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Crossing Borders: Passports, Bodies and the State, 1600 to Today


Module description

Why do we show official identification when we want to travel abroad? Was this ever not the case? What rights and duties do passports and identity documents confer? How have perceived threats of terrorism and sabotage changed states’ responses to migration in the past and present?

In addressing these questions, we consider passports and a panoply of other identity documents as a means of analysing some of the most important phenomena in early modern and modern history, such as:

  • the expansion and centralisation of states
  • the spread and collapse of empires
  • military conscription and conflict as a stimulus for political and social change
  • mass population movement and migration across borders
  • the nature of refuge and political asylum
  • the technologies employed to surveil and track moving bodies.

Indicative syllabus

  • Travelling papers and identity documents
  • Signs on bodies
  • Réfugiés and religious exiles
  • Wandering trades, labourers on the move
  • Empires, subjects, intermediaries, states
  • Sabotage: anarchists, espionage and forgery
  • Conscription, IDs and state-formation
  • States and the census
  • Objects/document handling
  • Border controls and passports before and after 1919
  • Statelessness and refugees
  • Interwar standards
  • War and displacement in the mid-twentieth century
  • Decolonisation: repatriates or migrants?
  • Wives, children, pets, diplomats
  • Dual citizenship and ceremony
  • Hard borders and illegal crossings, before and after 2001
  • Biometrics, the self and the state

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • display a good knowledge of major themes in the debates about migration and state-citizen identity
  • compare and contrast several narratives of migration with reference to their distinct historical and historiographical contexts
  • handle primary sources with confidence and use them as a means of critiquing current paradigms.