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  • Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium
  • Leslie Page Moch
Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium. By Dirk Hoerder (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002. xxii plus 779 pp. $100).

Encyclopedic seems to be the word for Hoerder’s Cultures in Contact—two of the three blurbs on the back of the dust jacket use this adjective. Indeed, this observation comes quickly to mind because this study offers a survey and analysis of a thousand years of migration worldwide. One reads about everything from the Eurasian trader itineraries of the late middle ages to the movements of such groups as Kurds in Europe and refugees in Africa during the 1990s, from movements to Canada to movements into South Africa. This is a world history of human connections. Because this term can also be somewhat condescending (since encyclopedia articles are usually bland and also fail to cite their sources) it was not used at the Social Science History Association meetings in November 2003 when the book received the annual Alan Sharlin Award for the best book in social science history.

The study opens with a concise introduction that articulates Hoerder’s paradigms and opens his discussion of the systems approach and of a meso-level understanding of migrant decision making, bringing the reader up to date with the latest of theories about the social organization of human migration. Part I of the book investigates the Judio-Christian-Islamic Mediterranean and Eurasian Worlds to the 1500s, focusing on the Euro-Mediterranean world, Ottoman society, Europe, and the beginnings of colonial contacts. Part II treats European colonialism to the eighteenth century, opening with a treatment of the African slave trade, then shifting to the Indian Ocean, Latin America, and fur empires to the north. The emphasis here is on world views, material cultures, and racial hierarchies. Part III treats intercontinental migrations systems to the nineteenth century, including rural colonization as well as enclosure and urbanization; it emphasizes migration systems in and to the Russian empire, transatlantic movement and the vast Asian contract labor system. Part IV belongs to the twentieth [End Page 215] century, opening with forced labor and refugees in the northern hemisphere, then shifting to the new diasporic, labor and refugee migrations of the past forty years. Over seventy fine maps bring this vast range of human movements to the eye.

Yet this far-reaching study has qualities that encyclopedias lack. What encyclopedia gives the powerful a jab in the ribs at every opportunity? This study does so frequently, as when Hoerder indicates how travelers’ writings in early modern times “transformed cultural contact into a published ‘imaginary ethnography,’ whereby observers could project preconceived notions onto Others and then report them as empirical evidence.”(36) Moreover, encyclopedia entries do not usually indulge in irreverence, as when Hoerder notes that the clergymen of Rome were deprived not only of sexual relations, but also of the “entire sphere of female culture”—this in his discussion of the powerful attraction that Rome held for prostitutes.(90) Finally, few encyclopedia authors take such delight in bringing little-known pieces of information to light (like the fact that Ifriqiya was the Arabic name for Tunis)(30). The author was hard-pressed to shorten this manuscript, yet some of this fascinating detail was allowed to survive, and as a consequence these non-encyclopedic traits make Cultures in Contact a pleasure to read.

There is a tension inherent in this study that tightens the author’s writing and sharpens the reader’s eye. On one hand, Hoerder’s knowledge of migration and migration theory leads him to insist on the meso-level of social organization and the economics of migration, on migration systems, human contacts, regional economies, and families. Women are important; indeed they are so important that there is not a man to be found in the collage of photographs on the dust jacket of the book, shots of people on camel, donkey, cart, and on foot. On the other hand, the kind of information available to the researcher on such a project seldom includes direct information on the meso-level human relations and economic shifts that are so important...

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