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PhD Defence

Monitoring Migrations: The Habsburg-Ottoman Border in the Eighteenth Century

  • Jovan Pesalj
Wednesday 27 March 2019
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden

In recent years, the public discourse on immigration in Europe and in the United States has often focused on efforts to increase security and restrict traffic on external borders. Migration control on borders is perceived as a recent tool, which nation states often use to restrict immigration, particularly since the First World War. After a closer look at the Habsburg-Ottoman border, I have found that a similar migration control system predated nation states: between the 1720s and the 1850s, migrants entering the Habsburg Monarchy from the Ottoman Empire also had to go through official border crossings, where they were controlled and registered. Through research of archives in Austria, Serbia and Croatia, as well as many narrative sources, I explore an array of questions: Was a clearly demarcated boundary, which separated Habsburg and Ottoman territories after 1699, but was uncommon in other parts of Europe, a secret ingredient that allowed early border controls? How could the Habsburg Monarchy, with its small bureaucracy, effectively enforce migration controls? What was the role of the permanent cordon sanitaire? How did the Military Border soldiers and other stakeholders, such as border inhabitants, the Ottoman border authorities and the migrants themselves contribute to migration control? One of the suggestions from the research is that, three centuries ago, Europeans had a quite a different perspective on migration controls. Border controls were used not to restrict, but to facilitate migrations, because the immigrants were perceived as assets, potentially increasing the number of taxpayers, talent pool and state power.

Funding organisations

Austrian Science Fund (FWF)


  • Prof. J.F.J. Duindam
  • Prof. L.A.C.J. Lucassen


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