City Research Online

An Age of Ages: Nation, Empires and their Discontents

Giannakopoulos, G. (2020). An Age of Ages: Nation, Empires and their Discontents. Contemporary European History, 29(2), pp. 232-242. doi: 10.1017/s0960777320000016


In August 1902 the British Conservative MP for East London, William Evans-Gordon, spent two months in Eastern Europe surveying the living conditions of Jewish populations across the Russian Pale of Settlement. His reflections – and photographs – morphed into a booklet published the following year in London, entitled The Alien Immigrant. Abstracts from the manuscript were read in the commission hearings that led to the adoption of the Aliens Act in 1905, a milestone in the introduction of immigration controls across the United Kingdom and the codification of the legal right to asylum. Among the places that Evans-Gordon visited was Vilna, also known in Polish as Wilno – today's Vilnius. The city was ‘one of the most congested cities of the Jewish pale’; it lay in ‘the centre of the great Jewish drama’. Facing the misery of the Jewish ghetto Evans-Gordon ruminated on the conditions of life in the slums of east London which were populated by Jewish families during the period of the ‘Great Departure’. Eerily anticipating present-day debates across Europe, The Alien Immigrant framed the migration crisis as a ‘national question’ and warned prospective migrants that the United Kingdom could not offer them a better future. Evans-Gordon's arguments gave popular anti-Semitism a progressive veneer. ‘When altruism towards aliens leaves some of our poorest folk without homes and without work’, he noted, ‘it is time to say that the burden of solving the problems of Eastern Europe is not to be laid on them’.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Subjects: J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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