The End of Historical Nomadism

Published on Jan 23, 2019

Nomadism took a new turn at the end of the first millennium. Losing its hereditary aspect, historical nomadism gradually disappears. Travel is motivated by curiosity, dogmas, and trade. Pilgrims and crusaders illustrate this new nomadism. Nomadism becomes an intellectual movement, with representatives such as Averroès, Thomas d'Aquin or Marco Polo. Writings and intellectual developments are empowered by the invention of the writing press in 1454. It's the start of a mercantile nomadism.

Mercantile nomadism appears with the first wave of globalization, characterized by the discovery of America. Settlers, pirates, and explorers (erudite nomad travelers) access new wealth. This manna is sought by the European States in a dire need to keep their power over the Old Continent. The flow is eased for those who work, for those who think, and more generally, for those who create wealth. Work mobility becomes an economic necessity. The liberalization of travel involves an institutional reform.

The free flow already becomes a source of inequalities and misery, slave trade being a striking example. Merchantile nomadism originates from sedentism. The market results in a convergence of sedentism and nomadism towards a hybrid of fading borders. A hybrid favoring a free flow of goods rather than a free flow of men, or limited to a small part of the global population.

This first globalization gives birth to a second one, an industrial nomadism: movements are industrialized. Cow-boys, hobos or the Charlot of Chaplin are part of this new generation of nomads. In Europe, the Industrial Revolution pushes the States to prepare future wars through colonization, leading to globalised migratory flows toward the colonized countries. On the other hand, those in most need emigrate to Northern America. Those generations of workers travel regularly to build across the country. Travel is industrialized: a journey of 6 months by coach is reduced to one week by steam train. These newly urbanized nomads, that Jack London depicts so well in his novel The Road,  constitute a cheap labor force. Their situation is precarious, living in communities called jungles, moving from one town to another depending on the jobs available, from which they barely survive.

Historical nomadism is far from those semi-nomads. Few nomad people survived till today, a few millions of individuals at most.