The research project Legal History and Mass Migration (PRIN 2017, funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research) concerns the comparative history of migration law, the legal response to mass and individual mobility at both a national and international level, and the interplay of migration law and the criminalization of migrants between the 1850s and the WWII.
Confronted with mass migration, Western legal culture was forced to rethink concepts and institutions suitable for dealing with individual mobility but not with groups: new disciplines were created (international labour law, international migration law) to regulate a problem that clearly overcame state territorial sovereignty and national legislations. Legal notions such as border, citizenship and principle of territoriality, undesirable alien, illegal and criminal alien, were necessarily revised.
Special jurisdiction and administrative bodies were created to govern and control this new complex social phenomenon. Whereas immigration into Western countries led to the adoption of protective legal strategies and exclusion mechanisms to bar the dangerous others, vice versa emigration of European citizens towards colonized regions and Eastern countries prompted the elaboration of exceptional safeguards and privileges for ‘civilizing’ migrants.
Our purpose is to identify some general legal principles governing migration policies (e.g. the tendency towards the administrativization of migration law, the exploitation of anthropological and criminological knowledge to impose restrictions on free movement, the resort to special jurisdictions) and to study how they were differently implemented in relation to national peculiarities.