by Nikolaus Wegmann, Princeton University

Why this topic? Why this now, in 2013? It is neither particularly fashionable nor is it an eternal world mystery. For some, the forced exile of German intellectuals, artists, scholars, and writers might be seen as a rather dated theme. A new century has begun, and what happened in the first half of the 20th century gradually fades away. Furthermore, exile is more than ever a recurrent and ongoing phenomenon. Truth is that our topic is in a somewhat difficult position right between two time frames. The forced migration of maybe 2000 men and women – once called “The Weimar Culture” in the USA – is no longer contemporary history. But these events have not yet fully solidified into a mere historical event separated from the present by an appeasing distance of time.

Not that there is no research on our topic. Quite the opposite. It all started in the mid-sixties, in Germany – the land of the culprits  – as a strong commitment to finally begin a process of coming to terms with the past. Research on exile was part of a belated liberalization of Germany, that is West-Germany. For a long time the formerly exiled – especially those who had come back as representatives of the occupying forces – faced rejection in their homeland. The so called „Thomas Mann‑Kontroverse” from 1945/46 is just one example of this hostile climate. In East Germany the focus was different; research on exile was first and foremost an ideological question of the right choice between the imperialistic West and the “anti- fascist” Soviet-Union.

Extensive work started with a research program organized by the central German Research Organization (= DFG) focusing explicitly on “Exilforschung” or Research On Exile. This program ran from 1973 to 1984 and financed more than 40 single – often large scale – research projects. By now we have solid and reliable knowledge. Exil-Forschung has finally reached the handbook and compendium stage. For some, this is the last phase of a once daring and innovative research field.

Looking back this kind of research had a specific historical bias: Research was being understood and disseminated to the German public as a coming-to-terms with a history of forced migration. Methodologically, this translated into biographical research, which documented, collected, and in the end rehabilitated the often dramatic fates of the exiled.

This is still, to this day, relevant. Fritz Stern, the eminent American historian of German background, has just now published Ein Gespräch über Geschichte und Politik, a conversation with Joschka Fischer, the former German Secretary of State, in which he points once more to the paradigmatic role of exile: With this forced migration, everything began, and this includes above all the holocaust: “But we must not forget that it began with Germans who were driven out by other Germans (…) This expulsion was the first. It was often forgotten, when the word expulsion was mentioned.” (p.11)  [Aber wir sollten auch nicht vergessen, dass es angefangen hat mit Deutschen, die andere Deutsche vertrieben haben (…)  Diese Vertreibung war die erste, das wurde gern vergessen, wenn das Wort Vertreibung fiel.“]

Enlightenment and morality are the constant stakes of this research – and this, also, because important discoveries are still possible. On August 31, 2012, the Frankfurter Allgemeine – the leading daily newspaper in Germany – devoted its front page to a picture of a safe, wide open and piled high with files. “Der Fund im Panzerschrank” (= The find in the armored safe) was the caption. And this find in Munich, in a former safe of the Nazi Party /NSDAP, was nothing less than the Habilitation manuscript of Erwin Panofsky, long believed to be gone for good. What this unbelievable story has to do with Princeton /this is one of the themes of our conference. After all, Panofsky, as a Jewish academic, already had to seek American exile in 1934. – Friday afternoon there will be a panel discussion on this very topic. With Gerda Panofsky, Barbara Picht, and Liliane Weissberg.

The quest for political enlightenment is one thing that keeps our theme alive. But there is also the present, which puts pressure on old certainties. For example with this number from an internal  Princeton University report. Of all presently employed post-docs – today junior scholars, tomorrow already professors – 65% are not born in the USA. This is spectacular – but at the same time, normal. Migration in the academic and artistic fields has become so commonplace that only the scale here is surprising. One couldn’t call this migration exile; those involved often describe themselves as Expats: An expatriate is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing. (=Wikipedia) Today, scholarship and culture are internationalized. And this internationalization is much more than a mere effect of private decision-making: it is a general characteristic – a form – of scholarship and culture.

From this perspective, the theme of our conference is a case study in this continuing circulation of academic professionals. In the 19th and 20th century there was already a reverse movement, from the USA toward Europe: thousands of Americans were drawn to European cultural centers, like Munich and Paris. And the Greeks, to recall the perhaps most well known of these migrations, went to the Romans, where they famously became more than mere home tutors. In this context, individual résumés fade into the background. More interesting are the fates of ideas. Books, it has always been said, have their own destinies: books – that means not just the individual, significant work. Habent sua fata libelli – this means also the methods and styles of scholarship and of intellectual work, and above all the forms in which one organizes scholarship in the first place. Whether research and teaching are organized in a loosely coupled thematic program or in the context of a disciplinary body of systematized knowledge makes a consequential difference.

Exile, as in the Princeton case, is also therefore a piece of the international traffic in ideas, in the spirit of the exchange formula already given in the 19th century. „National literatures,“ Goethe wrote around 1820, „do not have much more to say; the time has come for the age of Weltliteratur (world literature).“

But is, then, according to this formula, everything merely and always traffic? In the night of globalization, are all cats gray? On the contrary. Exiled Writers in Princeton – the conference title already brings to mind an often overlooked, but fundamental dimension of this generalized global traffic. The circulation of ideas does not happen in the airless space of data channels and server farms. It is much more connected to the concrete localizations, to the specific places and particular cultures involved. Princeton stands for exactly that.

As a trans-national history of science, research on exile is always already a history of the specific location and of the re-location of knowledge. How this happens, exactly, must be clarified by the empirical evidence of case studies. The only certainty is that the injection of local cultures of knowledge into wider circulation cannot succeed without resistance, without friction and misunderstandings.

The English scientist and writer Charles Percy Snow gave a talk in Cambridge in 1959 with a title that has since become a topos: The Two Cultures (and the Scientific Revolution). Its thesis was that “the intellectual life of the whole of western society” was split into the titular two cultures — namely the sciences and the humanities. That was and is handy, maybe just because this thesis splits the world into two irreconcilable halves. And yet this picture does not do justice to intellectual relationships. There are many more cultures and forms of knowledge than two. And they are not strictly divided from one another, but instead are always knotted up in complex processes of exchange. In Princeton, between 1933 and 1945 more than ever, this occurred. Whether this was only one episode, a small special case of this general circulation of ideas – or still more: this question too, I hope, will be a topic for our conference.