This is a collaborative/collective documentary project about the daily lives of refugee communities in Upstate New York. Students and faculty work together to document the daily practices, rituals, and cultural events of refugee communities through interviews with individuals from Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia, Ukraine and Burma/Karen. Students are involved in the background research, videography, video editing, and “writing” of each documentary narrative.

The Refugee Project is a collaborative initiative that consists of several on-going activities:

  • Bibliography of Journalistic Sources on the Refugees of Utica
    We investigate the ways in which institutions have represented the arrival and continued residence of refugees in Utica, New York. We see such venues as newspapers, television stations, and local institutions more specifically oriented to serving refugees as sources whose representations are relatively public. Refugee Project members are gathering citations to articles, letters to the editor, and other material from Utica’s only newspaper, the Observer Dispatch, before it went digital in 2001, and from programming from Utica's primary television station, WKTV. Although we have begun with source material from the 1990s, when the Bosnians first began to arrive in Utica, our goal is to gather all material since the 1980s, when people from Southeast Asia, mostly Vietnam, were the first of the current wave to arrive as refugees. Ultimately, we hope to build an interactive archive out of the material we collect.
  • Interactive Archive of Interviews with the Refugees of Utica
    We regularly interview refugees, both long-time residents and recent arrivals, about their experiences with resettlement. We work closely with the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR) to ask refugees to describe the process by which they are resettled and the ways services in the city of Utica and the MVRCR ease their transition into life here. We also explore their stories of integration into Utica itself: What is their perception of employment? What has the educational experience been for their children in local schools? Have they maintained their cultural and religious practices? These are but a small sample of the questions we are investigating.

    We then transcribe the refugees’ stories, and we hope to make available on our web site both that written text and the taped interview. We intend to explore innovative digital interface features that will continue generating knowledge by enabling immigrants and employees of refugee centers around the world to submit their own personal stories to the archive. Working with community members and the MVRCR, we will develop a model for how these stories might be obtained and added to this archive. This web presence will serve as one method for distribution of the documentary and will also serve as an archive of individual interviews.
  • Short Films
    Using footage from both of the projects above and from the hours of b-roll we have filmed and continue to film, we create short documentary films about some aspect or aspects of refugee life. We have completed two short films: Genesee Lights (https://vimeo.com/77416716) examines the ways in which Bosnians have become Uticans, while The Newcomers (https://vimeo.com/126506403) focuses on 17-to-20 year olds who fall into the gaps of the educational and social services that Utica can provide them. Both films use interviews, personal narratives, classroom activities, and cultural events to examine the relationship between refugees and their adopted city.

    Each research year will culminate in a documentary short of the themes that emerged from oral histories that year. Each oral history interview will be archived on a public website to document the refugee experience in upstate New York. This project is a unique partnership between the Digital Humanities Initiative and the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center in collaboration with the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees.

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