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Global Migration Centre

Patchwork Cities: Urban Ethnic Clusters in the Global South During the Age of Steam

This project investigates the historical reasons for, and the meaning of, ethnic residence patterns in port cities of the Global South, 1850–1930.

Technological change, imperial expansion, and the spread of capitalism during this period fueled both the world's increasing interconnectedness and the rapid growth of port cities. The rise of the steam engine in shipping accelerated trade and migration from the 1870s, engraving global inequalities into the urban space of multi-ethnic commodity entrepôts of the Global South—a deliberately loose category gesturing to the project's turn away from the North Atlantic focus of much of urban history. Contrary to an older literature that equated globalization with the erosion of difference, the project asks how the era's intensifying cross-continental networks related to dissimilarities in urban space, considering cities as encapsulations of the knot-like nature of long-distance connections. Drawing on social-science methods developed to study segregation in North American cities, the project redirects scholarly attention to port cities of the Global South as bridgeheads of uneven globalization and laboratories for the negotiation of ethnicity. With its empirical and historical emphasis on ethnic clustering in such cities, the project adds historical depth to discussions concerning the relationship between globalization and a particular form of inequality.

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