History People and words

Why I wrote this book

Here’s the preface I wrote for my new book Changes in Attitudes to Immigrants in Britain, 1841–1921. From Foreigner to Alien.


Integration of immigrants and their descendants is subject of ongoing theoretical discussion among academics and often heated disputes in politics and public life. It has also been one of my main research interests ever since I graduated as a historian.

In that research I define integration as a process through which a minority group becomes part of a society without necessarily losing the group’s original identity and characteristics, and during which the wider society itself undergoes changes by absorbing the minority. Many factors can influence such a process. These factors include the attitudes and behaviour of the general population towards members of the integrating group and their repercussions for the behaviour of that group.

Integration can also depend on other factors. These encompass the cohesion of the integrating group and the wider society as well as the preparedness and readiness of the general population and the integrating group to undergo changes. Other factors include the economic, social, political and cultural developments of the society in which integration takes place. Furthermore, the education of children can help to determine the speed and course of integration. Some of these factors can influence each other, while others occur independently. There can be interaction as well as a lack of contact between the general population and members of the integrating group. The result is usually a multilayered, non-linear and long-term process.

In this book I examine one of these factors in a particular setting: the changing attitudes to immigrants in Britain between 1841 and 1921. Currently racism, hate and discrimination continue to affect people from black, Asian and ethnic minority groups with immigrant backgrounds. Quite a few attitudes in the present general population towards immigrants hark back to emotions evoked between 1841 and 1921. These feelings, which are described in this book, probably became part of a collective memory and were conveyed from one generation to the next, to rise again repeatedly. However, people can change their attitudes and behaviour. So, I hope to have produced a case study that clarifies history and provides insights that prove useful in studying and supporting processes of integration that take place as human migration across the globe persists.

I express this hope with gratitude. I am grateful to the historians who went before me, my teachers and colleagues as well as my family and friends, plus all the helpful linguists, archivists, librarians, readers, reviewers and editors, without whom this book would not exist. It is impossible to name all these people and detail their contribution, but I pray that I have not disappointed them.


Here you’ll find more information about this book.