Global Labor Migration: Past and Present | Amsterdam | 20-22 June 2019


Global Labor Migration: Past and Present
June 20-22, 2019


We are glad to announce that our project will participate at the international conference “Global Labor Migration: Past and Present” – that will be held at the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, The Netherlands – with the following panel:

Contract Labour and Identity Formation in Colonial Societies: A Connected Approach
Room D-2 GLM14;
Thursday 20 June 2019, 10:45-12:15

Discussant: Virginia Dominguez
Chair: Cristiana Bastos
Organizer: Nicholas B. Miller


Cristiana Bastos: “Competing Plantations, Connected Routes: Madeiran Labourers in British Guyana, Hawai‘i and Angola

With the purpose of discussing processes of racialization of labour after the abolition of slavery, I will address the recruitment and settlement of Portuguese islanders from Madeira – and to a lesser extend from the Azores – in various plantation societies across the world. I will use the example of British Guiana, where Portuguese islanders were contracted for plantation labor from the mid-1830s, and of Hawai‘i, where they were contracted from 1878. I will compare and connect the social niches they created in each of those settings in different periods to support the analysis. I will further include a connected case of pilot settlement in Angola (1885) that was conceived to re-route Madeirans into the project of a national empire in Africa. I will also discuss the potential and limitations of comparative frameworks and connected history analyses

Nicholas B. Miller: “Networking Indenture to Hawai‘i, 1864-1878: Wilhelm Hillebrand’s Migrant Missions and the Institutionalisation of Contract Labour beyond the British Empire”

German medic, botanist and part-time migration expert Wilhelm Hillebrand [1821-1886] played a pivotal role in initiating the first two major contract labour migrations to Hawai‘i, from China in 1865 and Madeira in 1878. Through a contextualised biography of his intermittent careering as a migration middleman, this paper inquires into the local politics, transnational actors and global networks that underlay the insertion of Hawai‘i into the world of government-directed indentured labour migration in the second half of the nineteenth century. I begin by considering Hillenbrand’s engagement with mid nineteenth-century population politics in Hawai‘i, particularly his repeated preference for small homesteader settlement over large-scale plantations. I then indicate the transnational network that Hillebrand used to initiate contract labour migration to Hawai‘i from China and Portugal, which constituted a challenging issue given the emerging oversight of states and empires over migration within and particularly beyond their realms. Through a micro-historical inquiry into the union between transnational actors, an emerging international system regulating migration, and racialized population politics, this paper indicates the stakes of Hawai‘i and indentured labour for the broader histories of race and mobility during the age of empire.

Marcelo Moura Mello: “Race and Labour in Post-Emancipation British Guiana: Madeirans and Black Creoles in Perspective”

The first years after emancipation in British Guiana (between 1834-1838) were marked by significant reconfigurations of economic, social, and racial hierarchies in its plantation-based society. The massive displacement of people from Africa, West Indies, Asia, and Europe (especially from Madeira island) to British Guiana marked less a radical rupture with unfree labour than the development of new forms of coercive labour in post-emancipation society. In order to understand how racialization processes intersected with labour, this paper focus on relationships between Madeirans and Black Creoles in 1840s and 1850s British Guiana. Observers’ accounts during this period, as well as Portuguese consular reports, show that Madeirans’ identity, economic role, and alleged propensities and features were defined in contrast to those attributes associated with Black Creoles. I also show that this process is tightly connected to economic competition between Madeirans and Creoles. Finally, I try to show that it is necessary to go beyond analysis that stresses only the conflicts between these two groups, addressing, for instance, concubinage relationships.







Conference theme

Labor migration is a vast, global, and highly fluid phenomenon in the 21st century, capturing public attention and driving political controversy.  There are more labor migrants working in areas beyond their birth country or region than ever before.  Although scattered across the social ladder, migrant workers have always clustered, at least initially, in the bottom rungs of the working class.  Even as cross-border or inter-regional movement may beckon as a source of hope and new opportunity, the experience for the migrants and their families is often fraught with peril.  Labor migrants are vulnerable: they are exploited more easily by recruiters and employers, and are less likely to benefit from union representation.  They often face arrest or deportation when attempting to fight for their rights, and are bound to special documents that limit their ability to change jobs.  Moreover, as recent history reminds us, host-country fears directed towards labor migrants can also spark larger political movements characterized by nativist, racist, or even outright fascist tendencies.  Clearly, there is a need to combat fear with understanding and to reach for improved global regulations and standards to protect the rights and welfare of migrants alongside those of host country working people.

Because today global labor migration is shaping the lives of millions, and because it is receiving unprecedented attention by scholars, the newly-formed Global Labor Migration Network (GLMN) is currently planning for a Global Labor Migration Summit to take place in Amsterdam in summer 2019.  Involving scholars and activists from diverse parts of the globe and drawing on a wide variety of disciplines–including history, sociology, anthropology, ethnic studies, women and gender studies, public health, law and public policy–this project will bring international attention to one of the world’s most pressing issues, generate scholarly dialogue and new research agendas, and propose policies that can improve conditions for migrants.  The conference will also include a range of presentation formats: brief papers, roundtables, and open conversations.