Introduction to “Émigré Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and Cognitive Scientists in North America since the Second World War”

  • Frank W. Stahnisch University of Calgary
Keywords: Austria, Canada, Cognitive Science, Emigre Neuroscientists, Forced Migration, Germany, History of Science, Post-Secondary Education, Psychology, Psychiatry, Twentieth Century, USA


The reverberations of the Second World War caused the loss of up to one-third of all academic psychiatrists and cognitive scientists from Germany and occupied Central European countries between 1933 and 1945. These disastrous developments for the wider academic landscape in many ways annihilated the foundation of German-speaking psychiatric and clinical psychological research. Indeed, many historiographical studies have drawn attention to this very point over recent decades. At the same time, the impact of the vast forced-migration wave of Jewish and politically oppositional psychiatrists and scientists from Nazi-occupied Europe has repeatedly been seen as a process of mere “brain gain” for North America, while Central Europe — and Germany in particular — experienced the loss. This one- dimensional perspective is of primary research concern in the articles in this special issue of History of Intellectual Culture: in scholarly literature, the case of forced migration has raised questions as to the research involvement of science in society, the interaction of professional networks, and the establishment of international relations as these evolved during the first half of the twentieth century. As the historians assembled in this special issue put forward, the emergence of “new intellectual cultures” can be attributed to the scientific adaptation processes of émigré psychiatry researchers and cognitive scientists, which have altered the scientific landscapes on both sides of the Atlantic.

The artificial exodus of physicians, scientists, and academics from German-speaking countries after 1933 allows for new investigative approaches that extend the scholarly view beyond providing access to many individual biographies and clinical accounts. This is reflected, for example, in the historical collections of the Rockefeller Archive (New York), the Canadian National Archives (Ottawa), the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning Archives (Oxford), and the plethora of university and college archives in North America. Other places around the world are relevant here as well, taking into account the process of onward migration. The available institutional histories in this research field, together with the detailed analysis of personal experiences and individual legacies of German-speaking émigré psychiatry researchers and cognitive scientists, offer us deep insights into the manifold contingencies, interrelated contexts, and structures and constraints of knowledge transfer processes. These often occurred as a consequence of the integration of differing communities of psychiatric researchers and cognitive scientists into their new host countries. With such historiographical considerations in mind, the focus of our special issue in History of Intellectual Culture is on understanding the powerful merging of methods, technologies, and disciplinary programs that emanated from the above-mentioned research perspectives. While studies of the receiving countries tended to analyse the intellectual, academic, and institutional dimensions of the forced-migration process, the individual fates and social problems of many émigré psychiatrists and cognitive scientists hardly attracted attention. The six articles and commentary assembled in this special issue track their crucial work for the development of psychological, psychiatric, and cognitive science research in the context of Canada and the United States, while these academic refugees encountered manifold problems and often pursued their careers under completely changed circumstances. The topics of this special issue include Turkish refugees, Great Britain as a country for onward migration, differences in the training and research backgrounds of German- and English-speaking psychiatrists, the group of German-trained cognitive scientists, case

2 History of Intellectual Culture, 2017-19
examples from clinical psychologists in Canada, and examinations of career changes in émigré neuropathologists and

émigré psychiatrists involved in indemnification trials of Holocaust survivors and Nazi refugees.

Author Biography

Frank W. Stahnisch, University of Calgary

Frank W. Stahnisch holds the Alberta Medical Foundation/Hannah Professorship in the History of Medicine and Health Care at the University of Calgary. His current research on the forced migration of neuro-scientists during and after the Second World War has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Of particular interest to him is how the migration of scientists and physicians has affected the academic migrants and their receiving environments.