Student builds digital map of post-war Jewish migration

  • Date

    Fri 22 Apr 22

Lewis Smith, smiling in front of a woodland backdrop, wearing a suit and tie with his Essex graduation robes just visible

Research student Lewis Smith has helped the Jewish Museum London create an interactive digital map revealing more about those who sought sanctuary in the Jews’ Temporary Shelter in post-war Britain.

Lewis helped scan and digitise information held on almost 250 record cards, which detail who arrived at the Jews’ Temporary Shelter (JTS) in the 1940s and 1950s, and build the interactive map for the Mapping Migration project microsite.

The map enables researchers and descendants to better explore who used the JTS, where they came from, how old they were, where they were heading to and what skills they brought to Britain.

“Everything I uncovered surprised and interested me,” said Lewis, who is a research student in the Department of History. “I entered with no knowledge about the Temporary Shelter records so every discovery, every visualisation, every trend, was new and unique.”

He was most surprised by the global nature of the migration to Britain: “There were migrations of Jewish families to London from places as far away as India, Australia, Hong Kong and South Africa. Migration in the post-war period is not, and has never been, something that happened in Europe alone!”

Lewis, who has previously worked with the Marconi Archives advising on their digital strategy, was inspired to join the Mapping Migration project to develop his skills and gain more ‘hands-on’ experience of digital projects.

It was a challenge that proved to be a steep learning curve. “I knew how to build a (relatively) simple online map, but if it required more complex technical ability, then I’d be on my own. Working in an academic role at a university, learning is part of the job, and I wanted to learn more about building online content. Patience and persistence has led to learning lots of things in a short space of time!”

That persistence has certainly paid off with the map now centre-stage on the project’s microsite: “The map is certainly the bit I’m most proud of,” said Lewis.

 “Academic research is usually something with a lot of background followed by one big moment of completion. This technical project was different, as it was slowly being constructed and functioning piece by piece. As each line of code went in and worked, that was another element ready. This is a really satisfying feeling, and one in complete contrast to scholarly research!”

His skills have proved invaluable to the Museum too: “The motivation behind this project was that we wanted to reinterpret our data about the Jews’ Temporary Shelter but simply did not have the resource knowledge nor expertise to present this information using geo-referencing mapping tools,” said Adam Corsini, Senior Collections Engagement Manager , Jewish Museum London.

“It was fantastic to employ Lewis who not only brought his knowledge and experiences but shared these with enthusiasm and a willingness to challenge himself when experimenting with these innovative ways of disseminating our collection.”