In the context of assignments as a specific form of migration, an organisation or institution (company branches or multinational companies, the diplomatic service, armed forces) took the place of the network of relations and acquaintances. Assignments generally took the form of limited stays in a different location for the purpose of working in a company branch, subsidiary, or third company. They were the expression of long-term corporate strategies that sought to have a constant presence of specialists in the most varied company locations, and provided a framework for the stay in the place of destination in the form of specific infrastructures such as schools, clubs, associations, and societies.
While an individual’s agency in implementing a migrant project was very high in this context, this was much less true of other constellations. After all, migration was also a possible reaction to crisis constellations, for example, in those cases where emigration was the result of damage to the environment or an acute economic and social emergency. In addition, efforts on the part of institutional (state) players to control and regulate were also able to restrict the agency and, therefore, the freedom and freedom of movement of individuals or collectives to such an extent that there was no real alternative action that could be taken. People fled violence that posed a direct or expected threat to their life and liberty, mostly for political, ethno-national, racist or religious reasons. Forced migration could also mean violent displacement, deportation, or resettlement, which often applied to entire sections of the population.
European expansion from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries
After the Spanish and the Portuguese conquered the Americas at the turn of the fifteenth/sixteenth centuries, European migration movements initially remained at a relatively low level. The Spanish and Portuguese rulers did not see their new territories as areas to be settled, but as colonies that could be exploited economically. A large number of labourers was needed for the ‘monetisation’ of their overseas territories, i.e. for the extraction of mineral resources or the production of agricultural commodities. However, there simply weren’t enough labourers available because the conquest of these territories had resulted in a massive decline in the native populations. This decline was caused by the large number of people killed in the battles between the natives and the conquistadors. There was, however, another, even greater contributing factor: Africa, Asia and Europe had been linked epidemiologically for several millennia through migration, trade and travel. This was not the case with Australia and the Americas, which meant that waves of epidemics introduced to the New World by the arrival of the Europeans decimated the indigenous population. Many of the bacteria and viruses that the conquerors brought with them, to which they were immune, proved fatal for the natives. The total population of Spanish South and Central America, which was somewhere in the region of 40 million in the pre-Columbian era, fell to about nine million by 1570 and to about only four million by 1620.
This briefly-outlined situation was a key trigger for global migration movements from the late fifteenth to early nineteenth centuries. Rough estimates conclude that approximately ten million people moved to the Americas between 1492, the year of Columbus’ arrival in the Caribbean, and 1820. Of these, about two million came from Europe and about eight million were brought from Africa as slaves. In addition to the soldiers and civil servants needed to establish and maintain rule, numerous missionaries also left Europe for the New World. Europe also provided merchants, plantation owners and foremen, urban tradesmen, farmers, and labourers (approximately a third of whom came to the Americas as serfs). In 1800, Europe had approximately 500–600 trading posts, administrative centres, and military bases outside the Americas in Africa, Oceania and Asia (excluding Siberia). Of these, however, only four were permanent settlements with more than 2,000 Europeans each: the Portuguese settlement of Goa on the west coast of the Indian subcontinent, the Spanish settlement of Manila on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, and the Dutch settlements at Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) on the Indonesian island of Java and at Cape Town on the southernmost tip of Africa.
Rapid globalisation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
From the early nineteenth century onwards, the number of people leaving Europe behind grew rapidly. This growth peaked with the period of accelerated colonisation and economic globalisation in the 30–40 years preceding the outbreak of World War I. A small proportion of these European intercontinental migrants travelled over land and settled primarily in the Asian territories of the Russian Empire. However, the vast majority crossed the maritime border separating the continents: of the 55–60 million Europeans who moved overseas between 1815 and 1930, more than two-thirds moved to North America, whereby the number moving to the US was six times higher than to Canada. About one-fifth emigrated to South America; approximately 7% moved to Australia and New Zealand. North America, Australia, New Zealand, southern South America and Siberia were the European settlements of Neo-Europe.
The settlement of Neo-Europe resulted in a displacement of indigenous populations to peripheral regions and often had genocidal tendencies. It led to widespread marginalisation or even a complete elimination of the traditional economic and social systems, ruling structures, and cultural patterns. In all cases, the central trigger for increased European migration in the nineteenth century was the accelerated integration of the settlement areas into the world market. The European demand for raw materials and foodstuffs as well as the boost in investment resulting from the export of capital from Europe generated a high demand for labour in specific parts of the world, opening up new migrant destinations for Europeans. At the same time, the immigration of Europeans to these places resulted in the creation of mass markets for European finished goods, something that further reinforced economic interdependencies. A major prerequisite for the rise in European overseas migration was the migratory interconnections between Europe and overseas migrant destinations that had existed for decades, if not for centuries: pioneer migrants providing information about routes and the opportunities and risks of emigrating overseas. This long-distance migration was also facilitated by the transport situation in Europe – overseas, and to the migrant destinations – all of which had vastly improved in the course of industrialisation. To put it simply: the world was getting smaller. This not only reduced the time needed to make a journey, it also cut the cost of the journey considerably.
European emigration to the USA began to rise dramatically as far back as the 1820s, when about 152,000 Europeans crossed the Atlantic. In the 1830s, this number rose to about 600,000. The four decades between the 1840s and 1880s were a peak period of immigration: in total, approximately 15 million Europeans, most of whom came from the west, north, and centre of the continent, arrived in the USA. Among them were more than four million Germans, three million Irish people, three million English, Scottish and Welsh citizens, and a million Scandinavians. During this time, the population of the United States increased from about 17 million to 63 million.
Despite the high and rising levels of immigration and despite the population growth, there was no discrepancy between the growth in population and the work opportunities in North America. On the contrary, the demand for labour continued to rise. The reason for this was an agricultural and industrial boom. Economic growth was closely linked to the permanent territorial expansion of the country beyond the thirteen founding states of the USA. Over the course of just a few decades, the territory of the United States increased fivefold. In 1820, almost three-quarters of the total population of the United States lived in the states on the East Coast and only a quarter west of the Appalachians. Intercontinental immigration and interregional migration in the USA meant that by 1860, half of the US population lived west of the Appalachians. This westward movement of millions of people of European origin to the recently annexed regions in North America can be summed up by the term ‘settler colonialism’. This period ended in the last two decades of the nineteenth century and resulted in a period of expansionist politics of overseas colonisation by the United States.
The colonial expansion of the USA, Japan and, above all, the European states, reached its zenith during the period of New Imperialism in the thirty to forty years that preceded World War I. The informal political, economic, and military control of Asian, Pacific, African or Latin American regions that was generally preferred by the major European empires in the decades before this period led to a phase of increased imperialist competition in the progressive consolidation of formal colonial rule. The period of increased colonial expansion was also simultaneously a period of accelerated international economic interconnection, which triggered sweeping economic change. Above all, the previously mentioned transport and communications revolution of the nineteenth century led to another dramatic drop in transportation costs, especially at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More and more people and goods were travelling ever greater distances. Communications networks were rapidly developed (regular postal services, telegraphs, and telephones from 1878 onwards). As the number of newspapers and their circulation grew, newspapers became cheap sources of news for everyone. This increased the availability of information about settlement and job opportunities elsewhere. The accelerated development of transport and communications links also facilitated the creation of a migration market: the globally active shipping companies of Europe and North America, which were in direct competition with one another, used the most modern methods of marketing and an extensive network of agents to create a steady stream of new migrant destinations so that these companies could fill their steam ships with migrants.
The period of accelerated colonialism and economic globalisation in the thirty to forty years preceding World War I constituted the high point of global long-distance migration by European citizens in the nineteenth century. At the start of the century, an average 50,000 people left Europe by sea every year. The 1840s saw the start of a dramatic increase in this area: between 1846 and 1850, an average of over 250,000 migrants crossed the Atlantic every year, with about 80% heading to the USA and 16% to Canada. Between 1851 and 1855, this figure rose to 340,000 – seven times the annual average for the early decades of the nineteenth century. The USA remained the most popular migrant destination: 77% of all European migrants went there, 9% to Canada, and 4% to Brazil. With the global economic crisis of the late 1850s and the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, European immigration to the USA dropped significantly. However, when the War of Secession ended, this immigration directly surpassed the level of the early 1850s, only to sink again with the Long Depression of the 1870s. The years from the 1880s onwards saw European overseas migration peak. In the second half of the 1880s, an average of almost 800,000 Europeans migrated overseas every year, most of them still heading for the USA. The highest levels were reached in the fifteen years before the outbreak of World War I, when an average of more than 1.3 million Europeans set sail from the Old World every year.
Translated by Aingeal Flanagan
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann June 2016