With over 60 million people forced from their homes by war and persecution, the subject of immigration is of vital relevance to any discussion of human rights. The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience has been at the forefront of this conversation since 2010 when it brought together representatives from three members that specialize in migration history – Ellis Island National Monument (U.S.), Le Bois du Cazier (Belgium) and Galata Museo del Mare (Italy) –  to ask, “Can taking people on a journey into the past help them understand the journeys of immigrants today?”

Exploring this question, these sites developed Navigating Difference. Navigating Difference aimed to give fresh perspective to modern debates about immigration and migration by doing two things: placing immigration within a historical context and providing a trans-Atlantic aspect to the debate. Through an interactive installation at all three sites, visitors were encouraged to rethink immigration and answer three simple questions about immigration today: Is immigration good for my country? For my community? For me? Participants could also see how their peers abroad responded.

But it didn’t end there.

Each site also hosted community dialogues, bringing together groups of people with differing perspectives to learn the history of why and how people left their homes and what they experienced in their new countries. Then, through open conversation they connected these journeys with current ones. The outcome? A greater understanding of the complexities of migration, leading to more informed and empathetic attitudes and actions towards immigrants today.

This program was supported in part by the Museums & Communities Collaborations Abroad Program which is made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the American Association of Museums. Support was also provided by the Nathan Cummings Foundation.