Project EMILE: Leaving Europe for America – early EMIgrants LEtter stories

Background
The period between 1840 and 1920 was one of great changes in Europe. Famine, poverty, overpopulation and religious persecution forced millions of people to leave their homes and families and search for a new and better life somewhere else. The majority headed to the United States where they heard promises of jobs and freedom.
The emigrants left the old world with oppression and poverty, but they also left behind families and friends, language, traditions and customs. The first years as immigrants were, for almost everybody, years with severe hardships in many ways.
A source for learning and understanding of the immigrants’ situations is the ”America letters”, letters the immigrants wrote to people left behind, former neighbors, acquaintances and kin in their old country.
These letters are important parts of our common European history, a period when Europe couldn’t feed its inhabitants. Nowadays the situation is the opposite, when Europe is hosting immigrants from other parts of the world. To give voice to the experiences of the early European emigrants is one way of linking the history and the present to each other and create understanding for the new immigrants.

Project scope
EMILE is a pilot project that will promote a cultural dialogue and mutual knowledge and awareness of the culture and history of the European people. The main aim, is to study and compare a part of our common history as told in letters from America written by European emigrants during the 19th and early 20th century. The project will be a joint transnational study on emigration history from individual points of view as it can be found in letters and other personal documents.
A joint travelling exhibition will be produced, combining the collections of letters, songs etc. from the different partner countries along specific themes, showing both the similarities and differences between the experiences from different countries. Exhibition themes include reasons why to emigrate, problems of early settlers, integration, the role of women in settling the Mid-West, the success of today’s descendants of yesterday ‘s immigrants. There will be 5 language versions of the same exhibition; the idea is that one copy travels through America. The history will be explained in a virtual exhibition too. The existing databases of the partners should be updated and made easily accessible on websites.
The EMILE project shall also encourage discussions and cooperation between cultural and socio-cultural operators working in the field of social integration, especially integration of young people.

Objectives and activities
1) Develop a platform for network collaboration with local museums, archives, local folklore societies and other cultural institutions. The main purposes are to develop and expand the digitalisation of the cultural heritage as collections, archives and cultural settings and make them easily accessible on the web.
2) Give a broad access to the material by producing:
i) Physical exhibitions with letters, photographs, immigrant songs, poems and other documents from all participating countries. All material shall be translated to English (to facilitate common understanding) and displayed in museums, libraries, galleries and schools
ii) Virtual exhibitions that can be visited on and also downloaded from Internet
3) Make the America letters and connected material accessible through Internet by starting the digitalisation of collections and archives.

Partners
Lead Partner will be The Östergötland Regional Museum, Linköping, Sweden. Other partners are from the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, and Ireland. The Rozmberk Society (dulfer@rozmberk.org) is the Czech partner, some of the Society’s US partners will participate in this project as well.