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In Defence of LearningThe Plight, Persecution, and Placement of Academic Refugees, 1933-1980s$
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Shula Marks, Paul Weindling, and Laura Wintour

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780197264812

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197264812.001.0001

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Plutarch’s Thesis: The Contribution of Refugee Historians to Historical Writing, 1945–2010

Plutarch’s Thesis: The Contribution of Refugee Historians to Historical Writing, 1945–2010

(p.211) 13 Plutarch’s Thesis: The Contribution of Refugee Historians to Historical Writing, 1945–2010
In Defence of Learning

Antoon De Baets

British Academy

Can exile be seen as a blessing in disguise? The Greek moral essayist Plutarch, and others after him, argued that it can. This thesis that exile is a blessing in disguise is referred to as Plutarch's thesis, and this chapter attempts to test it. It analyzes 764 refugee historians — drawn from 63 countries on all continents — who made their contribution to historical writing after 1945. The overarching question is whether the loss for the country of origin featured as a corresponding benefit for the country of destination. For the countries of origin the three stages of exile — departure, sojourn abroad, and return — had repercussions. The brain drain was a devastating blow to history-writing, as ‘critical historical writing’ was replaced, for the most part, ‘by servile propaganda on behalf of repressive regimes’. During their sojourn abroad, many refugee historians edited ‘influential editions of sources’, while on their return, their influence was initially limited. Through their continued scholarly networks and contact with scholars and ideas from abroad, however, they enriched both their own scholarship and often the discipline itself. And although it was often delayed, in due course the works of those refugees who remained abroad became known or were rediscovered in their countries of origin.

Keywords:   exile, academic refugees, Plutarch's thesis, refugee historians, historical writing

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