Maya Feldman, Final Year Music BA Student, writes:

I came across the opportunity to work at the Special Collections through the Leeds Q-Step Programme – an initiative that offers projects to give arts students training and practice in quantitative analysis. This project involved getting to grips with data presentation software to map the movement of refugee scholars aided by Esther Simpson. Plus, as a descendant of a refugee scholar that fled Nazi persecution myself, I am keen to pay homage to those who advocated for the rights of émigrés.

Esther Simpson was the secretary for The Society for the Protection of Science and Learning an organisation that assisted academics at risk of exile and/or political persecution. From reading the correspondence available in the archive’s Esther Simpson Collection, I recognised Esther’s dedication to helping refugee scholars. Her help enabled them to establish lives in a 1940s society that was often less than welcoming to foreigners and enabled these émigrés to lead successful careers as academics.

map of part of Europe in grey and white with red lines showing the movement of refugee scholars
Screenshot of a map generated using Palladio software to show the movement of refugee scholars from their alma mater to the institution they worked at after immigrating. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Whilst Esther supported the relocation of hundreds of academics, considering the month-long time frame of my internship, I chose to focus in on refugee scholars who received honours like knighthoods or fellowships. Handily, the book ‘Refugee Scholars: Conversations with Tess Simpson’ had an honours list and so I used that as a starting point. In light of the current situation in the UK, it also seems as important as ever to remind people of the contributions refugees have made to our society.

black and white chart showing the work destinations of refugee scholars
Scatter plot graph showing the organisations that refugee scholars worked in post-immigration and their citizenship at birth. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Being able to visualise the data found in ‘Refugee Scholars’ adds a new dimension through which people can view and understand Esther’s work. The maps and graphs highlight the geographical extent of Esther’s efforts and help to give a better impression of how wars trigger a re-imaging of a nation’s ethnic makeup.

Despite the mass destruction of knowledge so deeply entrenched in the ideology and actions of the fascist regime in Germany in the 1930s, Esther still managed to ensure the legacies of hundreds of scholars. The benefit of these academics’ research is recognised on a global scale, as their findings can be found in the common curriculum from early years all the way through to higher education. Esther’s work is also evidence that countries’ hostile policies toward the movement of peoples can starve pools of knowledge to the point that the growth of industries and enterprises suffer. Hopefully, by presenting this data in a more accessible format, we can communicate the negative impact of harsh refugee policies to a broader audience, promoting a common culture of acceptance.