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Migration and Urbanization in the Ruhr Valley, 1821-1914.

Migration and Urbanization in the Ruhr Valley, 1821-1914. By James H. Jackson, Jr. (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1997. xix plus 452pp. $85.00).

This book investigates urbanization and the migration that expanded an industrial city at the heart of Europe's heavy industrial zone. This city was Duisburg, located near the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers. James Jackson, then, has focused on the kind of city that grew most rapidly in the peak period of industrialization on the continent, creating a large, polluted industrial center from a small town whose population grew from about 10,000 to nearly 150,000 in 60 years (1853-1914). Such cities in the Rhine-Ruhr zone attracted Poles and other ethnic groups from Eastern Prussia as well as Dutch from the west and an avalanche of rural people from the region. These massive human movements were the very ones that concerned contemporary social observers such as Ferdinand Tonnies, Georg Simmel, and Max Weber. Jackson's study of Duisburg, then, focuses on the key phenomena of and response to human mobility in the industrial era.

Jackson's introductory chapter lays out the historical context for the study of migration and urbanization in the Ruhr Valley. He then provides two chapters on Duisburg's history--one before, and one during the era of heavy industry; he shows how mobile were Duisburgers even before heavy industry and paints an affectionate portrait of the city in full-tilt growth. Chapter four focuses on the "mobile masses" of the city, demonstrating their complex movements and the cultural borders dividing newcomers, such as religion and region of origin. Chapter five treats the tension between what Jackson calls the "myths of marginality and structures of stability" of the city, contrasting academic concerns with the realities of community for migrants in Duisburg. The final chapter delineates the answers this study provides to fundamental questions about German mobility, viewing migration as a complex process and powerful engine of social change.

Jackson's book draws on extraordinary sources, most notably, the local Prussian population statistics--the annual demographic report and residency registers, which gave rich information about each person who arrived in and departed from Duisburg. He also uses the censuses of 1843, 1867, and 1890 as well as a host of local writings on the city. Jackson refuses to dismiss contemporary concerns about newcomers and strangers in the city, but rather places urban critics (particularly Tonnies, Simmel, and Weber) in the social and academic context of the day, seriously addressing their questions about the marginality of newcomers and anomie of urban life.

This study is a tour de force. Jackson's arduous work and insights enable him to uncover realities that were apparent neither to alarmed contemporaries nor to many historians: First, the volume of regional folk moving to Duisburg dwarfed that of the highly visible ethnic minorities and foreigners. Second, city growth occurred not because outsiders came to stay, but rather because among the hundreds of thousands of people who moved to Duisburg and then left again, some tens of thousands remained. Finally, the mass movement that alarmed contemporaries masked the structures and processes cushioning and shaping migrant lives, such as marriage, childbearing, neighborhood sociability, employment, and extended contact with rural areas. Each of these findings stands in contradiction to the earlier generations of German migration scholars such as Wolfgang Kollmann.

Jackson gives the reader a demanding piece of scholarship. Rather than hustle his audience through a set of hypotheses and summary information about German migrants on his way to a tidy conclusion, Jackson offers detailed descriptions of Duisburg, its people, the historiography of migration, and the unease of nineteenth-century urban observers. The text winds among 55 figures, 70 tables, nine maps, a dozen photos, and the footnotes at the end of each chapter. Twenty pages of appendices and a 37-page bibliography follow, each remarkably useful and informative. This study offers enormous quantities of information. Yet it is not pedantic; rather Jackson's work is clearly a labor of love--a product of the scholar's determination to understand the past through difficult sources and a concomitant refusal to produce a bloodless and pared-down monograph. This is clear from the opening paragraph of the preface, where Jackson evokes his experience with migrant housing on the Mexican-U.S. border, and in passages like t his one, where he asks if it is fair to ask about Duisburg's newcomers in terms of anomie or social dysfunction:

There was, of course, no way that the clerks and bureaucrats who labored in an era before public opinion surveys or psychological inventories had been invented and who produced census data and registration materials with an entirely different purpose in mind could ever measure these subtle phenomena directly. No harried police official or preoccupied tax collector produced documents that penetrated the psychic veneer of city dwellers and attempted to validate the conceptual biases of pessimistic urban critics. Nor can modern computer manipulation revivify such psychological nuance from the statistical by-products of nineteenth-century bureaucratic routine. (144-145)

Yet Jackson is able to make these "by-product" sources speak; his main concern is the late nineteenth-century theory of urban anomie, and he is able to see how it is addressed, and thoroughly refuted, by the jortings of Duisburg's clerks. He is even able to extract from these records a fairly subtle portrait of the role of gender in migration to and from this increasingly heavy-industry, and male, town.

Some readers may find Jackson's study to be overly packed with detail in the form of graphs and charts, and under-theorized in the sense that the issues addressed about migration in Germany could be more broadly cast and the discussion more widely conceptualized. Nonetheless, this thoughtful and humanizing study carries rich lessons for students of migration and social history researchers--whether they are working on national or international migration, in the past or the present, in Europe, the Americas, Asia, or Africa.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Moch, Leslie Page
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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