English Language and Literature: Enabling non-academics to carry out creative-historical research into migration histories

Dr Jeannette Baxter

Dr Baxter's research at ARU led her to develop a surrealist creative-historical research methodology for non-academic audiences, enabling them to recover migration histories and recount them in creative formats.

The benefits from Dr Baxter’s work to arts and refugee organisations, community groups and schools were achieved through the delivery of a series of project: Come Yew In!, a community theatre project; Come Yew In Again! for schools; Norfolk Welcomes/A Day of Welcome work with schools regarding asylum-seekers and refugees; and Havens East, recovering the lost stories of 1930s Basque child refugees to East Anglia.

Jeannette Baxter

Dr Jeannette Baxter

Jeannette is Research Convenor in English Literature in ARU's School of Humanities and Social Sciences. She has research and teaching expertise in many areas of twentieth-century and contemporary fiction.

Find out more about Dr Jeannette Baxter Explore ARU researchers' original work via our open access repository, ARRO

Research summary

Dr Baxter's 2009 book J. G. Ballard’s Surrealist Imagination: Spectacular Authorship demonstrates surrealist literature’s potential to recover and re-present marginalised histories. Ballard's work challenges conventional notions of history and shows it to be a process of storytelling, which is mutable, partial, and vulnerable to manipulation as well as being full of restorative possibility. His use of surrealist collage as an alternative, non-linear form of storytelling ruptures the smooth narration of official versions of history to allow marginalised voices to speak.

Dr Baxter also researched exile stories arising from World War Two and the Holocaust. She initiated new thinking about Norfolk-based German migrant author W. G. Sebald's use of surrealism and historical recovery, particularly his innovations with the surrealist method and motif of chance. Chance was vital to Sebald because it forced him to make imaginative connections between randomly assembled historical materials in his research and novels.

Dr Baxter additionally took critical understanding of Leonora Carrington’s exile writings in new directions, exploring how Carrington continually re-writes her story to raise questions about individual and collective complicity and explore connections between personal and collective experiences of exile and displacement. These storytelling strategies stress the role of the imagination as a legitimate and ethically engaged form of witnessing, and present history as something that is alive and in process. They also represent a challenge to a ‘fact-based’ notion of history.

These key research insights led Dr Baxter to develop a surrealist creative-historical research methodology for non-academic audiences, enabling them to recover migration histories and recount them in creative formats. She used this methodology to underpin a range of projects with schools and community groups, leading to a wide range of positive impacts.

Group shot of the cast of Come Yew In!, a community variety show facilitated by Dr Jeannette Baxter

Summary of the impact

  • Participatory action work embedded into community theatre practices. enhancing research capacity
  • Almost 60,000 primary and secondary school pupils educated about refugee migration issues
  • Policy changes introduced at Norfolk Schools of Sanctuary (SoS)
  • Awareness and understanding of the history of migration in Norfolk increased
  • Innovative new teaching methods used in a migration heritage curriculum project

Pictured: the cast of Come Yew In!, a Norfolk-based community variety show facilitated by Dr Baxter


Come Yew In! (Dec 2016 - July 2017) was a collaboration project with The Common Lot, a community theatre company based in Norwich, which won the EDP Norfolk Arts Awards People's Choice award.

Dr Baxter developed a creative-historical research methodology to make a play about Norwich migration histories. Participatory action research is now embedded into the design and delivery of all The Common Lot's projects, enhancing their research capacity and ability to secure funding for heritage projects.

Dr Baxter trained 18 members from The Common Lot and four members from New Routes Integration (a local refugee charity) as surrealist historians. Participants acquired systematic skills and knowledge of the ethical considerations of interviewing. The methodological focus on the role of the imagination in the re-telling of history, and the introduction of chance as a legitimate practice, enhanced their research capacity and their experience of research as a political act.

These approaches influenced how the research participants carried out their research as well as their creative responses to it, establishing emotional and intellectual connections with their findings. The methodology empowered them – ‘by following their noses’ (as Sebald put it) - to recover and re-tell stories about people just like them.

Sixty-three disparate migration stories representing 900 years were collected and passed to a locally commissioned writing team. The use of collage for purposes of recovery and representation influenced how the writers recounted these stories. Come Yew In! took the form of a vast historical collage, bringing a wide variety of migration stories into dialogue.

More than 750 community volunteers were directly involved in producing Come Yew In!. It was performed free to over 3,000 people across ten Norwich locations, including areas of high deprivation and low engagement in the arts. According to a survey:

  • 52% of audience members reported that the show had enhanced their perception of Norwich as a welcoming city.
  • 42% of audience members committed to taking further action through involvement with refugee and migration projects in the city.

Come Yew In! raised £3,500 for The Common Lot, enabling future community projects, and £3,500 for New Routes Integration, which established an emergency housing fund for its clients used to reduce rough sleeping.

Come Yew In! The Songbook (PDF) is a free book of original songs distributed to 63 schools (representing almost 20,000 pupils) participating in Norfolk Welcomes 2018. It served as the key resource for a Norfolk Schools of Sanctuary (NSoS) migration curriculum project.

Read more about more about come yew in!.

Norfolk Welcomes (NW) is a collaboration between NSoS, Amnesty International, and (since 2020) UNHCR. NW is a Day of Action about migration and sanctuary-seeking, and an initiative which has educated almost 60,000 pupils from 103 Norfolk primary and secondary schools (20% of all Norfolk schools).

Dr Baxter was commissioned to replicate her surrealist creative-historical methodology with 21 new participatory-action researchers, including refugees and asylum seekers, to generate new stories of Norwich migration history. They worked with Baxter and 15 teachers to develop 14 schemes of work and practice-based research activities for Key Stage 1, 2 and secondary pupils. These are available on the NSoS educational site.

Through the activities, pupils have made intellectual and emotional connections with past and present migration stories and increased their awareness of key issues facing migrants and refugees locally and globally.

NW has also led to acts of solidarity, welcome and community-building, such as Coltishall Primary School’s response to local anti-immigrant discourse targeted at asylum seekers accommodated at the former RAF Coltishall in Badersfield during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children from the school made use of NW resources to produce welcome cards and messages of solidarity, to which the asylum seeker community responded positively, leading to the instigation of a collaborative art project as part of the school's journey to become a School of Sanctuary.

Read more about more about norfolk welcomes.

As a direct result of NW, the number of schools participating in NSoS network activities expanded from seven to 103. NW has become a mandatory event for schools aspiring to the School of Sanctuary Award. The number of Schools of Sanctuary in Norfolk expanded from three to 12 over three years since engaging with NW. NSoS’s strategic aim to connect pupils with Norfolk’s rich history as a place of sanctuary has been enabled directly by Dr Baxter's research.

NSoS have also benefitted from being networked into Dr Baxter’s Heritage Lottery project. Dr Baxter and NSoS produced a ‘Welcomes’ toolkit for schools and communities for national roll out in 2020. This led to a collaborative project with UNHCR on refugee education and advocacy, postponed due to COVID-19.

Havens East recovered the lost stories of Basque child refugees in 1930s East Anglia. This multi-partner project, including the support of UNHCR, introduced new beneficiary groups to the NW project, including the Basque Children of ’37 Association.

Havens East has brought new national and international audiences to the Association, whilst local, national and international media attention on the project provided significant exposure for the Association and its mission.

Launched to support Refugee Week 2020, the Havens East online exhibition received over 1,600 visitors from many countries in its first week, raising awareness and increasing public understanding of this forgotten chapter in refugee history.

Following the success of Come Yew In!, a Norwich-based School of Sanctuary changed their history curriculum to produce their version of the project. Dr Baxter was commissioned to replicate her surrealist creative-historical methodology and work with 200 children, 20 teachers, and eight families as surrealist historians using Come Yew In! The Songbook as a source text. This had significant impact on teaching practices, increased engagement and improved oracy levels.

Surrealist creative-historical research workshops led by Baxter enhanced the capacity of staff and students to think anew about history, do research and understand marginalization and displacement. Teachers have since adopted in their teaching the methodological focus on history as storytelling and the importance of the imagination in historical research.

In March 2019, all 200 children took part in the Come Yew In Again! cross-school research conference, where they presented their research findings in creative formats to 60 children from Avenues Junior School, a Norwich-based School of Sanctuary. The conference marked a step change for the presenting school, leading it to behave very differently on the day and since. Even the most vulnerable of learners demonstrated increased confidence and enjoyment in telling their stories to new and unfamiliar school audiences.

Empowered by their research into past migration histories, the children researched contemporary migration stories from within the school community. Eight families also joined the project as co-researchers. This led to cross-generational exchange as the children interviewed the families and worked with members of The Common Lot to turn research insights into songs and sketches for the final show.

In July 2019, Come Yew In Again! was performed by all 200 children and 20 teachers to an audience of 155 family members, project partners, and the public. 95.8% of the 119 audience members asked agreed that seeing the show enabled them to understand the benefits that incomers and migrants bring to the community.

A focus group with 22 participating children reported that ‘Participation in Come Yew In Again! built pupils’ knowledge about stories and backgrounds of migrants with all reporting that they […] were more aware of the number of different countries pupils and their families came from’.

The collective impact of ‘CYIA!’ can be also be seen in the school’s decision to repeat the project as part of the history curriculum in Spring 2020.

Read more about more about come yew in again!.

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This case study is mapped to SDG 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries, target 10.7.

See also

Read the full REF 2021 impact case study for UoA 27: Enabling non-academics to carry out creative-historical research into migration histories (PDF)

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