Conference on Migration and mobility in a global historical perspective

Conference on Migration and mobility in a global historical perspective

Taiwan 26-28 August 2010


In the last three decades historians of migration in Europe and the Americas have increasingly criticised the idea of a ‘mobility transition’, which assumed that pre-modern societies were geographically fairly immobile, and that people only started to move in unprecedented ways from the nineteenth century onwards. In line with this critique is the insight of world historians like Patrick Manning who interpret the history of mankind as a constant geographical and social interaction within and between culturally distinct communities. Especially cross community migrations (both by settlers, invaders, itinerants and sojourners) are considered as the engine of social, economic and cultural change.

This conference takes these new perspectives as point of departure and invites scholars who look at various forms of migration in the last 500 years, preferably (but not exclusively) from a perspective of longue durée. We are especially interested in quantitative reconstructions of population flows in and on Asia (but also other contributions outside Europe / the North-Atlantic are welcome), both within as between countries and empires. In line with a recent reconstruction of migration patterns in Europe between 1500 and 1900, six forms of migration are given particular attention: 1) emigration out of a certain territory; 2) immigration from other territories; 3) rural colonisation of ’empty spaces’; 4) movements to cities; 5) seasonal migration; 6) multi-annual labour migration, in particular by sailors and soldiers. These migrations can be both free and coerced, and all the variants in between. This explicitly includes the migration of slaves and indentured labour in these six types.

When we quantify these forms of migration for Europe after 1500 it becomes unequivocally clear that early modern Europe was much more mobile than modernisation scholars have allowed for. The main aim of this conference is to test the value of this approach for other parts of the world, in particular Asia. This would serve several aims. First of all it would be an essential step forward in a systematic global comparison of the history of human migration in various parts of the world. Such a comparison would go beyond the current partial and unreflective comparisons dealing with only specific forms of migration, and mostly from a European expansion perspective. Secondly, such reconstructions can play an important role in various heated debates, as those on the nature and development of globalisation and the uneven economic development of Europe and China (or Asia more in general) since the 16th to 18th centuries, also known as the ‘Great Divergence’. Finally, global migration history can play a key role in rigorously testing modernisation theory that assumes that all kind of phenomena – not in the least human mobility patterns – changed fundamentally with the onset of industrialisation and urbanisation in the 19th century. In order to reach the aims formulated above we invite scholars whose work is relevant for the reconstruction of migrations and mobility. This need not per se be nation states or empires, but can also refer to smaller entities, such as the Indian Deccan or Chinese Manchuria. Papers may be confined to shorter periods, say a century, but we especially invite paper givers who focus on longer periods or compare different historical eras, including the 20th century. As point of departure we have taken the work by Patrick Manning (Migration in world history, 2005), Adam McKeown (‘Global migration 1846-1940’ in The Journal of World History (2004) and the discussion dossier on this article in the International Review of Social History no. 1 2007) and, in particular, a forthcoming article in the Journal of Global History on migration patterns in Europe between 1500 and 1900 (issue 3, 2009). Part of this literature will be made available for download at the web site of the Global Migration History Programme at:

This conference is the third in a series of three. Previous conferences took place in the Netherlands (Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies, NIAS, 2005) and in Minneapolis in 2007 (Immigration History research Center). Proceedings will appear in a new subseries on Global Migration History by Brill Publishers (Leiden and Boston). The first  interdisciplinary conference brought together mainstream migration historians and scholars from the fields of historical linguistics, population genetics, paleoarcheology and anthropology, whose methods allow them to make reconstructions of migrations as far back as 80,000 years (Jan Lucassen, Leo Lucassen & Patrick Manning (eds.), Migration History: Multi-disci-plinary Approaches. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers, January 2010). The second conference focused on settlement and membership regimes and concentrated on the period 3000 BC-1800 AD. It brought together scholars with expertise on the way societies deal with newcomers, and vice versa. Drawing on the insights obtained from the three conferences, it is the intention of the organising committee to launch a package of initiatives to promote future development of the field of global migration history. This will include a website, a fund for organising follow-up conferences, a book series on Global Migration History, and a global PhD training programme. This part of our endeavor will be presented at the third day of the Taiwan conference.

Practicalities:The conference, which will take place in Taiwan, aims to be a high quality and intensive encounter. The number of participants is therefore restricted. For those who will be selected to attend the conference costs for traveling and accommodation will be covered. Applicants should send detailed abstracts as well as a CV with previous publications and activities pertaining to the theme of the conference to Jan Lucassen (, Leo Lucassen ( and Yenfen Tseng (National Taiwan University) before 15 November 2009.  Sponsors: International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) at Leiden and the Taiwan  National Science Council (NSC) in Taipei.