We talked to Annemarie Steidl, the author of On Many Routes: Internal, European, and Transatlantic Migration in the Late Habsburg Empire.
On Many Routes is about the history of human migration. With a focus on the Habsburg Empire, this innovative work presents an integrated and creative study of spatial mobilities: from short to long term, and intranational and inter-European to transatlantic.
Q: What is the main goal of this project, and what motivated you to write it?
Annemarie Steidl: The main goal of the book is to contextualize transatlantic migrations from the Habsburg Empire to the United States of America before World War I with the high spatial mobility in the Habsburg Empire to other European regions. Up to five million people from Late Imperial Austria and the kingdom of Hungary went overseas. However, more Austrian and Hungarian nationals moved from western parts of the kingdom to Lower Austria or from the province of Galicia to the grain fields in the German Reich.
I started the yearlong project with an analysis of transatlantic ship passenger manifests from the Norddeutsche Lloyd in Bremen and from the Hamburg America Line. During the research it became obvious that the route to the Americas was only one of various migration routes that people from Austria-Hungary took during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
Q: How did you define “migration” and why did you make this distinction?
Steidl: In this book I define migration in its widest sense. This includes all changes of residence irrespective of distance moved or duration of any given stay. A broad definition of migration is one that includes all permanent or semi-permanent changes of residence with no restriction on distance moved. It can describe short-term and permanent changes of residence, as well as patterns of seasonal, circular, or permanent mobility, such as vagrants or traveling people. The term “migration” is applied to international and administrative border crossings, as well as short-distance and transoceanic movements.
Modern territorial states and their bureaucracies create categories like internal and international migration, because administrators need of clear guidelines by which to classify migrants in order to document, tally, and ultimately officially manage these individuals. These administrative classification systems not only obscure the complex daily practices that comprise migration, but diminish the term migration itself by defining it in terms of the state. In order to overcome nationally confined approaches, we have to plead for an open and integrative definition of migration that allows for the incorporation of international and continental as well as temporary movements like seasonal migrations within rural regions, the movement of agricultural servants from villages to towns, and those of traveling artisans and highly mobile soldiers during wartime. New approaches call for an integration of mobility studies concepts and migration research, which would help to loosen strong current associations between the term migration and nation-state logic. This can broaden our understanding of spatial mobility as a fundamental aspect of social life.
Q: Are there any common misconceptions about migration in this area that you were able to dispel? Or shed a more clear light on?
Steidl: Traditional research on transatlantic migration from the Habsburg Empire most often only focused on one direction – from the empire to overseas – and broadly neglected high mobility rates. Studies on spatial mobility within Imperial Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary, as well as seasonal migrations to the German Empire, Switzerland, or the Romanian Kingdom, were not studied with the transcontinental moves. However, a local study of migration patterns of people from Vorarlberg, the westernmost part of Imperial Austria, gives a clearer picture of these dynamics. Since the late sixteenth century people from the Bregenzerwald and Montafon travelled to German speaking areas in the Southwest, like Alsace Lorrain and as far as Paris, France, mostly as temporary construction workers. These people were well connected, with information networks in the German and French speaking world. In addition, Vorarlberg’s textile production was part of a greater network in Switzerland around St. Gallen. Weavers and their families used to move back and forth within this greater region. It is no surprise that Vorarlbergers were among the first to leave for the new continent through French Harbors in the first half of the nineteenth century, as they already had migration experiences within families and circles of friends.
Traditional migration experiences increased the likelihood of transatlantic migration during the nineteenth century, while other traditions of spatial mobility coexisted. Mobility rates were already high before new transportation and communication technologies were introduced during industrialization. The building of railroads, increased use of steamships, stable communication with regions overseas through mail, and bank services contributed to the enormous growth of transatlantic mobility rates since the 1880s. During the second half of the nineteenth century Vorarlberg’s textile production flourished and provided many jobs for Italian speaking women and men from Trento and other northern Italian regions across the border. While we saw an in-migration from other Habsburg Provinces and the Kingdom of Italy, Vorarlberg’s textile entrepreneurs moved whole factories overseas to New York and New Jersey, taking many of their laborers with them. Vorarlberg was neither a region of emigration nor immigration, rather a province with a high turnover, with people coming and going.
In the last decades before World War I, most Habsburg transatlantic migrants originated from economically weaker provinces such as Galicia, the northwestern areas of the Hungarian Kingdom, and Mediterranean coastal regions in the south of the empire. Due to this most historical research focused on economic distress as the main cause for leaving one’s home country. However, as is the case in Vorarlberg and other prosperous regions of the Habsburg Empire, people more often left for chances in the United States labor market rather than because of abject poverty. These men and women were attracted to America by an incredibly fast-growing economy, new opportunities: cheap land and well-paid jobs in heavy industry, mines, and urban factories.
Q: Why study migration in this manner? What does it tell us about these people?
Steidl: This book deals with a lot of numbers and its analysis is mostly based on statistical data: population censuses in Late Imperial Austria, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the United States of America, ship passenger manifests from the Norddeutsche Lloyd and the Hamburg America Line, as well as local surveys on spatially mobile people. The Habsburg Empire stretched over more than 676,600 square kilometers and, in 1910, housed more than 51 million people who spoke more than ten official languages, followed different denominations and religions, were part of different social classes, and inhabited economically heterogeneous provinces, counties, and smaller regions. The intention of the mostly macro-level focus and quantitative methodical approach was to link migrations of all Habsburg regions to economic, social, and cultural characteristics. This way, I was able to cultivate a more complete understanding of the timing, selectivity, and nature of various migration patterns. I am well aware that this is a rather poor substitute for everyday practices of people living and migrating in the Habsburg Empire. Whenever possible, statistical result will be illustrated by local and individual examples. However, even this flawed evidence offers indication of the extent to which individuals were mobile in the past and that migration was a common experience for a large portion of the population in Late Imperial Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. Some questions can only be answered by numbers.
Thank you to Annemarie! If you would like to know more about this book you can get your own copy or request it from your local library.
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