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Nascent Journal To Help Refugees Preserve And Publish Their Research


It can take researchers and academics years to get published in academic journals. It's that rigorous. So imagine if all that work were lost. That's a real possibility for scholars fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa and arriving in Europe, far from their academic home bases. Today, a group of Oxford University students launches a platform to help preserve and publish that work. Paul Ostwald came up with the idea for the Journal of Interrupted Studies.

PAUL OSTWALD: I was in Germany, where I come from originally, last summer. And many migrants were arriving back then in Europe. And we were very welcoming in the first place. And the media was very welcoming. They painted this very simple picture of migrants being very pitiful individuals who have a lot of needs, but very little to give. And I was sort of not quite happy with that. I thought there were so many more nuances, so many backgrounds, you know, of these individuals. And I thought, well, you know, I can't do much, but the one thing I do a lot is academia. And I thought, maybe starting with a journal that publishes the work of academics who were displaced might be a start to actually show these nuances and create a platform for them as well.

MONTAGNE: What's an example of the sort of person who you've been hearing from?

OSTWALD: Well, we hear a lot from people who came from Syria, actually. I mean, Syrians are the main group of our authors. But we also get submissions from people who came from Africa - from Gambia, for example. A young man submitted an article on land reform in Gambia, which has enabled people to actually come up with a common land-sharing policy, which enables peasants to live without having to engage with state bureaucracy. But we also have submissions from linguistics, medicine, history. It really differs a lot.

MONTAGNE: You know, the human stories behind these, too, though, are that these people, in many cases - what? - don't have access to what they need to complete their work or to have it published?

OSTWALD: Exactly. So what we get a lot are articles where you can just see the lines of interruption running through the pages, really, where you can see someone couldn't complete his research, someone couldn't read further into the subject. And what we try to do in those cases is provide them with literature and PDF articles that can be viewed on a smart phone and try and really, you know, enable them to continue their studies as much as we can, really. But we're also very open to publish non-completed articles, which is quite uncommon. But basically, what we do is we say, well, listen, you know, this article can't be completed right now, but we hope it will be in the future.

MONTAGNE: You know, you are a student at Oxford. And may I say, I believe you're about 20 years old. So, you know, this is - usually, the editorial process involves, you know, much more experienced academics - let's say that. So what - how do you involve that type of person?

OSTWALD: So what we have is a board of academics here at Oxford and at different universities around Europe, really - loads of people have gotten in touch - who review these articles for us and inform us about the strengths and weaknesses of these articles. And what we do is basically to assemble that material and to liaise between the different reviewers and authors.

MONTAGNE: So obviously this is seen as something special. It's not your average, you know, academic journal. What are you hoping for with this?

OSTWALD: Well, the fear that many people have in Europe towards migrants and refugees coming into the continent is just grounded on not really knowing much about them, not knowing about their culture. And this is a project, we hope, that will enable people to engage on that level.

MONTAGNE: Also, hopefully, it will lead to people doing something they might not have really been able to do, which is finish their life's work.

OSTWALD: Yeah, because what we see a lot - and I experienced this personally as a volunteer in Lesbos, the Greek island where a lot of migrants arrive - there are so many people stuck on islands or in camps. And their potential - their intellectual potential, their knowledge is basically just wasted. You know, I met a man who started reciting Shakespeare, just completely out of the blue. And I was shocked because I realized, well, you know, there are so many very educated people who are now in this very awful situation.

MONTAGNE: That's Paul Ostwald, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Interrupted Studies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.