Thursday, May 29, 2008

English Women and Transatlantic Migration, 1607-1675

I haven't written about books in a while, but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading.

I recently finished an historiographical essay on the problem of gender disparity among English transatlantic migrants in the seventeenth century. These essays aren't my favorite things to write, but this one turned out pretty well. I'll post it here in several parts.

In 1635, over 82% of all English migrants who traveled from London to the American colonies were male (see Alison Games, Migration and the Origins of the English Atlantic World, 47). While it is axiomatic that most English colonies experienced stark gender disparities during the seventeenth century, the causes of this imbalance are less clear. Many historians have taken on the task of explaining the massive exodus from England between 1610 and 1675, but few have attempted to understand how the various factors that inspired people to emigrate may have held differential sway over men and women.

It is not enough to accept men’s mobility and women’s inertia as predestined or to offer off-hand speculation instead of investigation and evidence. Left unhistoricized, the cultural norms that defined early modern English men as potential movers and women as weak, dependent, and homebound, take on the cast of natural distinctions. If historians hope to unravel the complex web of motivations that induced some English subjects to cross the ocean while most remained at home, they must not be satisfied by knowing that transatlantic migration was “overwhelmingly a man’s business,” but must explain why it was.

Explanations for English-American migration generally rely on “push” arguments that locate the impetus for migration in deteriorating prospects at home (starvation, religious persecution, crippling unemployment, disease, etc.) or “pull” arguments that emphasize the colonies’ drawing power for migrants seeking economic, religious, or political opportunity. More recently, a third strand of argumentation has stressed involuntary migration as a major factor in European as well as African transatlantic crossings. In this essay, I will examine examples of all three types of arguments, analyzing their strengths, weaknesses, and possibilities for explaining European female migration.

Part I: "Push" Arguments
Part II: "Pull" Arguments
Part III: Involuntary Migration
Part IV: Next Steps

No comments: