Exodus and Exile: The Spaces of Diaspora

The word “diaspora” once referred exclusively to the repeated scattering of the Jews away from the kingdom of Judea. Today, “diaspora” has taken on a general meaning of the forced relocation of any people away from their homeland and into foreign lands. The difference between “diaspora” and “migration” is one of motive: a migration is willing, a diaspora is forced. The force can be either physical or economic. An important part of any diaspora is the discrimination against the diasporic group by the dominant social groups both in their homelands and the places where they resettle. While this discrimination might moderate over time, it does not diminish the final, crucial aspect of a diaspora: the yearning to return and recreate the lost homeland. It is this yearning which lies at the center of the concept of “diaspora.” This exhibition uses maps from the sixteenth century to the present to explore the spatial aspects of diaspora through the experiences of the Jews and African-Americans. Maps provide varying kinds of evidence for past diasporas. They have been used since the fifteenth century to show the Biblical exodus from Egypt; similar historical reconstructions can be made for later diasporas. It is also possible to discern the segregated communities of diasporic peoples from elusive traces on old maps. Finally, maps have been used to visualize and make manifest the homelands for which diasporic peoples yearn. This exhibition is part of USM’s 2001-2002 Gloria S. Duclos Convocation, a year-long examination of migration and homelessness titled, Diaspora: Meanings of Home. In order to provide a detailed and substantive analysis, this exhibition focuses on the two diasporas familiar to most Americans. A similar analysis could also be made for other diasporas: Afghani, Armenian, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Irish, Scottish, and Turkish, to name just a few.


When the Osher Map Library first opened in 1994, one of its goals was to offer USM students opportunities to work with the cartographic collections in depth over an extended period of time. Exodus and Exile: The Spaces of Diaspora realizes this goal and is a testimonial to the dedicated research of its student-curators: Daryl Sasser, graduate assistant in American and New England Studies, and Seth Klenk, intern in the History Department. Mr. Klenk also produced the diagrams and map overlays. We are grateful to Professors Willem Klooster, Maureen Elgersman Lee, and Abraham Peck of the USM’s History Department for sharing their expertise on numerous occasions throughout the year-long preparation of the exhibition. We also thank the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University, and the Library of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati for making copies of maps available from their collections. Valuable assistance was given by Yolanda Theunissen, George Carhart, Professor Matthew H. Edney, and Dr. Harold L. Osher. We also wish to thank the staff and student assistants of the Osher Map Library, in particular Joyce Nichols and Dawn Simard, and to acknowledge the technical assistance of Stuart Hunter, Nasir M. Shir, and Jay York.