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Dartmouth College Library
Dartmouth College Library Research Guides

Human Geography: Migration Studies

This guide highlights the resources for Human Geography, the study of human settlements in their places.

A short definition for Migration Studies

The movement of groups and individuals from one place to another, involving a change of usual residence. Migration is usually distinguished from mobility in general by conventions of spatial and temporal scale. For example, by convention international migration requires crossing a national boundary for an actual or intended period of at least one year. Residential mobility, by contrast, may consist of a short-distance move between properties in the same city.

Typologies of migration differentiate between internal and international migration, and the two forms are usually studied separately. Looked at historically, however, the movement of people long predates nation-states; homo sapiens left Africa some 150,000 years ago. Geographers are interested in inter-regional, rural-urban, and urban-rural movements, especially in societies with low birth and death rates where migration is often the major cause of population change (see counter-urbanization). In 2008, about 3 per cent of Americans moved to another county, for example, and in China, it is estimated that there were 140 million migrants, mostly from rural to urban areas (Fan 2008).

The major focus of current geographical work, however, is international migration. It is estimated that there were 215 million people living outside their country of birth in 2010, around 3 per cent of the world’s population. But this surprisingly low number has disproportionate effects on the places and countries linked by flows, economically, socially, culturally, and—increasingly—politically. This type of migration is further classified by time, differentiating temporary (or short-term), permanent (or long-term), and circular (including seasonal) forms. Whereas permanent migration was once considered the norm—especially during the era of colonial settlement in the 19th century—it is now recognized that growing numbers of people are implicated in migrations at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. Transnational migrants may live in two places at once, or at least shuttle between them on a regular basis in addition to sustaining meaningful inter-connections. Further distinctions are often made between legal and illegal immigration.

Beginning with the work of Ravenstein, geographers and others have sought to explain and model migration. An elementary dichotomy between forced and voluntary migration has proved difficult to sustain analytically, not least because of the rise in human trafficking. Can children accompanying adults, for example, be said to choose to move? The globalization of human flows has not only drawn in more counties and regions into the world migration pattern, but it has also eroded once-basic division between sending (or home, origin) and receiving (or host, destination) countries. Many are now both; the Russian federation is in the top three emigration and immigration countries. Rather than explain migration in terms of ‘push’ factors at an origin and ‘pull’ factors at a destination, the metaphor of a revolving door may be more appropriate. In a widely cited textbook, Castles and Miller (2009) discuss three broad kinds of explanation: first, neoclassical economics, focusing mainly on the individual level (see Todaro model); second, historical-structural, including world systems theory; and third, migration-systems theory, including a concentration on the role of social networks (see also Massey 1999 for a more elaborate list of theories). The observation that migration flows along distinct ‘corridors’ (e.g. Mexico–USA, Turkey–Germany) fits with this theory. But, compared with the 1960s and 1970s, when geographers applied various spatial interaction models (see gravity model) to migration, there is now less discipline-specific research on the causes and consequences of migration.

Geographical research on migration is far-reaching, covering both historical past and the present (King et al. 2010). Once considered a peripheral subject in social sciences, the study of migration is increasingly deemed central. Paradoxically, given the changes in personal and social mobility associated with globalization, it is ever harder to distinguish migration from the greater register of flows (King 2002); are backpackers migrants? There is a clear trend towards studying migrants, their experiences, biographies, families, emotions, etc., as contrasted with the demographic fact of migration. Migration is generally a selective process, by age, skill, gender, race, class, and health, and it may also be implicated with critical lifecourse events. Recent research foci have included the impact of climate change, the migration-development nexus, children’s migration, international student migration, and the heightened security and surveillance directed at moving bodies of all kinds.

Castree, N., Kitchin, R., & Rogers, A. (2013). "Migration." In A Dictionary of Human Geography. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 14 Mar. 2017


Migration is the movement of people from one place to another. The terms in-migration and out-migration are used for internal migration, where no national boundaries are crossed, and the simplest classification separates this from international migration.

While voluntary migration refers to unforced movements, compulsory migration describes the expulsion of minorities from their country of birth by governments, or by warring factions. In the 1970s Asians were expelled from Uganda and Kenya, and the 1990s saw ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the former Yugoslavia (See genocide).

Migrations may be temporary or permanent. In the case of commuting, migration is a daily act, but, because there is no change of residence, a purist would not call commuting a migration, preferring the term mobility. Temporary migrations may be seasonal, as migrant workers move in search of work, or periodic, as when a worker, usually male, moves to an industrial, urbanized area and sends money back to the women and children, perhaps over a period of a year or two. A good example of periodic migration is the movement of males from their homes in Botswana and Lesotho to work in the gold and diamond mines of South Africa.

Other classifications are based on the nature of the points of origin and arrival, such as rural—rural or urban—rural. Rural—rural migration may be seen in the movement of nomadic people while urban—rural migration might include the movement of elderly people when they retire or when richer people move from the city to suburbs. Rural depopulation describes rural—urban migrations.


From: A Dictionary of Geography. Susan Mayhew. Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Dartmouth College. 22 March 2006

In the Library's Collection

To find books about Human Migration, use the subject heading human beings migration. For Involuntary migration use forced migration in the online catalog. For International Migration, use the subject heading emigration and immigration. Many books about Human Migration are shelved in the call number range JV 6001 through JV 9480 located on the 4th floor of Berry Library. However, many others are scattered throughout the collections. Check the online catalog for specific subtopics.

Introductory reading(s)

Journal articles & titles

Articles and other writings about Migration can be found in many publications. Our collection includes several journals which look at Migration. To find them, do the following subject search in the online catalog : "emigration and immigration periodicals." However, to see how many more titles there are, you can search in Worldcat. Use a subject search with the terms "emigration and immigration" and "periodicals." Below is a short list of some of the journal titles we have in our Library's collection.


Other library resources

Internet resource(s)

Keeping up with the journal literature

Want an easy way to keep up with the journal literature for all facets of Geography? And you use a mobile device? You can install the BrowZine app and create a custom Bookshelf of your favorite journal titles. Then you will get the Table of Contents (ToCs) of your favorite journals automatically delivered to you when they become available. Once you have the ToC's you can download and read the articles you want.

You can get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Don't own or use a mobile device? You can still use BrowZine! It's now available in a web version. You can get to it here. The web version works the same way as the app version. Find the journals you like, create a custom Bookshelf, get ToCs and read the articles you want.