Christiane HARZIG : On the Trail of Migrants : A Global Approach to Migration History

from the OAH Magazine of History 14 (Fall 1999)

Christiane Harzig is an assistant professor of North American history at the University of Bremen in Germany. She is the author of numerous articles on women and migration. Her most recent publication is an edited volume, Peasant Maids-City Women : From the European Countryside to Urban America (1997). She is presently working on a comparative study of post-World-War-II immigration policies.

‘Very often Americans perceive themselves as the center of migration processes. The migration narrative is constructed accordingly : Europeans moved to America in search of better lives for themselves and their offspring. Sometimes we include Africans coming over involuntarily as slaves, and we may consider Chinese laborers who came to work on the railroad. Usually we conclude that people came and stayed because they liked it better « over here » than « over there. » By the same token we might think that migrants left homogenous cultures behind and came to the U.S. with only one national identity, carrying only one piece of cultural baggage. Only while assimilating into U.S. society, we might believe, did they learn to live in a multi-ethnic environment. Last but not least, we might assume that migration was a consequence of modernization, culminating in the second half of the nineteenth century and first decades of the twentieth.’

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