14. March 2024

Conference: Migration – Innovation Migration – Innovation: Human Mobility and Technological Innovation in History

Human Mobility and Technological Innovation in History

Jutta Wimmler and Lukas Wissel will be participating in the conference "Migration – Innovation: Human Mobility and Technological Innovation in History". The event represents the culmination of the UKRl-funded FLF project, "Migration, Adaptation, Innovation 1500-1800". 

4th & 5th April, 2024

German Museum of Technology, Berlin

Poster Conference Migration – Innovation
Poster Conference Migration – Innovation © UKRI-FLF Project Migration, Adaptation, Innovation 1500-1800
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Migration and technological innovation are two of the greatest challenges and opportunities we face. They are inextricably linked_ Both cause immense popular anxiety, threatening democratic rule and social cohesion. Yet both have been - and continue to be - indispensable for economic growth. They are linked in another way, too: migration encourages innovation. A truism in migration studies, this is slowly recognised in science and technology studies. While we have plenty of evidence with numerous quantitative and qualitative studies of this connection for the modern and contemporary world, we know much less about how this worked in practice in the early modern period (ca 1400-1800).

In this period, embodied and experiential knowledge was essential for inventive and manufacturing processes. Migrant experts were hence crucial to setting up and developing new industries and enterprises. Conversely, when faced with different local conditions, ingredients, and markets, immigrants had to adapt their skills and knowledge: innovation was a precondrtion for successful technological transfer. The early modem world was increasingly connected, and migration was ubiquitous: be this free, indentured, or enslaved; of invited experts or of refugees; seasonal, rural-urban, or long distance.

To unearth the crucial role that migrants played in the technological development of the early modern world, this conference and subsequent edited volume will bring together a range of scholars who study both the successes and failures of these processes. Our central questions are burning: what made for successful immigration, technological innovation, and knowledge transfer? What conversely impeded or prevented this? To answer this, we have to look at a wide range of considerations. Which factors contributed to the integration of the migrant? Which to the success of their outputs and to the adaptation and diffusion of their skills? What were the roles played by states, political, and religious authorities? And by language, religion, class, gender, age, and race? What about climate and environmental factors?

Jutta Wimmler and Lukas Wissel will be presenting their contribution on the West India Company's "plantation project" along the West African Gold Coast.

In the early eighteenth century, the Dutch West India Company (WIC) attempted to establish plantations for the cultivation of sugar, indigo and cotton on the West African Gold Coast (Ghana). Since the WIC personnel on the Gold Coast lacked the necessary expertise, they requested help from the Americas, where such plantations already prospered. The correspondence carried out between the Netherlands, the WIC headquarters in Elmina and the officials in Curacao and Suriname shows that specialists, namely a Black cotton expert named Pieter and a white specialist for indigo called Jacobus, subsequently travelled from Curacao to the Gold Coast to instruct local enslaved workers on how to plant and process these crops. However, the correspondence also illustrates that a transfer of technical knowledge through migrants was not enough to guarantee the success of this undertaking. Ultimately, these plantations proved to be a failure because, paradoxically, the WIC on the Gold Coast suffered from a serious labour shortage (meaning slaves) and lack of materials – a problem that could apparently not be compensated by “innovative measures” introduced by migrants. This paper will trace the planning, implementation, and failure of this “plantation project” as far as the sources allow, assess the information contained in the sources about the activities of migrants such as Pieter and Jacobus, and evaluate the crucial role of enslaved workers and their expertise for the success of early modern plantations.

This conference will be the culmination of the UKRl-funded FLF project "Migration, Adaptation, Innovation 1500-1800" and will lead to the publication to an edited volume.

For more information, please see the project website.

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