third sector organisations. The website to date has logged over 8000 Absolute Unique Visitors, and this has shown an increase of over 8% for 2011.

The proposed follow-on funding will allow us to build on this established interest and reputation to further develop the impact of both the original research and the website in the following ways: 1) the website will be expanded to enable interaction from users (students, community activists, oral historians etc) to upload their own material and will also incorporate visual and written material from the community and school workshops). This will bring the material to a wider audience and will engage with institutions working around issues of education, community cohesion and race equality; 2) the project will be 'rolled out' through a series of workshops in schools and community groups, raising issues around diversity, community cohesion, family and local histories. This will engage a range of people from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds in the project of constructing inclusive and multi-cultural community and neighbourhood histories, building in part on the current national fascination with family histories. Runnymede's extensive previous work in these areas (such as their recent Generation 3.0 project in Birmingham) has engaged large audiences from local government, the third sector and community groups, and attracted local and national media interest. Runnymede have also worked successfully with teachers across a range of related projects.The resources will be of particular interest to schools, community centres and libraries. 3) Through the publication of a Perspectives paper and organisation of a policy seminar and online conference, we will be engaging with the Runnymede Academic Forum (200 members), the Runnymede 360 network and their Parliamentary network to engage debates around education, community cohesion and the Big Society. The recent Runnymede online conferences have attracted over 500 participants, including from government and the national media.


10 25 50
Description This research worked with schools, teachers and young people to develop an inclusive history curriculum. We worked with 5 schools and a youth project to encourage young people to become community historians. They employed family and oral history methods to produce a range of projects, including films, poetry, photography etc. They developed a range of key transferable skills and showed a keen engagement in a more inclusive version of British history.

We were able to develop these insights into an invited submission to the review of the History Curriculum, which underpinned Operation Black Vote's campaign to retain key black historical figures in the curriculum.
Exploitation Route The website and publication provide recommendations and support for teachers working with diverse groups of young people in classrooms.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Our findings were used by Operation Black Vote in their campaign to retain black history in the curriculum. They also formed the basis of Runnymede's submission to Michael Gove on the revisions to the history curriculum, and have informed campaigns by the Historical Association and Royal Historical Society around diversity and history.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description History Lessons
Amount £97,692 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/L009420/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2014 
End 12/2014
Description Banglastories/Making Histories 
Organisation Runnymede Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution AHRC funding allowed us to work with Runnymede on dissemination of work from the Bengal diaspora project in schools. We worked together to conduct project work in 7 schools in Leicester, Sheffield, Cardiff, Manchester and London to engage young people in oral and local history work. As PI, Alexander undertook project planning, undertook sessions in schools, participated in launch activities and writing publications.
Collaborator Contribution Runnymede staff undertook the majority of project planning in schools, providing links to our partner schools, and to local civil society institutions (museums, archives, universities, filmmakers etc) for project work. Dr Weekes-Bernard organised all local and national launch events, oversaw project work, website and dissemination activities, and collaborated on writing/publication
Impact Making Histories website and short film 2 x perspectives publications - Making British Histories and History Lessons.
Start Year 2011
Description Creating Young Community Historians 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This event was held to mark the conclusion of the 'Making Histories' project, and the launch of the project website, and brought 70 young people, from Cardiff, Leicester and Sheffield, who were participants in the project to the House of Commons to showcase their work and debate the history curriculum. Held on 21/11/12.

The participating school children had a chance to present their work and debate the issue of history curriculum in front of an audience of politicians and stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Making Histories - Cardiff 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Local launch for two participating schools, held at Cardiff Story Museum on 16/7/2012. Students from two schools presented work and discussed their projects to a local audience of parents, teachers and community representatives

Students engaged with history teaching and presented work which was later used for national launch
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Making Histories - Leicester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Making Histories local launch for participating school - held in collaboration with Leicester University Widening Participation team. Students presented their work and reflected on their learning outcomes

Visit to University and learned about university life, and also engaged more with history in schools. Preparation for national launch event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Making History: Oral History, Diversity and the National Curriculum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A roundtable hosted by the Runnymede Trust, bringing together academics, historical associations, teachers and policymakers/ stakeholders to discuss issues around teaching history. Held at the Museum of London on 7th November 2012

The workshop discussion explored proposed changes to the National Curriculum in History and presented examples of work that practically engage young people in learning and making history. The workshop also explored issues raised in the Making British Histories publication. Thus underpinned the Runnymede briefing to the DofE on changes to history curriculum and informed OBV's campaign around black history.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012