Thursday, 19 April 2018

"Where do we go from here?" One day symposium on Belgian refugees. 13 September 2018, Brussels.


Where do we go from here?
One-day symposium on Belgian refugees

KU Leuven, Brussels Campus, 13 September 2018
First Call for Papers / Call for Panels / Call for Posters

Charity event in support of Belgian refugees, 16 September 1914.

Throughout the Centenary years the transnational history of Belgian refugees and the First World War has been receiving increasing attention, especially in the Netherlands and in the United Kingdom. Many (inter)national, regional and local history projects emerged, each with its own valuable contribution to the overall history of First World War displacement. Many academic research projects appeared too, resulting in numerous publications referring to Belgians in exile, but only few publications covered the specific history in detail. And yet, there is still ample ground to cover the history of the Belgian refugees.
The aim of this one-day symposium is therefore to position the displacement and temporary settlement of Belgian refugees during the First World War within a double framework. Firstly, within the context of the Centenary period and its local projects or academic output papers are invited that expand existing knowledge and/or that provide context and analysis to ongoing research. Secondly, the symposium aims to open up new pathways into the histories of the respective Belgian refugee communities, more in particular within a comparative context or with a focus on legacy.

Certification for British children in recognition of their support for Belgian children
(no date)

Papers are welcomed that provide a perspective on existing research, elaborate on ongoing projects or uncover further primary sources on Belgian refugees. Papers can be holistic as well as interdisciplinary, taking from research such as memory studies, reception studies, trauma studies and linguistic research, but not exclusively. Although the conference aims to reflect on past (hi)stories, contributions that relate historical research Belgian refugees to current-day refugee situations are equally encouraged to submit. The event will very likely focus mainly on Belgian refugees in exile in the UK and on those in the Netherlands.

The aim of the symposium is to attract academic papers that look into spatial and/or temporal analyses, including (but not exclusively):
  • First World War Belgian refugees’ communities other than those UK and NL, more in particular France and Switzerland.
  • Repatriation, return and resettlement issues of Belgian refugees from end of 1918 onwards. (Was a level of reintegration needed? Differences in local activism between the reception of refugees in their host nation and upon return home.)
  • Comparison between Belgian refugees displacement and resettlement in 1918/1919 and 1944/1945.
  • Comparison between xenophobic responses that emerged over time and today’s refugee situation.
Belgian refugees in Sutton, 1915.

Papers are invited on more thematic approaches as well, including (but not exclusively):
  • Social, political, cultural, religious, financial or industrial networks relevant to the histories of Belgian refugees (readily available networks before, newly established during and those lasting until well after the First World War).
  • Spatial and/or social mobility of the Belgian refugees, within host nations and across countries.
  • The influence of early repatriation efforts and organisations (autumn 1914) on the image of the Belgians and their temporary sojourn.
  • The influence of the many parts of the fragmented Belgian nation on its afterwar socio-political strives.
  • Refugee stigma in the years after Armistice.
  • Bonding with the reception country (specific networks or associations, lifelong Anglo-Saxon affiliations, intermarriages, pensions…).
  • Why were refugee stories weakened or even silenced in family histories and in general histories? (The legacy of the First World War soldier - Belgian or British - or returned forced labourer, silent at home, and how it affected family refugee history? The complex reconstruction of a fragmented Belgian nation in which no space was available for the imagined communities that were the Belgian communities in exile?).
  • Who remained in their host country after 1919, or returned there in the years immediately after the First World War.



A charity event in Belfast, 31 August 1915.
A fitting title for the fragmented Belgian nation.

Panels are equally invited, they ideally focus on several papers that share specific characteristics (this can be spatial, temporal but also along specific features of a Belgian exile community, such as class).

As the symposium aims to provide a platform where interested parties can exchange information on their projects and interests with relevant other interested parties, research projects – academic as well as local ones – are invited to present a poster during the break sessions.

Front of the booklet Scotland's National Appeal (December 1915).

Papers are invited
·         for 25 minute presentations, send a 300 word abstract and brief bio;
·         for a one hour panel, send a 300 word proposal and a 100-word bio per participant;
·         for a poster, send a summary of your project or what you would like to present

Deadline for abstracts, panel proposals and posters Thursday 7 June, to be sent to christophe.declercq@kuleuven.be
Confirmation of acceptance Monday 18 June.
Organising committee: Christophe Declercq, Julian Walker
The language of the symposium is English.



The Daily Graphic, 1 April 1919.


The symposium expresses its sincere gratitude to Pat Heron and Marleen Van Ouytsel, who both did not live to enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

Peter Cahalan has kindly accepted to act as honorary chairman of the scientific committee. The latter will be fully disclosed with the second Call for Papers (mid-May).

Both the Letteren department of KU Leuven, Brussels Campus, and the Centre for Reception Studies have agreed to supporting the event.


Detail of a postcard, written in London, sent in September 1915:
"Paul, my man, there is no comparison between life here and that in Rouen. We should have come here much sooner. The mademoiselles here are really pretty too, they all have this friendly face. [...]
There are more Belgian soldiers than English ones, they are looked after really well by the local people, mostly by the 'Misskes'."

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