As usual, quiet times on this blog reflect hectic times elsewhere. Here are a couple of things I’ve been up to, though.
First, as promised, I produced a short version of my article ‘Refugees and the definition of Syria, 1920-1939’ (whose long gestation was the subject of my most recent post) for RefugeeHistory.org, with some reflections on the present. This went up a while back, on the sixth anniversary of the start of the uprising. You can read it here.
Second, more recently, I’ve been engaging with a new book that’s been getting a lot of air-time—Refuge: transforming the broken refugee system, by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier. I spotted the book just before it came out on a visit to the Refugee Studies Centre in March (Betts is the centre’s director), and since then the authors have been all over the media, from the Guardian to the Spectator as well as on TV and various online outlets. The book has also been widely—though not always approvingly—reviewed, in Standpoint, The Economist, the Times Literary Supplement, and Nature, among others. It was the glowing but deeply misinformed review in Standpoint that drew me into the debate about the book.
As soon as the marking season is out of the way I’ll be writing a review of the book from a historian’s perspective for RefugeeHistory.org. In the meantime, though, I’ve been engaging with it on Twitter, and storifying the resulting threads. You can find them here:
- Getting me started, in both senses, a disagreement with David Goodhart, who praised the book so fulsomely in Standpoint.
- A read-through of the book’s preamble, which explains how it came to be written.
- And, just completed after several hours’ work over a couple of weeks (interrupted by a lot of travelling and a lot of marking), full comments on the introduction.
Live-tweeting the book as I read it has been interesting—and has brought me into contact with some very interesting people—but it’s taking forever. For future chapters I may have to skip the rest of the tweets and get on with writing the review of the whole thing. (Spoiler: I think it’s a very bad book.) Meanwhile, here in the northern hemisphere, the spring is going on all around us.