MOVES combines the analysis of current problems with an in-depth study of their historical origins and parallels, placing the systematic confrontation of past and present forms of migration at the centre of its activities. Our initial starting point is the insight that migration is both a condition of modernity and one of its greatest challenges. Immigration and emigration have both had significant impact on nations, with political and cultural identities strongly affected by one or the other, and sometimes both. Since at least the beginning of the 15th century, migration has shaped modern European identities, first in the outward thrust of European nations in colonial movements, then through emigration from many European countries, and most recently through immigration as the predominant form of mobility in Europe. 21st-century migration – and, crucially, its impact – is therefore not a new phenomenon, irrespective of whether it is seen as a delayed response to European colonial activity, a consequence of conflict, or a result of economic development.

The second starting point of the project is the idea that migratory mobility and its many associated aspects – transition, displacement, change, etc. – defines all modern societies in equal measure, both externally and internally: it defines societies externally in terms of the men and women that constitute the national community, and it defines them internally in terms of how nations think about who they are, where they come from, and how they relate to each other in terms of class, ethnicity and gender. Such movements of thought and self-understanding are best retrieved through an investigation of past cultural production and textual representation or narrative, which is why MOVES researchers combine the study of historical and political developments with the analysis of literature and related forms of fictional and non-fictional writing.

From these initial considerations MOVES will focus centrally on the ‘figure of the migrant’ in its many different manifestations, and analyse this (male or female) figure both as a historical occurrence and a cultural projection. Historically, the research will create a nuanced typology of different types of (forced or voluntary) migration in its different historical contexts (e.g., slavery, settlement, trade, colonization, diplomacy, religion), and ask why communities that are themselves built on the experience of emigration often tend to look inward and define immigrants as outsiders at odds with the national self-image. Culturally, MOVES research will analyse the stories of migration told across different nations and cultures (in the countries of MOVES universities but also in Europe more widely) and in various media (e.g., in literature, drama, poetry, film, art, painting, sculpture), drawing parallels to today and asking why migration has so often been represented as a narrative of exclusion and a threat to the integrity of the nation even while it has been a progressive and economically indispensable force in the making of the modern world.

Migration is not a new or even recent occurrence. The World Migration Report 2018 notes that ‘human migration is an age-old phenomenon that stretches back to the earliest periods of human history’, and there are striking parallels across time: scenes reminiscent of those that shocked Europe in 2015 were described in the 16th century by William Shakespeare (‘Imagine that you see the wretched strangers, / Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage, / Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation’).

Acknowledging this long history, the authors of the EU-funded report Understanding and Tackling the Migration Challenge (2016) state that ‘a contextualisation of the current refugee/migration crisis in a longer historical perspective on migration to Europe’ is now a ‘major research need’. But not a single one of the many FP7 and H2020-funded research projects on migration summarized in the 2016 Research on Migration review considers migration outside of the present moment: historical context and comparison are a glaring gap in current migration research. In order to fill this gap, MOVES has been set up as an interdisciplinary collaboration between Humanities scholars (historians, literary critics, cultural studies experts) and social science researchers (sociologists, political scientists), working in conjunction with a range of non-academic partners representing NGOs, charities, museums, and the cultural and creative industries. All ESRs on the programme will be seconded to one non-academic partner relevant to their research project during their doctorate.

MOVES will invite scholars and practitioners from more specialised fields and from non-European institutions as part of the training programme. They will include, for example, colleagues from the digital sciences, who will help visualize migration flows through electronic mapping, and academics from Africa, Asia and Latin America, who will contribute extra-European perspectives to the training events. By bringing together humanities and social science scholars, non-academic institutions, and invited scholars from other disciplines and continents, the project seeks to produce a framework capable of a comprehensive analysis of modern migration.

The existing research environments of all five universities all place high value on interdisciplinary cooperation, and complement each other in their specific research priorities: theoretical approaches (Prague), comparative perspectives (Berlin), transcultural studies (Porto), intellectual history (Montpellier), and creative/critical engagements (Kent). Four of the five universities in MOVES (Prague, Berlin, Porto, Kent) have been cooperating since 2011 in the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate (EMJD) Text and Event in Early Modern Europe (TEEME), and the MOVES training programme builds on the results of this EMJD.

The state of the academic debate will help achieve the objectives of MOVES. Migration studies is already an interdisciplinary field, albeit in far narrower terms than suggested in this ITN. The field draws strongly from political science and sociology, as well as, among others, anthropology, history, and demography. Recent research covers a range of topics in the broad areas of integration and assimilation, maintenance of culture, identity, drivers of migration, gendered aspects of integration and migration, uses of citizenship, political engagement in home and host countries, and more.

Relevant areas of recent research upon which MOVES draws include the securitisation – policy resulting from the concern of destination countries that migrants may have a potentially negative impact on security – and control of migration. Introduced in the early 2000s, and remaining a key area of research today, securitisation notes that migration can be seen through a lens of security and as a threat to the receiving country. Linked to this field is the question of how such securitisation, in turn, undermines migrants’ rights and/or that a state narrative of protection of human rights ultimately curtails rights still further.

Research into the role of women in migration has been referred to as the feminisation of migration. It is clear, however, that it is not the migration of women which has shifted dramatically in recent years, but rather researchers’ awareness of women as independent migrants, and indeed the diversity of female migrants across the globe. The impact of migration upon gender roles is another fruitful area of research, challenging long-held stereotypes about women’s and men’s roles after migration.

Finally, an emerging field of research is that of the aspiration to migrate, or an examination of what factors play a role in an individual’s choice to move. Even in a refugee situation, not all individuals are able to, or choose to, leave their home country. Jørgen Carling noted in 2002 that both aspiration to migrate and ability to migrate must be present in order for emigration to take place. Further research in this emerging field builds on this initial observation to add theoretical and analytical depth to the concept of ‘drivers of migration.’

MOVES will be able to advance many of these discussions by setting them in the appropriate historical, cultural and literary contexts. The lack of historical awareness in the present debate is perhaps its greatest shortcoming. The few historians who do place contemporary migration into historical context, do so typically only as far back as the 19th century.

In this sense, MOVES seeks to identify and query prevailing beliefs about migrants and migration in the 21st century, including the absence of migration from historical accounts of the nation, as well as the contemporary migration ‘crisis’, dubbed as such on the basis of security and cultural concerns. In seeking to understand these ‘post-modern’ approaches towards migration, we move forward from the ‘pre-modern’ moment, interrogating, as we do so, the (mainly Western) processes of secularisation and the creation of the nation-state, both of which are central to the formation and presentation of historical and cultural images of the migrant. The time span of the project has been chosen in the light of the key historical circumstances that enabled and conditioned the emergence of modern forms of migration: from the beginning of the 15th century to 2015, and beyond.