From Emigration to Post-Migration and the “Refugee Crisis”: Historical Perspectives on Migration in Austria and Germany



Dirk Rupnow, University of Innsbruck
Maximilian Graf, Austrian Academy of Science
Benjamin Hein, Stanford
Michelle Kahn, Stanford

Date and Time

May 25, 2017 9:30 AM - 12:30 PM



Open to Stanford faculty, students, staff, and visiting scholars.

RSVP required by 5PM May 24.


William J. Perry Conference Room
Encina Hall, Second Floor, Central, C231
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

Please note that this workshop is open to Stanford faculty, students, visiting scholars, and staff only.

Migration is obviously the single biggest challenge for European countries and the European Union today. It is closely linked to questions of (national) identity, social pluralism, and diversity. However, it is mostly understood as a purely contemporary phenomenon, something ahistorical, as though migration had no history in Europe and as though migration has not been altering societies and cultures since ever before. With a special focus on Austria and Germany and with different case studies, the workshop puts the current so-called “refugee crisis” in the context of the broader history of the 19th and 20th century. It also discusses general questions like the status of migration in the hegemonic collective memory and the challenges it poses for historiography.


9:30am: Welcome and Introductions

Dirk Rupnow, Visiting Austrian Chair Professor, The Europe Center, Stanford University, and Professor of Modern History, University of Innsbruck

9:35am: Austria, Germany, and Migration: Putting the Current European “Refugee Crisis” in Historical Perspective

Dirk Rupnow, Visiting Austrian Chair Professor, The Europe Center, Stanford University, and Professor of Modern History, University of Innsbruck

Austria and Germany were crucial actors in the so-called “refugee crisis” during the summer of 2015. Both countries have a distinct, but in part also a shared, history of migration. The talk focuses on Austria as an example and puts the current so-called “refugee crisis” in the context of the broader history of the postwar Austrian Republic. It discusses the status of migration in the hegemonic collective memory and the challenges it poses for historiography.

10:15am: Migration Backed Securities: European Migrants and the Transatlantic Bond Market

Benjamin Hein, PhD candidate in Modern European History, Stanford University

Historians often think about migration as a story that unfolds between two key actors: the sovereign state and the (im)migrant. But what if the state was only an intermediary channeling another party’s interests? In the 19th century German Empire, progressive legislation aimed at improving the lives of emigrants to the Americas has been interpreted as part and parcel of the Bismarckian welfare state. There is evidence to suggest, however, that such legislation emerged not as a matter of German government policy but instead as a result of enterprising bankers who sought to prop up nascent transatlantic securities markets. In this paper, I will consider the case of Kaiserreich Germany to complicate narratives about migration that have followed a more traditional sovereign state versus (im)migrant binary.

11:05am: In Transit or Asylum Seekers? Austria and the Cold War Refugees from the Communist Bloc

Maximilian Graf, Visiting Scholar, The Europe Center, Stanford, and Project Leader, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The presumption of an extraordinary humanitarian engagement is an integral part of Austria’s popular postwar history and memory. The country’s aid for refugees from the communist bloc continues to shape this image until today. In each case – the “Hungarian Revolution” in 1956, the “Prague Spring” in 1968, the crisis in Poland 1980/81, and the revolutions of 1989 in East Germany and Romania – within a short period of time, tens of thousands fled to Austria, although constellations differed significantly. Even though Austria earned considerable merits in handling the early stages of the Cold War “refugee crises”, the resulting picture requires a demythologization: Austria never aimed at serving as a refugee’s haven, but as a transit country only. By critically reassessing the existing master narrative, a first comparative analysis of the major “waves“ of Cold War refugees reaching Austria will be provided.

11:45am: Sending Foreigners Home: Historical Origins of EU Voluntary Repatriation Programs

Michelle Kahn, PhD Candidate in Modern European History, Stanford University

A central question amid today’s refugee crisis is if, when, and how the refugees will ever return to their home countries. Yet this question has deeper historical origins. As early as the 1970s, European nation-states began devising programs aimed at the voluntary repatriation of refugees, labor migrants, and other foreign nationals. This talk examines the case of West Germany, focusing on the controversial 1983 “Law for the Promotion of Voluntary Return” (Rückkehrförderungsgesetz). Aimed at reducing the Turkish population at a time of rising anti-foreigner sentiment, the law offered unemployed former guest workers a “return premium” of 10,500 Deutschmarks to return to their home countries. The talk explores contemporary debates surrounding the law, as well as parallels to the development of German and EU-wide voluntary repatriation programs still in use today.

12:25pm: Wrap Up

Dirk Rupnow, Visiting Austrian Chair Professor, The Europe Center, Stanford University, and Professor of Modern History, University of Innsbruck



Maximilian Graf is a Visiting Scholar at The Europe Center.  He studied history in Vienna and worked as a Junior Scholar and Postdoc at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna. He is currently project leader at the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Historical Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. His main areas of research are Cold War history and the history of Communism. He was Chercheur Associée at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin and was awarded the Karl von Vogelsang Prize for the History of Social Sciences in 2014 and the Dr. Alois Mock Prize in 2015. Selected publications: Österreich und die DDR 1949–1990. Politik und Wirtschaft im Schatten der deutschen Teilung (2016); (co-ed.) Österreich im Kalten Krieg. Neue Forschungen im internationalen Kontext (2016); (co-ed.) Orient und Okzident. Begegnungen und Wahrnehmungen aus fünf Jahrhunderten (2016).

Benjamin Hein is a PhD candidate in modern European history at Stanford University. He received his B.A. in history and economic (summa cum laude) from Emory University. Currently, Benjamin is completing his dissertation entitled "Emigration and the Industrial Revolution in German Europe, 1820-1900," in which he explores the impact of sustained emigration to North America on the evolution of key economic institutions and commercial law in German-speaking Europe. Benjamin teaches and is interested in topics in the history of capitalism; the history of migration; Atlantic World and Global History; and political economy.

Michelle Kahn is a PhD Candidate in Modern European History at Stanford University. Her dissertation, “Becoming Almancı: The Transnational History of Turkish-German Migrants, 1961–2011” explores the political, social, and economic history of Turkish immigrants’ transnational connections to their home country. Her research and teaching interests include German and Turkish history, transnational history, migration history, and the histories of race, gender, and sexuality. After serving as a 2015–2016 German Chancellor Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Michelle is currently completing her dissertation in Cologne. She has an office at her primary archive, the Documentation Centre and Museum for Migration in Germany (DOMiD), where she contributes voluntarily as a Research Associate. She is also a Guest Scholar at the University of Cologne’s Historical Institute.

Dirk Rupnow is Stanford University's 2016-2017 Visiting Austrian Chair Professor and is in residence at The Europe Center.  He is Professor of Contemporary History and head of the Institute for Contemporary History at the University of Innsbruck where he is also the founding coordinator of the Research Center Migration & Globalization. He earned his M.A. in 1999 (Vienna), PhD in 2002 (Klagenfurt) and Habilitation in 2009 (Vienna). Rupnow was project researcher with the Historian’s Commission of the Republic of Austria in 1999/2000. He has been awarded numerous research stays and fellowships in Austria, Germany, France, Israel, and the US, as well as the 2009 Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History of the Wiener Library, London. His main research interests are 20th Century European History, Holocaust and Jewish Studies, Cultures and Politics of Memory, Intellectual and Migration History. Selected publications: (co-ed.), “Holocaust”-Fiktion. Kunst jenseits der Authentizität (2015); Judenforschung im Dritten Reich. Wissenschaft zwischen Politik, Propaganda und Ideologie (2011); (co-ed.), Zeitgeschichte ausstellen in Österreich. Museen – Gedenkstätten – Ausstellungen (2011); (co-ed.), Pseudowissenschaft. Konzeptionen von Nichtwissenschaftlichkeit in der Wissenschaftsgeschichte (2008); Vernichten und Erinnern. Spuren nationalsozialistischer Gedächtnispolitik (2005).


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