The Context

  • Robin F. Haines


In a seminal paper published in 1960, Frank Thistlethwaite argued that the time had come to liberate the study of European emigration. In the traditional epic form, convulsing waves of uprooted peasants and artisans succumbed to epidemics of emigration fever. Trudging from home to the port of departure, and enduring a dangerous and wretched voyage, they huddled in misery on foreign shores, far from home.1 Thistlethwaite suspected that by forsaking the grand narrative in favour of a close study of the individual or group experience of emigrants from particular regions to specific destinations, we might learn rather more about the motives, characteristics, and pathways of people who were not simply members of a homogeneous mass, but who were participating in highly distinctive movements. Instead of a mysterious phenomenon which carried waves of powerless and wretched victims in its slipstream, emigration might be seen as one aspect of a process which stimulated the seasonal circulatory movements of specific occupational groups within Europe, extending outwards around the Mediterranean basin, and often culminating in a circular navigation of the ‘Atlantic lake’. For many millions of European workers, a natural extension of this ‘proletariat globetrotting’ was an individually-organized one-way voyage to the New World.2


British Government Colonial Government Grand Narrative Irish Context Distinctive Movement 
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    Frank Thistlethwaite, ‘Migration from Europe Overseas in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’, Rapports, V: Histoire Contemporaine, Xle Congress International des Sciences Historiques (Stockholm, 1960),Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Robin F. Haines 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robin F. Haines
    • 1
  1. 1.Flinders University of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia

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