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Journal of World History 10.1 (1999) 227-230



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Global History and Migrations. Edited by Wang Gungwu. Global History Series, vol. 2. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997. Pp. vii + 309. $23 (paper).

Recen tly, Arjun Appadurai observ ed that "the world we live in is one in which human motio n is more definitive of social life than it is exceptional. " The volume Global History and Migra tions, edited by Wang Gung wu, sets out to offer evidence to affirm this observation. It does so in part to suggest that human migrations, both in massive refugee [End Page 227] displacements and in the steady flow of humanity across borders and boundaries manifested typically in the political-economic immigration movements, shape the content and contours of societies the world over in economic, political, cultural, religious, and even aesthetic senses. But it also argues that throughout human history this has almost always been the case. That is, human mobility has been a constant in history; it has always mediated lives, allowing peoples to negotiate their life possibilities across time and space "since the beginning of time," but particularly in the last "five hundred years that have ushered in the modernity." Moreover, though mobility has always been manifested contingently in temporal and spatial senses, historically there have been and continue to be certain ontological certainties to the pressures and processes that generate migratory movements and the patterns these movements assume or follow. Escape from persecution, for example, has been a perennial reality in history, creating refugee movements in the past and today. So hunger has always impelled people to "move" for survival. No less permanent in history have beenthe "border crossings" of people moving in the crucible of local and global economic systems. That some "crossings" were "imperially" forced, as in slavery examined in Ronald Skeldon's article, and others were "negotiated" are distinctions unquestionably worth registering. What is equally important to register is that they were "crossings" none-theless—that is, migrations driven by certain political-economic calculations and imperatives.

In other words, there is a "universality" to the processes and patterns of human migrations even in their differences and contingencies. This point is well demonstrated in the chapter on migrations in Europe by Ewa Morawska and Wilfried Spohn, which shows "how recent events in the era of globalization can have strong and distinctive local characteristics and how particular changes carry universal features that have to be recognized in global history." Gungwu, in support, argues that "general features underlying labor migrations," for example, "were universal before they took on global forms." The velocity and intensity of contemporary globalization (of history) simply demonstrates and confirms this universality.

This, I think, is the thesis of the global history approach to migrations in this book. The articles in the volume work through the "universality" thesis by studying a whole array of migratory issues and phenomena anchored in the disparate mélange of historical subjects, events, and processes. Refugees, exiles, sojourners, diasporic communities, the enslaved, communities of labor (indentured, legal, and illegal), and their sites of movement, being, becoming, and moving-again, such as refugee camps, neighborhoods of diaspora, plantations of slave labor [End Page 228] or of indentured and transnational labor, great cities of migration, and, finally, the technologies of control and regimentation: all figure in the analyses of the book's ten chapters. In the breadth of their coverage and the depth of their analyses, these chapters provide the reader with a rich and rigorous glimpse into the global history of migrations by some of the most authoritative voices of the day.

The articles by Myron Weiner, Robin Cohen, Aristide Zolberg, and Astri Shukre, while dealing with specific themes, analytically converge on a larger common issue that is profoundly important to migrations: the emergence and evolution of the modern, territorial, sovereign nation-state. Shukre, for example, offers a brief account of the evolution of the international refugee regime within the context of the United Nations since World War II. Weiner looks into the contemporary challenges that migratory movements present to host or receiving societies and the responses...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 227-230
Launched on MUSE
2005-02-24
Open Access
No
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