Rethinking Social Spaces in an Epochal Comparison: Concepts and Approaches in Historical Migration Research

Workshop, 24-25 January 2019, Mainz, Germany

Migration shapes societies and cultures, and it was doing so well before the current »refugee phase«. Interdisciplinary migration research has for several decades been attempting to identify unifying and dividing forces within and between migration societies. In doing so, it makes use of concepts and methodological approaches that in recent years have been considerably extended by new techniques from the social and cultural sciences and from mobility Studies in particular. Particularly notable in this respect is the use of the concept of »multiple mobilities« in these fields.

Historical migration research too has begun working with these new methodological approaches from other disciplines and has thereby enlarged its arsenal of methods. Nevertheless, it has rarely reflected on both the ways in which it produces knowledge and the ways in which it uses its analytic categories across boundaries of language, discipline, and epochal periods. This blind spot provides the starting point for this epoch-spanning workshop. Its objective is to foster dialogue between historians who work on migrations and mobilities in different historical epochs and therefore usually work separately from each other. On the one hand, the aim is to discuss old and new approaches to exploring historical migrations and these approaches’potential for producing knowledge that is also relevant to other historical fields of research (if not to history as a whole). On the other, the workshop seeks to discuss possibilities for developing more generally applicable concepts within historical migration research that go beyond modernization theory models and universalistic notions of migration as a conditio humana. We propose to discuss how the subversive aspects of geographical mobility and the processes through which mobility has been produced can be kept in collective memory without neglecting their specific contexts. Our ultimate aim is to contribute to the development of precise scientific concepts and methods.

Thus, the workshop will focus on the following topics:

1. Mobility as agency: The agency of people who have moved across distances large and small is one of the classic topics of migration research. More recent debates in the cultural and social sciences regarding the autonomy of migration have given fresh impetus to thought concerning agency and have revealed that fundamental aspects of it remain unclarified, including the extent to which the respective agency of mobile peoples can be historicized in different historical constellations and epochs, which sources can be used for this, and how they influence historical narratives.

2. Mobility and disputed differentiations: Mobility often correlates with far-reaching categorizations and differentiations of a political, social, cultural, and religious nature. These processes have already been partially examined by historical migration research, but systematic analyses are still lacking. Thus, research has yet to clarify how the mobilities of different actors and organizations in different periods have been perceived, differentiated, evaluated and considered in relation to each other, the assumptions and influences characterized these classifications, and the specific effects they had on perceptions of collectives and sociality in different social spaces and epochs.

3. Mobility and linguistic reflection: Language was and is a central medium for communicating ideas about affiliations, generating differences, and creating order. Historical migration research is in a special situation here: while it often deals with multilingual historical contexts and different historical categories and semantics, it nevertheless must often reduce this variety to one analytic concept.


Thursday, 24 January

14.00 Welcome and Coffee

14.30 Introduction

14.40 The Emotional Location of Agency and Exigency: British Soldiers as Migrants in the India-Pakistan Partition
Deepra Dandekar, Berlin (paper)
Bettina Severin-Barboutie (comment)

15.40 Charting the Boundaries of the Societal: The Polish-German Migrations into and from the Ruhr Valley at the Turn of the Nineteenth to the Twentieth Century
Anne Friedrichs, Mainz (paper)
Marc Horton (comment)

16.40 Coffee break

17.10 Being a Foreigner in 17th-century Seville: Migration and »National« Belonging among Merchants from the Holy Roman Empire
Thomas Weller, Mainz (paper)
Nora Berend (comment)

18.10 Tales of Migration in Medieval Hungary
Nora Berend, Cambridge (paper)
Deepra Dandekar (comment)

19.30 Conference Dinner

Friday, 25 January

9.30 Studying What May Not Exist: Deconstructing Migration and
»Migrare« as a Category
Elena Isayev, Exeter (paper)
Thomas Weller (comment)

10.30 »We came from.... (somewhere else)«: Migration, Identity and Ethnogenesis on the Coast of East Africa
Marc Horton, Bristol (paper)
Elena Isayev (comment)

11.30 Coffee break

12.00 Final comment and discussion
Friedrich Lenger, Gießen

13.00 Lunch


Anne Friedrichs
Leibniz Institute of European History
email: friedrichs [at]

Bettina Severin-Barboutie
Justus-Liebig-University Gießen
email: Bettina.Severin-Barboutie [at]