“I Study Who Was Mobile and How the State, Local Communities, and Residents Dealt With Migration” – 5in10 with Levke Harders

Photo: Thomas Abel

Levke Harders is currently Visiting Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington DC and Assistant Professor of Modern History and Gender History at Bielefeld University. She is currently working on a book entitled  “Narratives of Foreignness and Belonging: Migration as a Discursive Process in Western European Border Regions (1815–1871)”, funded by the German Research Foundation. From 2010 to 2013, she held the post of executive manager of the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology. Levke Harders studied German Literature, History, and Gender Studies. In 2011, she received a Ph.D. for her dissertation on the history of American Studies. She has also published on the theory of biography and on gender history. Levke Harders blogs about her migration project and her other fields of research in her weblog Migration and Belonging.

 How do you explain your current research projects to your students?

Migration and processes related to it are no new phenomena. People were on the move in most historical periods. During the nineteenth century, Europeans did not only emigrate to the United States, they also migrated within Europe, be it for shorter or longer distances, for shorter or longer time periods. I study who was mobile and why and how the state, local communities, and residents dealt with migration. What strategies did migrants use to be included? That said, I am especially interested in creating belonging to a new community and a new state.

What were academic or personal inspirations that led to your current research?

During my PhD thesis in the fields of history of higher education and gender history, I became deeply interested in social inequalities more broadly, i.e. not ‘only’ discriminations based on gender, but also inequalities created by class, race, nationality. I also wanted to work on the (early) nineteenth century. But when I first explored migration history, it was a rather small domain within German academia – and not yet seen as timely as it is now.

How are you ‘doing’ research? What are your most important research methods (interviews, archives, excavations…?)

I look into hundreds of petitions by migrants in French Alsace and in the Danish duchies of Schleswig and Holstein for the early 1800s up to 1871. With the help of a student assistant, I then organize these files in a database to gather data on migrants themselves, on migration motivations, and on the – usually difficult and lengthy – process of naturalization. I also analyze specific case studies in more detail to shed light on questions like professions, labor market, family networks, religion, and gender.

Which publications or academic events (workshops, conferences, lecture series…) did inspire you recently?

The German Historical Institute’s Pacific Regional Office (GHI PRO) organizes the so called Bucerius Young Scholars Forum in the field of migration studies yearly. Andrea Westermann, head of GHI PRO, and I were the forum’s conveners in October 2019. This was a greatly rewarding experience: to read and discuss ten excellent papers on migration history, knowledge history, and migration studies by a group of international and interdisciplinary PhD and PostDoc researchers. Their projects as well as our discussions for three days in Berkeley inspired my own work, uncovered new questions, and referred to productive theories and methods in fields other than history.

Do you think that academic mobility changes the way in which research projects are conceptualized? What are your personal experiences in this regard?

As a migration historian, the short answer is: yes. As a scholar abroad myself, the short answer, too, is: yes. The fellowship at the GHI Washington enables me to discuss my research with scholars in the United States, who ask different questions, mention important studies, and also have useful ideas on the narrative structure and the concept of my book. Being abroad also changes my own perspective on my research. That, too, is a benefit for which I am deeply grateful.


Citation: “I Study Who Was Mobile and How the State, Local Communities, and Residents Dealt With Migration” – 5in10 with Levke Harders, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 26.03.2020, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/23543.


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