Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Introduction to the Project:

Seeing as this is one of the first official blogs for the Émigré Project, it seems prudent to give a short overview, if only to help provide context for future bloggers. This post will therefore focus on the basics of the project and will try to place this first blog – and future blogs – in context of the overall research plan. Now it does need to be acknowledged that this first blog is being written by what could be termed a ‘2nd generation’ researcher on the project. I personally came into the project a year after it began and my own research for the project greatly benefited from the hard work and organization of the ‘1st generation’ of researchers – namely Dr. Frank Stahnisch and his research assistant Stephen Pow (who has since left the project to continue his schooling across the globe). Nonetheless I will try to give a bit of information about the project beginnings, foundation ideas, and early progress.

The basic conceptual outline of the Émigré Project is the production of a large database cataloging the migration of scholars in the areas of the ‘mind sciences’ – i.e. neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, or others – from German-speaking countries to North America. Its primary focus is thus on German-speaking scholars from Germany or its neighbouring countries. The majority of individuals so far included in this study are nationally German, but the spread of originating countries is exceptionally diverse. It includes scholars from Poland, Germany, and even Russia (If you look at our heat map so far you will gain a better idea of scholar origins).

These individuals are equally diverse in their area of study. Although the database focuses on individuals who study the science of the mind, this can be defined in many ways. Some individuals who would more realistically be classified as philosophers were nonetheless influential in the areas of psychoanalysis or psychiatry, and are therefore included in our list of individuals. This diversity is partially derived from the varied interests of our individual scholars, many of whom changed their research focus upon emigrating or throughout their scholarly career (as scholars are prone to do).

Dr. Stahnisch began this project in emulation of the work of Dr. Paul Weindling, who is currently researching at Bodleian Library, Oxford. Dr. Wieindling has compiled a similar database (though much larger) on individuals who were able to emigrate to Britain through the help of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (SPSL), previously known as the British Assistance Council. This database has compiled information on many emigres who traveled to (or through) Great Britain before and during the Second World War. The focus of Dr. Weindling's work is on forced migration, rather than a specific discipline, and thus our database is smaller and more focused - though many of the individuals included in our database are also included in the one at Oxford.

In terms of time period - our database takes a far wider stance. While many individuals included in the database migrated during the period from 1932 - 1945, we are interested in any scholars who left their European homes after the First World War (and possibly even sooner, if we find someone who fits our discipline/language). As many scholars could not leave during the Second World War, many emigrated after - or even went back home after the conflict - so these scholars are included as well.

Now that we have covered the who, what, when, and where of the project, we can focus on the most important question – why. First and foremost – This is a project focused on highlighting an understudied area in the history of medicine. Considering the current refugee crisis the world is facing and the plight of many Syrian scholars trying to emigrate to other countries, the topic of forced migration is one which needs further research. Similarly, aside from a few well-researched individuals, we don’t yet have a historical study which traces the transfer of a population of German-trained neuroscientists and their ideas (particularly in the area of Nervenheilkunde) into the North American school. Many of these individuals contributed to the advancement of the neurosciences in North America - including neurogenetics, public mental health care, and the somatic therapies, but their influence has as yet been underrepresented. Lastly, this is a project of collective biographies, which will give some insight into the major difficulties face by individuals who emigrated during a time of turmoil. These men and women faced many personal trials in their new host countries – on personal, collective, and even international levels.

The first speedbump to the project came with the creation of the first database itself. Getting funding was of course an issue from the start – original funding for the project came from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, along with some minor funding from CIHR. The project really took off after a SSHRC grant came through in 2013. Initially this project compiled all of its information on an Excel spreadsheet. While this simplified the collection process and allowed for ease of compatibility, it also created a rather text-heavy spreadsheet, which was almost impossible to read. When I came onto the project – in the Summer of 2013 – we made plans to create a new database to store information on our scholars. By the Fall of 2014 we had a new Access Database ready for data entry. In 2014 two new researchers joined our team - one of which had previously worked with Dr. Weindling on his database. Another researcher also joined our team in August of this year and he will also be engaged in the blogging portion of this project.

Aside from basic data entry on scholars, the Émigré project has also compiled many sets of documents to utilize in the continuous research of individuals in the project. The current focus is on tracking down names, which can be fleshed out with more information as the project continues. Dr. Stahnisch has undertaken multiple research trips to various archives for this specific purpose. These trips have provided a basis for the initial discovering of names of scholars who fit our preferred profile.

The status of the project at this moment is as follows:

Paula Larsson (me) – In charge of creating forms for collecting information, blogging, researching names, and writing bios for scholars
Vincent Hoeckendorf - Organizing and reading files from Dr. Stahnisch’s research, blogging, researching names, and writing bios for scholars
Erna Kurbegovic - Researching new names and writing bios
Aleksandra Loewenau – Our postdoc researcher with a keen expertise from her similar databank work with Paul Weindling. Aleksandra is currently working on linking individuals to our research from the previous database who undertook onward migration from the UK to North America.
Dr. Frank Stahnisch - The man with the plan. Continuously undertaking research trips to new archives and doing on-the-ground information gathering. In charge of the overall organization of the project.
We may get a new person possibly next year – another post doc to look forward to!

No comments:

Post a Comment