Fast Facts: Migrations


Featured Image: An Egyptian caravan in 1918. Credit: American Colony Jerusalem.

  • Whether between or within societies, human movement has always occurred.
  • Mass migrations have spurred many of history’s major events. The fall of the Roman Empire was hastened by the arrival of “barbarian invaders,” whole peoples from the north and east.
  • Scholars believe they were driven by untold perils beyond Europe. But once they settled down, the Anglo-Saxons in Britain, the Franks in modern-day France and others formed the first post-Roman nations.
Image: MapMaster.

Image: MapMaster.

  • Environmental changes like droughts and social upheavals like war are often the culprits behind mass movement. But greater opportunity and resources also draw people.
  • The potato famine in Ireland and overpopulation in Italy triggered large emigrations to America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The California Gold Rush and Transcontinental Railroad brought many Chinese across the Pacific.
  • Some time between 125,000 and 60,000 years ago, Homo sapiens spread out of Africa and into Eurasia. They replaced earlier humans like the Neanderthal.
Numbers represent how many thousands of years before the present. Image:

Numbers represent thousands of years before the present. Dark blue lines are ice-covered areas from the last ice age. Image:

  • Prehistorically, groups would split up after small disputes, often when they became overcrowded. They would then branch out based on gift-exchange networks and marriages with other groups. It works the same way for many people today. When societies became bigger and more politically centralized, expansionary conquerors often pushed minorities away in droves.
  • Refugees seeking asylum from ethnic and religious persecution are still common today.
  • Many migrations are politically coerced. Like when hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars were deported by Josef Stalin, or when Native American nations were forced to walk west on the Trail of Tears.
  • Besides forced deportation, there’s also forced importation. Ancient Egypt, China, Rome and Mesoamerica all enslaved people from conquered regions. The Muslim world was a major importer of European and African slaves during the Middle Ages.
The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Image:  Lear 21 at en.wikipedia.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Image: Lear 21 at en.wikipedia.

  • The Berlin Wall was constructed to prevent mass emigration from communist East Germany to the democratic West. Defection was a common problem for countries under the Iron Curtain.
  • The construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China forcibly moved 1 million people by state fiat.
  • Many believe the modern world is in a great new Age of Migration. This is because a globalized world allows for travel across borders with more ease than ever before.
  • Today, immigrants from the poorest countries are often the most educated. That’s good for the developed country receiving them. But the brain drain from poor countries means those skills do not get invested in their own growth, stagnating them socially and economically.
  • Much of modern immigration is motivated by differences in income. Recent history has seen large movements from Mexico to the United States, from Eastern to Western Europe, from North Africa to Spain and Italy, and from Bangladesh into India.
  • The acculturation process refers to immigrants gaining the cultural norms, expectations and behaviors of the host country. It’s better when immigrants transition within native and immigrant support networks.

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