What is migration?

This site defines ‘migration’ in the same way as the first entry on the word in the Oxford English Dictionary

migration, n.
a. The movement of a person or people from one country, locality, place of residence, etc., to settle in another; an instance of this.

Migration is, first and foremost, a normal human activity. Human beings have always moved from ‘one country, locality, [and] place of residence to settle in another’. We tend to migrate from the homes of our families or guardians into our own homes. We migrate between regions, cities and towns. And we also migrate between countries.

The majority of the historical sources on this site are concerned with the latter type of migration – that between countries – but within the stories of the individuals and communities collected here all of the other forms of migration are also represented. 

As all the stories on this website show, people have migrated and continue to migrate for a range of reasons, but the most common motivator for relocation has long been the desire for a better life. This desire might be driven by unliveable circumstances in a home country or in a home – as is the case for refugees and other exiles; it might stem from a sense of adventure and a desire to see what life is like beyond a place of birth; it might be the product of love – for children, or a partner, or a family; it can be a feeling that lasts forever or one that fades away. As these stories reveal, country-to-country migrants often have the same motivations as those migrants who move from region to region, city to city, or town to town within their country of birth. 

While there are many terms for different types of migration, history almost always shows us that people move in the hope that they will be able to better themselves, sometimes with that hope forced by extreme circumstances. It also shows us that new arrivals face and continue to face similar challenges and find similar successes in that quest. When thinking of country-to-country migrants in Britain – whether we are concerned with the Romani of the 16th century, the Scottish of the 18th century, the Irish of the 19th century, or Caribbean, Asian and Eastern European people in the 20th and 21st centuries – we see many similarities in experience, similarities which can make the study of migration history an enlightening way to gain insight into all aspects of human life.