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Global migrations part 1: a historical overview

This video proposes a working definition of international migration and considers how migration has been a global phenomenon across history
Welcome to our course on the theories of migration. Why do people move? Why do they migrate? Why do they go to other countries to search for employment or for a better life? In this introductory lecture, we’re going to start exploring these questions. Technically speaking, we define international migration as a person who moves, crosses a national border, goes to another country, and stays there for at least 12 months. So at least one year. As you will understand, of course, reality is much more complex than this. Sometimes people move, and they think they’re going to stay for a short time, for a year or two, and they stay for a lifetime.
Sometimes people engage in a circular movement, so they may move repeatedly during the year and do this for several years. Sometimes people come back to their home country, stay there for a couple of years, and then they leave again. However, we need a legal, clear, technical definition so that we know what we’re speaking about. This course is about international economic migration. So it is about people who move to search for employment in another country or to engage in economic activities. In human history, people have always moved, across time and in different places in the world. Let us seek together some examples. In prehistoric times, people walked long distances in search of new game and new land.
In ancient and modern times, what today we call migrants were actually travellers, pilgrims, peddlers, and merchants that went even outside Europe in search of a new market. But they were also soldiers and conquerors, followed by farmers and people involved in other activities that settled in new countries after military expansions and colonizations.
Between 1500 and 1900, we also see the forced movement of many people from Africa due to the slave trade. Estimates say that more than 10 million Africans have arrived to the Americas in this way. In the 19th and 20th century, we have assist to an increase of migration that becomes a mass phenomenon. This is especially so for the case of long distance migration of people travelling between continents thanks to the availability of new means of transportation. After the Second World War, migrants start to use airplanes that make possible faster and cheaper movements at long distance. Speaking about the 19th century, an important phenomenon is the increasing migration within same countries or same geographical areas.
With industrialisation, points of attraction become large cities, new industrial areas, location of intensive agriculture, and construction. This explains, for example, movements of those people from Southern Europe to North and Central Europe, or in the Indian continent, migration within some parts of India towards the area where plantations were, or for Africa, people moving towards the area of the Suez Canal for the ongoing construction of the canal. But, for this course, we really want to emphasise, as in the 19th and 20th century, migration becomes a global phenomenon, involving people from different continents and shaping the way other societies are today in Africa, Asia, Europe, and in the Americas.
Historians have found that between 1846 and 1940, the three main areas of attraction, each of them for more than 50 million people were the Americas, Southeast Asia, the Indian Pacific Rim and South Pacific, Siberia, Manchuria, Japan, and Central Asia. If we focus on the Americas, more than 65% of the people arrive to the United States, but many also to Canada, Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba. Until the 1870s, the majority of these people came from Ireland and United Kingdom, but later on, many also from Portugal, Russia, and Syria. More than 10 million Italians have arrived during this time to the Americas.
But we also know that more than 2 million people from South and East Asia have moved to South America, many of them employed as indentured labourers in the plantations. For the case of migrations in South Asia, the Indian Ocean Rim, and the South Pacific, these mainly involved people coming from India and China. Indians were travelling towards other colonies of the British empire or towards islands in the Indian Ocean. Chinese were instead going farther east in Asia or towards countries in the Pacific area. The third area of migration has seen Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese going to Siberia and Manchuria, Russians going to Central Asia and Siberia, and Koreans going to Japan.

In this introductory lecture, Anna Triandafyllidou and Sabrina Marchetti outline the historical roots of global migration

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Why Do People Migrate? Theories

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