The restrictions to movement, both nationally and internationally, imposed by governments everywhere in response to the pandemic have dramatically affected historians’ ability to access archives and other repositories we had come to take for granted. Successive lock-downs and the added uncertainty, risk and expense connected with travel have forced us to consider our own experiences of mobility (or immobility) in a different light. The challenges, however, extend beyond our personal and professional lives, radically affecting our societies and disrupting long-standing immigration and asylum patterns. These transformations have not gone unnoticed by scholars, such as the 49 researchers from various parts of the Americas participating in the (Im)mobility in the Americas-COVID-19 digital project, who seek to trace and understand the experiences of people ‘on the move’ in a time of increased restrictions on mobility. Historians too have been compelled to think more critically about past experiences of mobility and immobility, continuing a trend that had begun before we ever heard of coronaviruses, but informed by new realities, challenges and opportunities. With these concerns in mind, a group of thirteen early modern historians from Argentina, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the UK, and the USA met virtually in Manchester as part of the virtual symposium ‘Ongoing’ Mobilities in the Early Modern World held between 4 and 6 March 2021. The event sought to discuss how we analyse experiences of individual and group mobility that took place in the distant past from a longitudinal or biographical perspective, recognising its non-linear, serendipitous and unpredictable nature.

Over three consecutive afternoons (at least for those of us based in Europe), and divided into six panels, the speakers introduced specific case-studies articulated around three main topics: the gender, race and class diversity of Early Modern ‘ongoing’ mobilities, the global and trans-regional character of trajectories, and the relationship between subjectivity and mobility. Francisco Eissa-Barroso (The University of Manchester) opened the symposium, stressing the opportunities and challenges thinking about mobility as ‘ongoing’ offers historical research. He referenced recent migration studies, which stress the non-linear, reversible, and multidirectional character of international migrants’ trajectories. Eissa-Barroso pointed out how this approach can lead to a more nuanced understanding of the experiences of early modern globetrotters, mobile settlers, itinerant officials, and staggered migrants. He encouraged the speakers to address how notions of ‘ongoing’ and ‘staggered’ mobility, and a ‘longitudinal’ approach, can best be incorporated into the study of early modern mobilities.

Following this introduction, the first day of the event centred on a mosaic of experiences of mobility. The four speakers introduced us to a variety of lives that involved prolonged and serial sojourns, stressing the contrast between enslaved and free mobility, the production and importance of religious knowledge, and of changing social status. In the first panel, Bethan Fisk (University of Edinburgh) and Èrika Rincones Miranda (European University Institute) reconstructed the trajectories and experiences of enslaved individuals. Fisk tracked the trans-imperial experience of Nicholas Baptista and Juan de Rada, stressing the importance of the circulation of shared knowledge and understanding of Spanish Catholicism and the politics of baptism across the early-eighteenth-century Caribbean. Rincones Miranda examined the intersectional experience of Merdia ben Hazam, tracking the movement of this woman between late seventeenth-century Oran, Madrid and Jumilla, between freedom and slavery, and between Islam and Catholicism, stressing the importance of emotional attachments and individual choice as drivers of mobility.

The second panel focused on the experiences of movement across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Cecilia Tarruell (University of Oxford) focused on three trajectories of voluntary migration and conversion, reconstructing the experiences of socially high-ranking individuals, whose position allowed them to relocate from the Ottoman Empire and Sultanate of Morocco to Habsburg Spain. Their itinerant lives involved specific rhetorical and social strategies that shed new light on little-known aspects of Spanish inter-religious policy. The day concluded with a presentation by Natalie Zacek (The University of Manchester), focusing on West Indian absentee plantation owners living in London in the eighteenth century. Zacek investigated the social perception and bonds of West Indian aristocrats, as well as their impact on the urban fabric of the Georgian metropolis.

On the second day of the symposium, the five speakers turned towards the experiences of staggered migration in the Spanish world and the intersection of formal and informal institutions, from the family to the administrative offices of the composite monarchy. The speakers presented cases involving mestizo children moving across the Atlantic, Canarian settlers in the Americas, and itinerant royal officials’ serving the crown in multiple destinations. The symposium’s third panel focused on early modern family ties as both avenues for and obstacles to mobility. Katherine Godfrey (Pennsylvania State University) explored mestizo children’s key role in Spanish empire-building and trade. Jesse Cromwell (University of Mississippi) introduced us to the trans-Atlantic marital conflict between Domingo Galdona and Antonia Guerra, a case linking the Canary Islands and Venezuela in the eighteenth century. The papers presented excellent examples of how family ties can both facilitate and destabilises mobility.

In the fourth panel, the three speakers addressed the contingent and many-staged pathways followed by early modern royal official, decentring notions of temporariness and permanence while emphasising the importance of opportunities created by serving the crown. Nino Vallen (Freie Universität Berlin) and Adolfo Polo y La Borda (Universidad de los Andes) considered the global trajectories of two royal officials who served under the Spanish Habsburgs. Vallen analysed the life-trajectory of Rodrigo de Vivero from New Spain, to the Philippines, Japan and beyond, stressing how he fashioned an image of the deserving self that initially praised but later criticised the importance of mobility. Polo y La Borda focused on the experience of Sebastián Hurtado de Corcuera, following his movement from Bergüenda, to Breda, Callao, Panamá, Manila, Cordoba, and Las Palmas de Tenerife, stressing how he transformed his cumulative experience in the royal service into new appointments despite temporary setbacks and downturns. Finally, Victor Gayol (El Colegio de Michoacán) introduced us to the life-trajectories of three minor royal officials who moved across the Atlantic and within New Spain in the eighteenth-century, stressing the importance of familial, professional and affective networks in driving mobility, transatlantic and regional relocations, and aspirations of settlement.

On the final day of the symposium participants focused on the auto-representation and identity construction of early modern individuals whose lives involved multiple stages of mobility on both sides of the Atlantic. Valentina Favarò (Università degli Studi di Palermo) addressed the experience of Carmine Nicola Caracciolo, a Neapolitan aristocrat turned exiled courtier and Peruvian viceroy. Meanwhile, Gibran Bautista y Lugo (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) focused on the multi-directional mobilities of three famous Spanish American writers who, through their confrontation with European otherness, forged indiano identities in Rome, Lisbon and Madrid. Favarò defined mobile experiences as complex systems configured by non-linear trajectories and diverse communication mechanisms deeply influenced by regional contingencies. At the same time, Bautista y Lugo stressed the role of micro-mobilities and intermediate stages in the configuration of the identity of staggered migrants such as Antonio Rubio, Inca Garcilaso and Juan Ruiz de Alarcón. Both speakers emphasised the change of status resulting from relocation and the role of distinct regional realities in configuring experiences of mobility.

The final panel explored how mobile individuals reflected on their own trajectories and subjectivity. María Victoria Marquez (Universidad Nacional de Córdoba) examined the autobiography of Miguel de Learte, an eighteenth-century Navarrese merchant who moved across the Atlantic to the River Plate and Córdoba de Tucumán. His narrative depicts his own mobility as a long-term project and as part of a process of self-construction that is not always satisfied with its lot or destination. Eva Johanna Holmberg (University of Helsinki / Queen Mary University of London) reached similar conclusions regarding the confessions of Richard Norwood. The Calvinist rhetoric of this autobiographic account of a life spent in London, the Mediterranean Levant, and Bermuda offers an insight into how mobile individuals perceived their experience as a continuum. At the same time, Holmberg stressed the need to think about self-censure and religious rhetoric in the ego-documents of early modern mobile subjects.

            The symposium closed with a round-table discussion amongst the presenters, kicked off by a series of reflections by David Lambert (University of Warwick), who stressed the challenges and opportunities that drawing on interdisciplinary approaches to mobility pose for early modern historians. Drawing on the work of cultural geographers Lambert pointed out how experiences of mobility ought to be addressed on three levels – as participants in the symposium often did. First, mobility involves physical movement and the reconstruction of individuals’ trajectories. Thus, historical research needs to investigate the specific instances of movement, without forgetting micro-practices, and constellations of mobility as the first five panels stressed. Lambert also emphasised that mobility means the representations of the movement. As he stressed, the last session showed that historians’ problem is not a lack of sources about mobilities, but rather how we understand  ‘ongoing’ mobility as it was conceived by the people on the move. This resonated with a comment made earlier by Tamar Herzog who asked whether early modern experiences of itinerant mobility were perceived as such, or whether we perceived them in that light by imposing our own notions of mobility on them. Finally, Lambert pointed out that talking about historical mobility means also reflecting on how historical agents experienced and embodied movement practices. As several of the papers stressed, experiences of mobility cannot be fully understood without reflecting on the inequalities amongst them. Both mobility and immobility could be forced on individuals or groups and neither was necessarily easier than the other; moorings and infrastructure affected experiences differently; affections and emotions drove actors to in different directions; and the categories through which individuals conceived their mobility changed over time and place, reminding us of the inconstant nature of human experience. .

Collectively, the papers presented at the symposium stressed how experiencing and embodying mobility were central to mediating distance in the early modern world. The diversity of ‘immobility’ experiences brought about by the ongoing pandemic also impacted our analysis of Early Modern mobility. They encouraged us to decenter teleological perspectives regarding the trajectories of well-known individuals, such as the Inca Garcilaso. On other occasions, our (im)mobility experiences made us conscious of the continuous, heterogeneous, and socially differentiated experiences of historical agents. Reflecting on itinerant experiences, staggered migration, and mobile settlement from our present circumstances must encourage historians to think more critically, less rigid, and more qualitatively about early modern relocations. Turning our attention towards the theoretical and methodological tools favoured by contemporary migration studies allows us to recognise similar patterns of non-sequential, contingent, and multidirectional movement in early modern experiences of mobility. It encourages historians to stress the changing positions, identities, and aims of mobile subjects over time. In the end, today’s immobility has brought us to a closer understanding of historical mobility.