Mass Migration and Urban Governance

Cities in the United States and in Central Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Workshop at the German Historical Institute, Washington D.C.
May, 11 - 12, 2007 

Convener: Marcus Gräser (University of Frankfurt/Main) e-mail 

Mac Users: In case you are experiencing problems unpacking the zip-files, it is suggested to download and install additional software (e.g. StuffIt Expander). You can download either the English or the German version of StuffIt Expander here. As an alternative you can also download the disk image file (dmg) above, which does not require any additional software on your Mac. 

Workshop description: 

American urbanization in the 19th and 20th centuries has always been described as a unique experience. Migrants from the peasant villages and small towns of Europe and Asia as well as African Americans from the southern States converged on the metropolises. The American city was, as Jon C. Teaford aptly phrased it, „a mass of segregated and unassimilated humanity“. It resembled a patchwork and its ethnic divisions were at once a source of dynamism and of conflict. „When there are added to one American city more Italians than there are Italians in Rome, we have something new in history“, remarked the sociologists Robert E. Park and Herbert A. Miller in 1925. 

Yet from a comparative perspective the assumption of an American urban exceptionalism may be questioned: Urbanization in Central Europe during the 19th and early 20th centuries was no less the result of mass migration, mostly from rural areas. Most, but not all migrants had the same ethnic background as the old-stock city dwellers. Some German cities, however, especially in the Ruhr area and in Silesia, and, to a lesser extent, Berlin, experienced an influx of polish peasants. Likewise, in most of the big cities in the Hapsburg empire - especially Vienna and Prague - urbanization and migration divided along lines of ethnicity: Prague was split between Germans and Czechs and a considerable part of the population of Vienna was Czech, Galician and Italian. 

While none of the Central European cities had an ethnic make-up that really resembled the situation in a typical big American city, the experience of mass migration - either mono -or multiethnic - had a crucial impact on urban governance in both Central Europe and in America: The aim of this workshop is to examine this impact, asking questions such as: How did mass migration change the local political regime and its administrative capacity? How did the degree of democratization, the processes of naturalization and the local party traditions influence the political and social inclusion/exclusion of migrants? And how did the various symbolic attempts to unify a fragmented city, correlate with the local politics of inclusion/exclusion? 

The workshop will provide a platform to focus on:

  • comparative studies of two (or more) cities
  • local case studies
  • research on national politics of citizenship and its implication for the local political arena
  • the contribution of contemporary sociology and literature to the phenomenen of migration and city-building
  • questions and prospects for further research