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Jovan Pesalj’s doctoral dissertation ‘Monitoring Migrations: The Habsburg-Ottoman Border in the Eighteenth Century’

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. How old is this phenomenon of states attempting to control migrations on external borders? What were the motives and the outcomes of these policies?

On Wednesday, 27 March 2019 at 4 PM, in the Senate Chamber of Leiden University I defended my doctoral dissertation “Monitoring Migrations: The Habsburg-Ottoman Border in the Eighteenth Century,” written under the guidance of Jeroen Duindam and Leo Lucassen, in which I explore an early history of border controls in Europe, when border checks were used to facilitate migrations. My research was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). 

Having completed my bachelor and master studies in History at the University of Belgrade, Serbia. I worked at the History Department of the University of Belgrade until 2012 and then became a principal researcher on the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF) funded project “Mobility Control of Ottoman Migrants in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1739-1791. The Rise of the Modern State?” at the Department of Economic and Social History of the University of Vienna, Austria. I have published several articles and book chapters on the early modern Habsburg history and the Habsburg-Ottoman relations and co-edited a book The Peace of Passarowitz, 1718 for the Purdue University Press. Presently I am co-editing the volume Borders and Mobility Control in and between Empires and Nation-States with Josef Ehmer, Leo Lucassen and Annemarie Steidl for Brill.

Donaugrenze Serbien-Banat 1741, Austrian State Archives (Vienna)

Monitoring Migrations

The eighteenth-century Habsburg-Ottoman border has fascinated me for years. Its peaceful character was in contrast with a popular image of Vienna and Istanbul in constant struggle for military and political supremacy in early modern times. The two empires began to systematically demarcate their boundary on the terrain as early as in 1699-1701, decades before other states in Europe did the same, and more than a century before this practice prevailed on the continent. In recent years borders and border security have tome to play an increasingly important role in the public discourse on immigration in Europe and in the United States. Migration control on borders is perceived as a relatively recent tool of nation states, used primarily or almost exclusively 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. However, these controls were introduced in an effort to facilitate, not to restrict migrations.

In the dissertation, I examine how migration control on the southern Habsburg border emerged, how they functioned, and what impact they had on migrations. Through research of archives in Austria, Serbia and Croatia, as well as many narrative sources, I explore an array of questions: What was the origin of that, at the time, unusual border arrangement, in which after 1699 a clearly demarcated boundary separated Habsburg and Ottoman territories? How did it affect border life and the Habsburg-Ottoman relationship? How could the Habsburg Monarchy, with its limited administrative apparatus, 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? Finally, the dissertation explores how successful was the Habsburg Monarchy in accomplishing the official goal of the migration controls, to facilitate traffic. Quantitatively analysing migrant lists, the thesis studies the impact of border controls on migration numbers and structure through quantitative analysis of preserved migrant lists from border stations.

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, the talent pool and state power.

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