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Migration as a Key Theme in U.S. and World History Previous Next
Digital History ID 3300


The massive movement of peoples as a result of voluntary choice, forced removal, and economic and cultural dislocation has been one of the most important forces for social change over the past 500 years. Changes produced by migration--such as urbanization or expansion into frontier regions--transformed the face of the modern world. Migration has also played a pivotal role in the formation of modern American culture. Our most cherished values as well as our art, literature, music, technology, and cultural beliefs and practices have been shaped by an intricate process of cultural contact and interaction. Because ours is a nation of immigrants, drawn from every part of the world, the study of migration provides a way to recognize and celebrate the richness of our population's ancestral cultures.

Historical understanding, however, demands more than a solid grasp of historical events and personalities. It also requires students to understand basic historical and sociological terms and concepts. The following skill-building exercises are designed to increase understanding of the complexity of migration.

The Language of Migration: Key Concepts

Demographers, historians, and sociologists have developed a technical vocabulary that is useful in understandings the nature, varieties, and results of migration.

  • Career Migration: The movement of people or households in response to occupational opportunities in business enterprises, government bureaucracies, or the military.
  • Chain Migration: The movement of clusters of individuals from a common place of origin to another place. The earlier migrants provide later migrants with aid and information.
  • Circular Migration: A well-defined pattern of migration, such as seasonal work or grazing of livestock or sending children temporarily into domestic service in another family's home, in which migrants return to their place of origin.
  • Diaspora: The dispersion abroad of a group of people.
  • Emigration: The departure of people from their homeland to take up residence in a new place of residence.
  • Forced Migration: Migration that takes place when the migrant has no choice about whether or not to move.
  • Global Migration: Human movement across continents.
  • Immigration: The movement into a country of which one is not a native.
  • Impelled Migration: Migration that takes place under great economic, political, or social pressures.
  • Internal Migration: The movement of people from one part of a country or region to another.
  • Local Migration: Migration within a narrow geographical area, often within a single labor market or agricultural market.
  • Long-Distance Movements: The movement of people from one country or region to another.
  • Repatriation: The return of migrants or displaced persons to their place of origin or citizenship.
  • Repeat Migration: Individuals who repeatedly migrate from and return to their place of origin.
  • Seasonal Migration: Migration at a particular time of the year.

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