Refugees in modern history: enhancing the school curriculum and raising public awareness

Submitting Institution

University of Manchester

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration, Political Science
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Historical research on refugees specifically in post-1945 Europe conducted at UoM has been incorporated in the design and delivery of the school curriculum (Key Stage 3, Citizenship and History) to encourage children to consider the responses of refugees to the challenges they faced, the role of humanitarian relief organisations, and the responsibilities of citizens. In addition, a series of exhibitions, including one on behalf of the Quaker Service Memorial Trust, has improved public understanding of refugee crises and humanitarian responses. Finally this research has instilled in NGOs a better understanding of the history of humanitarianism.

Underpinning research

Relevant underpinning research has taken place at the University of Manchester since 1995, where the lead researcher, Professor Peter Gatrell, has written widely on population displacement in modern history. Since 2008 he has researched humanitarian relief in collaboration with Dr Jennifer Carson who took up a lectureship in the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI) in 2011.

Gatrell's research resulted in three monographs [3.1-3.3] and collaborative work including two edited volumes [4 and 5] in which Dr Carson presented the first fruits of her research on Quaker relief efforts in post-1945 Germany. The research has been funded by two AHRC major grants (1999-2008) and by an AHRC follow-on grant (2011-12), as well as grants from the British Academy (1995-97) and the Leverhulme Trust (2011-12). Some of this research has been undertaken in collaboration with historians at the University of Nottingham.

Key findings include a clearer conceptualisation of the dynamics of a refugee regime in Russia and Eastern Europe and later in post-1945 Europe; the institutional form and administration of refugee camps; international networks of solidarity and humanitarian action; and associated cultural representations of forced migration. The research has contributed to rethinking population politics in Russia and East Europe and has encouraged scholars to analyse the everyday experiences of refugees on the move and in sites of incarceration. Research has clarified the role of professional expertise, as well as the role played by the UN, its member states in the `First World', and NGOs to support a major campaign to assist refugees in Europe, the Middle East and Hong Kong in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Gatrell's latest monograph, The Making of the Modern Refugee (3.1), provides the first global history of twentieth-century population displacement, covering the causes and consequences of refugee crises in Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South-East Asia. It draws on the archives of the League of Nations, the UN and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and several NGOs, as well as memoir literature and secondary sources. A distinctive feature is the close attention given to the ways in which refugees interpreted and fashioned a history of displacement by ascribing meanings to the places they left behind, to their journeys, and to their destinations.

Dr Carson's research into Quaker relief work, which began with a study of the written record of British relief teams in Germany working on behalf of Displaced Persons in 1945, has since been extended into research on Quaker internationalism in Korea and China. Her key findings include the reflective and critical stance of Quaker relief workers towards government policy and unease at DPs' embrace of `competitive nationalism'. The combined research has generated new resources including interviews with surviving relief workers and hitherto forgotten efforts by DPs to publicise their plight, as in the `DP Olympics' in 1948.

References to the research

Sole author Gatrell except where indicated otherwise. (AOR- Available on request)

3.1. The Making of the Modern Refugee. Oxford: OUP, 2013, xii + 312pp. Supported in part by the award of a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship, 2011-12. A referee commented: `I'd expect the book to establish itself as the leading work of reference for the 20th century as a whole'. (AOR)

3.2. Free World? The Campaign to Save the World's Refugees, 1956-1963, Cambridge: CUP, 2011, x + 290pp. Supported in part by a grant from the AHRC for a project on `Population displacement, state practice and social experience in Russia and Eastern Europe, 1930-1950s' (£346k), Joint PI, with Dr N.P. Baron, University of Nottingham; ref. RG/AN993/APN18314. Pamela Ballinger in Contemporary European History writes that it `challenges readers to consider the refugee problem as inherently global in nature [and] will make it much harder for historians to ignore the importance of refugee history as a key arena of innovative historiography'. Gil Loescher in the Journal of Refugee Studies deems it `an important contribution to our understanding of refugee policy'. (AOR)

3.3. A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia during the First World War. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999, xiv + 317pp. Research for this book was supported by a British Academy Research Readership, 1995-97. It won the Wayne S. Vucinich Prize, 2000, awarded by the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies for 'outstanding work in Russian, East European or Eurasian studies in any branch of the humanities or social sciences', and the Alec Nove Prize, 2001, awarded by British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies, for an 'outstanding monograph in Russian and East European Studies'. The book received excellent reviews including in the American Historical Review, Journal of Modern History and Europe-Asia Studies. (AOR)


3.4. `Trajectories of population displacement in the aftermaths of the two world wars', in Jessica Reinisch and Elizabeth White, eds, The Disentanglement of Populations: Migration, Expulsion and Displacement in Postwar Europe, 1944-1949, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, 3-26. (AOR)

3.5. Warlands: Population Resettlement and State Reconstruction in the Soviet-East European Borderlands, 1945-1950, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, xv + 276pp., co-edited with N.P. Baron. Supported by a grant from the AHRC (see item 2). (AOR)


3.6. Homelands: War, Population and Statehood in Eastern Europe and Russia, 1918-1924, London: Anthem Press, 2004, xvii + 267pp., co-edited with N. P. Baron. Supported in part by a grant from the AHRC for a project on `Population displacement, state building and social identity in the lands of the former Russian empire, 1918-1930' (£345k), Sole PI; ref. B/RG/AN993/APN9265. (AOR)


Details of the impact


Prior to the publication of Gatrell's research on `refugeedom', the extent and significance of population displacement in Russia and Eastern Europe during and after the First World War were little known and poorly understood. The historiography has now been transformed. Together with scholars with whom he has collaborated and some of whom he trained, his research went on to produce a clearer understanding of the upheavals following the Second World War. More broadly, the research into displaced populations has clear contemporary relevance, not only by establishing the contours of humanitarian relief efforts but also because it foregrounds the experiences of refugees and provides answers about refugees' engagement with their history. The impact of this research outside the academy is apparent in three distinct settings: in schools, in exhibitions particularly to commemorate the relief work undertaken by Quakers, and in the dissemination of his research findings to NGOs and other bodies involved in the movements of displaced peoples.

Pathways to impact

This research has been incorporated into the school curriculum for 11-14 year olds. In 2011-12 Gatrell and Carson produced a 44-page teaching pack for the Key Stage 3 curriculum in both History and Citizenship, in collaboration with the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust and with contributions from colleagues at Nottingham University. This pack is being rolled out in schools across the North-West and the East Midlands, following a pilot project in 2012 from which we received feedback from experienced and trainee teachers. A separate resource pack (180pp.) focusing on Quaker Service similarly includes lesson plans and worksheets suitable for photocopying, 35 flashcards displaying carefully selected archive photographs and a DVD containing video interviews with Quaker relief workers, contemporary photographs, archival documents (translated where necessary), and stills and clips from documentary films.

We worked with the Quaker Service Memorial Trust to mount two public exhibitions at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA), Staffs, one in June 2012 and one in April 2013 in connection with the inauguration of the permanent memorial. Carson followed this up with talks to Quaker audiences at Friends House, London, and the Wiener Library, as well as at the NMA. Other major public exhibitions took place at Nottingham Castle in autumn 2012, and at Friends House (London, Edinburgh etc.). Additionally Gatrell has spoken to several bodies including an audience of 100 at the Yorkshire Philosophical Society (January 2011); Carson has spoken at the Quaker Yearly Meeting (c. 1000 attendees) and at the West Midlands History Forum (c. 100 attendees).

Research engagement with NGOs specifically includes the creation of a `History of Humanitarianism' timeline which is being disseminated via the new Histories of Humanitarianism consortium and website in collaboration with the ODI [5.6].

Reach and significance of the impact


The school pack includes both historical background information on the refugee crisis in post-1945 Europe and a series of activities that are designed to stimulate imagination and empathy. These activities are linked to the curriculum, specifically `the changing nature of conflict and cooperation between countries and peoples and its lasting impact on national, ethnic, racial, cultural or religious issues, including the nature and impact of the two world wars and the Holocaust, and the role of European and international institutions in resolving conflicts'. We trialled the pack at Newall Green High School, Wythenshawe and with a group of 25 trainee teachers in the East Midlands. One school student fed back that: `I realised that refugees come from more places than first thought and that they come from many different backgrounds — not just poor people'. Interactive sessions with iPads were particularly appreciated. The Head of Humanities at NGHS writes that students in History, Geography and Citizenship classes became aware of `wider groups of refugees' [5.1]. The research material also contributed to curriculum development in 17 schools associated with the Schools Linking Network (Stockport) where the `Model UN' project focused on refugees in the modern world. The Schools Linking Manager confirms that `students had been prompted to consider these issues in interesting and thought-provoking ways; they enjoyed learning about them because they had never really considered these issues before, and their views of refugees had been challenged in a positive way' [5.4].

Wider public

The key initiative here is the series of exhibitions supported by the Quaker Service Memorial Trust demonstrating the role of the Society of Friends in post-war Germany, Korea and elsewhere. These started with two at the NMA and a related exhibition was mounted at Friends House, Euston Road, London. One outcome according to the Resources Development Officer at Friends House has been a greater awareness of the rich holdings in the Quaker archives; she adds that donations of new material have been made as a result. The exhibitions have contributed to a better understanding of Quaker history. She comments, `our profile has been raised' and they `bring to the forefront the massive contribution Quakers made along with other relief/aid agencies.' [5.2]. The exhibition panels have been displayed in Coventry, Leicester, Leek, Manchester and Stourbridge [5.7]. The Clerk to the Quaker Service Memorial Trust (QSMT) notes that `Visitors' books allow for a couple of short lines of comment — all of which have been supportive' [5.3]. Gatrell's research has been picked up by the Today programme (16 July 2009, audience c. 7 million) and by The Independent (24 July 2012). The Clerk to the QSMT adds: `Working so closely with Dr Carson and Professor Gatrell has been a privilege, as we have learned much about the tradition which we have inherited and were in danger of losing'; and observes `that the exhibition may have contributed to Coventry becoming a City of Sanctuary, with a particularly welcoming atmosphere for asylum seekers' [5.3].


The empirical and conceptual findings of this research resonate with refugee/migration policy-makers and practitioners who are being introduced to the history of humanitarianism via our collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). The Senior Research Associate at ODI confirms `The historical research on population displacements and the humanitarian responses to them carried out by Professor Gatrell together with Dr Carson represents a significant addition to the history of humanitarian policies and practices in relation to displaced people.' [5.5] An anonymous Palgrave referee of Warlands stated that it `should certainly be read and pondered not only by academics [...] but also by members of NGOs and international agencies confronting the forced movement of peoples on a global scale in the twenty first century.' Gatrell has spoken on his research to audiences including UNHCR staff in Geneva, and his work has been recommended by the Head of the Policy and Evaluation unit at UNHCR to the Deputy High Commissioner and Assistant High Commissioner (information supplied by The Executive Director, Programme for the Study of Global Migration, The Graduate Institute, Geneva) [5.8]. Carson engaged with NGOs at a conference in Bergen (2011); both have contributed to events organised by UoM's HCRI attended by the British Red Cross and other organisations. The exhibition on Quaker relief was displayed at the HCRI conference (`Humanitarianism: past, present and future') in November 2012 where participants included delegates from MSF, ICRC and CAFOD. The Senior Research Associate at ODI states: `By establishing the contours and mainsprings of humanitarian relief efforts in different sites of crisis, in Europe and further afield during the course of the twentieth century, their research has clear relevance to NGOs, UN agencies (such as UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF and IOM) and think-tanks such as ourselves' [5.5].

Sources to corroborate the impact

Claims referenced in the text.

5.1: Letter from the Head of Humanities, Newall Green High School, Wythenshawe.

5.2: Letter from the Visual Resources Development Officer, The Library of the Religious Society of Friends.

5.3: Letter from the Quaker Service Memorial Trust.

5.4: Letter from the Schools Linking Manager, Ethnic Diversity Services, Stockport Council.

5.5: Letter from the Senior Research Associate, Overseas Development Institute.



5.8: Confidential document- Recommendation to Deputy High Commissioner and Assistant High Commissioner in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees