THE BUSINESS OF MIGRATION IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Migration is ubiquitous to life. Birds do it, bees do it, even plants do it (intergenerationally), and it has been part of human history from its African origins to its globalizing dispersion today. (“Repeat Migration,” p. 160.)
At the transatlantic heart of the globalizing economy of a century ago, the business of migration between Europe and the United States played a leading role in shaping the greatest and most diverse transoceanic relocation of all time. Migration travel was the core business of the multi-million dollar coal-powered transatlantic steamships, which, during the era of Lusitania and Titanic, brought the immigrant ancestors of over one-third of today’s Americans to immigration entry points such as Ellis Island. U.S. policy during the peak immigration prior to World War I focused on migration processes rather than migration outcomes, and, in contrast to those of more recent years, was a policy that “worked”.
For the past two centuries, economic and business opportunities have often helped propel and shape mass migration, and encouraged long-distance relocation in pursuit of more promising, though also more uncertain, opportunities than those available at home.
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“If there is any credence to the oft-cited hyperboles of Calvin Coolidge and Oscar Handlin – that America’s business is business, and its history is immigration – then the history of the business of immigration to the United States ought to be something rather important…Employers, railroads, and travel and labor agents” were “important businesses heavily reliant upon migration [although] they were not indispensable to it in the way that the Atlantic transit was.” Before the 1920s, there was no crossing the Atlantic “except on a ship.” Mass migration across the Atlantic on ships “was an international demographic and ethnographic event of signal importance, involving extensive transformation of ethnic and social identities.. It was also a modern service business in which long distance transportation enterprises, a transnational labor market, sovereign control over border-crossing, and modern mass migration flourished and co-evolved…” Business of Transatlantic Migration, Intro.
Full length historical book:
The Business of Transatlantic Migration between Europe and the United States, 1900-1914, by Drew Keeling (Chronos, 2012)
© Drew Keeling 2012
$ 44, CHF 42, EUR 34