IXth International Conference on Urban History

August 27-30, 2008

Lyon France
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 Session description

The integration of economic immigrants in early modern and industrialising cities.

Early modern European cities were subjected to fluctuating processes of urbanisation and de-urbanisation, typically as a result of migration patterns. Depending on various circumstances and motivations, a variety of migrants can be distinguished. Some migrants travelled a long way, others left their home in the surrounding countryside; some arrived on their own and others with their whole family; some returned and others never did. Whether they came to town in search of job opportunities, a marriage partner or for other reasons, all newcomers faced one common challenge: each of them had to establish a place in the complex network of the city. But whereas patterns of migration have already been extensively examined, the issue of ‘integration’ raises a lot of unanswered questions.
In this session, we want to examine how economic immigrants fared after their arrival in the city. The integration of immigrants was strongly dependent upon several circumstances that accompanied immigration and the process of getting established in the new urban environment, particularly including social status and gender-related factors. Did they find a job and a place to live? Were they socially mobile and did they look for a local marriage partner? Did they concentrate in certain areas or not? Did they set up their own social organisations or rather tried to join existing social networks? In order to examine these issues, we should not limit ourselves to studying the behaviour of immigrants, but also focus on the receiving context, the city itself. The opportunities of migrants strongly depended on the socio-economic, political and spatial opportunity structure of the receiving society. What opportunities did migrants have in these respective fields? Moreover, a town was not a static and passive ‘theatre’, but rather a living and ever changing community, or at least a unity of dense networks. Participants of these (inter)connected networks were generally concerned about maintaining the local ‘social fabric’ – possibly excluding outsiders or at least disciplining newcomers in certain respects. Processes of exclusion or inclusion were not always immediately and clearly recognizable and could chance over time. The various different forms of getting along with immigrants had a strong correlation to social status, occupation, and gender but could in many cases be expressed in gradual and subtle differences. How, via which mechanisms, and on which grounds did receiving societies try to exclude or discipline (include) outsiders? Exploring the characteristics and behaviour of immigrants with the strategies of specific groups and institutions within receiving cities, will enhance our understanding of tensions revolving around the issue of integration and ‘burghership’ and later citizenship.

Some of the following themes could be focused upon:

1) Labour, skills and guilds: what was the effect of immigration on the local labour market? Did immigrants concentrate on certain niches, excluding local workers? Conversely: to what extent did craft guilds or local authorities try to regulate or even direct migration movements? Did resentments (and forms of demarcation) against immigrants break out, and if so, when and why? Did the immigrants have an "estranging" effect upon the local populace and what was the reason (their region of origin, their social position as wage laborers, their religion, their language)?

2) Marriage patterns: Did immigrants bring their family with them, did they look for a partner in their place of origin, did they marry within their own group after arrival or did they marry a local partner (or a migrant from elsewhere)?

3) Social networks: what was the role of informal networks based on family and/or professional ties or place of origin in channelling movement? How did such networks affect newcomers’ opportunities for integration in their new environment?

4) Social capital: Did immigrants set up new organisations or did they join existing organisations? How did existing organisations react (inclusively or exclusively)? And what was the role of professional or religious matters in these processes?

5) Urban morphology: what were the consequences of (massive) immigration and/or emigration movements on urban morphology? Can we talk about spatial integration or segregation?

6) Immigration policies: Which instruments (burghership, guild regulations, settlement and social welfare rights etc.) could be used by local authorities to regulate the influx and activities of newcomers? What were the underlying motivations and interests of such policies, and what were its (intended and unintended) effects? Conversely: to what extent could and did immigrants themselves make use of some of these policy instruments in the course of conquering or legitimising a place in urban society? Did the formation of the nation state influence the local urban labor market? Was there a nationalization of the “right to work” which included long term immigrants but excluded newly arrivals?

Additional information: Organised with the support of the FWO Research Network Labour 1500-2000

Session conveners:

  • Anne Winter
  • Bert De Munck
  • Sylvia Hahn

Session type: Main

Classification: EM/M - Early Modern to Modern


Autour du droit de bourgeoisie : les immigrants et leur intégration dans les villes des anciens Pays-Bas méridionaux (XVIe siècle)

Author(s): JUNOT, Yves 

Begging and the economic integration of migrants in eighteenth-century London

Author(s): Hitchcock, Tim 


Author(s): Gestrich, Andreas ; Lucass, Leo 

Immigration policy in the 18th century free-port of Trieste

Author(s): Kalc, Aleksej 

Marriage patterns of immigrant craftsmen in the Antwerp luxury trades: the case of the gold and silversmiths in the late eighteenth and early ninetheenth centuries

Author(s): Brantegem, Annelore 

Out of Place. The Case of the 'Chinese Colony' in Rotterdam (1911-1940)

Author(s): Vervloesem, Els 

The Position Achievement of Immigrant-Retailers in Mechelen at the Turn of the 18th Century: the Issue of the Spatial Dispersion

Author(s): Ortmanns, Elke 

The admittance of immigrant-masons on the sixteenth century labour market

Author(s): De Meester, jan 

The age at first marriage in three Belgian cities: Antwerp, Aalst and Ghent, 1800-1906.

Author(s): Matthijs, Koen ; Moreels, Sarah 

The role of relief entitlements in regulating urban immigration and settlement: Antwerp, c. 1750-1900

Author(s): Winter, Anne