Migration History Research Paper

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The term ‘migration history’ has historiographical and historical dimensions. This research paper is thus divided into two sections. The first part outlines concepts and methods, focusing on tasks, fields, and problems of interdisciplinary historical migration research. The second section gives some insight into the history of migration itself, based primarily on modern European history. Non-European migration is included where it was linked in some way to European migration.

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1. Historical Migration Research: Issues and Concepts

1.1 Motivations, Patterns, Typologies

Migration has always been a constitutive element of the conditio humana as homo sapiens spread over the world as homo migrans. The history of migration is part of general history and can only be understood in context. As social processes, after all, migration movements are responses to complex economic, ecological, social and cultural, religious, ethnic, and political conditions and challenges. Migration thereby gradually penetrates all spheres of life. Historical migration research branches spaces, cultures, and historical times. Therefore it is necessary for researchers to adopt an interdisciplinary approach. Varying in degree according to the problem at hand, interdisciplinary research strategies cover almost all human sciences in both contemporary empirical and historical migration research.

There was and still is a broad variety of reasons for migration. We can, for example, posit economic or social motivations. Within this field, we could then distinguish between subsistence, betterment, or career migration (Tilly 1978). These types of movements can in turn be distinguished from migrations motivated by religious and political or ethno-nationalistic and racial reasons, which also cause flight and forced migrations. These included the expulsions and forced repatriations in the twentieth century, where the movement of borders across people often caused movements of people across borders.

Of crucial importance for any critical analysis of historical migration trends—and for an insight into the fate of many migrants, often less a matter of choice than of circumstance—is an awareness of the fact that definitions and attributes such as ‘emigrant’ and ‘immigrant,’ ‘labor migrant,’ or ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ are ascribed classifications. So far, they have often been assigned for administrative or tax purposes, or for epistemological scientific reasons—which also depend on specific classification criteria—but in no way describe the generally multiple identities of migrants (Castles and Miller 1998).

The matter is even more complicated because when migration was controlled and restricted, migrants had to assume the official classification of their status in order to get past immigration officials, often leaving a ‘false trace’ in official records and statistics. This is one more reason why we have to distinguish between the way migrants classified themselves and the way they were classified, for example by the state or contemporary researchers.

1.2 Spatial Dimensions and Research Concepts

In examining spatial mobility, we have to distinguish between movements in geographical spaces and those in social spaces. Geographically, the scope of historical migration research ranges from the macrocosmos of international and intercontinental mass movements to the microcosmos of interregional or interlocal migrations, and thus from large scale studies on a highly abstract level to small scale case studies with a larger socio-historical focus. Levels and methods of historical migration research thus range from microhistorical to mesoand macrohistorical approaches, including even multilevel theories of migration research, and from individual or group-specific dimensions to quantitative analyses of highly aggregated mass data serving to determine collective behavior during mass movements. On the temporal axis, the field of historical migration research stretches from long term studies of single migration movements to cross-sectional analyses of the entire, simultaneous migration in one region or beyond its borders (J. Lucassen and L. Lucassen 1997).

The varying approaches by individual disciplines and the various emphases in interdisciplinary ap- proaches lead to different interpretations of migration history. As a social and historical phenomenon, for instance, migration should be seen as a complex process. According to ‘classical’ historical migration research, this process was often triggered by an increasing propensity to migrate, e.g., in the case of European transatlantic mass emigration in the nineteenth century, and by the consequently more or less gradual mental segregation from the social context of the home region. In this process, transatlantic migrant networks played an important role. A next phase would be the transformation—often provoked by some external cause—of this propensity into an actual decision to migrate, followed by the act itself. In the case of dense transnational networks resulting from chain migrations, the departure often took place more or less abruptly. The last phase—provided the migration process had not been aborted or been reversed by remigration—was described as assimilation into the social and cultural context of the immigration region. In the case of large discrepancies in material culture, socio-cultural norms, or collective mentalities, assimilation could become a long term social and cultural process, sometimes even reaching intergenerational dimensions (‘second generation immigrant’).

The ‘classical’ approaches of historical migration research focused on movement in geographical spaces. In the 1990s, however, new approaches emerged which were to focus upon the movement and positioning of migrants in social spaces. This applied especially to mesolevel network theories as well as to theories and typologies of transnational social spaces and migrant identities. These new approaches were derived mainly from the social and political sciences (Faist 1998, 2000, Pries 1999), dealing with the accelerated development of transnational structures in the economy, in society, and politics against the background of rapidly forced globalization. These new approaches in migration research sometimes lead to unproductive claims of exclusivity and needlessly hostile confrontation with the ‘classical’ approaches of migration research, even though both approaches can be usefully incorporated into complex research concepts (Gerber 2000).

1.3 Tasks of Historical Migration Research

Historical migration research has three main tasks. The first is to investigate migration movements in terms of volume, courses, and structures. The second task is to study the behavioral patterns of migrants with respect to, for example, region, class, group, and gender. The third task is to embed migration movements and behavioral patterns of migrants into the framework of population, economy, society, and culture of both emigration and immigration areas. This includes the economic, social, and cultural tensions between both sides encouraging migrations as well as the effects of migration on both sides.

Despite such comprehensive tasks and the fact that the movement of peoples rates as one of the most ‘moving’ moments in history, historical migration research is not an independent discipline. It is, in fact, an interdisciplinary field of research, to which humanities as well as social and behavioral sciences contribute.

Historical migration research as an interdisciplinary branch is relatively young. Its disciplinary main foci are the historical sciences, including inter alia the history of population, economic, social, cultural, and gender history as well as ethno-history and historical anthropology. They also include the branches of legal and political history analyzing the structure of migration procedures and their repercussions on migration processes. And there are links to mainly empirical disciplines or approaches that can be also applied to historical issues and historiographical approaches (e.g., sociology, social geography, or social psychology).

2. Migration Movements: Global and European Perspectives

Migration was and still is by no means a uniquely western phenomenon. People in Africa, Asia, and the New World moved for similar reasons as did Europeans. As in Europe, most people moved over short distances, usually remaining within their own region or continent. Nonetheless, there have been several non-western Diasporas. Between 600 and 1500, the Arabs and the Turks expanded into parts of southern Europe and controlled the Balkans between 1500 and 1914. The Japanese and Russians colonized Korea and Siberia respectively, and the Chinese created trading communities along the shores of the Indian Ocean (Hoerder 2001).

We can classify the history of global migrations according to regions, periods, or migration patterns. We shall focus here, by way of example, on the modern history of European migrations, looking first at the non-European references linked to the external migration of Europeans. We know that the most voluminous migration movements outside of Europe were triggered by the process of European expansion and contraction. Many Europeans and non-Europeans met for the first time during the colonial migrations that followed the age of European ‘discoveries,’ and, for the last time, during post-colonial migrations from the former European colonies back to the ‘mother countries.’

2.1 Global Dimensions

Some migrations outside of Europe were directly carried out or instigated by Europeans, e.g., the settler migrations from Europe to North and South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand (totalling about 70 million people); the transatlantic African slave trade (12 million); and the migration of colonial soldiers and indentured laborers from China, India, Java, and Japan to the colonial labor markets in Asia, Africa, and South America (2.5 million). In total, the volume of intercontinental migrations directly caused by the European expansion can be estimated at about 100 million migrants, both voluntary and involuntary.

In addition to migratory movements controlled by Europeans, an unknown number of Africans, Asians, and Amerindians moved as an indirect consequence of European expansion. In the New World, the indigenous Amerindian population migrated or was driven to those regions left to them by the intruding Europeans, a fate shared by the indigenous populations in parts of southern Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. In Asia and Africa, European expansion led to new jobs in textile mills, mining, cash-crop agriculture, railway construction, and in the colonial armies, causing large scale internal labor migrations. From this point on, we shall only mention migration movements directly controlled by the Europeans.

The migrations resulting from the European expansion can be divided into three types of movements and three periods: (a) the migration to the colonial plantations, mines and railway construction sites between 1500 and 1900; (b) the transatlantic mass exodus of Europeans from the mid-nineteenth century until 1914, and their overseas emigration between 1945 and 1960; (c) the colonial and overseas return migration as well as the non-European labor migration to Western Europe after 1945. We shall briefly outline the first two movements, and include the third in the review of developments in Europe (Sect. 2.2).

The first overseas migration movement started around 1500, just after the Iberians had discovered the New World. The Amerindian population declined rapidly because of European epidemic diseases and economic exploitation, while the number of Europeans willing to settle in the American colonies was too small to satisfy the demand for labor in the mines and plantations. The Iberians had been faced with a similar labor shortage in the south of their own peninsula and had imported slave labor from sub-Saharan Africa. Some of these slaves were brought to the New World, and soon the Iberians were also transporting slaves directly from West Africa to the New World. The British, French, and Dutch followed suit, and between 1500 and 1850 roughly 5 million slaves were brought to Brazil, 5 million to the Caribbean, and 1 million each to Spanish and North America. In three and a half centuries, less than 4 million Europeans migrated to the New World, making it a demographic extension of Africa, not of Europe (Emmer 1991).

After 1850, humanitarian protests totally suppressed the Atlantic slave trade and won emancipation for all slaves in the New World. However, the demand for tropical labor remained. The recruitment of free African migrants failed, and although the number of European migrants rose dramatically after the middle of the nineteenth century, they chose to settle in the more temperate overseas zones. Employers in the tropical world then turned to Asia, and between 1850 and 1914 about 2.5 million migrant workers from India, China, Japan, Java, and Polynesia went to work in the coffee fields around Sao Paulo and on islands off the Peruvian coast to dig guano. They also worked on sugar plantations in the Caribbean, Natal, Fiji, Hawaii, and Queensland, in the tobacco fields of Sumatra, on rubber plantations in Indochina, and even helped to build the railways of East Africa (Indians) and California (Chinese) (Engerman 1986, Northrup 1995).

Most of these Asian workers had signed a contract of indenture that granted them free passage in exchange for overseas employment for a fixed period, and entitled them to return home once their contracts expired. The majority did not return, creating exIndian communities in South Africa, Fiji, Hawaii, Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname, ex-Japanese communities in Brazil and Hawaii, and ex-Chinese communities in the Caribbean and Indonesia. Humanitarian protests in the West and nationalist protests in China and India brought some of these migration movements to an end. After World War Two, millions of Asian migrants began to cast their sights on the Middle East.

One special chapter in the encounter between the European and non-European world through migration was marked by the European transatlantic mass exodus from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century (Nugent 1992, Baines 1995). This exodus was far stronger than the European colonial migrations. Up to the 1830s, the continental migration from central Europe to eastern and southeastern Europe— in contrast to the emigration from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales—was much more powerful than transatlantic migration, which had become a mass movement only by the middle of the century.

As a secular social mass movement, transatlantic migration accompanied the shift in Europe from agriculture to industry. It was the transportation revolution that ultimately facilitated the mass exodus. Of the same importance, however, were the transatlantic networks established by migrations of people and exports of goods and capital even prior to the Industrial Age. The mass migration was preceded by the transatlantic movement of colonial labor and settlement migrations of destitute Europeans—men and women—who worked off their passage to the New World in ‘indentured servitude’ and were eventually rewarded with a small amount of start-up capital or a piece of land (Wokeck 1999).

Essential factors for the development of transatlantic emigration in the nineteenth century were the liberty to emigrate from the sending countries, the need for immigrants, and their full acceptance in the receiving countries. The advent of the steamship and the expansion of railroad systems on both sides of the Atlantic made cheap passages possible. Chain migrations established transatlantic networks and a dense transatlantic communication. Once underway, the transatlantic mass movement developed a growing internal dynamic up to World War One, after which migration controls and restrictions began to curb the trend.

Up to the late 1880s, the ‘classical’ sending regions for mass emigration in the nineteenth century— excluding France, which was hardly affected—were the relatively well-developed industrial countries of western, central, and northern Europe. Once employment increased due to industrialization and the economic tensions towards the US decreased, transatlantic migration from these regions slowed down in the 1890s, except for Great Britain (Ireland). From the 1880s on, however, emigration from southern, southeastern, and eastern European regions increased all the more, roughly corresponding to the north-to-south and west-to-east rate of industrialization. In the USA, this transatlantic movement soon came to be known as the ‘new immigration.’

A gross total of 63 million (including returnees) and a net total of 50–55 million Europeans emigrated overseas from 1820 to 1915. The main destinations up to the late nineteenth century were in North America, with the US far ahead of Canada. New Zealand and Australia began to catch up in the 1860s, as did, from the 1870s on, South American countries which had had mixed populations since the colonial era. Beginning in the 1880s and 1890s, Argentina and Brazil attracted large numbers of emigrants in the growing wave of migration from southern Europe, especially from Spain and Portugal, causing a fall in the percentage entering the US—from about 80 percent prior to 1850, to about 75 percent from 1851 to 1890, to roughly a half from then on.

European overseas emigration reached a final climax between 1945 and 1960. Up to the mid-1960s, it still included more people than immigration to Europe from Turkey, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean (Munz 1997, p. 225).

2.2 European Dimensions

Europe was really on the move in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but also in the Middle Ages and the early modern period. If we could look at spatial mobility from the Middle Ages up to the end of the twentieth century and at the same time could eliminate reduced traveling times and longer distances due to innovations like steamship, railway, and airplane, we probably would not see a major rise in mobility towards industrial and post-industrial Europe. In the Middle Ages, after all, the majority of the European population, at least for certain parts of their lifetimes, had to be mobile to survive; only a minority of them stayed at home living off subsistence farming or local employment throughout their lives (Schubert 1995).

In the early modern period, various groups of European migrants temporarily or permanently moved over great distances via land or water. Among other groups there were migrating artists and artisans, architects and technical experts, seasonal or itinerant laborers and migrating tradesmen of fixed abode, travellers, laborers, mercenaries, sailors, and laborers for the maritime and colonial labor markets. There were settlement migrations recruited or invited by state authorities, e.g., the ‘Peuplierung’ of Prussia, the ‘impopulation’ of the Donau monarchy, and the colonial settlements in Russia under Katharine II. And there were the movements of religious refugees and expellees, who were often welcomed with open arms for economic reasons by the host authorities. All these long distance movements were paralleled by an even greater number of short distance moves between villages and small cities.

The three most relevant large scale types of migration in modern Europe were: (a) flight and forced migrations in Europe; (b) economically motivated migrations in Europe; and (c) flight, minority, and economically motivated migrations to Europe (Page Moch 1992, Bade 2000).

(a) Among flight and forced migrations, movements for religious but also for political reasons predominated during the European cultural crisis of the early modern era. In the late eighteenth and especially in the nineteenth centuries, however, the most common reason for flight and exile was political persecution. Perceived as a threat to the European stability pact negotiated at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, all constitutional reform, national and social movements were radically suppressed. Revolts and revolutions were crushed, causing a dramatic rise in the numbers of political refugees. The period from 1830 to 1848 49 qualified the nineteenth century as the era of political exile. Still, the number of political refugees was low in comparison to that of new types of refugees, casualties of the epoch of the nation-state. The founding of the nation-states created minorities within national borders, thereby laying the foundations for the flight and forced migrations of the twentieth century, which would go down in history as the ‘century of refugees.’

The series of benchmarks of the tragedy of flight and forced migrations in the twentieth century began with World War One, during which millions fled war zones or were deported. During the inter-war period, about 1.5 million people fled from revolutionary and Soviet Russia, while around 5 million were resettled as a result of the great ‘population swap’ carved out by the new nation-states that had emerged from the ashes of the three multi-ethnic empires. During World War Two all this, however, was surpassed by the flight and deportations of 50–60 million people out of which 6 million Jews were killed in mass executions or industrialized mass murder in German concentration and extermination camps. Immediately after the War came the expulsion of about 14 million Germans from the former eastern territories of the German Reich and from the settlement districts of ethnic Germans in the East. After the era of flight from eastern to central and western Europe during the Cold War, the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the inter-war period and of World War Two was re-enacted in the early 1990s in the expulsions and flight caused by the wars in the former multiethnic republic of Yugoslavia.

(b) Besides migrant trade—very important up to the expansion of commodity markets in the nineteenth century—labor migrations were the most important ones among economically motivated movements. They evolved into predominantly agricultural migration systems with fixed circular movements (Lucassen 1987). These systems were held together by long seasonal migration traditions between regions with virtually inverse requirements: the poor rural sending regions did not have enough work or just work at very low wages and had seasonally available surplus labor. The target areas, usually involved in intensive monoculture, offered seasonal work and much higher wages than the sending regions. Apart from agriculture, seasonal construction work in developing cities and their surrounding areas was also attractive.

Out of about 20 European labor migration systems operating at the turn from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, J. Lucassen reconstructed seven larger systems from a far earlier period. In these systems, more than 300,000 labor migrants, men and women, traveled up to 250–300 km at the turn of the century, within and across state borders. The most important of these migrating systems was the ‘North Sea system’ from the start of the seventeenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. Starting in the Netherlands, it spanned the whole north European coast. Besides supplying seasonal farm labor, the coastal harbors also provided access to maritime and colonial labor markets of the North Sea system.

During the industrialization process, the magnetic field of migration in north central Europe underwent a dramatic change in its powers of attraction. The North Sea system was overtaken by the new industrial coal and steel mining centers, especially in the Ruhr area and in Lorraine. In north central Europe, the fall-off in seasonal agricultural migrations to the Netherlands was followed—up to World War One—by an increase in east-to-west migrations to the German northeastern territories, with women comprising about 50 percent of the labor force on the huge east-Elbian estates of Prussia. Poles and Italians formed the main contingents of foreign labor in Germany and France, in the longue duree hinting at the large scale inner-European south-to-north and east-to-west migrations which eventually became the hallmark of the second half of the twentieth century.

The two World Wars suspended transnational mobility in the new migration systems, changed it with the restructuring of the German northeastern territories after World War One, and brought it to a complete standstill with the loss of the German eastern territories after World War Two. During World War Two, labor migrations in Nazi Germany and in German-occupied Europe were largely replaced by the deportation and forced employment of disenfranchised slave laborers, who accounted for most of the 11 million ‘displaced persons’ (DPs) after the War.

Only ten years after a war that Germany had started, Germany and Italy signed the Labour Recruitment Treaty of 1955, paving the way for the future panEuropean system of ‘guest worker migrations.’ Leaving Turkey aside, all the sending regions lay in the northern Mediterranean. Receiving areas were the highly industrialized and economically thriving countries of central, northern, and western Europe up to the first half of the 1970s, when, in the face of projected economic crises, recruitment bans and immigration restrictions were introduced.

Despite the high level of remigration, many labor migrants at that time settled in the host countries and sent for their families to join them. Short term migrations became long term ones, ultimately evolving into genuine immigration processes. Since the late 1970s, they have gradually transformed the host countries of ‘guest worker migrations’ into immigration countries.

In the former colonial nations, particularly in England, France, and the Netherlands, the role of ‘guest workers’ was first occupied by postcolonial immigrations, which were generally permanent from the outset. During the whole decolonization process, about 7 million people, including remigrating Europeans, migrated from the former European colonies to Europe after World War Two. Profound changes took place, when, in the 1980s, the now thriving former south European sending regions of ‘guest worker migrations’ received increasing inter-continental south-to-north migrations. This ultimately transformed Europe as a whole from an emigration into an immigration continent.

(c) The ‘new immigrations’ to Europe included both inter-continental south-to-north migrations and the new east-to-west migrations since the fall of the Iron Curtain. As in postcolonial migrations, privileged migrations legitimized by historical or cultural links to the host regions were predominant here. This mainly included minorities from the former Soviet Empire and its successor states, such as Armenians, ethnic Germans, and Jews (Bade and Oltmer 1999, Fassmann and Munz 2000). Apart from and often coinciding with non-European labor migrations to Europe, there were growing global migrations of asylum-seeking refugees in the south-to-north direction since the early 1980s, and, since the fall of the Iron Curtain, increasingly also in the east-to-west direction.

Worldwide migration movements have increased in this age of globalization, media, and information networks. Yet, for the most part migrants remained in the surrounding areas of the sending regions and the percentage reaching Europe was still only about 5 percent at the end of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, horror visions of global mass migrations towards the continent have captured the European imagination, equating migration policy with security and defense policy.

Experts differ in their assessment of the ‘migration pressure’ from southern and eastern regions. The key questions are whether it is even directed at Europe, whether it will gradually and inexorably grow, and whether it can be curbed by coordinated—i.e., global, not just European—intervention (‘global governance’) to control the causes of migration (Nuscheler 1995, Opitz 1997). From the entire range of conceivable strategies, Europe up to 2001 has done least to tackle the causes of involuntary migration in the sending areas, and most to combat flight migrations to Europe. With the freedom of movement within the European Union, internal ‘vulnerability’ grew—to use defense policy jargon—due to immigrations from outside the Community. The flipside of opening the borders has therefore been the increased closing of a ‘fortress Europe.’ Apart from private visits, tourism, and other short term stays, the European defense system against non-European immigration only admits people welcome for economic, cultural, or other grounds, e.g., highly qualified specialists, scientists, artists, and people who are accepted as members of privileged postcolonial or ethnic minorities, or have to be tolerated to some extent because of universalist or human-rights principles (family reunions, refugees, asylum seekers) (Santel 1995).

In current migration debates and migration policies the tension has increased between self-descriptions and official ascriptions, i.e., between the way migrants perceive themselves and the identities assigned to them by immigration authorities. Migrants must do their best to fit these assigned identities in order to have a chance of acceptance. Ascriptions, e.g., of ‘refugee characteristics’ are the codes of administrative systems controlling and managing migrants’ destinies. The decision on who is a ‘real’ refugee, depends on the fulfillment of these one-sided criteria. What matters most to asylum-seeking refugees is, therefore, often not what has happened to them, but whether their story fits into the catalogue of available ascriptions laid down by the host country. Hence the approaches of migration policy and migration research to such conceptual problems of migration may seem quite similar to some extent, despite the fundamental conflict of interest concerning the ascriptions used on both sides (Bade 2000).


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