Plutarch’s Thesis: The Contribution of Refugee Historians to Historical Writing (1945–2015)

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    At the micro-level of the individual, the forced departure of exile and refugee historians in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries constituted a tragedy and often a career breach. At the macro-level of historical writing, the problem is different. Plutarch maintained that, generally, exile was a ‘blessing in disguise’, a form of beneficial historiographical acculturation. I test Plutarch’s thesis here by drawing up a balance of the contributions of refugee historians to historical writing, based on 764 cases in 63 countries. I argue that it is unlikely that the losses for historical writing in the home countries were equaled by corresponding gains in the host countries. Regarding specific contributions of content, theory or method, the part of refugees, however precious, generally did not appear to be of vital importance. Some countries, domains and even refugee personalities, however, constituted strong exceptions to this general conclusion. In addition, institutional innovations by refugees were impressive. On balance, I suggest that the unique significance of refugee historians is located in the courage with which they kept alive the alternative versions of the historical writing of their home countries when the latter succumbed to tyranny. This was the real blessing in disguise for the historical profession. Plutarch’s thesis passes the test, though only partially and mostly in unintended ways.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number2
    Pages (from-to)27-38
    Number of pages12
    JournalStoria della Storiografia - History of Historiography
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 18-Nov-2016


    • Balance of exile, Benefits and losses, Counterfactuals, Dictatorship, Exile historians, Historical comparison, Historiographical acculturation, Home countries, Host countries, Institution building by historians, Persecution of historians, Plutarch, Refugee historians, Unemployment of historians

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