Unsettling Europe: further reflections on post-1945 history

Image: Peter Gatrell

Unsettling Europe: further reflections on post-1945 history

Tuesday, 23 February 2021 - 5:00pm to 6:15pm
Venue: 
Online Event
Speaker(s): 
Peter Gatrell (University of Manchester)
Chair: 
Hartmut Mayer (Director, European Studies Centre, St Antony’s, Oxford)
Discussant: 
Paul Betts (St Antony's College, Oxford)
Series: 
ESC Core Seminar Series

In this paper I draw upon hitherto unused material from the confidential case files of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. They concern applications for assistance and protection lodged by refugees of European origin between 1951 and 1975. By their very nature, they include testimony of displacement that affected individuals from the First World War onwards, as well as individuals caught up in the maelstrom of the Second World War and its aftermath and, later, the Hungarian Revolution, and thus provide an opportunity to ask how refugees reflected on Europe’s history in the first half of the twentieth century. To be sure, UNHCR’s remit did not reach into all corners of continental population displacement, and I shall make use of other archival material to explain the role of other actors such as non-governmental organisations that engaged with non-mandate refugees. I shall discuss the trajectories and experiences of refugees who constituted what UNHCR termed intractable or ‘difficult cases’. Some of these cases involved family reunification. Others raised issues around the eligibility of individuals who sought to conceal their identity. In addition, many cases concerned individuals who manifested physical disability or mental illness. In general, this extensive material on such difficult and often painful topics invites us to think about recognition and exclusion, not only in the context of post-war Europe but in relation to issues of migration and asylum in Europe in more recent times, questions that I addressed in The Unsettling of Europe (Allen Lane and Basic Books, 2019).


Professor Peter Gatrell teaches modern history at the University of Manchester where he is also affiliated to the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute. In addition to books on Russian economic and social history, his publications include a trilogy on refugee history: A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia during World War 1 (Indiana University Press, 1999); Free World? The Campaign to Save the World's Refugees, 1956-1963 (Cambridge University Press, 2011); and The Making of the Modern Refugee (Oxford University Press, 2013). His latest book, The Unsettling of Europe: the Great Migration, 1945 to the Present, a new history of Europe seen through the lens of migration, appeared with Penguin Books and Basic Books in August 2019. Peter has directed several research projects on population displacement, state-building and social identity in the aftermath of the two world wars. In July 2018 he started a three-year collaborative research project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, entitled “Reckoning with refugeedom: refugee voices in modern history, 1919 to 1975”. See https://reckoningwithrefugeedom.wordpress.com/. Peter is a Fellow of the British Academy (elected 2019) and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (elected 2011).

Dr Hartmut Mayer (Director, European Studies Centre, St Antony’s, Oxford) chairs.

Professor Paul Betts (St Antony's College) is Discussant.


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