‘The moving business: people smugglers, agents, and the work of Ottoman migration, c.1890-1914’

Migration, an American missionary wrote in 1892, ‘like a mighty lever is stirring every village and hamlet’ in Mount Lebanon. ‘The people are all in motion, and no one seems willing to remain who can … get money enough to carry him over the seas.’ But who pulled the levers of migration? And how were their operations organised? This talk explores the business of migration, shedding light on the work of the sundry subaltern entrepreneurs—shipping agents, ferrymen, stevedores, hostel keepers, smugglers, and port officials—who facilitated the migration of hundreds of thousands from Greater Syria in the decades before the First World War. Doing so, it argues, can shed light on the complex interaction between indigenous enterprise, transnational capital, imperial power, and changing understandings of community.