- Migration and Empire
Over the past decade the history of the British Empire has been the focus of much academic interest; a rich collection of survey histories, edited collections of articles, and monographs exploring British imperialism from various angles has been published since 2000. Implicitly if not always explicitly, these recent works reflect their authors’ efforts to make sense of an area of historical inquiry that has become deeply politicised—both historiographically and in terms of contemporary understandings of the relationship between past and present. An important and much-debated contribution to the recent outpouring of academic literature along these lines has been the Oxford History of the British Empire collection and its companion series, of which Migration and Empire, co-authored by Marjory Harper and Stephen Constantine, is the most recent addition.
The aim of Migration and Empire is to trace and interpret migration flows relating to the British Empire, with special emphasis upon the century and a half of the most intense empire-related movements: 1815 through the 1960s. As such, the scope of the book is extremely ambitious. As Harper and Constantine note in their introduction, to do justice to their subject they explore not only the migration of white Britons to the dominions (as has usually been the case in British world studies), but also “the often related movement of black African migrant workers into southern Africa, of Pacific Islanders to Australia, and of British Indians to a wide range of other empire spaces, in Mauritius, Ceylon, Fiji, East and South Africa, and . . . the Caribbean” (4); the migrations of people of British and Commonwealth backgrounds to the United Kingdom; and the migrations of British and non-British people into and out of British imperial contexts. Harper and Constantine endeavour to touch upon the politics, the economic incentives and ramifications, and the social and cultural implications of all of these different streams of empire-related migration. They outline the significant legal structures put in place across the British Empire over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to manage (encourage, discourage, process, and deport) migrants, and they note the many kinds of networks and programs designed to promote and support imperial migrations. The study also reflects upon the meanings—the identity (re)formations—that these migrations had for the people involved.
Migration and Empire is the result of an enormous amount of work conducted by two well-respected scholars in the field of British emigration history. The depth and breadth of their combined knowledge is clearly evident in this book. As one might expect from authors whose previous publications are largely the products of research into the migration and colonial settlement of white Britons, the core of this study [End Page 127] relates to Britons and their descendents. The strongest sections of the book are those that relate most directly to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and southern Africa. For anyone wanting to gain a very solid introduction to the current state of the field relating to the migrations of people of British origin around the British Empire, this book will be an extremely valuable resource. Not only does it mine an extensive body of literature to provide a tightly written, thoughtful summary of key information, but it also draws upon an impressive store of first-person accounts of migration experiences. For readers who might have hoped to gain a thorough exploration of all aspects of imperial migration, the book will be relatively disappointing. As Harper and Constantine indicate in their introduction, the “wider dimension to the study enables the motives, means, and experiences of UK migrants in the British Empire to be compared with those of non-European migrants moving within or entering empire territories” (4–5). White migrants tend to be at the centre of the study; the experiences of indigenous populations and migrant labourers of colour are explored in less detail.
Though its focus is significantly wider than most studies focusing on British Empire migrations before it, the fact that Migration and Empire claims to survey the full...