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  • "A Cross-Fertilization of Cultures":Émigré Scholars in the Twentieth Century and Implications for the Twenty-First
  • Harald Hagemann (bio) and William Milberg (bio)

with this special issue of social research, the journal returns to its roots, casting a contemporary eye on the international movement of intellectuals in the twentieth century. It was this journal that, in the 1930s, became one of the main intellectual outlets in the United States for refugee scholars who had been persecuted in Europe and were finding their voices in their new country.

Inevitably, these voices would be altered by the forced movement from one country to another, from one scholarly home to another, from one political environment to another. And of course such movement itself can profoundly affect the scholar's worldview. In his foreword to the first issue of Social Research in 1934, Alvin Johnson, president of the New School and founder of the University in Exile, celebrated the possibility of how the emigration of scholars, even when it is a forced emigration, can change their thinking: [End Page 761]

When the Greek scholars were expelled from Constantinople in the fifteenth century they were not able to set up in the western world exactly the same scheme of literary education, of training in art, of criticism and philosophy as had been established in the old Byzantine Empire. They were forced to widen their views, to apply Greek methods to Italian and Austrian and French materials. The consequence was a cross-fertilization of cultures, a renaissance that definitely closed the Dark Ages. The German and Italian and Russian scholars residing abroad will inevitably be subject to a similar process of adjustment to a new environment. Form and material share equally in creation, and though the form of the scholar's mind may be German or Russian or Italian, the material on which he must work is world material. What is striving for expression in the collective mind of the continental scholars abroad is not the kind of thinking to which they were formerly devoted, but a new kind of thinking. And there can be little doubt that when the integration of form and material has been completely effected new and potent forces will have been set in operation in the intellectual world. (emphasis added)

Johnson's lofty ambitions for intellectual cross-fertilization almost a century ago were only partially realized. One of the goals of this collection of essays is to revisit these early claims with a new gaze—the gaze of the twenty-first century, with its new refugee crises and its new challenges to liberal democracy.

Europe's intellectual diversity was significantly damaged by fascism and Eastern Europe's by Stalinism. The United States, on the other hand, greatly benefited from intellectual migration. Although Europe's loss was greater than America's gain, the émigrés contributed substantially to the rise of American leadership in the natural and social sciences after 1945. How does migration affect the production of knowledge? When the rise of fascism and World War II in the twentieth [End Page 762] century created an unprecedented forced migration of scholars, their ideas moved with them, and these ideas were transformed by the migration and subsequent integration with new institutions and modes of thinking. The heightened mobility of the twenty-first century—some voluntary, but again much of it forced—may have very different implications for scholarship and research. The papers in this special issue of Social Research focus on the émigré scholars from the earlier period and begin to explore the situation today.

The issue opens with a group of papers that identify the limits of the transfer of knowledge and make comparisons between "then" and "now." The first in this group is Judith Friedlander's reassessment of the New School's University in Exile, particularly the influence of its early scholars on American academic thought generally. Friedlander's account dispels a number of the myths surrounding the University in Exile and leaves us asking how such a venture might be mounted today. Simone Lässig focuses on institutional factors that supported or blocked scholars in the early-mid-twentieth century "flight of knowledge" and then explores how these...


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pp. 761-765
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