It is unsurprising that transnational history, a field obsessed with mobility, has much to offer to the study of migration. As we briefly discussed in last week’s seminar, transnational history allows us to move beyond the simplistic analysis of international migration through the lens of push-and-pull factors. Instead we are compelled to analyse the complexities of migrant flows. Both Tyrrell and Conrad demonstrate the advantages of the transnational perspective as they examine migration, within the context of what they see as an early ‘globalisation,’ in nineteenth century USA and Germany.
Chapter 3 of Tyrrell’s Transnational Nation focuses heavily on how social movements and ideologies flowed between Europe and the USA. He suggests that American sympathy with European social reform movements was strengthened due to the large numbers of refugees crossing the Atlantic, citing the example of Italian migrants in New York following the failed revolutions of 1848. (P.43) In the following chapter Tyrrell engages fully with the subject of migration, noting that some 65% of European emigrants to the Americas in the 1800s settled in the USA, and suggesting that geographical proximity was the principal factor behind this. Rather than pursuing any notion of the ‘abundant opportunities’ on offer, most European migrants simply favoured a journey which was comparatively affordable, quick and safe. This view seems to me to be a product of the current state of migration studies, in which neo-classical, bilateral, economic interpretations of migrant flows have been firmly rejected.
Throughout his examination of US immigration Tyrrell acknowledges the racial and demographic diversity of the migrants. He shies away from an Atlantic-centred view, and in doing so he challenges the two-wave model of US immigration by showing that the significant flows of Chinese, Japanese and Mexican migrants do not conform to such a model. Finally, he discusses how World War I caused migration from Europe to stall, while simultaneously boosting production in American industry, forcing factories to draw on Mexicans and African-Americans as a new source of labour. Tyrrell’s transnational perspective allows him to paint a refreshingly nuanced picture of US migration.
Conrad also demonstrates the benefits of the transnational approach, in Globalisation and the Nation in Imperial Germany. Part of his focus is on Polish migration, and he acknowledges immediately that “individual reactions to push-and-pull factors cannot adequately explain the extent of Polish migratory movements that were clearly influenced by systemic factors.” (P.149) Polish migration to Germany was continually subject to control by landowners and state agencies, with fears over the possible effects of mass immigration on the German economy and culture dictating levels of border control. By going on to examine Chinese migration to Germany and her colonies in the nineteenth century, Conrad makes a link between German social history and the mobility of Chinese workers. This link sheds new light on both areas by breaking out of the regional context, and could perhaps only have been achieved through a transnational history approach.
Overall, Conrad’s views share a striking overlap with the modern ‘migration systems’ theories of contemporary geography. The increasing tendency to focus on the transnational ties, policies and organisations, which affect migration, has grown up since the 1990s, alongside wider debates about globalization. Transnational history also emerged in this environment and, as a result, historians such as Conrad and Tyrrell have a platform from which to study migration in all its complexity.
Conrad, S. Globalisation and the Nation in Imperial Germany (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010)
Tyrrell, I. Transnational Nation, United States History in Global Perspective since 1789 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)