CFP: ‘Ongoing’ mobilities in the early modern world: sojourners, mobile settlers, itinerants, staggered migrants, and other lives on the go.

[Versión en español]

Virtual symposium hosted by the University of Manchester
Provisional dates: Fri 5 March 2021 – Sat 6 March 2021.[1]

As part of the AHRC-funded research project Trajectories of Reform in the Spanish World: Careering, Networks and Empire under the Early Bourbons (1700-1759), we seek six to eight papers that use a longitudinal or life trajectories approach to the study of individuals, families, or groups whose lives involved prolonged and serial sojourns or periods of settlement across multiple locales in any area of the early modern world (16th-18th centuries). We are particularly interested in papers that address any of the following aspects of ‘ongoing’ or staggered mobility trajectories: 1) their non-sequential, contingent, and multi-directional character: reflecting the changing positions, identities, and aims of mobile subjects over time; 2) their complex social dimension: the impact and dependence of mobility trajectories on old and new networks and communities surrounding the individual(s) in movement; 3) their hierarchical and uneven nature: the differentiated and intersectional experiences of mobility based on gender, ethnicity, class or religious affiliation.

Please submit 300-word proposals, accompanied by a 1-page CV to by Friday 11 December 2020.


The movement of individuals and populations across space has always attracted the attention of historians. In recent years, early modernist have made mobility a key topic of analysis by focusing on diasporas, networks and globe trotters (Trivellato 2009; Subrahmnayan 2011; Aslanian 2011; Ghobrial 2020), or by highlighting the role of family networks spread around the world (Rothschild 2011; Hardwick, Pearsall & Wulf 2013; Mangan 2015; Dalton 2020). By incorporating postcolonial, gender and indigenous perspectives, these studies have further problematised the way we think about movement as a social phenomenon, centring individual experiences of mobility and their social implications. Building on these contributions, this symposium seeks to incorporate insights from recent migration studies that adopt a longitudinal or life-cycle perspective to the analysis of diverse experiences of transnational mobility in the early modern period.

Contemporary migration studies stress the importance of problematising dichotomies created by official immigration categories, highlighting how individuals and families often transcend the ‘temporary’ vs ‘permanent’ or ‘skilled’ vs ‘unskilled’ migrant labels during their lifetimes. They urge an understanding of transnational mobility as non-linear, reversible, and multidirectional (Robertson, Harris & Baldassar 2018: 207). Scholars like Ley and Kobayashi (2005) and Ho (2011) have advocated for a ‘life-cycle approach’ to transnational mobility as a means for capturing processes that include  “multiple geographic trajectories, changing forms of status, and ongoing movement across time and space” (Robertson, Harris & Baldassar 2018: 213). Most recently, Roberts (2019) has used a longitudinal, biographical and narrative analysis of “people’s mobile pathways and practices over their lives” to emphasise that mobility is often best understood as an ongoing “complex matrix of interactions and connections over time and space, rather than a linear and permanent migration” (3, 5).

This approach has some parallels with the ‘new mobilities paradigm’ in the Social Sciences and Cultural Studies (Sheller & Urry 2005): a welcome commitment to transcending the fixed, defined or bounded space as a unit of analysis and a perhaps less justified emphasis on the ‘modern’ nature of complex forms of mobility. Recent migration studies, however, also stress the importance of thinking about mobility experiences that are neither ‘point to point’ displacement within specific categories (Lucassen & Lucassen 2009) nor ‘circulation’ along closed circuits (Markovits, Pouchepadas & Subrahmanyan 2006). They urge us, instead, to think of mobility and mobile subjects along a continuum of experiences that can change or develop over time.

A longitudinal, biographical, or life-cycle approach invites us to recognise the complex, non-linear transformation and development of individual and familial motivations, intensions, skills, and strategies for negotiating social insertion and positionality in a variety of contexts. This approach has rarely been applied systematically to mobility patterns in the early modern world, despite scholars often recognising that people’s movement was more complex than the categories used to define it. Lambert and Lester (2006) insightfully argued for a similar approach to explore the life-trajectories of “many Britons […] men and women who dwelt for extended periods in one colony before moving on to dwell in others, developing what we might call ‘imperial careers’,” but they focused on the long nineteenth century (1-2). The studies they brought together placed a salutary emphasis on the places connected by the lives they study, on how experiencing these places affected actors’ subjectivities, on the nodal or webbed structure of empire, and on how, by moving through multiple places and criss-crossing each other, life-trajectories transformed the places themselves. But the cases they studied are restricted to ‘Britons’ and are overwhelmingly white men and women: governors and their wives. Robertson, Harris & Baldassar (2018: 210) have rightly encouraged the development of “more comparative or ‘contrapuntal’ analysis that looks at divergent ‘types’ of […] mobility”.

Thus, for this symposium, we are particularly interested in case studies that represent diverse experiences of ‘ongoing’ mobility across a variety of early modern locales, imperial and metropolitan sites, and cultural and racial backgrounds. We are keen on problematising the parallels and discontinuities revealed by differentiated experiences of early modern ‘ongoing’ mobility based on gender, race, ethnicity, and religious affiliation, beyond a simple dichotomy between free and bound mobilities, between colonial and metropolitan subjects, and between other mobile categories –such as merchant, missionary, soldier or settler— which we tend to think of as fixed. Overall, we are interested in furthering our understanding of the often contingent, accidental nature of movement and re-location in the early modern world, highlighting its dependence and impact on trans-local connections.

[1] We have funding from the AHRC which would allow us to bring participants to Manchester, but we are planning on a virtual event in case travel restrictions are still in place in March 2021. Exact dates and times for the symposium will be determined based on travel restrictions and participants’ time zones but the symposium will take place in the first week of March 2021.