EAUH Conference 2018


Session M12. Immigrants, the Police and the Courts in Urban Europe, 16th-20th Centuries

Coordinators: Manon Van Der Heijden (, Anne Winter (

As a result of a renewed interest in the history of migration and integration in European cities, scholars have recently been paying increasing attention to issues of migration control, as one of the oldest fields of urban policing in Europe, as well as to the criminalisation and prosecution of migrants and minorities, whose over-representation in the criminal justice system has been established both for the early modern and the modern period. Early research on these issues has focused overwhelmingly on the expansion of formal control towards urban newcomers, via the enactment of various types of vagrancy acts and the development of public police and justice systems in the major European cities from the eighteenth century onwards. This has inspired visions of an ever-expanding and repressive control of immigrants in cities, characterised by police targeting and violence and by differential treatment by the courts.
Although this research has definitely been important in unraveling processes of criminalization and prosecution of newcomers – and opens up interesting possibilities for collaboration with criminologists and sociologists – recent work has attempted to develop more nuanced and complex understandings of the interactions between urban immigrants, the police and the courts. It has shown, for example, how in practice, migration control was difficult to implement, shaped by various interests and constraints, and had numerous loopholes. At the same time, attitudes of urban authorities regarding the use of restrictive and repressive policies varied from one city and region to another, in function of the local labour market. Finally, it has become clear that there was no large-scale police repression towards migrant and minority groups; rather than being passive ‘police property’, many of them also used the police and the courts to their own ends, to settle conflicts and in the framework of survival and integration strategies.
This session invites papers that examine the various interactions and relations between immigrants, the police and the courts in European cities in the period from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, drawing on archival records documenting practices of migration control and/or criminal prosecution. We are particularly interested in interdisciplinary contributions (historians, legal historans, criminologists, etc.) that shed light on the everyday implementation (and failures) of urban migration controls or that examine the strategies and experiences of migrants and minorities in their dealings with the law. Also, papers that seek to bridge the early modern and modern periods and draw comparisons across one or more countries are highly encouraged.
Keywords: migration; police; courts