Lives in Transit: Steamship Passages in the Late-19th and Early-20th Century World

Lives in transit are a key feature of the 21st century world. Movement, transition and exchange form the frameworks within which contemporary societies, and groups in those societies, reinvent themselves.

Our project offers a historical perspective on Lives in Transit. It takes the space of the steamship as an extraordinary historical arena in which crew and passengers alike had to make sense of their surroundings and of their own positionality. The project asks how historical actors on long-distance steamship passages negotiated their social positions during this phase of transit. It examines processes of identity- and community-building, as well as the particularities of social orders on ships.

The project’s principal aim is to reconceive our understanding of global connections and of the historiographies they inspire—“connected”, “entangled” and “global” history. Using the steamship as an exemplar, the project takes transit to be both a phase and an epistemological paradigm. It combines social, cultural and digital history approaches to the subject matter in order to highlight the profound social, cultural and political ramifications of being in transit—ramifications that are relevant also to today’s world. In so doing, we offer new ways of framing and narrating the discipline of global history itself.

Lives in Transit is a joint research project between the University of Zurich and the University of Munich (Prof. Dr. Roland Wenzlhuemer). Subprojects A1 and A2 are based at the University of Zurich.

Sub-projects in Zurich