Escaping Leviathan’s hold

Mobility as a challenge for empires and nation-states

Date: 1 September 2017, 09:00–12:00

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 3002



The mobility of individuals challenges the claim of nation-states and empires to rule over their residents; at the same time political elites were mobile themselves and used their cross-border connections for their political projects. This panel brings together five papers, addressing different aspects of the topic. The subjects range from waves of labour migration throughout the settlement of nomadic communities in the British Raj to the activities of Iranian émigrés abroad and tourism patterns in Yugoslavia, while also addressing the strive for national self-determination.  Molly Warsh sets a wide focus on mobility by illustrating the interplay of political revolution, environmental change, and labour in the 17th century, when the cycle of warfare, drought and famine led to wandering labourers. Girja Joshi explores British attempts at settling nomadic tribes. Even though their 'wandering' ways were restricted during the 19th century, the political, social and cultural legacy of their mobile way of life survived physical settlement.  Tanya Lawrence analyses the role of Iranian dissidents in the late Ottoman Empire and asks how the work and life circumstances of the émigrés paved the way towards changes. Felix Jeschke looks at Czech and Slovak tourists at the Adriatic coast in Croatia in the first decades of the 20th century, demonstrating that tourism triggered nationalizing as well as transnationalizing dynamics. José Miguel Raimundo Noras contributes to the discussion with a paper on the development of Tibetan nationalism in relation to the development of empires in Asia but also through contacts to the Western world.


Michael G. Esch (Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe (GWZO))


Girija Joshi (Leiden University)

Molly Warsh (University of Pittsburgh)

Tanya Lawrence (Yale University)

Felix Jeschke (Charles University Prague/ Czech Academy of Sciences)

José Miguel Raimundo Noras (University of Lisbon)



Girija Joshi: From wandering pastoralists to toiling peasants? The Bhattis of the 'Delhi Frontier' in the 19th century

In areas of political intransigence, it is the revolutions that establish rather than overthrow order that qualify as ‘ruptures’. Departing from this premise, this paper will explore the degree to which British attempts at settling what Jos Gommans has called the ‘Delhi frontier’ represented a rupture for the region’s semi-nomadic communities. Focusing specifically upon the Bhattis, a community of herdsmen-raiders, it will argue that although their ‘lawless’, ‘wandering’ ways were curbed by the Raj during the nineteenth century, the political, social and cultural legacy of their mobile way of life survived physical settlement, rendering it an incomplete rupture.

Molly Warsh: Seasonal labor, migration, and warfare in the 17th century

The global warfare and tumult of the seventeenth century reverberated among global populations already wrestling with the calamitous impact of severe environmental fluctuation. Caught in this cycle of warfare of draught, famine, and freezing winters were the itinerant laborers whose futures depended upon seasonal migrations and public works projects designed to mediate the relationship between state power, natural resource husbandry, and the labor of diverse subjects. This paper looks at several examples of such movements, ranging from South America, to Europe, to India, considering the interplay among political revolution, environmental change, and labor in the early modern world.

Tanya Lawrence: Conditions of marginality: Iranian dissidents in the late Ottoman Empire

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution is considered a watershed moment in modern Iranian history: Scholars of Iran have located the source of modern Iranian political thought and nationalism to the Constitutional Revolution. The present paper focuses on Iranian émigrés to the Ottoman Empire in the period leading up to the Revolution, when a number of Iranian dissidents, literary figures and men of letters came to consider the Ottoman Empire, and specifically its capital Istanbul, their home and the seat of their socio-intellectual base. Although works penned by Iranian subjects residing in the Ottoman Empire in the mid-to-late nineteenth century continue to be cited alongside other canonical works within the political texts of modern Persian literature, these texts are more typically treated as sui generis outcroppings as opposed to the materialization of ideas conceived against a complex background of subtle and diverse socio-political processes. In an attempt to recover the distinct and variant perspectives from this Iranian community, the talk will focus on how the individual circumstances of Iranian dissidents in the Empire determined the nature of their work, paving the way toward changes in the climate of regional opinion. 

Felix Jeschke: Under Yugoslav skies: Czech and Slovak tourists on the Croatian coast, 1900s-1930s

Czechs were among the earliest and most active proponents of tourism on the eastern Adriatic coast. They call into question the widely accepted notion that tourism was a form of nationalist activism moving from centre to periphery. My paper examines this tourist industry as an ideological phenomenon between two European peripheries, fuelled by a sense of Czechoslovak-Yugoslav kinship that was simultaneously nationalist and international. Furthermore, it demonstrates that Czech tourists soon acted as practical facilitators of cultural transfers. Hence, the paper aims to suggest ways in which histories of tourism are relevant for a broader historiography of transnational connections.

José Miguel Raimundo Noras: Tibet: surviving within empires - the construction of a cultural and national Tibetan identity

We analyze the construction of the Tibetan cultural identity and how it became assumed as a national claim, throughout long-term timeframe. We sustain that such Tibetan identity must be understood in relation to the development of empires in Asia, mainly the Chinese Empire, but also other powers in the region. In our analysis we will consider also the Western world contacts with the Tibetan kingdoms, especially from the seventeenth century onward, as well as the cultural representations of Tibet, built either to the west or the east.   

Back to listing