We’re delighted that our edited volume Ark of Civilization: Refugee Scholars and Oxford University 1930-1945 which took up much of our time and energy last year is now OUT.
When we started researching the Jacobsthal archive at the Institute of Archaeology, we had the great pleasure of meeting a number of researchers who were also working on the histories and archives of other refugee scholars at Oxford. Coinciding with an exhibition on Jacobsthal at the Town Hall in Oxford in 2012, we held a workshop, hosted by Jas Elsner at Corpus Christi College in the (highly appropriate) Fraenkel room, named after refugee scholar Prof. Eduard Fraenkel (we later discovered Jacobsthal had been instrumental in arranging his move from Germany to Oxford).
As it turned out, the workshop was just the tip of the iceberg of uncovering history of the myriad of refugee scholars in the arts and humanities who passed through, engaged with, or eventually found refuge in Oxford.
The resulting volume is a step towards acknowledging the importance of Oxford’s role in rescuing, helping along, and sheltering refugees in the art and humanities, and the immense value they brought to Oxford in return. We were not aiming for an encyclopaedic tome on every scholar who passed through the city, though there is no doubt such a book needs to be written. Equally, there is a lack of knowledge on the history of women scholars, which will need addressing in future research. What we wanted to do through Ark of Civilization was to explore Oxford as an ‘ark of knowledge’ – a refuge, a meeting point, and a centre of thought in the arts and humanities. The contributors to the volume take up this theme, sometimes through individual refugee stories and sometimes looking at the University’s institutions, drawing on archives, oral histories and private collections.
There are important lessons to be learned by looking at the way in which a university and city – which had been, pre-war, essentially provincial, insular and self-contained (even by 1937 83% of Oxford Fellows had been undergraduates at the University) – adapted and transformed in the process of welcoming hundreds of refugee scholars and their families.
One strand that emerges is the importance of individuals on the British side, who worked incredibly hard to do the right thing against often overwhelming odds. These same individuals appear time and time again in the refugee stories, arranging money, papers, and even welcoming refugees to live with them. Their story is only alluded to, and will need looking at in much more detail.
Similarly, it was only by beginning to tell the refugee academic’s stories that we became aware of how much the university and city collectively owed and still owes them. This extraordinary group of Continental classicists, historians, artists, archaeologists, lawyers, philosophers, musicians, and philologists changed the university as transformative new ideas, courses, and institutions flooded in. This legacy still continues today.
A huge ‘thank you’ to all our contributors: Anthony Grenville, Laurence Brockliss, Philip Davies, Harold Mytum, Katharina Lorenz, David Gill, Christopher Stray, Oswyn Murray, Charmian Brinson, Marian Malet, Kate Lowe, Conrad Leyser, Fran Lloyd, Ann Rau Dawes, Rachel Dickson, Alexander Cullen, Bojan Bujic, Anna Teicher, Graham Whitaker, Anna Nyburg, and Rahel Feilchenfeldt.