- Global Migration, 1846–1940*
Mass long-distance migrations have been an important part of modern world history, but historians have been slow to acknowledge their global extent. Movement across the Atlantic is recognized as a critical aspect of industrialization and expansion into American frontiers, but migrations that were part of similar demographic and economic transformations in north and southeast Asia are largely ignored. Asian and African migrations, when mentioned, are usually described only as indentured migration subject to the needs of Europeans or as peasants fleeing overpopulation pressures, quite different from the free migrants that transformed the Atlantic world. But migrations across the globe were broadly comparable in size and timing. These similarities are not coincidental. The frontiers of Manchuria and the rice fields and rubber plantations of Southeast Asia were as much a part of the industrial processes transforming the world as the factories of Manchester and the wheat fields of North America. Power and capital werecentered in the North Atlantic, but massive migration flows often took place beyond the direct influence of Europe.
From a global perspective, the usual periodization in which the age of mass migrations ended in 1914 is not appropriate. World migration [End Page 155] reached new peaks in the 1920s, and the immigration restrictions of the 1920s were also part of much longer trends of regulation, border control, and nationalism that had grown concurrently with migration since the middle of the nineteenth century. In fact, the segmentation of global migration into different systems, which has facilitated the ability to focus only on transatlantic migration and ignore the rest of the world, was as much a consequence of political intervention into migration as of economic processes. Thus, a global perspective on migration provides insight not only into the global reaches of an expanding industrial economy, but also into how this integrative economy grew concurrently with political and cultural forces that favored fragmentation into nations, races, and perceptions of distinct cultural regions.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Overview of World Migration
Table 1 offers an overview of the three main circuits of long-distance migration from 1846 to 1940. It is based on immigration, emigration, and customs statistics from around the world (the appendix contains a detailed review of sources). They count mostly ship passengers who traveled in third class or steerage, or people such as migrants from India who were categorized under bureaucratic definitions of "emigrants" or "laborers," or migrants who registered under officially sponsored colonization schemes such as those from Russia to Siberia and central Asia.Most of the available statistics can be classified according to three main destinations: the Americas, the broad expanse of North Asia stretching [End Page 156] from the Russian steppes to Siberia and Manchuria, and a region centered on Southeast Asia but extending across the rims of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific. The majority of migrants to each destination also came from similar origins, although the column of "auxiliary origins" shows migrant flows from other places.
These classifications are intended to suggest the larger trends and broad comparability of long distance migration around the globe. Nonetheless, the table is highly selective. It does not account for much migration through Africa, western Asia, or within each of the sending and receiving regions. Much of this was short-distance or overland migration for which statistics are not always readily available (although some flows, such as those from Europe to North Africa, are well documented), and will be discussed in the next section.
The transatlantic migrations to the Americas are the best known of these migrations. Over 65 percent of these migrants went to the United States, with the bulk of the remainder divided between Canada, Argentina (which had the largest proportion of foreign-born residents), Brazil, and, to a lesser extent, Cuba. Over half of the emigration before the 1870s was from the British Isles, with much of the remainder from northwestern Europe. As migration increased along with new transportation technologies in the 1880s, regions of intensive emigration spread south and east as far as Portugal, Russia, and Syria. Up to 2.5 million migrants from South and...