Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium.
Encyclopedic seems to be the word for Hoerder's Cultures in Contact--two of the three blurbs on the back of the dust jacket use this adjective. Indeed, this observation comes quickly to mind because this study offers a survey and analysis of a thousand years of migration worldwide. One reads about everything from the Eurasian trader itineraries of the late middle ages to the movements of such groups as Kurds in Europe and refugees in Africa during the 1990s, from movements to Canada to movements into South Africa. This is a world history of human connections. Because this term can also be somewhat condescending (since encyclopedia articles are usually bland and also fail to cite their sources) it was not used at the Social Science History Association meetings in November 2003 when the book received the annual Alan Sharlin Award for the best book in social science history.
The study opens with a concise introduction that articulates Hoerder's paradigms and opens his discussion of the systems approach and of a meso-level understanding of migrant decision making, bringing the reader up to date with the latest of theories about the social organization of human migration. Part I of the book investigates the Judio-Christian-Islamic Mediterranean and Eurasian Worlds to the 1500s, focusing on the Euro-Mediterranean world, Ottoman society, Europe, and the beginnings of colonial contacts. Part II treats European colonialism to the eighteenth century, opening with a treatment of the African slave trade, then shifting to the Indian Ocean, Latin America, and fur empires to the north. The emphasis here is on world views, material cultures, and racial hierarchies. Part III treats intercontinental migrations systems to the nineteenth century, including rural colonization as well as enclosure and urbanization; it emphasizes migration systems in and to the Russian empire, transatlantic movement and the vast Asian contract labor system. Part IV belongs to the twentieth century, opening with forced labor and refugees in the northern hemisphere, then shifting to the new diasporic, labor and refugee migrations of the past forty years. Over seventy fine maps bring this vast range of human movements to the eye.
Yet this far-reaching study has qualities that encyclopedias lack. What encyclopedia gives the powerful a jab in the ribs at every opportunity? This study does so frequently, as when Hoerder indicates how travelers' writings in early modern times "transformed cultural contact into a published 'imaginary ethnography,' whereby observers could project preconceived notions onto Others and then report them as empirical evidence." (36) Moreover, encyclopedia entries do not usually indulge in irreverence, as when Hoerder notes that the clergymen of Rome were deprived not only of sexual relations, but also of the "entire sphere of female culture"--this in his discussion of the powerful attraction that Rome held for prostitutes. (90) Finally, few encyclopedia authors take such delight in bringing little-known pieces of information to light (like the fact that Ifriqiya was the Arabic name for Tunis)(30). The author was hard-pressed to shorten this manuscript, yet some of this fascinating detail was allowed to survive, and as a consequence these non-encyclopedic traits make Cultures in Contact a pleasure to read.
There is a tension inherent in this study that tightens the author's writing and sharpens the reader's eye. On one hand, Hoerder's knowledge of migration and migration theory leads him to insist on the meso-level of social organization and the economics of migration, on migration systems, human contacts, regional economies, and families. Women are important; indeed they are so important that there is not a man to be found in the collage of photographs on the dust jacket of the book, shots of people on camel, donkey, cart, and on foot. On the other hand, the kind of information available to the researcher on such a project seldom includes direct information on the meso-level human relations and economic shifts that are so important to the migration process as it is now understood. Available information (when one searches globally, and for a millennium's worth of evidence) rarely is of the quality and richness that such analysis requires. This disjuncture puts a heavy burden on the researcher, who must work very hard to extract information and inferences about contacts and connections from available case studies and an older literature. Hoerder is more than up to the task, but the tension of the task alone keeps the reader alert.
This tension also serves the study by highlighting the destructive aspects of forced migration from the enslavement in earlier centuries to the wartime displacement of the twentieth century. Hoerder's emphasis on community, the logic of relations, and importance of local economies to migration renders the absence of these connections and causes with culture-destroying forced movements all the more brutal and disconcerting. Observations like the shocking detail that glider pilots flew above the ovens of Auschwitz/Oswiecim for an updraft (460) emphasize for the reader the costs of dehumanization; counting the toll of forced labor and displacement on a single Polish family brings those costs home. (468)
One of the long-term lessons Hoerder deals out with great clarity is also embedded in this contrast between the communal nature of ordinary migrations and the brutality of forced movements: the intolerance that serves as the engine of expulsions, mass murder, and programs of ethnic cleansing is a plague in the history of our world for the ignorance, incuriosity, and dehumanization that prevents cultures from coming in contact. This is especially emphasized in the separation of cultures in the expulsion of Muslims from southern Europe at the end of the fifteenth century, along with the anti-Jewish pogroms and internecine strife among Christians that made for a bloody sixteenth century. The same is true of the 1990s, a period of what Hoerder calls the "Un-Mixing of Peoples" with the promotion of the nation states, decolonization, and a postnational world that has produced a global apartheid. When cultures can and do come in contact, the world is a better place; when they cease to do so, it is a disaster for one and all.
Dirk Hoerder has achieved the enormous feat of moving a field forward by globalizing the study of human movements. He sees the world from the perspective of a Europe that has perpetrated a good bit of damage on the rest of the world, but has not been entirely alone in doing so. Hoerder's migrant workers are not only the laborers he knows so well, those who went to North America, but also the miners in the coalfields of West Bengal, the some twenty thousand Egyptian fellaheen who dug the Suez canal, and the uncounted Asians, Africans, and Europeans who opened the Panama Canal. He has given the history of migration a new starting-place and a challenging new context.
Leslie Page Moch
Michigan State University
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|Author:||Moch, Leslie Page|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2004|
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