Economic Migration: Tracing Chain Migration through Migrant Letters in an Economic Framework


  • Karl Dargel Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Tyler Hoerr
  • Petar Milijic Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin



The categorization of migrants in both a contemporary as well as a historical perspective continues to be a delicate matter. For 19th century migration, recent scholarship has mainly focused on concepts of agency such as chain migration or immigrant foreign relations. By analysing these ‘migrant’ concepts through a series of letters from a Württembergian family from the period, this paper engages and challenges the theoretical use of these terms for understanding transnational connections. Specifically it is argued that these concepts become more clear when limiting the categorical scope to ‘economic migration.’ As the case study shows, these migrants tended to sacrifice personal and cultural continuity in favor of material gain, which inclined them to formulate a so-called ‘second project’ by which they emphasized contact with relatives in their home country creating a mutual desire for the migration project to continue. Chain migration, as this is called, is thus contextualized in a meaningful way, contributing to a debate, largely focused on the utilitarian aspect.