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

How old is the phenomenon of states attempting to control migrations on external borders? What were the motives and outcomes of these policies? In his dissertation, Jovan Pešalj examines how migration control on the southern Habsburg border emerged, how they functioned, and what impact they had on migrations. PhD defence on March 27.

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 taking a closer look at the Habsburg-Ottoman border, Jovan Pešalj has found that 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, because the immigrants were perceived as assets, potentially increasing the number of taxpayers, the talent pool and state power.

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

The eighteenth-century Habsburg-Ottoman border has fascinated Jovan for years. Its peaceful character was in contrast with a popular image of Vienna and Istanbul in a 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. 

On Wednesday, 27 March 2019 at 4 PM, in the Senate Chamber of Leiden University Jovan will defend his doctoral dissertation “Monitoring Migrations: The Habsburg-Ottoman Border in the Eighteenth Century” that was written under the guidance of Jeroen Duindam and Leo Lucassen. Jovan's research was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). 

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