LIVI-BACCI, Massimo. A Short History of Migration. Cambridge: Polity Press, 212. 157p. Resenha de: SALAMANCA RODRÍGUEZ, A. Panta Rei. Revista Digital de Ciencia y Didáctica de la Historia, Murcia, p.189-192, 2018.
A Short History of Migration is not only a history book: it is also a thought-provoking analysis of the present and future of migration which includes some policy suggestions and interesting reflections about the evolution of migration policies and demographics in Europe from a longue durée perspective. Almost a decade after its publication, the predictions of the book are still up-to-date and relevant to the current debates on migration in Europe. The author, Massimo Livi-Bacci (b. 1936) is one of the leading voices in the field of demography and a Professor Emeritus of Demography in the University of Florence. During his prolific career, he has published books and articles about the historical demographic evolution of colonial America, Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain, as well as introductory handbooks to global historic demography such as A Concise History of the World Population.
The main argument of A Short History of Migration is that migration is not a problem or an exceptional situation, but rather, a common strategy to improve one’s living conditions as well as a force that contributes to global economic development. Illegal migration is, according to Livi-Bacci, the result of inadequate migration policies, which normally regard migration as a temporary fix to a labour shortage. A Short History of Migration is “an attempt to bring together reflections, insights and notes” (p. x) that Livi-Bacci has collected during his career. The disparate origins of the different chapters of the book can be noticed, as the style and content differs significantly, though they are satisfactorily connected.
The book is divided into nine chapters. In the three initial chapters, Livi-Bacci offers some theoretical background. In the following three, he explores the migratory history of Europe in the last five centuries. The three final chapters examine the link between migration and globalization and offer some reflections on migratory policies and how migration is commonly perceived, as well as suggestions to improve the effectiveness of such policies. The first chapter analyses briefly some of the causes, circumstances, and consequences of the early human expansion and waves of organized migration like the German Drang nach Osten, the colonization of North America, and the settlement of Asiatic Russia. According to Livi-Bacci, these migrations were not caused by scarcity in their places of origin, but by the favourable conditions and the advantages settlers would find in the new lands.
In the second chapter, the author introduces the concept of “reproductive fitness” (p. 15), a mathematical formula that combines mortality, fertility, and population flows to assess the Evolution groups. Groups like the French Canadians were particularly successful thanks to the “settler effect” (p. 18): migrant families in rural areas tended to produce numerous offspring (pioneer couples had, on average, 28 grandchildren) that allowed them to claim more land and expand the colony. The third chapter explores the efforts of polities to promote migration in order to expand or protect their territory, offering examples from Medieval and Early-Modern Europe.
Chapter four covers the “consistent flow of transoceanic migration” (p. 35) between Europe and America from the beginning of European colonization 1500 until the Industrial Revolution (1800), as well as other movements of population within Europe, that had become a “significant exporter of human resources” (p. 43). Improvements in the speed, frequency and security of transportation by land and sea increased mobility and facilitated the emergence of seasonal labour markets. Cities in Europe attracted migrants from rural areas, and the number and percentage of urban population in the continent rose significantly. Even though the impact of European migration in America was dramatic, numerically it was “modest” (p. 44): only one million per century.
In the fifth chapter, Livi-Bacci narrates the great European flow to the Americas, which started in the nineteenth century, and lasted until the First World War (1914). More than 50 million Europeans crossed the Atlantic during the period. The three interconnected and “fundamental forces” explaining this process are “demographic growth, agricultural revolution, and globalization” (p. 52): improvements in agricultural productivity and the decline of mortality rates caused a surplus of impoverished rural population who, thanks to the improvement of transportation, sought a better life in cities, other regions of Europe, and overseas. In the following chapter, the author explains how this trend reversed between 1914 and 2010. The demographic transition ended, and Europe entered a period of low fertility and low mortality. “Differential paths of development” (p. 68) in the continent created economic and demographic disparities in the continent that encouraged internal migration from East to West, and from South to North. The demand for unskilled labour caused an increase of immigration from poorer Third World countries since the 1980s. Its impact has been significant, preventing European countries from economic stagnation and demographic decline.
Chapter seven analyses the three phases of globalization and its impact on the population of the Americas, which correspond roughly with the chronology of the three previous chapters: the early phase of colonialism, the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, and the period from the end of World War II to the present. Livi-Bacci presents migration as one of the spheres of globalization. In colonial America it took three different shapes: political (elites), economic (merchants, settlers and adventurers), and forced labour (slaves). In the nineteenth century, Europeans migrated to the Americas mostly as urban workers. Slowly, the United States and other American countries implemented policies to supervise, channel, restrict, and control emigration, especially after the First World War. The Americas attracted European migrants up until the 1970s, when the Southern European economies caught up with their South American counterparts. The eighth chapter reflects on the present circumstances of immigration to Europe by looking at the role that migration has played historically in globalization, the current demographic situation in Europe, and the “political and philosophical bases” (p. 90) of immigration policies. According to Livi-Bacci, the period of history characterized by “active policies to attract immigrants” (p. 89) has ended. Contrarily, migration today is seen as a “phenomenon to limit and regulate” (p. 90), “an uncontrollable agent of social change” (p.89). The author proposes his own solutions, which we will briefly discuss below. The last chapter reviews in detail some of the policies that wealthy countries have enforced in the last fifty years to limit and regulate migration. Most of these policies are directed towards facilitating the presence of temporary workers while preventing permanent migration. Livi-Bacci thinks these measures are doomed to fail, as migrants would try to find a way to stay, either legally or illegally. He provides some historical examples of this, as the “Bracero Program” (p. 114) implemented in the 1940s between US and Mexico, or the situation of Turkish guest workers in Germany. Finally, Livi- Bacci lists some of the international organizations that address migration (the International Global Migration Facility and the International Organization of Migration, among others), and explains why they are, in his opinion, ineffective. He proposes the creation of a World Migration Organization to protect the rights of the migrants and to prevent deaths at sea, abuses and misinformation, although he considers this possibility somewhat “utopian,” despite being “urgent” (p. 123).
A Short History of Migration is a concise, stimulating, and readable book. It has considerable strengths that make it an indispensable work for all those who are interested in demography, migration, and European and American history. Certainly, the reader needs to have some essential background knowledge of late-modern Western history in order not to get lost with all the historical references. Nevertheless, Livi-Bacci’s lively and straightforward style make A Short History of Migration an accessible book even for non-specialized audiences. The last two chapters address the effectiveness of current migration policies and are also an interesting read for everybody concerned with politics and migration.
The author offers a long-term perspective that allows us to comprehend the different phases of the migration flows from, within, and to Europe, written in a way that is both detailed and succinct. This analytical longue durée approach is supported by extensive, varied, and up-to-date bibliographical references, a consistent use of figures and statistics, and by the introduction of some theoretical tools and concepts explained in a clear and simple manner. These formulas and concepts can be useful for scholars and researchers who want to analyse movements of population. The nine tables included in an appendix are especially helpful for history students and researchers, allowing the readers to extract their own conclusions and make connections for further investigation.
Livi-Bacci provides riveting comparisons between the causes and consequences of modern migrations and European emigration in the nineteenth century. This allows him to draw interesting conclusions about the interconnection of economic globalization, migration, and development: the gap between rich and poor countries encourages migration, but “social and educational advance” (p. 93) push in the opposite direction, as they increase the perceived indirect costs of migration. Another eye-opening comparison is between the death-rate of slaves in the Transatlantic routes during colonial times and the migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe: two percent. The figure is meant to emphasize the necessity to regulate migration in a way that protects the rights and dignity of the migrants, whose deaths at sea could be easily avoided.
A Short History of Migration does not only narrate and investigate the past: it offers interesting reflections on how migration is perceived by the European public and how migration policies are designed and implemented. Most interestingly, in the last two chapters the author analyses the present demographic and migratory landscape in Europe and proposes alternatives and possible solutions. Livi-Bacci is not an idealist, he thinks migration needs to be controlled. However, he advocates for a change in philosophy: Europe should not regard migrants as temporary workers who would cover gaps in the labour market, but rather as integral members of society whose well-being should be assured. Migration policies thus need not to only evaluate working qualifications, but also to assess the human qualities of the future newcomers that “favour inclusion in the long term” (p. 105). Immigration of foreign students, particularly, should be encouraged, as it provides a reserve labour supply. Livi-Bacci is also worried about the rights and dignity of the migrants. He proposes changes in migration policies, not only to better Europe and prevent demographic decline, but also to protect migrants from misinformation, human trafficking, and death.
The main problem with A Short History of Migration is the title. Livi-Bacci does not claim anywhere in the book that his intention is to provide a coherent and consistent summary of the global history of migration. Instead, he synthesizes brilliantly the migratory history of Europe and the colonial Americas. The Eurocentrism of the book is deliberate and intentional. However, the back cover suggests that the book “provides a succinct and masterly overview of the history of migration, from the earliest movements of human beings out of Africa into Asia and Europe to the present day.” This may disappoint those readers who are indeed looking for a global migration history book. The attention paid to the different groups of population who migrated to the Americas is distributed unequally: Europeans receive more coverage than African slaves or Asian indentured workers. The absence of a bibliography at the end of the book is another error of the editors, which is an essential section in any history book, especially if it is an introductory text, as readers may want to expand their knowledge.
Another potential limitation of the book is its macro-historical perspective. Even though such approach is enjoyable and intriguing for readers who already have some background knowledge in History, it may alienate the general public. Livi-Bacci’s narrative leaves no space for anecdotes, particular examples, or personal accounts that could engage the non-specialized reader. The author is a demographer, so he is accustomed to talk about population as numbers and figures. This style risks de-humanizing migrants, whose individual lives, decisions, and constraints are lost in the stream of statistics. Additionally, even though Livi-Bacci’s policy suggestions are appealing and well-argued, he could be accused of being politically biased. “Conservatives are unlikely to embrace these proposals” (p. 106), he explains in the eighth chapter. As a result, his work could be discarded by other academics or policy-makers just because he appears to be left-leaning. Finally, A Short History of Migration appears to be a collection of essays rather than a coherent history book. Livi-Bacci does an excellent job in linking some of the topics addressed in the different chapters to a certain extent, but the style and content of the first three chapters and the two latter ones differs greatly. Whereas the book begins with a set of theoretical tools for historical research, it ends with an analysis of the present policies of the migration receiving countries. The connection between the beginning and the end of the book is rather loose, though the condensed and systematic exploration of Europe’s migratory history in the central chapters offers several associations.
In relation with other recent historical accounts of migration in the market, the main difference between them and A Short History of Migration is Livi-Bacci’s analytical approach. Works like Patrick Manning’s Migration in World History (Routledge, 2005) or Michael H. Fisher’s Migration: A World History (Oxford University Press, 2014) follow a chronological style, without the theoretical introduction or the reflections about current events and policies present in Livi-Bacci’s book. Those two books, however, explore migration history from the Prehistory to the present, beyond the Euroamerican context, offering a broader, global overview, both temporally and spatially. On the contrary, Christiane Harzig and Dirk Hoerder’s What is Migration History? (Polity, 2009) offers a shorter history of migration but a more extensive theoretical section, comparing the different understandings of migration by historians in the last century, as it serves as an introduction to the field to prospective history students. Livi-Bacci does not systematically analyse the development of the field of migration history, but he offers a good synthesis of the writings of other authors throughout his book, quoting select paragraphs.
On the whole, A Short History of Migration is a remarkable book, combining both theories and historical facts, offering revealing connections between past and present, and providing a diagnosis of the shortcomings of current migration policies. Unfortunately, the title of the book is misleading, as it focuses mostly on the history of European trans-Atlantic migration in the last five centuries. If it was called A Short History of Modern European Migration, it would deliver exactly what it promises. In spite of this, Livi-Bacci’s book is an interesting and engaging read, offering in less than 125 pages valuable theoretical insights, a well-written synthesis of Europe’s migratory history supported by numerical and statistical data, and a perceptive interpretation of the role of migration in today’s Europe.
Alejandro Salamanca Rodríguez – Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg.