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Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium

Author(s):Hoerder, Dirk
Reviewer(s):Cohn, Raymond L.

Published by EH.NET (April 2004)

Dirk Hoerder, Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002. xxii + 779 pp. $100 (cloth), ISBN: 0-8223-2834-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Raymond L. Cohn, Department of Economics, Illinois State University.

Dirk Hoerder, Professor of History at the University of Bremen, is a well-known historian of migration, having written and edited a number of previous books on the subject. In this book, he treats us to an encyclopedic review of human migration during the second millennium. The book represents an impressive, almost unbelievable, accomplishment. Hoerder’s actual text runs 582 pages of small type and includes 71 maps. There are extensive endnotes, a list of map sources, a long bibliography divided mainly by time period, and a useful index. Furthermore, the book is user-friendly. When discussing the migration of a particular group, references are given to sections in other chapters where the same group is discussed during other time periods. Thus, a reader will find it easy to follow the story of a particular migratory group. Notwithstanding a few criticisms discussed later, I believe Hoerder’s book will become a classic and remain for years a valuable reference for anyone working on any aspect of the history of human migration since 1000 AD.

Besides the long time period considered, four additional features distinguish the book. First, Hoerder connects migration movements with world events, and world events with migration movements. In fact, much of the time, I felt I was reading a world history of the second millennium. Second, Hoerder discusses moves made by individuals within countries and regions as well as among them. Third, movements everywhere in the world are examined so, though European expansionism was an important cause of many movements, the book is not Eurocentric. Thus, for example, one can find discussions not only of migrations such as the Jewish Diaspora and the large nineteenth-century Atlantic immigration, but also of migrations within Africa and Latin America before sizable European contact and the more recent migration of many Asians to the Persian Gulf oil countries. Fourth, Hoerder devotes space to the migration of females when their experience differed from that of males. As near as I can tell, Hoerder accomplishes his objective to discuss every sizable human migration between 1000 and 2000 AD. The only minor exception I noted is that his discussion of the migration of African-Americans northward in the United States ends in the 1920s.

The book is divided into four chronological parts. Part 1 covers the time period from about 1000 AD to about 1500 AD. This part examines movements within Europe, including the Ottoman Empire, and European interaction with other continents. “The medieval and early modern periods, once said to be characterized by peasants bound to the soil, were in fact times of high mobility” (p. 59). Hoerder illustrates this statement by discussing the Jewish Diaspora, the Muslim movement into Spain, the crusades, early slavery, and the migrations of the Normans and the Wendish. People moved for marriage, because of droughts and religious persecution, and as farmers, soldiers, pilgrims, prostitutes, traders, and workers. This part ends with a discussion of Ottoman expansion into Europe, migrations by students and artists as the Renaissance flourished, and the European voyages of discovery during the fifteenth century.

Part 2 examines European expansion across the world up to about 1800. The first four chapters in this part are similar. Each one discusses migration in one area before the European voyages of discovery — Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the settler economies (mainly the United States but also South Africa and Australia) — and then discusses the effects of the European expansion. A fifth chapter looks more closely at forced labor migrations involving native peoples and Africans in the Americas, and a concluding chapter examines the consequences of the European expansion, including the formation of new races due to intermarriage between Europeans and native peoples.

Part 3 extends the story into the early twentieth century. The first four chapters discuss movements within Europe, Russian expansion to the East and South, and two important international migrations: European transatlantic migration to the Americas, including migration within the Americas; and the migration of Asian contract workers not only to South America, Africa, and other parts of Asia, but also to the United States, Canada, and Britain. The final chapter of this part considers population movements associated with imperialism. The chapter examines who moved out from Europe (including females) and again considers mixed race marriages, the children that resulted, and the relationships that developed among the different races in the areas affected by western imperialism.

Part 4 covers migrations from about 1920 to the end of the millennium. One chapter examines the forced labor systems that were used in Germany, Japan, and the USSR through World War II. In parts of this chapter and the next, Hoerder describes in fascinating detail the general “un-mixing” of peoples that occurred due to the World Wars, decolonization, and the rise of many more nation-states. Descendants of European settlers in Asia were forced back to Europe, Asians were forced out of many parts of Africa, etc. Important migrations between the 1920s and 1950s were of farmers onto and off of marginal lands, Jews to Palestine, and the development of the apartheid system in South Africa. A final major chapter considers migrations since World War II. Hoerder discusses the guest-worker migrations to Western Europe, the growth of Asian and Latin American migration to North America, and the move of Asians to the Persian Gulf and Australia. Migration trends within Latin America, Asia, and Africa are also discussed, along with the movement of people out of Eastern Europe after 1989. As I said above, Hoerder’s goal is to be encyclopedic.

Most economists reading this book will occasionally find the language disconcerting. Hoerder’s view of the world is one probably shared more by historians and some other social scientists than by most economists. Two quotes will suffice. In his introduction to Part 4 concerning migration since about 1920, Hoerder says: “The military-statist imperial reach of the northern hemisphere was replaced by domination strategies of transnational capital” (p. 443). Then, in discussing more recent migration, he says: “The postcolonial world may be interpreted in terms of ‘global apartheid,’ in which low-wage jobs and low standards of living are assigned to people outside North America, Europe, and Australasia” (p. 508). Though Hoerder is not unaware of economic theories involving the benefits of free trade and the importance of institutions and worker productivity (including education) to economic growth, he doesn’t let these arguments affect his world view. In any case, this type of language is not extensive and most chapters can be read without encountering such sentences.

Finally, a few words need to be said concerning the 71 maps. Virtually all of the maps are quite complex. They are also sometimes hard to interpret. In the first half of the book, many of the maps contain four shades of solid gray and I frequently had difficulty figuring out which shade was which on the map. The maps improve about halfway through the book, when crosshatches, lines, etc., begin to be used. Overall, the maps are fascinating and extremely valuable but only if one spends a good deal of time examining them. I wish that just a little more care had been taken in their construction.

Raymond L. Cohn is Professor of Economics at Illinois State University. He is the author of “Immigration to the United States” in the EH.Net encyclopedia and writes frequently on European immigration to the United States during the nineteenth century.

Subject(s):Historical Demography, including Migration
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative