Migrant Melodies

Jewish Refugee Songs as a Transnational Archive of Emotions

Viola Alianov-Rautenberg


Migration is a highly emotional process: leaving one’s homeland transforms almost all aspects of the migrant’s life, and challenges their sense of belonging, identity, and home. One way to cope with this trying situation is to come together as a group and express feelings creatively. In my new project, Migrant Melodies. Jewish Refugee Songs as a Transnational Archive of Emotions, I am researching the hitherto unexplored corpus of German-language songs and verses written worldwide by Jewish local bards and occasional poets who emigrated from Central Europe. Rather than focusing on high-cultural production, this project puts songs of ordinary migrants without artistic training in the center who wrote countless songs, verses, and occasional poems about their experiences and performed these within the migrant communities in their new homelands across the globe: in the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania. This project aims to illuminate how these migrants used songs and verses as a communicative, social, and psychological resource. Analyzing them will provide pivotal insights into the emotional experience of migration and creating a transnational German-Jewish diaspora.Drawing on approaches from ethnomusicology, performance studies, and the history of emotions, this project will (1) locate, collect, and preserve sources on a digital database (2) offer a novel framework of analysis for this neglected source group and (3) disseminate this knowledge to both academic and general audiences.