Today’s world sees masses on the move: across the globe in 2017, there were almost one billion international and internal migrants, more than ever before; at the end of 2016, in the EU alone, there were 57 million residents living outside their country of birth, amounting to over 11% of the EU population. This unprecedented global situation has led the most recent EU policy review on migration research to conclude that ‘[m]igration is the most pressing challenge facing the EU today’.

MOVES research programme is built around the conviction that this challenge can only be addressed effectively if migration is understood as a historical and cultural phenomenon stretching back deep into the past, rather than as a present-day threat to security, culture, and the integrity of the nation-state. Too much of the current debate focuses on the latter aspects and ignores the lessons to be learned from previous migration flows and the socio-political responses they attracted. But only once contemporary social phenomena are seen in historical context and comparison, can leaders decide on the right policies to meet the short-term challenges of migration and to emphasize the longer-term gains and opportunities.

One reason for this lack of a historical and cultural dimension in the current migration debate is that researchers in the social sciences and in history-based disciplines work in parallel tracks rather than in tandem. For this reason, MOVES has been set up as a team of experienced researchers drawn from the disciplines of history, literature, cultural studies, sociology and political science. Together, the team will undertake a comparative study of the social and cultural roots of mass mobility then and now, and provide the urgently needed historical and cultural analysis that can address the so-called migration crisis of the present through an understanding of, and comparison to, the population movements of the past.

MOVES is the first project in migration studies to combine in an integrated way the analysis of politics and society conducted by the Social Sciences with the examination of history and culture practised in the Humanities. This interdisciplinary collaboration will generate a more comprehensive understanding of migration than would be possible in either discipline alone.

The project will thus be uniquely placed to add the voice of history and text-based disciplines to the debate on the ‘crisis’ of contemporary migration, putting it into historical context, analysing reactions among host populations over time, and identifying the often neglected role of women in the process. In doing so, MOVES responds constructively and creatively to recent critical proposals for the expansion of a new field of research entitled ‘mobility studies’, in which researchers combine evidence of physical mobility with both historical and contemporary socio-cultural representations of the migrant and the ways in which these representations resonate across space and time.

Through its innovative training programme, carried out in conjunction with 18 partners outside academia, MOVES will enable a new generation of experts gain the historical knowledge required to respond to future migration crises with innovative solutions. The project will generate new knowledge about the shaping of the modern world and provide conceptual tools to avoid short-termism in migration management through its emphasis on enduring cultural patterns, historical context, and migration flows over the long term. The links between contemporary and historical migration that MOVES research will uncover can be used to improve educational provision, inform future policy, and counter the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment across the EU.

The research programme has four main objectives.

Objective 1


To deliver a historical and cultural analysis of modern European migration, disseminated through 15 PhD theses on human mobility since the 15th century, each linked to aspects of contemporary migration such as class, ethnicity or gender
Objective 2


To train future experts in migration management in conjunction with partners across the sectors, including NGOs and charities working with migrants, and the cultural and creative industries
Objective 3


To contribute to the public understanding of the so-called migration crisis by explaining the links between its historical roots and present-day cultural dynamics
Objective 4


To formulate policy advice, shape future curricula, and influence popular opinion in order to combat anti-immigrant sentiment across the EU


Objective 1 will be achieved by examining the migration process in its three key stages (pre-migration, migration, and integration). In their historical analysis, MOVES researchers will use Humanities and Social Science methods of intellectual inquiry to describe the nexus across time between socio-cultural influences, human movement, and historical configurations of class, ethnicity and gender. Each separate doctoral project is grounded in the dialectic between context and mobility, and between past and present. In so doing, the EJD combines innovative, interdisciplinary research with practical, contemporary application. The focus throughout will be both on migrants and on the host population, validating the experience and perspective of each. This is particularly significant in a time when the electoral support of right-wing parties in EU member states demonstrates growing discomfort with current migration flows.

Objective 2 will be achieved through examining key current issues related to migration – such as security concerns, the feminisation of migration, or political extremism – with an awareness of historical context and the knowledge of past flows and crises. MOVES researchers will thus be in a better position to propose durable solutions for the present, focusing not only on resolving short-term conflicts but also on identifying long-term opportunities. Training of MOVES PhD students, called Early Stage Researchers (ESRs), will be greatly enhanced by intersectoral collaborations with non-academic partners taking ESRs on secondments, including organizations dealing directly with migration. In this way, ESRs will acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to intervene in current debates about global uncertainties and new worldwide challenges by building both on a fully historicised understanding of the past and on their own experience with mobility and collaboration across international teams.

Objective 3 will be achieved through a communication and public engagement strategy. This strategy enables the transfer of new knowledge gained through academic research to non-academic audiences. Planned activities will emphasize that migration cannot be seen as a phenomenon restricted to men from non-European nations moving into Europe but that it involves people from all gender, social, economic and ethnic backgrounds, and that it features prominently in the histories of all European societies, with many parallels across time. MOVES will correct the mistaken premise underlying much public understanding that migration can be effectively managed by focusing exclusively on contemporary mobility flows into Europe.

Objective 4 will be achieved through an impact plan that will communicate the results of MOVES research to key decision-makers and policy advisers across the EU. Effective lobbying at national and EU level enables the exploitation of the new knowledge gained through MOVES among politicians and parliamentarians; liaising with educational providers and generating new teaching tools will ensure that it is reflected in future school curricula and taught HE programmes.

The interdisciplinary collaboration at the core of MOVES overcomes shortcomings of single-discipline programmes based exclusively, e.g., in sociology, economics, or demography. This combination is unique; while interdisciplinary programmes exist to examine ‘European Studies’ or area studies, the many second and third-cycle programmes in ‘Migration Studies’ offered by a range of EU and overseas universities are either based in the Social Sciences or in the Humanities, but not both, as is proposed here.

Another feature of MOVES’ originality is the cooperation with non-academic partners and their inclusion in the research and training programme, which, though frequent in the Social Sciences, is not yet a standard feature of Humanities research programmes. The non-academic partners include NGOs, charities, and non-profit organizations in different countries working with migrants or with migration in general. They will add crucial expertise in specific fields, and will themselves provide additional sources of data for ESRs, who will be able to study what aspects of migration are prioritised by these partners, and why.

MOVES also emphasizes collaboration with the cultural and creative industries. These collaborations will disseminate findings beyond academia and influence the direction of future academic research. MOVES researchers will be able to shape how forms of migration and mobility are referenced in public performance and museum displays, initiate infrastructural projects such as databases and indexing in libraries and archives, and change the public understanding of migration through cultural and creative work.