Ongoing Mobilities in the Early Modern World

Activity: Participating in or organising event(s)Organising a conference, workshop, exhibition, performance, inquiry, course etcResearch


The movement of individuals and populations across space has always attracted the attention of historians. In recent years, early modernist have made mobility a key topic of analysis by focusing on diasporas, networks and globe trotters (Trivellato 2009; Subrahmnayan 2011; Aslanian 2011; Ghobrial 2020), or by highlighting the role of family networks spread around the world (Rothschild 2011; Hardwick, Pearsall & Wulf 2013; Mangan 2015; Dalton 2020). By incorporating postcolonial, gender and indigenous perspectives, these studies have further problematised the way we think about movement as a social phenomenon, centring individual experiences of mobility and their social implications. Building on these contributions, this symposium seeks to incorporate insights from recent migration studies that adopt a longitudinal or life-cycle perspective to the analysis of diverse experiences of transnational mobility in the early modern period. Contemporary migration studies stress the importance of problematising dichotomies created by official immigration categories, highlighting how individuals and families often transcend the ‘temporary’ vs ‘permanent’ or ‘skilled’ vs ‘unskilled’ migrant labels during their lifetimes. They urge an understanding of transnational mobility as non-linear, reversible, and multidirectional (Robertson, Harris & Baldassar 2018: 207). Scholars like Ley and Kobayashi (2005) and Ho (2011) have advocated for a ‘life-cycle approach’ to transnational mobility as a means for capturing processes that include “multiple geographic trajectories, changing forms of status, and ongoing movement across time and space” (Robertson, Harris & Baldassar 2018: 213). Most recently, Roberts (2019) has used a longitudinal, biographical and narrative analysis of “people’s mobile pathways and practices over their lives” to emphasise that mobility is often best understood as an ongoing “complex matrix of interactions and connections over time and space, rather than a linear and permanent migration” (3, 5). This symposium collects case studies that represent diverse experiences of ‘ongoing’ mobility across a variety of early modern locales, imperial and metropolitan sites, and cultural and racial backgrounds. A longitudinal, biographical, or life-cycle approach invites us to recognise the complex, non-linear transformation and development of individual and familial motivations, intensions, skills, and strategies for negotiating social insertion and positionality in a variety of contexts. This approach has rarely been applied systematically to mobility patterns in the early modern world, despite scholars often recognising that people’s movement was more complex than the categories used to define it. However, we aim here to problematise the parallels and discontinuities revealed by differentiated experiences of early modern ‘ongoing’ mobility based on gender, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, beyond a simple dichotomy between free and bound mobilities, between colonial and metropolitan subjects, and between other mobile categories –such as merchant, missionary, soldier or settler— which we tend to think of as fixed. Overall, we look for furthering our understanding of the often contingent, accidental nature of movement and re-location in the early modern world, highlighting its dependence and impact on trans-local connections.
Period4 Mar 20216 Mar 2021
Event typeConference
LocationManchester, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational