Distant Magnets: Expectations and Realities in the Immigrant Experience, 1840-1930

By Dirk Hoerder; Horst Rössler | Go to book overview

1
INTRODUCTION

From Dreams to Possibilities: The Secularization of Hope and the Quest for Independence

Dirk Hoerder

" AMERICA" -- the land of opportunity? Or "America" -- a place of incessant toil? The expectations of the working men and women who planned to migrate were contradictory. Which sources of information were available to them? What were the experiences following migration that modified their hopes and brought about new modes of perception? 1 What was, in fact, their destination -- America, North America, the United States? "Little Chicago" was a large tenement area in a European city, which leads one to wonder: Where precisely was "America"? Many migrated instead to European destinations. Was it therefore the streets of Paris that were paved with gold? Was the Ruhr basin the promised land, with its well-paid jobs?

The Distant Magnet was the title of Philip Taylor book on migration to North America. 2 Using the concept of migrations within the Atlantic economies as developed by the Labor Migration Project, we find, in fact, many "magnets," which differed greatly in distances expressed in miles, but not in social distance, lifestyle, occupation, and ways of working. Intra-European migrations involved larger numbers of men, women, and children than did transatlantic migrations. But to contemporaries and, until recently, to historians, too, these complex movements were less impressive than the highly visible transportation route across the Atlantic. 3 Similarly, the image of "America" seems to have eclipsed those of all other destinations.

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