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Eilert Sundt


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Leslie Page Moch: Moving Europeans. Migration in Western Europe since 1650. Indiana University Press, 1992.¹

By Gunnar Thovaldsen, Norwegian Historical Data Centre.
"Migration is becoming the most important branch of demography," wrote T.-H. Hollingsworth in 1970. And sure enough, during the next decade quite a number of books and articles appeared on both historical and contemporary migration research. Even so, this vast field was far from thoroughly explored, several local studies being started and concluded during the next decade also. That extensive migration has been going on regularly in most places for several centuries, has for long been an established fact. We had, however, to wait until recently for a comprehensive historical overview of migration in Europe as a whole. Earlier attempts were either cursory attempts in model-building or sociologically oriented surveys where historical migration research played second fiddle.²

Leslie Page Moch's book is divided chronologically into four parts. The first is called "Migration in Preindustrial Europe" and extends from around 1650 to 1750. Increasing population growth introduces the second period with a special focus on rural industry. The period from around 1815 to 1914 is singled out for treatment as "Migration in an Age of Urbanization and Industrialization". Finally, the fourth part deals with migration in our own century, starting with the First World War. The fact that war opens three of these periods is not accidental, since it always makes many people change their habitat involuntarily. For each of these periods Page Moch has in addition chosen to describe voluntary migration within some selected countries and regions in Europe, either because these are seen as especially significant, representative or well researched. Given the long time span treated, it is natural that the regional perspective is more important than the national. A further necessary limitation is the focus on Western rather than Eastern Europe. A coverage of all migration flows known in Europe would either be impossible or at best superficial.

An overview of migration has to take into consideration both patterns (who moved, in what numbers from where to where, and processes (why did people move, how did they travel and what were the effects of migration for the places they left and the places where they settled). Migration too can be studied at many levels: within the parish; between towns; between town and countryside; between regions, countries and continents. There are individuals, families, groups and societies to consider along with their economic and demographic structures. Mortality and fertility decline, industrialization and urbanization had profound effects on the patterns of migration. Since the exodus from the countryside to the cities is the author's special field, this is naturally a central and recurring theme throughout the book.

But this book is not pure social history, in the sense of history with the politics left out. For the state influenced migration both through downright persecution; land reforms; taxation; military conscription; the waging of wars; mercantile politics; imperialism. Such forces set people moving. In addition the factors that separated the migrants from the stayers must be explained. Here the personal information fields based on social relations are paramount, but social status; occupation; age; civil status and gender also play important roles. The author deserves praise for systematically explaining how the different roles of men and women in the labour force and in reproduction, influence their different migration behaviours.

Leslie Page Moch's definition of migration is a wide one, stretching from intercontinental emigration to seasonal short- distance movements. Different types of migration are categorized according to the model Charles Tilly devised in 1977. There is local migration within the home market, circular migration between neighbouring parishes; chain migration over longer distances involving help from relations at the destination; and career migration for people whose specific skills were required elsewhere. There is of course no clear-cut distinction between these migration types, with the one often evolving into the other over time.

It is Page Moch's credit that she has employed a comparative perspective, even though migration studies are not based on a fixed set of methods and sources like those of fertility, nuptiality and mortality. Traditionally, researchers have used a variety of source material, although as most of it is cross- sectional, only the net or result migration over a period can be measured. Longitudinal sources and methods have for some regions allowed historians to assess gross migration, that is all in- and out-migration to and from an area. Studies based on such sources cover only limited parts of Europe during the nineteenth century, but have shown that the volume of migration is seriously underestimated in cross-sectional material.

Was this the case in preindustrial Europe as well? The traditional view of preindustrial society was one of a sedentary and self-sufficient life in the countryside with economic stagnation, agricultural crises, high mortality and small population growth. From this early age we have only a few sources that address migration directly, but local studies have given us some answers about the volume and character of migration. The preindustrial era saw migration caused by persecution and war on a scale that was not repeated until the twentieth century. The expulsion of Jews from Spain in the fifteenth century, the exodus of the Huguenots into and out of Alsace and the emigration of English protestants are well- known examples. The Thirty Years' War and other wars together with imperialism, created a void of manpower that gave opportunities for migrants. It has been estimated that 200,000 French people worked in Spain while the two countries were at war in 1655. Seasonal migrants were essential parts of the workforce in the few prosperous areas of Europe. A very interesting system of migration was the one between the central highlands of France and Spain that started around fifteen hundred and lasted until Napoleon attacked Spain. Abel Poitrineau has thoroughly investigated this profitable flow of men.

In rural England it has been shown that a clear majority of men and women left their parish of birth, while only a small minority left for another county. This kind of migration is called circular, having small impact on the distribution of the population, but all the same providing important experience for each individual concerned. With a high age at marriage and a large proportion who never married, many were free to move all but annually in connection with rural service. Illiterate and propertyless they have, however, left few traces in written source material. Marriage records have been used, but they underestimate migration since the labour market was much wider than the marriage market. Impartible inheritance and primogeniture were common, but even so peasants were more stable than the landless. Whether the use of marriage records or the higher proportion of peasants in France explains the picture of lower migration rates there as compared to England, remains to be seen. There can, however, be no doubt about the high mobility found by David Gaunt among the tenant farmers in Sweden.

Systems of migration centred on rapidly growing London, Paris and Amsterdam. Dutch dairy production for export demanded cattle, cattle demanded hay, and this was harvested by seasonal migrants from Westphalia whose own farms were too small to support them. These so called "Hollandsgänger" kept walking back and forth between the two areas each summer during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. But also the influx of more stable migrants to the Dutch capital both from within the Netherlands and overseas was enormous. For example 60% of its sailors were foreigners, with Norwegians from Sørlandet the second largest nationality. With a death rate of 70% at sea and in the colonies, the East India Company was dependent on a steady influx of migrants from abroad. Even so Amsterdam grew from 30,000 to 200,000 inhabitants during the century following 1650. No wonder between one third and one fourth of the city's marriage partners were foreigners. Apart from sailors many of them had come as young servant women.

Moch takes protoindustry as her starting point for the second period (1750-1815) i.e. the manufacturing in the countryside of goods which were sold in the towns. It was at about this time that the European population started to grow dramatically, especially in England, even though transatlantic emigration had started. This was due not only to the new industry providing the wherewithal for a lower age at marriage and higher fertility; fewer famines and wars meant reduced mortality. This caused increased population pressure and proletarianization. The number of peasants in England was further reduced through the enclosure movement, while in France only the relative number of peasants declined.

The rural protoindustry chiefly produced thread, cloth, nails and tools, with wool being the most important product in England, linen on the continent. Through the manufacturing system the entrepreneurs in the towns could exploit the abundant work force in the countryside. Consequently the industrializing villages increased in population, as out- migration was reduced while in-migration and fertility increased.

The seven major systems of migration centred on the Paris basin, Holland, the London area, Italy's central plain with Rome and Corsica, the Po Valley, Madrid/Castille and the West- Mediterranean plain. Many seasonal migrants did heavy agricultural jobs or worked as masons in the cities. With the money they earned, they first paid their debts and taxes, then bought additional land. But for an increasing number of people temporary departures fostered permanent emigration, a pointer towards the exodus to the urban centres in the nineteenth century. Little by little the seasonally migrating peasants became proletarianized by their dependency on additional income. ("... temporary expedients imperceptibly became a proletarian life." Charles Tilly has said.) Early industry "flourished best not as town or country, but as a complementary system involving both rural and urban places..." to quote Hohenberg and Lees. Most in-migrants came to the manufacturing villages, but low net-migration to the marketing towns hides much in- and out-migration according to the birth places given in the French marital records. The late eighteenth century was an age of growth for the middle sized towns that were hubs in the networks of rural industry. In this period, however, people from poor agricultural areas could still move to get industrial work in the countryside.

As population increased rapidly after 1750, the number of migrants who moved on their own grew larger. This easily verged into vagabondage, and they were protected neither from the accusations of the courts nor from thieves by family connections or participation in a migration system with others from the same village. Also, young women who had migrated as servants to towns, when pregnant were often not able to ensure the fulfilment of their partners' promise to marry them without support from relatives. This lack of close social relations may be the chief explanation behind the correlation that many sociologists have found between migration and "anomie".

In the third period (1815-1914) the interrelationship between town and countryside is even more crucial if we are to understand the vast movement to cities and towns in the age of industrialization. Students of urbanization have focused on the cities themselves, but the rapid increase in the population and consequent reduction in the relative number of landowners are fundamental factors behind the exodus from the countryside. When mortality was lowered by better nutrition, the relative absence of wars and a more favourable epidemic climate, it was the proletariat that grew the fastest. At the same time farmers tended to specialize their production on a couple of crops, e.g. sugar beet or wine, which they had to reap within a short time span. Especially after the mechanization of the winter work of threshing, it no longer payed to hire farm servants on an annual basis: better to employ the necessary number of migratory labourers for the season. (Here Page Moch forgets to mention that this very development was made possible by the abundance of such workers.) We should bear in mind that the construction of improved transportation infrastructure made people both more mobile and expanded the chances for temporary employment.

Towns offered better conditions for more advanced methods of production against which rural protoindustry could not compete. However, as much urban work to start with was seasonal, it could be fitted in with part-time work in the countryside. This created systems of circular migration with people taking up tasks such as masonry or dressmaking in the towns, but returning to the family landholding for the harvests. Over time circular migration tended to develop into chain migration when relatives and friends helped newcomers find more permanent positions in urban employment.

Moch describes three archetypal cities. Of these, the textile town offered employment for whole families resulting in very high birth rates. This produced a level of natural population increase sufficient to lessen the town's dependence on the supply of in-migrants. The city of heavy industry, on the other hand, attracted more young men and had very high population turnover with extreme rates of in- and out- migration. The commercial and administrative city as a rule developed more slowly out of towns that had long-standing traditions of providing services for their surrounding regions. A low proportion of men and low birth rates combined with relatively low rates of migration, resulted in modest population growth.

Even if the book's main focus is on internal migration, emigration to the Americas is treated in a synthesis the merit of which is its comprehensiveness rather than any new perspective. Moch stresses regional differences within each country together with the multiplier effect inherent in the social relations between the growing number of immigrants and the potential emigrants left behind. "A Global Labor Force" could choose between clearing their own farm or working in well-paid jobs in American industry. As time went by more immigrants chose to travel home after a while, setting up an international system of circular migration.

The last chapter renders a historian's view on migration in the twentieth century. This subject has been extensively researched and debated by social scientists, especially geographers. Moch's perspective is that of continuity. When the Iron Curtain blocked the flow of migration from Eastern to Western Europe, it was only natural that the constant need for "guest workers" should instead be satisfied from more southern countries. For example West Germany negotiated recruiting agreements with Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and Yugoslavia shortly after the construction of the Berlin wall. And when these ethnically distinct workers did not integrate easily at the destination, it was only to be expected that they should bring their families along. After all, migrant people have always either been integrated or gone home to marry. One cannot expect them to live single forever.

A few critical remarks are pertinent towards the end of this review. A printing error(?) puts the armistice of the Great War in 1919 (page 165). The statement that "Scandinavian emigrants most likely came from the mountains of south-central Norway and south-central Sweden ..." (page 149) sounds rather imprecise to a Scandinavian reader. For people who do not know the topography of the Scandinavian peninsula very well, the sentence must be grossly misleading. There is no reason to believe that these examples are typical of the reliability of the information in the book. But the reader should be alert, especially when Moch treats migration outside her own primary areas of research, i.e. urban migration in France.

This preoccupation also seems to have influenced Moch's selection of migration research for presentation. For instance Wrigley's fundamental article on the role of London in changing the English society is only listed in the bibliography, not presented in the book. And when Moch does not list the overview of Scandinavian long-distance migration presented by Johansen, Ostergren and Åkerman at the International Congress of Historical Sciences in Madrid, it tells us that her knowledge of important migration literature has its limitations. One important current of migration that the book does not deal with, is that of the fishermen along the Atlantic coast of Europe. But here Moch may be excused by the fact that results from research on this migration current is emerging only now.

My last and most serious criticism concerns the use of Charles Tilly's migration model in the book. In some sections Moch states how people's moving about fits within the model and how the model can explain the development of migration patterns over time. There is, however, no systematic attempt to test the model against empirical results that are presented in the book. In my opinion, a more critical attitude towards the model on the part of the author would have shown that this model, like most theoretical frameworks, has serious shortcomings when confronted with extensive historical evidence.

Despite these critical remarks, I must conclude that Leslie Page Moch has written a very valuable and useful book, which no student of European migration can afford to be without.


  • ¹I want to thank professor Michael Drake for correcting my English.
  • ²Cf Charles Tilly: "Migration in modern European history", in Time Space and Man, 1979 and Günther Albrecht: Die Soziologie der Geographischen Mobilitet 1972.

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Oppdatert: 10. november 2004