The Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (SPSL): a “République des lettres” in the twentieth century

In the central decades of the twentieth century, the aid to academic refugees who escaped from dictatorial regimes that prosecuted them for their race, religion or political ideology became a relevant scientific, political, and diplomatic question. As a new “Republic of Letters”, numerous individuals and organizations provided shelter, help and grants, initially for those escaping from Nazi Germany, and later for those suffering the tragic consequences of the war and post-war. From Hitler’s rise to power in 1934 to the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, more than twenty years of dramatic upheavals and human suffering brought many brilliant minds to exile in desperate need of help.

From a postcolonial perspective, this paper presents a new research project that aims to critically analyse the circulation of refugee scholars in the central decades of the 20th century as a source of coproduction of new knowledge in different fields. It also discusses the potential interest of the Archive of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (SPSL) (Bodleian Library, Oxford). The SPSL was founded in the UK, in 1933 – as the Academic Assistance Council (ACC) -, by a small group of academics (Leo Szilard, Lord Rutherford, Charles Singer among others) to provide short-term grants and help refugees in finding new employment.