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

By Dirk Hoerder; Horst Rössler | Go to book overview

2
Paris: City of Light and Shadow

Nancy L. Green, Laura Levine Frader, and Pierre Milza

IN tracing the migrant's path backward from the point of destination to the point of departure in order to explain the path taken from homeland to adopted country, historians look for causal relations while possessing foreknowledge of effect. This is an inevitable weakness of historical method. Why, we ask, did people leave the land of their birth? This question refers only to those who left; we do not ask about the motives of those who stayed behind. What were the migrants' expectations concerning their destinations? Again, it is not only our questions, but also our sources that focus on those who completed the journey. Rarely, however, do we ask of immigrants to Paris why they did not go to New York, or vice versa. Such an approach could be counterfactual, although inclusion of a comparative dimension could prove to be very fruitful.

We have chosen a comparative approach to the migrant "magnet" question. Two such lines of inquiry are pertinent. It is possible to trace one population migrating toward different destinations, in order to distinguish differences in expectations and experiences. 1 Or, as we have done here, we can confront the images of three different populations converging on one destination. In this way we can examine different groups' perceptions of a common undertaking. French peasants, Italians, and Jews heading to Paris in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries seem to form part of a common movement toward the Seine. Each group, however, took a separate path and had distinct motivations, which may converge in broad outlines but differ in important ways as to detail.

Furthermore, we have tried to be sensitive to the counter-

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