International migration during the 19th century

Seminar Paper, 2004

23 Pages, Grade: 1,0














Human migration denotes any movement of groups of people from one locality to another, rather than of individual wanderers. Over the course of prehistoric time and in history, humans have been known to make large migrations[1].

The term “migration” refers to the territorial mobility determined by economic reasons (e.g. the research of better working conditions) or politic reasons (e.g. the research of more suitable situations for the exert of collective and individuals rights)[2].

The aim of this paper is that of analysing the migration process that interested most of the 19th century. In order to understand the phenomenon I will try to find out the economic and social reasons and the individual motivations of migrants that led to this big and massive movement of human and capital resources. I will then try to understand which has been the importance of this phenomenon in the definition of the new cultural and economic world asset. The history of each of the countries is reflected in their emigration distribution patterns[3].


The complex migration phenomenon can be classified according to different variables that are, most of the time deeply interrelated one to each other.

Migration, for first, can be classed as voluntary or forced as well.

Voluntary migration is usually undertaken in search of a better life; forced migrations include expulsions during war and the transportation of slaves or prisoners. In a broader sense, forced migration includes not only refugees and asylum seekers but also people forced to move due to external factors, such as environmental catastrophes. Other mass migrations include the forced migration of 20 million people as slaves from Africa to North America in the 16th–19th centuries and the Great Atlantic Migration of 37 million people from Europe to North America between 1820 and 1980. War-related forced migrations and refugee flows continue to be very large, as are voluntary migrations from developing nations to industrialized ones[4].

Besides, migration can be either temporarily or permanent.

Temporarily migration is normally oriented to destinations that are not so much far away from the origin country. The aim was that of gain as much money as enough to come back home and guarantee to the migrant’s family a better life-style. The reasons that today push towards the temporarily migration are totally different – business, tourism, pilgrimage.

Permanent migration expects the definitive allocation in the destination country. This kind of migration has clearly characterized, more than all the others, the overseas migrations. Usually migrants send money to the family they left in their native country, but sometimes it happened that migrant’s relatives reached the head of the family.

The migration can be either internal or international.

Internal migration is a population shift occurring within national or territorial boundaries, often characterized by persons seeking labour opportunities in more advantageous areas.[5]

Internal migrations have tended to be from rural areas to urban centres.[6]
It is less dramatic than the international migration but it is more basic to the process of economic development. This process brought to the growth of the urban population. Urbanization along with industrialization proceeded apace in the 19th century and Britain led the way in both the processes.

Before 19th century the main limitation on the growth of cities has been economic; it was impossible to supply large urban populations with the necessities of life. But the technological improvements achieved during those years relaxed these limitations and, on the contrary, required the growth of cities. The rise of the factory system necessitated a concentration of the workforce. (coal deposits became centres of industry)[7].


International migration is a territorial relocation of people between nation-states[8]. The most important international movement has been the overseas migration.

The majority went to countries with abundant land. Some of the emigrants eventually returned to their native countries, but the majority remained overseas.

Between 1846 and 1890 around 17 million people left Europe for the New World[9].

The famine and the failure of the 1848’s insurrections brought many Germans to leave their countries as well. Favourite destinations, besides Usa, were also Canada, Australia and Southern Africa. Italians, French and Spaniards were attracted by Latin America and, since 1830, by Northern African countries. In the second half of the 19th century the charm spread by the overseas-myth replaced economic reasons in the impulses’ hierarchy that led Europeans to migrate. Fostered by the transports modernization, 13 millions immigrates reached the United States between 1850 and 1890, and 90% of them were Europeans. Northwest countries “feed” the migration-movement during the whole century, but in the end of the century agricultural countries of the Middle East and Mediterranean Europe, such as Russia, Austria-Hunghery and Italy started to move in big quantities, too. At the same time, an adverse economic situation in the destination-countries, led many migrants for the first time back to their origin countries. This was the first movement of people “against the stream”[10].

The European migration towards America wasn’t the only one: after 1870, 20 millions of Chinese and Indian workers moved to tropical countries: Birmania, Ceylon, Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and Southern Asia; 1 millions and a half of Japanese moved to Brazil; almost 8 millions Russian went to Asiatic Russia, while another European migration stream was attracted by Northern Africa and Oceania[11].

An important migration flow has been the flow that interested Jews of the East Europe. Between 1880 and 1914 one million and a half of them migrated to US, half million reached Latin American countries, Canada, Europe and Palestine. Beyond economic reasons, Jews could find in the Russian persecution behaviour a good reason to leave the country. By looking at their migration experience it is possible to catch other key aspects of the migration process, which are the identity conservation dynamics and the integration/assimilation in the new life-context dynamics[12].

The dominant forms of migration can be also distinguished according to the motives (economic – for male, family reunion – for women, refugees) or legal status (irregular migration, controlled emigration/immigration, free emigration/immigration) of those concerned[13].


[1] (human)













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International migration during the 19th century
Economic History and Development
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World trade and politics became increasingly influential in the lives of ordinary people in the 19th century. The demographic revolution and enormous population growth caused wandering paupers, large numbers of circularly migrating harvesters and emigration especially to America. Governments were afraid of social unrest and therefore hoped to stimulate emigration . This paper has the aim to frame the migration exodus which interested in a way or another the whole world during the 19th century.
International, Economic, History, Development
Quote paper
Malte Wagenknecht (Author), 2004, International migration during the 19th century, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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