Coerced and Free Migration: Global Perspectives

By David Eltis | Go to book overview

Introduction: Migration and Agency
in Global History
DAVID ELTIS

FROM THE EMIGRATION OF homo sapiens from Africa perhaps 100,000 years ago, to the Viking visits to North America, and Chinese and Arab contact with the Indonesian archipelago, migration meant in essence the settlement of the globe. In the absence of continuing exchange between old and new communities, migration resulted in continual goodbyes. Ocean-borne migration began about 1000 BC, and for a further two millennia after this, migrants very seldom returned to their areas of origin. Migrations gave rise to new cultures and societies that remained largely unaware of their place in the increasingly diverse kaleidoscope of humanity. People created identities for themselves without the aid of the “other,” a phenomenon almost impossible to imagine in the modern world. The creation of land-based empires in Eurasia and elsewhere periodically slowed or reversed the process of cultural fragmentation. The steady expansion southward of imperial control in China culminating in the Chin and Han dynasties led to consolidation and integration, but these were sub-, not inter-continental phenomena.

A little over a thousand years ago the broad pattern of dispersion began to change as peoples in the far west, the far east, and then the south of the Old World launched extensive transoceanic, or at least trans-maritime, satellite communities, whose existence involved the maintenance of retraceable sea-borne connections. Viking trade with the Dorset peoples of Labrador beginning in the late ninth century, Chinese expansion to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, and monsoon-based navigation in the Indian Ocean were predicated on return voyages thousands of miles in length. 1 While the colonization of the globe continued, indeed at an expanding rate, this was a cultural turning point comparable to the revolution that converted

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