Liberty, Legitimacy, and Forced Migrations across Empires: Refugees in the Ottoman, Russian, and Hapsburg Empires, 1848–1920

AHA Session 7
Central European History Society 1
Friday, January 3, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Sutton South (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Lale Can, City College of New York
Lale Can, City College of New York

Session Abstract

From 1848 to the end of WWI, millions of migrants crossed the changing boundaries of the Russian, Ottoman, and Hapsburg Empires. These migrants fled consolidating state control over spaces, which was accompanied not only by greater control over movement but also by a politics geared toward homogenizing populations. In turn, in an era of hardening exclusive nationalisms, migrants sought refuge among coreligionists or co-ethnics with increasing frequency. The papers in this panel engage specifically with migration and settlement around the Black Sea, ranging from the flight of Hungarians and Poles into the Ottoman Empire following the political upheaval of 1848 to the movement of Circassians, Chechens, and Daghestanis into the Balkans, Anatolia, and Syria. Taken together, they consider anew the applicability of frameworks of “forced” or “free,” emphasize the agency of refugees, explore how empires’ responses to movement intertwined with new claims of legitimacy internationally and within their territories, and evaluate how migrants engaged with and became discursively attached to concepts of coercion and liberty in pre- and post-revolutionary contexts.

The field of migration history has long grappled with the conceptual distinction between “free” and forced migrations. In the past two decades, scholars working in the field have explored the complexity of migrants’ motivations. They have excavated the ways in which scholars’ categorizations of movement have led to a concurrent segmentation and even racialization of various migrations. For example, historians have outlined how the distinction between forced and free contributed to American exceptionalism in its “nation of immigrants” myth, cast movement occurring beyond the Atlantic as different from the industrialized “age of mass migration,” or suggested that even within a world economic system, those outside of Transatlantic systems moved only in response to European penetration and economic integration. This panel applies those insights to an essential and understudied geography that encompasses different degrees, agents, and experiences of violence and coercion, and in which people moved within complex and existing trans-imperial networks that themselves involved enslavement and coercion.

Each paper on this panel evaluates migration outcomes from the perspectives of migrants and states. The papers revisit questions of how religion shaped the directionality and experiences of migrants in an era in which political rights were increasingly tied to ethno-religious categories. Rather than simple stories of the “unmixing of peoples” according to religion, the papers open up new venues to consider the importance, if any, that migrants attached to religion as they moved within and between empires. While the panel is interested in the experiences of migrants themselves, it is likewise interested in the ways in which migrations shaped shifting claims of legitimacy among imperial states, highlighting the promises and failures of developing infrastructures of aid, measurement, and territoriality. In doing so, the panel contributes to scholarship on the long history of displacement and administrative response in the making of post-Hapsburg, post-Ottoman, and post-Russian states.

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