Work, Migration, Environment: The German and Central European Experience

03.10.-06.10.2019, Panel, Portland

Panel at the Forty-Third Annual Conference of the German Studies Association, Portland, Oregon

Conveners: Andrea Westermann (GHI West, Berkeley) and Eagle Glassheim (University of British Columbia, Vancouver)

The German Historical Institute Washington DC is organizing a panel on the intersections between work, migration, and the environment during the 19th and 20th centuries for the 2019 Annual Conference of the German Studies Association, to be held in Portland, Oregon, October 3-6, 2019.

The mining, agricultural, and lumber industries change landscapes both socially and environmentally. These industries are labor-intensive, predicated on the massive influx of migrant workers, free or indentured, from near and far. Gold and silver rushes, as well as the rise of modern agribusiness, lured thousands of Germans and other Central Europeans away from their former lives and homes. Companies and governments channeled internal and cross-border migration towards mining, agricultural and silvicultural regions.

Labor migration might stand at the beginning of intensified natural resource production, with migrants often staffing the most dangerous jobs in mines, fields, and forests. Labor migration might also be the consequence of mineral resource extraction as mining eats away the land on which adjacent cities sit or mining camps and mining towns are built. The decline of resource industries can lead to out-migration, as jobs disappear and workers seek livelihoods elsewhere. This is true for the history of coal and ore-mining regions like the Ruhr, Silesia, or the Sudetenland, as it is true for Californian and South African gold fields, or for mining sites in the Americas or Australia and Oceania, regions and continents where we find Central European companies, capital, and workers over the 19th and 20th centuries. Similarily, Central European companies, capital, and workers flocked to large-scale agrarian endeavors in many parts of the world; endeavors where techoscientific change often eliminated jobs and undermined productivity in the long run (diminishing fertility of monocultures, unintended consequences of agrochemicals and deforestation) – causing further economic migration.

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