The theme of borders (political, physical, cultural, linguistic...) has long occupied a large space in the public debate and is the focus of interest of scholars in various disciplines: from historiography to geography, from international sciences to anthropology, from philosophy to linguistics, from law to economics. Globalisation, the great waves of migration, as well as the recent re-establishment of borders during the pandemic crisis have made it even more topical to reflect on the historical dimension of borders and their meaning for the populations and regions directly touched or crossed by their presence, as well as on the impact of borders in relation to the spaces of mobility of people and goods.
Within this potentially vast field of interest, the Competence Centre for Regional History of the Free University of Bozen/Bolzano and the working group “Geschichte und Region” are organising an international conference on a specific social dynamic that has always been linked to the presence of borders between states, namely their illegal crossing. This theme is closely linked to that of the practices and techniques of surveillance and identification of individuals, the instruments of territorial control, the legal concept of citizenship, residence and domicile, the political and institutional relations between centre and periphery and, more generally, the ways in which state powers have historically constructed, reshaped, negotiated and attempted to defend their borders.
From the disciplinary point of view, the conference wants to host a wide range of historiographic approaches, such as social history, women's and gender history, historical anthropology and microhistory, history of economics, law and crime. With regard to the geographical framework, the conference is open to any proposal. Finally, with regard to the chronological framework, we would like to maintain a long-term perspective, ranging from the early modern age to the whole of the 19th century: a time span during which both state configurations and, with them, the very concept of borders and the need to defend them changed drastically.
In view of the chronological, geographical and disciplinary breadth, and in order to facilitate comparative reflection, all interested parties are invited to submit proposals for case studies that reflect in particular on three groups of actors related to border regions - or, in other words, three perspectives on the dynamics of illegal border crossings - and the connections, interdependencies and conflicts between these groups.
I. The first group includes men, women, but also animals and objects who crossed borders against the law or otherwise without permission (deserters, fugitives, vagabonds, wandering traders, smugglers and smuggled animals and goods, etc.). Which figures were perceived as a danger or a potential source of disorder to be repelled? What drives, what economic needs or existential requirements, what individual and collective events led these people to cross the border illegally? What were the routes taken, what were the crossing strategies (falsification of documents, false declarations of identity, crossing at certain “weak points”, bribing those who controlled the border or seeking support and cooperation from the local population)?
II. The second group includes the persons and institutions in charge of border control. How was this control system organised and structured? What strategies were used? What legislative apparatus and possible punitive instruments were devised and applied in practice? What were the forms of cooperation and communication between the control apparatuses of two neighbouring states?
III. The third group includes the “border” actors, who could be in a more or less direct relationship with the first or second of the above-mentioned groups: informers/informants, ferrymen/ferrywomen, those who generally carried out economic activities related to the illegal crossing of borders or, on the contrary, to their surveillance. What kind of cooperation was there between the population living and working near the border, the border control officers and the people trying to cross the border? What was the perception of these populations with regard to the first or second group and, in general, to their place in a border region? What were the social and economic advantages or disadvantages?
The conference will take place on 1-3 December 2022 at the Faculty of Education of the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano in Bressanone.
Travel, board and lodging expenses will be covered by the organisers.
Please send your proposals (an abstract of about 500 words, containing an indication of the sources used, as well as, in the same file, a brief bio-bibliographical note) by 31 May 2022 to Francesca Brunet: firstname.lastname@example.org. Requests for clarification or organizational questions can be addressed to the same address. Abstracts may be written in Italian, German or English. The conference languages will be Italian, German and English, with simultaneous translation.
The results of the selection process and the final conference programme will be announced by mid-June 2022.