Migration in World History
Patterns Of Migration
Until recently, no worldwide periodization of migration since Mediterranean antiquity had been attempted, though specific movements were well-studied. The composition and character of migration was influenced by cultural practices in the society and religious creed of origin. Greek migration in the Mediterranean world was one of artisans, traders, and cultural elites resulting in a process of Hellenization. The Roman Empire's expansion was one of soldiers and the imposition of rule; it brought South European and North African men to northern Europe. One of its military officers, a man from sub-Saharan Africa, became Christian Europe's Saint Mauritius (also called Saint Maurice, d. c. 286). The spread of Islam occurred through traveling merchants and, to some degree, through military action. These migrant Arabs and their religious culture equalized social relations among Hindu Indians because they knew no castes, but they hierarchized gender relations because women's status was lower in Islamic societies than in Hindu societies. In China migrating agriculturalists, as if forming a distinct ethnocultural group, were designated as "Han." Their regions of settlement were interspersed with those of long-settled cultural groups. In Africa, major east–west movements of people in the Sahel zone resulted in the formation of states, empires, and urban cultures. In Australia, multiple societies, later generically termed Aboriginal, emerged by separation rather than overlay or penetration. In the Americas some societies developed agricultural practices and became geographically stable, while others pursued hunting and remained mobile. All were connected through long-distance trading and some, seemingly, through exchange of spiritual concepts and scientific observation of celestial phenomena.
In the Eurasian-African world, patterns of migration changed in the period from the mid-fifteenth to mid-sixteenth century. By the 1440s populations had recovered from the demographic shrinkage imposed by the great plagues of the latter 1340s. In imperial China, the bureaucracy decreed an end to overseas contacts. To 1435, fleets of ships, vastly superior to European vessels, had carried expeditions of up to about thirty thousand men (and women) along the coasts of the South Asian subcontinent and to the East African ports. In the social hierarchy of Chinese society, merchants ranked low, and those who, from the southern provinces distant from the court, continued to trade overseas developed a Southeast Asian diaspora that lacked state support. In contrast, the Iberian Portuguese court provided financial and military backing to sailors and merchants who sent trading expeditions to the northwest African coast. They and, later, other Europeans developed fortified trading posts, "forts," wherever they gained a bridgehead. By the 1440s, the first enslaved Africans were brought to Portugal. Underemployed seafarers of the declining Italian port cities, Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus) and Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) among them, migrated to the Atlantic coast. Relying on lore and knowledge of Breton, Basque, Bristol, and Icelandic sailors, and encouraged by the changing view of the earth as a globe rather than a disk, they explored westward routes aiming to reach the riches of Asia, whether China or India. Thus, a barrier on this route, the Americas, became part of the European's mental maps. In North European annals the existence of a Vinland had been chronicled since the time of the Norse voyages. Only Australia was still absent from this view of the world.
From 1550, the wealth of some of the Asian and Central and South American societies, the political-military power of the somewhat economically marginal European societies, and the transfer of germs from Eurasia to the Americas resulted in vast demographic changes: (1) the near genocide of many peoples of the Americas and the resettling of that region with immigrants from many European societies; (2) the usage of men and women from many cultures of sub-Saharan Africa as enslaved labor by European-origin investors in the process of establishing the subtropical plantation belt; and (3) the European military-commercial exploitation of the peoples of the Indian Ocean region and, subsequently, those of East Asia. As a result, several hemispheric and near-global migration systems emerged. From Europe, merchants and military as well as administrative personnel migrated outward. Their arms and purchasing power induced migration of producers and common laborers. Where they established mines or plantations—also called "factories in the fields" (Wolf)—they needed large numbers of workers but were not willing to pay wages or provide working conditions acceptable to local populations. In densely populated Asia, they forced men and women to work the fields. In Latin America they immobilized surviving earlier populations as agricultural worker families under the encomienda labor distribution system or forced them to migrate hundreds of miles to labor in the silver mines under the mita system.
Through the postcontact epidemics and wars of annihilation, however, the peoples of the Americas had been decimated, and thus traders from most European coastal states initiated a mass importation of enslaved laborers from Africa with the help of slave-catching coastal societies in West and, to a lesser degree, East Africa. Through investment and superior armament the European colonizer migrants established the South Atlantic African-American forced slave migration system. To fill the demand for tropical produce they transported some 9.8 million men and women to the Americas from about 1500 to the 1870s. This is a downward revision from earlier estimates of fifteen million. Another two million died during the so-called transatlantic middle passage. Additional millions perished during capture and on the routes to the African coast. This trafficking in human beings depleted the population base in West and Central Africa. In addition to the chattel slavery in the Atlantic world, societies of the Indian Ocean also used slaves for services and in commerce. Figures are difficult to ascertain.
The mixing between European colonizer men and Asian, Latin American, and Afro-American women, frequently through rape but more often through hierarchical consensual unions, led to the emergence of new peoples in the Americas and of smaller groups in Africa and Asia (in a process known as ethnogenesis). Conceptualizing these new peoples was difficult. In European thought of the times, those born in the colonies were "creoles" and inferior to "pure" European-born people. In the minds of European colonials, however, those born of European-origin parents considered themselves European and preferred to apply the term creole to people born of culturally mixed backgrounds and with shades of skin construed as "dark" or "black"—similar to the use of such terms as mestizo or mulatto. Whereas religion and craft had served to define identities before the beginning of colonization, the ideologues of Christianity and of exploitation increasingly made color of skin (race) and genetically defined ethnic groups the marker of belonging. "Race," however, was lived differently in Anglo and Latin colonial societies: strict racial separation ruled in the former, intermixing and hierarchization of shades of skin color in the latter.
In the nineteenth century, when the Afro-Atlantic forced migration system came to an end, the demand for labor was filled by an Asian contract labor system and by a transatlantic proletarian mass migration from Europe. Mainly Indians and Chinese were brought to plantations and mines under five-year contracts, in a system that has been called "a second slavery" (Tinker). This system lasted until the early twentieth century. Simultaneously, free Chinese and other Asian migrants developed a transpacific migration system from the late 1840s on. The largest of these systems, the European–Atlantic one, at first encompassed two routes, from southern Europe to Latin America and from western, northern, and, later, eastern Europe to North America. Italian labor migrants integrated the routes in the 1880s. From 1815 to the 1930s some fifty-five million men and women moved westward, some seven million returning to their cultures of origin. In addition, the agricultural migration from European Russia to the southern belt of Siberia and the labor migration within European Russia coalesced into a Russo-Siberian migration system, in which some ten million men and women moved eastward and even larger numbers moved to the industrializing cities. While the nineteenth century is considered the century of proletarian mass migrations, the rate of migration per thousand people was higher in seventeenth-century industrializing societies such as the Netherlands and Sweden. Contrary to widespread ideas, even peasant societies have never been sedentary; in each generation, sons and daughters who could no longer be fed on the parental land had to move elsewhere to eke out a living in marginal agriculture or in urban wage labor. The farmers of the nineteenth-century migrations cultivated new fertile plains in North America, southern Russia, Argentina, and Australia, and their mass production of grain led to a collapse of world market prices and, consequently, to a worldwide agricultural crisis that forced millions more to leave the land for urban jobs.
In the twentieth century, wars and the depression after 1929 reduced labor migrations. Warfare and fascism in Europe generated huge numbers of refugees. From the 1950s on, the politically decolonizing but economically dependent societies of the southern hemisphere became refugee-generating states. Exclusion and border controls in the advanced industrial (and white) societies of the northern hemisphere as well as discriminatory terms of trade led to "global apartheid" (Richmond). Labor needs of the northern economies were filled by south–north migrations from both the Mediterranean and Caribbean basins. The search for more options and better lives led nonwhite people to migrate toward the industrial and social security states of the north, if necessary without documents or, from the point of view of the receiving societies, as "illegals." To such migrations the North American societies have responded more openly, proving more willing to grant amnesties than European societies (derided in some circles as "fortress Europe"). In other parts of the world, regional systems of migration emerged: internally in China, to the oil-producing states of the Persian Gulf, in West Africa, and elsewhere. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, migration systems had become even more multifocal than in the past.
Throughout history women's options to migrate were restrained by male-imposed concepts of gender roles. With permanent settlement, however, communities of migrants demanded and continue to demand the presence of women for family formation and the building of networks. Women have always been part of migrations; from the 1930s on they even formed a slight majority of those heading for North American societies. Both refugee migration and the demand for service labor led to a feminization of migration in the last decades of the twentieth century.