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Historical Patterns of Migration [and Comments and Reply]

William H. McNeill, Frank P. Araújo, Brad Bartel, Gloria Y'Edynak, Alexander Gallus, István Kiszely, Ivan Polunin, Elżbieta Promińska and Ted A. Rathbun
Current Anthropology
Vol. 20, No. 1 (Mar., 1979), pp. 95-102
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2741864
Page Count: 8
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Historical Patterns of Migration [and Comments and Reply]
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Abstract

This article describes the migratory patterns resulting from differential incidence of lethal infections in traditional Eurasian civilizations. Further, it examines how changes in modern communication and public health management have interrupted the traditional patterns of population circulation. The communication of infection influenced the standard mass migration patterns for traditional Eurasian civilization. The rural flow to urban centers and migration to the periphery replaced and replenished populations thinned by infections. This pattern was the standard underpinning of traditional civilization in the temperate zone of Eurasia from 2000 B.C. to A.D. 1750. A second, less massive movement of "elites" also occurred. Barbarian elites moved against the city, and urban elites-trades, missionaries, refugees-moved to the periphery. While numerically small, this pattern was often of key importance in diffusing ideas, techniques, and specialized skills. The period of Eurasian discovery in the 16th century disturbed the traditional migration patterns and led to homogenization of disease pools by almost 1750. The first effect of the new disease regimen was an unparalleled acceleration of the patterns of migration towards the frontier, while the second was an initial intensification of urban epidemics in the civilized communities of the Old World. The establishment of preliminary public-health measures and dramatic technological advances began to have an effect by the end of the 19th century. Consequently, the older patterns of in-migration began to meet new resistance, as urban populations became able to sustain themselves biologically and even increase their numbers. Simultaneously, frontier zones suitable for settlement disappeared, with most areas brought within the circle of civilized communities by 1900. This has led to a population explosion and the development of megalopolis. This extraordinary alteration of long-standing epidemiological and migratory regimens has massive consequences for the future.

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