Professor Guido Bonsaver, University of Oxford


Within the social sciences, mainstream migration theories have been criticised for their insufficient capacity to address the complex nature of the phenomenon. The necessity to bridge history and migration theory through a cross-disciplinary approach has also been welcomed among migration historians. On another front, cultural historians have recently advocated an approach to migration capable of transcending the limitations of a dualistic notion of “native” versus “migrant” cultures. Finally, there is general agreement that research work on migration and human mobility needs to question traditional notions and definitions of communities and “native” cultures.

Following these premises, the proposed research activity will establish a network of international scholars who will define the theoretical tenets of a future project on the impact of migratory flows crossing the Italian peninsula stretching back to the first millennium BC. The more general goal is to develop new interdisciplinary interpretive lenses which can provide a model for the study of socio-cultural transformations generated by human mobility in every society and context in a broad global perspective. The activities will specifically focus on the case of Italy, a geographically well-defined peninsula, which from ancient times has been at the crossroad of demographic movements. We will look at the impact of mobility on the human landscape of the peninsula, without assuming the long-term existence of an extant local or “Italian” culture at any given period. The history of Italian mobility is already well studied and documented for specific periods and this will bring established expertise and research data to our project.

This proposal is innovative for the following reasons: 1. Human mobility is considered here as the independent variable and we focus instead on its impacts, effects, and perceptions. In this way, we aim to investigate how this approach can refine our understanding of the reciprocal effects of human mobility and the transformations/response of a society at any given historical time. 2. By positioning the concept of place within a framework of constant mobility, we recognise it both as a geographical location and an issue of culture, identity and belonging, thus exploring the extent to which concepts like place and migration are cultural constructs. 3. The initiative comes from a core group of social, political and cultural historians who will work on the elaboration of theories and concepts in a dialogue across disciplines. All participants and particularly the two PIs and and Research Facilitator (who has played a central role in the definition of this project), share the conviction that “bridge building might best proceed through the development of interdisciplinary research projects on a series of common questions to which scholars in different disciplines could bring distinct insights drawn from their particular epistemological frameworks” (Brettel and Hollfield 2000: 16). The aim is to create an upstream influence through shared ideas which will ensure that the resulting work is more than the sum of its parts. 4. The timespan covered by the prospective participants will stretch back to the first millennium BC, providing an unprecedented diachronical perspective in which approaches and methodologies will be discussed and tested.


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